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Egypt's Civilians Should Control Military

Author: Steven A. Cook, Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies
July 4, 2013


Egypt's military culture is unique. Every young officer candidate is imbued with the idea that the armed forces saved Egypt from European colonialism, Zionism and corruption and that as military officers they are set apart from the rest of society. It will take many years to instill the top brass with the notion that civilians are their superiors and they should owe their loyalty to a democratic system.

Washington policy wonks will be tempted to suggest more funding for Egyptians to take part in the International Military Education and Training program, which gives officers from friendly countries an opportunity to learn from the U.S. military about civilian control of the armed forces, respect for human rights, upholding of democratic values and the importance of the rule of law. That's is a good idea, but this small program will not provide the necessary sea change in the way the Egyptian armed forces educates and socializes its officer corps. That is the responsibility of Egyptians, especially civilian leaders, who must not continue to tolerate the military's desire to rule while leaving it to civilians to govern.

It won't be easy. The military, which protected the Jan. 25 revolution, has become the arbiter in the struggle among Egypt's political forces, none of which can impose its will on the others. This is why groups that a year ago celebrated the ascendance of an elected civilian president and assailed the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces are now delighted that the military has once again stepped into the political arena. If Egyptians truly want the military out of politics, they are going to have to learn the art of compromise.

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