Khaled Fahmy: Repressive apparatus including the military determined to defend regime
DANYA NADAR, TRNN: Since the appearance of the Egyptian military during nationwide protests on January 28, the Egyptian public remains confused about the stance the army has taken in light of recent events, the detainment of foreign journalists and human rights activists, and its inaction on the days that pro-Mubarak thugs attacked peaceful demonstrators in Tahrir Square.
AHMED MOOR, JOURNALIST, CAIRO: The reasons that there’s widespread support for the army is because it’s a conscription army and because the country’s native sons, boys from villages, boys from Cairo, elsewhere, are all components or parts of the army. One of the reasons people here support the army is because it’s regarded as a people’s army.
NAZLY HUSSEIN, EGYPTIAN PROTESTER, CAIRO: People are really welcoming of the army. As soon as the army came in front of the Square on January 28, people were extremely excited to see the army. They were happy to–I think they were happy [inaudible] the security forces. And then people became a bit more skeptical as the days passed by. The army’s not really protecting us [inaudible] we have to protect ourselves against thugs, against horses and camels and Molotovs. People are starting to recognize it. I think both parties are trying to walk really carefully around one another. I think a lot of people actually do believe that they’re allies. But in a lot of cases they’re pretending to be allies just because it’s [inaudible] both their best interests. Right now there are no more arrests, but over the past few days there were a lot of arrests of demonstrators who left the Square. A lot of them were picked up around the Square, and a lot of them were picked up on their way home from the Square. By whom? We don’t know. The military is the only armed force that’s available in the country right now, so I believe that they’re part of the arrests, they’re somehow involved in the arrests. Who is giving the commands? Again, I’m uncertain. The hierarchy seems unclear to me. I really don’t know how I feel about the army right now. I’m still not suspicious of the army, but I’m skeptical. People are starting to ask questions about the role of the army, but they’re still happy to have them around and they still trust them. They know they’re not going to fully protect them, but they also know that they’re not going to attack them. And there isn’t really a discussion happening about the connection between the army and Hosni Mubarak not leaving and money that’s coming in from the United States. People are avoiding it. I think people are turning a blind eye just because they don’t want to face it right now. The army is the only source of security they have right now, and they’re holding on to it.
KHALED FAHMY, HISTORY DEPT., AMERICAN UNIV. IN CAIRO: I don’t think people are thinking about the army, at least the people in the streets, in these specific terms, that they get $1.3 billion from the States each year. The army so far has managed to not intimidate the demonstrators. And you have to always bear in mind that the people in the streets are always making an implicit comparison with the police. Of course, the police have never really stopped short of using all the dirty tricks and all the weapons at their disposal. The army hasn’t done this. It hasn’t teargassed, it hasn’t used water cannons, it hasn’t used the rubber bullets, it hasn’t done these things that people in the streets, on the streets, now are used to when it comes to the police. So in that respect the army has some kind of respect from the people on the streets. The people are taking the army at its word that it’s not going to use force, and in that respect they have managed this kind of standoff. When there were some rumors that the army is willing to use tanks to take back the Square, people literally stood in front of the tracks and slept inside the tank wheels and chains to prevent them from moving. But they do this because they know that the army will not use force. The last thing that I’d add here is an incident that I saw personally in a very high-ranking commander. He’s the general in charge of the central district of their country (which means Cairo), came in person surrounded by military police officers to the square and asking to talk to the demonstrators. And he managed to win them over, you know, for maybe 30 seconds, or maybe a minute at most, when he took the pedestal and started using the microphone to speak to the people. But then when he started telling them that he thought that this glorious youth movement has been usurped by outside agents, they just booed him down and they wouldn’t allow him to continue talking, and that was the end of that attempt. I think this just tells you how far people trust the army. They of course trust the soldiers and the low-ranking officers managing these spots, but when it comes to high command and when they listen to this high command talking, they are much more skeptical about it. There are repeated stories of harassment and of kidnapping of activists and of foreign journalists. Now, the stories that I personally have heard is that it is military police who were doing this. But then the places of detention are where state security–that is, Ministry of Interior. So in other words, it seems to me that the Ministry of Interior and the police at large are losing the tools with which–the actual force with which it can go and arrest people, but the investigations and the cases of detention are still in their realm, so to speak. It’s the Ministry of Interior that does the investigations, with [inaudible] of the army. The question is: how widespread, how systematic, and what do we make of it? Obviously, the repressive apparatus of the state has not collapsed. Far from it. There are various explanations. One is that because there’s a big discrepancy between what the government says and what it does, so how do you explain this result of miscoordination? Is it a result of disingenuity on the part of the government and hypocrisy? Is it a deliberate attempt, in other words, to mislead the public opinion, both domestic and international? Or is it rather a result of a breakdown of the central command of the police itself and not being in control of people on the ground, so to speak? I personally think that there is a very strong core of the repressive regime very much intact, very much determined to maintain the stability of the regime and prop up the regime and Mubarak. They are probably themselves terrified of their own livelihoods and the possibility of a thorough and transparent investigation. This is a thoroughly corrupt regime and run by very cynical and clever people, and I think they are now panicking at the possibility that they themselves would be uncovered and that they would be brought to trial. When I say the regime, I definitely include the army in it. This is not a one-man show. This is not a Ben Ali kind of system. This is why it is well entrenched and this is why it hasn’t collapsed so easily. It’s not only Mubarak and his family. It’s not only the National Democratic Party. It’s not only the Ministry of Interior and the dungeons that it runs. It’s not only the military. And it’s not only the businessmen. It’s many, many interests being interlocked, and they cross over from the military to the police, to the civilian sector, to the economy, to the political establishment, to families. All of this is interconnected. And there are, of course, foreign elements and foreign powers there. Israel is terrified that this regime can collapse. Many people in the US militaries also have a vested interest in maintaining it, people in the intelligence services, and so on and so forth. Egypt is a complicated country. It’s not a small country. And it has intricate and diverse links with other forces outside it. And there are many people who have an interest in maintaining this regime. And Mubarak knows this very well, and he’s cynically using these fault lines to maintain his authority, thinking that he can wait it through.
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