Crackdown in Egypt

One of the question marks over the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 was the depth of military commitment to the regime.  A harsh repression strategy would require extreme measures, like having soldiers open up into unarmed crowds with automatic weapons.  The military’s commitment to Hosni Mubarak was weak enough that in the end, they chose to remove him rather than having to go to such measures, as well as take the risk that such an order would not be obeyed by the rank and file.  Since 2011, it has been an open question whether the military would be willing to take such an action to safeguard its own prerogatives.

Today, that has been answered.  In response to protests by supporters of deposed President Morsi, the Egyptian military has chosen to begin massacring civilians in the streets.  As of this writing on August 14th, the official accounts say that there are roughly 300 dead, with the actual toll likely far higher.  The choice of the military seems to be to dispense with any pretense of democratic legitimacy and embark on rule by force.

I suspect that the military’s direct rule will be short unless it can bring this violence to an end very soon.  It is a conscript army, and most of the rank and file have little ideological commitment to the continuation of military privilege over civilian rule.  When a crisis is imminent, many will swallow their reservations and fire on civilians – but probably very few have the stomach for a prolonged war against a hostile civilian population.  Military discipline is likely to disintegrate very quickly if this continues.   If the military breaks down, any semblance of law and order will follow.

The military better have a plan for de-escalating the violence.


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