A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Egyptian Army's Hamlet Moment

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprise of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action . . .

Hamlet, of course.

It goes wholly against my grain to wish for a military coup, anywhere, anytime, for any reason. But I do now believe the future of Egypt and the honor of the Egyptian Army may require them to recall these words:
Egypt has passed through a critical period in her recent history characterized by bribery, mischief, and the absence of governmental stability. All of these were factors that had a large influence on the army. Those who accepted bribes and were thus influenced caused our defeat in the Palestine War. As for the period following the war, the mischief-making elements have been assisting one another, and traitors have been commanding the army. They appointed a commander who is either ignorant or corrupt. Egypt has reached the point, therefore, of having no army to defend it. Accordingly, we have undertaken to clean ourselves up and have appointed to command us men from within the army whom we trust in their ability, their character, and their patriotism. It is certain that all Egypt will meet this news with enthusiasm and will welcome it.
July 23, 1952. The Free Officers' first communique, read by Lieutenant Colonel Anwar Sadat. Many years later, he would name an Air Force hero named Husni Mubarak as his Vice President.

As they say, or at least used to say, in British pubs, "Hurry up, please. It's time."


David Mack said...

Very nice historical precedent, Mike. To go back a bit deeper in Egyptian history, check out Professor Richard Bulliet's article in Agence Global, "Egypt's Neo-Mamluk Endgame." Here is an exert:

"The term “neo-Mamluk” reminds us that this kind of military sultanate has been more or less continuous in the Middle East since the thirteenth century when military slaves called Mamluks first seized power in Egypt.

"It is unlikely that Hosni Mubarak is personally determining the government strategies being pursued in Egypt today. In neo-Mamluk regimes, the man at the top serves at the pleasure of his senior colleagues. When the regime is threatened, those colleagues are properly concerned with their collective interest. They confer with the president, or plot behind his back, to determine when he should leave, and they try to manage the succession in a fashion that will preserve their privileges."

Michael Collins Dunn said...

Amira Sonbol of Georgetown has also argued that the Army's role in the Egyptian economy amounts to a modern version of the Mamlulk iltizam, and has written a book, The New Mamluks, on the subject: http://www.amazon.com/New-Mamluks-Egyptian-Feudalism-Paradigms/dp/0815628447/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1296786561&sr=8-1

Michael Collins Dunn said...

Then too, of course, the charge of the horse and camel cavalry in Tahrir yesterday had a Mamluk feel to it.