Anchor Lisa Mullins speaks with Robert Springborg, Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School, about Egypt’s military and its role in the current political crisis. Download MP3
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Lisa Mullins: …at least one aspect of normal life in Egypt is not likely to change regardless of when President Mubarak leaves office, and that is the role of the military.
Robert Springborg: The military has been the backbone of the Egyptian state since 1952.
Mullins: Robert Springborg is a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval Post-Graduate School in Monterey, California.
Springborg: Most Egyptians find it virtually inconceivable to imagine they’re a state without a vital role for the military. So for a transition to move away from military dominance to a situation of civilian political control, the modalities of that and the end state of that are really unimaginable for most Egyptians.
Mullins: Mubarak we know sees himself as a military man, this is key to our understanding of how he governs. But how close is he with the military?
Springborg: His private life and his institutional position are entirely caught up with the military. He lived his whole life in a military compound as do all Egyptian military officers. It’s a world unto itself. And he resents that world view to the rest of us.
Mullins: And how about in terms of official, I mean is he the equivalent of our commander in chief? Does he have an official position with the military?
Springborg: The Egyptian constitution has 35 articles assigning power to the president, more than any other constitution with which I’m familiar. So he’s not just sort of informally in charge of the military, he’s vested constitutionally with a range of powers, including appointment and promotion in the officer corp.
Mullins: So when we hear from generals that they are going to protect the protestors, does that mean that it’s really Mubarak who’s saying that despite what we might think.
Springborg: Yes, it’s Mubarak saying that exactly because he wants to ensure that the reputation of the military remain in tact because were the military had tried to control the protestors it would’ve been very clumsy indeed because they don’t have any crowd control capacity; so they simply have heavy weaponry and 30-caliber machine guns. So, for the military not to have blood on its hands was vital for the continuation of military rule.
Mullins: I think it’s helpful to know just how well the military is treated in Egypt, and really, the member don’t live to shabbily in and around Cairo. Back in 2009 we actually got a good glimpse of this from the BBC’s reporter, Magdi Abdelhadi, who took us then around to see the privileges that members of Egyptian military enjoy.
Abdelhadi: I’m riding in one of Cairo’s spatital[?2:24] taxis in the obelisk east of the capital. And this area you can clearly see the extent of privileges the military officers enjoy. All the time I’m talking to you we’re driving past one club after the other; and these are clubs for the military officers, complete with restaurants, sports facilities, and even hotels. No other profession in Egypt enjoys the same range of facilities as the military officers.
Mullins: So here’s the question, Professor Springborg, if the military enjoys all those perks and if being a member of the military means having a steady paycheck, having a hand in business enterprises, why would it be that the military would have so much of the sympathies of the public and vice versa?
Springborg: Well, I personally don’t believe the military does have tremendous sympathy with the public. The higher one goes up in the military the more one is enmeshed in these networks, which lead down from Mubarak through the Minister of Defense into the officer corp. And the way in which it’s done is not that serving officers are enmeshed in these military enterprises, it’s the promise of being enmeshed in them that maintains their loyalty until they retire, because a retirement from the Egyptian military is not enough to keep body and soul together. So they’re looked after in precisely the way that Magdi Abdelhadi was describing, but then the lure of a very lucrative life after retirement is what cements the loyalty.
Mullins: So is the appearance that the military is really supporting the public just for show?
Springborg: Just for show.
Mullins: Do you feel as though you have a strong take on what Mubarak’s plans are and how he’s maneuvering this right now?
Springborg: He’s still got his fingers on most of the control levers, and to be honest, he wouldn’t mind having other sympathetic figures pull the levers so long as his interests are protected when he is no longer president. Because the minute he doesn’t have either directly or indirectly his hands on the levers of power, then the power to investigate the resources of the Mubarak plan and the people around them is there. And once that happens it’s not just President Mubarak who has problems, it’s many other people and there are billions of dollars at stake here. So he cannot just happily walk off into exile; he’s got to keep control in Cairo or the game is over.
Mullins: Robert Springborg, professor at the Naval Post-Graduate School in Monterrey, California, talking to us about the Egyptian military’s role and what that role is likely to be as events unfold in Egypt. Thank you.
Springborg: You’re welcome.
Mullins: You can find our coverage of Egypt, including reports from Cairo and interviews with top thinkers on the subject. It’s all at the theworld.org/egypt, a wide variety of stories to checkout there.
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