This is a bit late, but the 8/26 episode the Al-Jazeera talk show Al-Itijah Al-Muakis on “The Relationships between Military Institutions and the Governing Regimes” was another good one. The basic debate question was whether Arab military institutions have a positive role to play in Arab governance/ society? Anyone who can should read or listen to the transcript because there were so many interesting points, but I only have time to mention the basics:
1) Yes. Backbone of the Modern State. Mohamed Ahmed, a Mauritanian journalist, argued the military institutions play a vital role in safeguarding the Umma, pointing to their critical role in the development of the modern Arab state over the last 50 years. His views are heavily influenced by his postive perspective of the recent coup in Mauritania. He see’s the Arab military regimes having a vital role in stepping in to “correct” ( التصحيح ) when the government strays away from democracy.
2) No. Bunch of corrupt bums who lose every time they fight. Anwar Malak, an Algerian journalist and former Algerian army officer residing in Paris (and frequent guest on the show) argued that Arab military regimes do nothing but loot and plunder countries wealth. They certainly don’t do anything on the battlefield to justify their power. Syria hasn’t shot one bullet towards the Jolan in 30 years and the Iraq army evaporated in minutes in 2003. Even in Algeria, he points out, the army couldn’t beat the rebel militias in the 1990s. It had to resort to three things: 1) penetrating the rebels 2) drafting local self-defense militias to do the fighting and 3) letting the militias self-destruct through internal fighting. Or they help put down the Arab people- isn’t the Egyptian army participating in the blockade of Gaza? According to Malak, the only people who are actually fighting in the interest of the people are the resistance groups such as Hamas or Hezbollah.
There is a tendecy in the US counter-terrorism community to try and get inside the “enemy’s head” and ask “what does Al-Qaeda want?, usually by reading speeches of Bin Laden and Zawahiri. Of course, this is absolutely a good thing. But there is also a tendency to take it too far and forget how radical their views are in comparison to the rest of Arab societies. When Bin Laden and Zawahiri rail on about military regimes being inherently un-Islamic, yes, there are people who agree with that, but they are a minority. Notice how the debate here is between Malakwhose criticism is based on the regimes alleged corruption/ and bad military performance, not inherent structure and Ahmed who has no problem with them. Not once was the point raised that they are fundamentally un-Islamic. In Egypt for example, the Military (as an institution, not as something you’d want to serve in) has alot of respect and prestige. To the extent people don’t like the government is because its seen as corrupt and not doing a good job. If performance improved, very quickly so would the Government’s popularity. Gamal Abdel Nasser was a military dictator and is the most popular Arab leader of the 20thcentury, both in and outside of Egypt. Why? Because he was seen as performing.
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