Mohammed Ezzeldin: The Egyptian people trust the army over the police, but Mubarak is still commander-in-chief
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. As events continue to unfold in Egypt, perhaps the determining factor will be: where does the army come out in all of this? We saw images on Friday of the army tanks in the streets, and perhaps people outside Egypt found it rather strange, people cheering as the army showed up, and then soldiers in the tanks waving flags and cheering back at the crowds. Now joining us to talk about the Egyptian army and what role it might play as this Egyptian uprising continues is Mohammed Ezzeldin. He’s a graduate of political science at Cairo University, now completing his master’s degree in history at Georgetown University. Thanks for joining us.
MOHAMMED EZZELDIN, EGYPTIAN ACTIVIST: Thank you.
JAY: So why were people cheering when the army showed up? Most countries in the middle of an upsurge like this might have thought the army showed up to suppress them.
EZZELDIN: People [are] cheering the army in Cairo streets for two main reasons. First, because people recognize clearly that there is a big difference between the army and the police in Egypt. The police who are involved in a brutal confrontation with people for–almost now for four days. [inaudible] that they are very corrupt and they are very involved in supporting dictatorship in Egypt, while the army, on the other hand, is well known for its nationalist party supporting the people for–in different situations.
JAY: Like what?
EZZELDIN: I’m talking historically, historically.
JAY: Yeah. What is an example of that?
EZZELDIN: Like army intervene–in modern Egyptian history, army intervene in different situations to maintain the public order or to save the country. And, of course, army has a long history of battles. Like, many people are conscripts in the army. Like, they witnessed what the army did in ’73. And army have a good reputation in Egypt, because there are two main reasons people are cheering the armies in the streets. First, there’s completely–army’s completely different from the police apparatus. Police apparatus is increasing and is much delved into corruption and into supporting dictatorship in Egypt and oppressing people. And the brutal confrontation between the police troops and the demonstrators in Cairo streets last four days was a huge evident about what’s going on. There’s a number of accidents and a number of events where people demonstrated against the police brutality and, like, causes of torturing in police stations and prisons against civilians and against political prisoners. So the reputation of the police is well known to be deteriorating any public [inaudible] any civil action. And it’s completely opposite to what people have in their minds about the army.
JAY: Now, is it–but is this a truthful thing, in the sense that doesn’t Mubarak control the army?
EZZELDIN: Mubarak control the army, of course, but–.
JAY: But does it–something that Mubarak and the people around him have simply chosen to use the police in this more direct repressive way? But is there a reason to think that, if ordered, that the army wouldn’t do what Mubarak wanted them to do?
EZZELDIN: Well, the military institution in Egypt has a relative interdependence–have a relative independence from the other institutions. Of course, this must determine–but why the presidency and the presidential palace–the dictate on them. And, of course, the president of Arab Republic of Egypt is the high command of the Egyptian army, but it still have some independence. And on the other hand, the army is not involved in politics. The army, you can see, army didn’t go to streets and shoot people in modern Egyptian history for long time. And most of the confrontation between the regime and people who–and the opposition in particular, was the regime, Mubarak regime, used the police troops to suppress the people.
JAY: There was some reports, on the Internet, at least, of actual clashes between the army and the police in the last day. Have you heard of that? Is there any truth to this?
EZZELDIN: We don’t have an evidential truth about what happened. And it’s basically on Friday. What I’m sure about is, that first the presidential troops or the presidential guard and the military police entered downtown to secure and defend three major buildings: the National Museum; and the Parliament, the People’s Assembly; and the state TV building. So this was the first mission of the army, like, to defend and to secure these major buildings and crucial buildings from any deterioration or any actions of violence. Later on, a couple of hours before Mubarak give his speech, the army troops and army tanks in specific started to enter the streets and started to take some positions, and it was received by a huge and cheerful reception by the people, this for two main reasons, as I mentioned. First, army, the image of the army, that they are supporting the people, they are protecting the people, and they are interfering to maintain the public security.
JAY: Now, what happens if there’s–. A curfew was called. As far–as of doing this interview, there doesn’t seem to have been a big push by the police or the army to actually enforce the curfew. But at some point there’s going to be a moment here where Mubarak’s–is going to want to enforce a curfew of some kind, get people off the streets. The army will do what they’re told. Or will they?
EZZELDIN: I think this, the decision of making, of imposing and enforcing a curfew was not mature, for two reasons. First, you have thousand, tens of thousand people in the streets, and you can’t impose a curfew in a couple of hours. People can’t go to their homes in a couple of hours. And second, people are completely energetic and completely influenced by the police brutality, so they wouldn’t respond positively to what the police and what the regime is asking them for. So I would say that the major task of the military now in Egypt, in Cairo, basically was to secure and defend some basic buildings and to maintain the public order. We have two main scenarios now regarding the relation between the people and the army. We have the Tunisian scenario. There’s a division in the ruling elites, there is division in the regime, so the army will be neutral, neutral in terms that, okay, the tanks and soldiers and officers in the streets, they are just maintaining the security of the people, they are securing the people from any brutality practiced by the police. This is the first scenario, the Tunisian scenario. Second scenario, which happened in Iran in 1979, when the Shah started to give orders to the army to involve, to suppress demonstration against the Shah, and ask them to shoot the demonstrators, and they did so. But after a while there was a huge division and severe division inside the army. And this moment, actually, the moment–it’s a turning point in any dictatorship when the army supporting the dictator or supporting the one ruling party is suffering from a division. We don’t know, we don’t have clear information about what’s going [on] in Egypt, what’s going to–how the events in coming days [are] going to unfold. What I want to say also is, what I want to refer to, that the chief of staff, chief of the staff of the Egyptian army, was here on a visit to the United States just one day before the demonstrations broke out. And it seems, for many commentators and many people who analyze the situation that there’s a sort of back-scene negotiations between the Pentagon and the Egyptian army or the Egyptian ministry of defense. One of the newspaper yesterday just published a piece of news about this, about these bilateral talks [inaudible] people are very crucial [sic] and very cautious about what’s going to happen, because many people in Egypt, or the majority of the Egyptian people, understand [inaudible] that the army having millions of dollars every year as an aid–.
JAY: Yeah, we think it’s $1.3 billion of American aid, although do we know if that’s–all goes to the military? Or does some of that go to the police?
EZZELDIN: Most of them go to the military, I guess. I guess. But, you know, the budget of the military or the budget of the police are not discussed, and they are not publicly published or even discussed in the Parliament. So I don’t have clear information about it. But what I’m sure about, what I’m sure about is, that these bilateral talks actually is going to ensure one thing was United States and the Pentagon and the White House, of course, is interested in, which is the security of Israel. United States now–the undecisive situations and positions taken by Hillary Clinton and President Obama in the last two days actually shows two things–shows one thing, one clear thing, to be frank, that the United States is not interested in any democracy or grassroots democracy or program of democracy in Egypt. Their main concern is the security of Israel–and other things, but this is their main concern, okay?
JAY: The Egyptian army, given that it gets $1.3 billion a year, that’s a lot of money and it buys you a lot of generals. The Pentagon must have a lot of influence inside the Egyptian army.
EZZELDIN: I don’t know, I don’t know, but, like, maybe, maybe. We can expect a lot of things. But what actually was clear today from Mubarak’s speech: that he’s completely consolidated and supported by the army.
JAY: He didn’t look like someone afraid that he might have to get on a plane.
EZZELDIN: Yeah, he was completely confident and completely unaffected and disconnected to reality. What happened actually made many people feel in the streets that the army, that what they expect from the Egyptian army, who usually have a nationalist and was very loyal to the Egyptian people and Constitution, they are–now they’re afraid that it might play a role in suppressing Egypt road to democratization.
JAY: And if they do that, it’s hard to believe they would do that with some kind of–without some kind of green light from the Pentagon here in Washington.
EZZELDIN: I guess so. I believe so.
JAY: Thanks very much for joining us.
EZZELDIN: Thank you.
JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
End of Transcript
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