By Abdelkader Filali
Morocco World News
Toronto, July 8, 2013
Military-led regimes rose in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Algeria, and Libya, after the army became involved in series of coups. When the army intervened in politics in the sixties, they did not take power because of the large guns they have or their arsenal, but they came as they knew that civilian political institutions were weak. The stepping down of presidents occurred in countries where military coups “bloodless coups” occurred (Tunisia and Libya, Syria, and Egypt).
However, once the military gained too much political control, the leaders would often adopt strategies to suppress its power. Some of these strategies included reasserting control over the military budget, a move performed by the former Egyptian President Mubarak. Another method was to repeatedly change the ministers of defense and chief of staff so as to not allow one army leader stay long enough in power to gain a large following and support. The switching of generals and high ranking officers from one geographical command into another one is key dynamic of overseeing their maneuvers. Even if the origins of some regimes lie at the militarization of some army officers, the military has presently retreated from active politics. However, the heads of the states remain closely tied to the military, which therefore continued to have great weight in Egypt, Syria, Algeria, Iraq, and Libya’ politics.
The army emerged as a key player in the region: the corrective revolution of Al Assad the father in Syria 1970, and Kaddafi a coup in Libya 1970. Boumadyane seized power from his friend Ben Bella in Algeria in 1965. Nasser and Saddam had their military coups against two strong monarchs. The ultimate sequence of the events is that these regimes are being personified into an extreme personalistic dictatorship where the family members of the head of the state, and army are taking over the economic, social, and cultural life (Ben Ali’s family, Mubarak’s…) like the Sicilian family mafia.
What explain political behavior of these military regimes is not the institutional rules of the game, it is rather the informal rules of the game. Clientelism is key element in imposing control. A relationship emerged between patron with power and client without networks. It is an exchange between people who have access to political power and wealth and those who don’t. It is an exchange between two unequal entities. The military reproduced its own class, military aristocracy, which embedded a military human nature.
The Egyptians army is the strongest institution of the state. They are entrepreneurs, they manufacture consumable products, and they are intertwined in the society which made it hard for any coup or overthrown. They are the engineers who build the infrastructure of the country. Education of the military officers is a crucial point. During their training, they should be taught that the political power must be in the hands of civilians. President Bouteflika has continuously tried to demilitarize the state. Some of his tactics involve seeking control of the cabinet as well as using foreign support to strengthen his power. The ex Egyptian president, Mubarak, used balancing, cooptation, and neo-patrimonial networks to keep the military under control. In Turkey, the army is kept under the government’s control by the government’s establishment to control over appointments, having greater scrutiny over military budgets, and by passing certain constitutional revisions to lessen the army’s power.
Demilitarization in the Middle East has been particularly hard to achieve due to the history of strong army involvement in the politics of the state from the time of independence. The military plays a dominant role in many of the revolutions to gain independence from the colonial powers, such as the Algerian, and the Turkish. Thus post-independence, the military remained in a leadership role. Therefore demilitarization within many Middle Eastern states, in this case referring to the removal of army from politics, has been difficult due to the army’s infusion with the governing bodies and influential power within the state.
The Algerian formal political monopoly of the Party of the FLN (Front de Libération Nationale) thought to have a say over the political agenda. However, that assessment ignored the fact that FLN was not the source of power in the Algerian state and that the problem of authoritarianism was not a function of its formal monopoly, but rather of the power of the executive branch of the state over the legislative branch and the judiciary and the fact that the executive branch as a whole has been subject throughout to the hegemony of the military.
Demilitarizing the Egyptian politics is a precondition in this preliminary building of democracy. The quiet coup in Tunisia has taught Tunisians that the army is a friend of democracy. The same prescription was prescribed in Egypt. But in fact it is another form of Praetorianism as Huntington put it, when political and social institutions have failed, military rule is often perceived as a solution to this crisis and can often temporarily command high levels of popular support
Egypt with a history of military dominance is likely to intervene at the political scene. The future civil personalities need to work on their sides towards building a transitional phase where the state will be demilitarized , by consolidating the political institutions. Mubarak was the state, was the regime, and he was definitely the government. The collapse of Mubarak does not mean a collapse of the man. The transitional phase is the thin line, any false move can lead to a slippery slope. Wise politicians has to be prudent with the blind dismantle of the former institutions. Paul Bremer mal- grasping of real politics pushed Iraq into a bloodshed scenario. He thought that dismantling of “El Baath” party would help rebuilding Iraq under the prescription of the Western formula of democracy in the Middle East. Dismantling the army, the police, and the former regime party are thought to cure the epidemic. The Bush administrations and new Iraqis political figures pretended accomplishing the mission of establishing a strong state.
At this crucial phase, Egyptian, Tunisian , Libyan , Yemeni , and Syrian politicians should “empty” the dominant or ruling party from its personalized and regime connotation and pour it into a civilian party which can lead a strong opposition in future. The error which has been committed by Paul Bremer should not be repeated. Rebuilding Middle Eastern social and political capitals is a long process, which requires will and patience. Iran is a key player in the region. Iranians pretend that the “Arab Spring” is simply a reflection of the spread of Islamic awakening in reference to the Iranian revolution 1979. There is only one bridge between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Bahraini Shiite are loyal to their holy man in Tehran Temple. Iran is supporting AlHuthiyeen in Yemen and infiltrating in Egypt after the stepping down of Mubarak.
The current state of militarism in MENA remains dominated by an ideology, by a corpus of domination and manipulation. We must be careful not to engage in a voyeuristic program which tames the minds. We must keep in mind that when we engage in understanding the mystic relation between civilians and military in MENA, we find ourselves surrounded by muddy waters at the same time we realize that we are not equipped with the right tools and necessary footwear. To even speak of demilitarizing post “Arab Spring” countries is like pouring a glass of water in the desert.