Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Will Their Armies Save (Some) Arab States from Islamism?

By Barry Rubin

Nowhere in the world is Mao Zedong’s dictum that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun truer than in the Middle East.

 The armed forces have been the basis of power in the Arabic-speaking world and in Turkey, too. That’s why the nationalist dictatorships and traditionalist monarchies, which had seen so many coups and coup attempts in the 1950s and 1960s, had to find special ways to control the armed forces. They did so by special privileges, close intelligence watches, promoting officers on the basis of loyalty to the regime, and many other measures.

 One of these was the creation of elite, parallel military formations. Examples include the Iranian Islamic Republican Guard Corps (IRGC), the Iraqi Republican Guard, the Saudi “White Army,” and others.

 During the “Arab Spring” there has not been a single revolution in the usual sense of the word. In Egypt and Tunisia, what we have seen were essentially coups. The armed forces both used the mass demonstrations and responded to them by seizing power. In Libya, a rebel army was basically handed power by NATO. But where the army remained loyal, as in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and—so far but perhaps shakily—Syria—the regime remained in power.

 This analysis raises the question of whether the army is going to remain in control of Egypt and Tunisia. In this situation, neither “revolution” nor elections nor revolutionary Islamist groups really matter. The soldiers are still the boss.

Change, then, is more illusory than real and there is far less to fear.
 Such an analysis is viable; it might be true; it might even be, from an international strategic perspective, the best outcome.  While a stable, non-repressive and non-aggressive  democracy that benefited large numbers of people is preferable, what if it isn't possible?

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