- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 13, 2011


Deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak spent three decades in office hand-picking his military generals on the basis of absolute loyalty to his regime, not to any Islamic or democracy movement, analysts on one of the world’s largest armies say.

The question is can the draftee 450,000-strong force now in charge, led by generals who flourished financially under Mr. Mubarak‘s’ largesse, make a clean break with the past and put Cairo on a path to free elections.

“The military is a gigantic organization there that is essentially connected to Mubarak himself,” said Richard Herrmann, an international security professor at Ohio State University who has written extensively on the 1979 Iranian revolution.

“I think the separation between the military and the regime has been exaggerated,” Mr. Herrmann said. “They can, of course, separate themselves from it as they move forward. But the military has been the regime there since the 1950s. The question is whether the military will do more than just push out the latest generals and actually open society to some sort of more broad-based participation.”

A key test, he said, is whether the military itself relinquishes some powers to a transition committee - something that failed to happen in Iran, leading to a coup by the mullahs and their military and civilian followers. Another test is whether officers will give up their lucrative business ties in the defense industry - something a truly civilian government likely would not allow.

“Right now, all we have are generals who are reacting to the popular bend,” he said.

In 1975, Mr. Mubarak, a high-ranking air force general, was tapped by President Anwar Sadat as vice president precisely because he knew the military and how to control it. He succeeded to the presidency in 1981 after Muslim Brotherhood-linked officers assassinated Sadat.

Mr. Mubarak and the general intelligence service spent a good amount of time spying on the ranks to ensure up-and-coming officers were not enticed to join the outlawed Brotherhood or other hard-line Islamic groups.

Mubarak is a control freak,” said Robert Springborg, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., who has written two books on Egypt and lived in the country from 2000 to 2002 when he was director of the American Research Center there.

Sadat needed someone who could control the military,” Mr. Springborg said. “He needed someone who was a hands-on guy who monitored everything that went on, especially promotions, awards and so on. Mubarak stood up in that military as the guy who kept track of every little thing. That has been how he runs the country since that time. He monitors all appointments down to the colonel level. He’s the maestro of personal control.”

Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman, a former general who announced Mr. Mubarak’s resignation on Friday, paid special attention to the officer corps as the country’s intelligence chief.

“Gen. Suleiman’s job was to weed them out,” Mr. Springborg said. “That was one of his major responsibilities as head of general intelligence was to monitor the military. And so Islamists were the biggest threat, so they received the most attention.”

Mr. Springborg saw Mr. Mubarak’s controlling nature firsthand. Egyptian officers attending the postgraduate school had to follow strict rules on outside contacts.

“They are very carefully monitored by general intelligence,” the professor said. “They are not supposed to have uncontrolled communications between themselves and foreigners. They need to report any attempt to communicate with them.”

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