Thursday, February 17, 2011

Military Re-Training?

Egyptian soldier in Tahrir Square
It's celebration time! Hosni Mubarak has resigned and turned over the reigns to...the military. Oh wait...last three military rulers in Egypt? Nasser, Sadat, Mubarak. Oh right. Okay, so I do think this is still a big deal, and I'm cautiously optimistic the military will serve as a transition government until free and fair elections are held. They saw the numbers in the streets, and I do believe they realize those numbers will come out again, if not more, if they make this transition not happen. That being said, even if we see a move towards democracy in Egypt (after, presumably, civil institutions are rebuilt somewhat from their hallow roles during the rule of the semi-autocrats for so long), there is this problem. The Egyptian military is huge and probably doesn't want to see itself shrunk.

This makes sense, of course. You make a paycheck from doing X. You will oppose anyone saying that we need to do less X, even if it makes sense...UNLESS you can transition into Y. This is the key point here. Egypt got a lot of American aid, but most of it was for the military (versus economic aid). The military is very strong in Egypt. The military probably doesn't want to shrink too much, though that will be (probably) necessary to take care of domestic issues like the economy. Egypt could use foreign aid to help it out...but if well over half of current U.S. aid goes to the military, I'm not sure that's tenable in the long-run. Though Hein Goemans' latest research is optimistic regarding militaries seizing power through coups moving to elections pretty quickly (pretty fascinating stuff - Hein does some really cool research) if they get lots of military aid, the question is whether this is a good thing on a longer time horizon. Could this turn into a turf war?

If Egypt transitions to a democracy, isn't devoting as much as it currently does to the military a problem? And, more importantly, why would the military be okay with scaling back significantly in 5-10 years? They probably wouldn't. Hell, you see the public outcry in the U.S. when we try to cut back military spending. So, my thinking is...provide alternative careers for these military men. Why not devote some foreign aid to that, specifically? If we can help transition people out of the Egyptian military into decent civilian jobs, this makes it easier for Egypt to eventually cut down its military spending. This is, of course, applicable anywhere, especially the U.S. But in light of the current focus on Egypt, the nature of the transition in government (from a dictator to the military), and the history of military rule in that country, this could be a good debate worth having.

By the way, for more info on the dynamics in the Middle East and Egypt (and I mean good information, unlike what you get on TV, the radio, or the papers), check out our podcast on the situation!

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