2013 / 1 / 5
A United Revolt Versus A Divided Nation
Egypt and Syria’s Uprisings
By: Raha Aras
Starting December 2010 in a variety of countries in the Middle East and North Africa, people took to the streets and began to demand a change in their government. Almost like a domino effect, one by one starting with Tunisia, protests and revolutions began. In the midst of those countries were Egypt and Syria. The uprising in Egypt which began on January 2011 resulted in a successful removal of former President Hosni Mubarak. The movement in Syria began on March 2011, and is still ongoing in trying to remove President, Bashar Al-Assad from power. A big contributor to the difference in results of the two uprisings was the role of the military. As noted by Barany (2011), an important factor dictating a revolutions’ success is the country’s army’s support for the revolution. This is clearly distinguished between Egypt and Syria. The focus of this paper is what caused the differences in the decisions of the two militaries. Three main factors that contribute to the Egyptian military’s decision whether or not to support the regime or the people in these two uprisings are; the relationship of the military with the state, the goals of the military during and before the revolts and the military’s relationship with foreign nations. In Syria, the military’s relationship with the government and Syria’s foreign alliances were the contributing influences on the military’s cooperation and separation with the Bashar Al-Assad regime. The stances that these two militaries took are reflected in the differences of the factors mentioned.
Egypt’s military and government have always had a strong relationship. The former President Mubarak being a previous Air Force commander himself, (Knickmeyer 2011) kept a firm relationship with the armed forces. This relationship is further reinforced by the fact that, during Mubarak’s regime, a large portion of members of the government were military members (Martini & Taylor 2011). Furthermore, this is a tradition that has been going on for 60 years, with each Egyptian ruler specifically being from the military (Knickmeyer 2011). Based on this relationship authors such as Knickmeyer (2011) had predicted that Egypt’s military would not support the people’s rebellion against their leader. Unfortunately, the military turned against the President when the armed forces no longer felt that Mubarak had their best interest in mind.
Despite Mubarak`s close relationship with the military his loyalty began to become questionable. The generals felt a strong bond with Mubarak when he had valued their opinions and had held a high regard for their economic interests. When he was no longer taking as much of an account towards them in these manners they felt as though they were losing their influence on the President (Martini & Taylor 2011). Besides the fact that the future of Egypt may potentially be in the hands of the same family, which was another sign of the weakening of Mubarak’s loyalty, Mubarak’s son, Gamal Mubarak, has already established a negative rapport among the elites of the armed forces (Barany 2011, 24-35). The disintegrating relationship between the President and the military motivated the military to remove him from power. Syria’s entire military was not able to choose a side like Egypt’s armed forces.
Syria has a highly diverse population, which makes it no surprise that the position of the armed forces is divided in their ongoing revolt. As an opposition grew against Al-Assad, the leader tried to kill what was becoming a revolt against the government, using the national military. However, the main opposition in the uprising along with the rebels is the Free Syria Army. A large number of the soldiers that are originally from the Syria Arab Army have joined the Free Syria Army (Spyer 2012, 45-52). The Free Syria Army consists of former national soldiers as well as volunteer Syrian civilians. They are a highly organized and equipped with weapons (Spyer 2012, 45-52). Many of the ex-soldiers of the Syrian Arab Army departed their nation army to join the Free Syria Army because of the many atrocities they had witnessed throughout the years and the treatment of the civilian protestors they were forced to execute (Spyer 2012, 45-52). As this demonstrates, the military of Syria did not unite as a unit to support Al-Assad’s regime or to oppose it. The Free Syria Army, as the name says is in support of the removal of President Al-Assad because they were tired of the way the regime had been treating civilians for years. Different members of the army were treated differently, which also reinforced soldiers’ decisions to leave Al-Assad’s side.
It is mainly the elite members of the army who have remained in support of Al-Assad (Diehl 2012, 7-16). The reason behind this can be argued by Barany (2011, 24-35) who states that the elite members of the armed forces were given a privileged life in comparison to other soldiers. It is they who have the tightest relationship with the leader and see him as a legitimate ruler. Furthermore, patrimonial-ism plays a large role in the relationship between the elites of the military and the government. Al-Assad is noted by Bellin (2004, 139-157) to gain loyalty by keeping high ranking members of the government, within his family and close friends and also those to who have the same religious views as himself; Alawi. These divisions amongst the military force itself have been a large influence on the way certain members of the military have decided to position themselves within the uprising. The separation amongst the soldiers is not the only factor that played in the soldiers’ decisions to support or rebel against the leader. As Egypt’s military demonstrates, they had plans of their own they wanted to accomplish.
The Egyptian military also had an agenda of their own. Ibrahim Karwan (2011, 43-50) argues that the Egyptian military has multiple objectives in which they wish to maintain and achieve. These goals could only be possible with the removal of Mubarak. As stated by various authors, Martini & Taylor (2011) and Karwan (2011, 43-50) one of these goals is to obtain national stability. This is a means to secure the military reputation and positioning with the Egyptian public (Martin & Taylor 2011). The reputation of the military amongst the Egyptian citizens is very important to the armed forces. Above all, Egypt’s military is seeking to restore their own position within the government system while attempting to obtain a democratic government that will not jeopardise their power within the country (Martini & Taylor 2011). Rebelling against their leader and having him ultimately removed from power would help the military accomplish these goals.
The lack of unity within the Syrian military meant that there was no cohesion to establish any goals. Instead each side of the Syrian military, those in support of keeping Al-Assad in power and those in support of his removal from power, had their individual goals. Soldiers that were a part of the Free Syrian Army felt that Syria would be better off without Al-Assad in power. Their goal was to create a better Syria without Al-Assad in power. While Al-Assad military supporters maintained loyalty to their leader, and thought that was the best decision. Due to this lack of uniformity and goals, soldiers’ were even more pushed away from being a solidified army and did not have a problem leaving their leaders side. Foreign relations have also played a key role in shaping the militaries’ roles in the uprisings.
Egypt’s relationship with other countries is very important to the military. Egypt’s relationship with the United States is one of the most important foreign relations it has. The U.S. plays a key role in maintaining the military’s powers. To strengthen this, Egypt is the most important alliance out of the Arab countries for the U.S. (Rugh 2012, 36-48). The United States had a heavy influence on the military’s decision to support the removal of Mubarak in power, as this would create a higher chance of opportunity for there to be democracy in Egypt. Democracy is highly supported by the United States (Martini & Taylor 2011). Egypt’s military is in need of maintaining a strong alliance with the U.S. because of the financial support the United States provides to the Egyptian military. The U.S is influential to a lot of the on goings of the nation, especially in the business sector and in promoting a democratic government. The U.S’s financial aid has been long on going. They have given aid to the falling economy by giving $2 billion in private-sector investment. During the Bush administration, the military was personally receiving $86.5 million (Totten 2012, 23-42). This increased during Obama’s presidency to $1.3 billion, which covers an estimated 80 percent of their expenses (Totten 2012, 23-42). The U.S’s financial aid and support of democracy motivated the military even more to seek the removal of Mubarak. Syria’s foreign relations have also played a key role in shaping the militaries’ roles in the uprisings.
The results of the uprising in Syria were also profoundly influenced by external factors outside of the country; their foreign relations. Several countries supported one or the other side of the uprising. One of Syria’s alliances and Al-Assad supporters is Russia. Russia’s support for the Syrian army is heavily based on self interest. Regardless, the Al-Assad regime is being supplied with arms, fuel and cash from Russia along with other allies such as Iran and Venezuela (Diehl 2012, 7-16). These are allies that the military and the Al-Assad regime need to keep happy. Since the military’s stance has been divided in this conflict there are another set of countries in support of the Free Syria Army; Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United States who want Syria to have a new leader (Diehl 2012, 7-16). Knowing that an opposition against Al-Assad has foreign supporters encouraged soldiers even more to be able to position themselves against the President.
The uprisings that occurred in Egypt and Syria were both very different on many fronts, specifically the roles the militaries took. The factors that influenced the militaries actions differed. In both cases; military members lost their loyalty to their leader. Mubarak began to become disloyal and lose the confidence of his armed forces. In Syria, loyal members of the armed forces became distinguished against those who no longer approved of their leader’s authority. Al-Assad’s acts of favouritism amongst the ranks played a role in this divide, as he did not build and maintain the loyalty of all his soldiers. In addition, a united Egyptian military sought out goals that they’d be able to achieve with the removal of Mubarak. This further reinforcing them to position themselves against their leader. It also created strength in the Egyptian rebellion movement as the army and civilians had more fuel to take down their President. Since the Syrian armed forces did not band together to support or rebel against the regime, they did not have goals they wanted to achieve like the Egyptian military did. Furthermore in both countries, foreign relations played an extensive role. Egypt’s military was directly influenced by the U.S. government. The military was fueled by incentives for a better future for themselves and their country. The United States provided as a major incentive for the military to get rid of Mubarak because the U.S. is in support of democracy. Attaining a democratic regime, would provide as an opportunity to strengthen their alliance. For Syria there was not only one foreign actor involved. Many countries took different sides, Al-Assad’s side or the rebellions. All of these factors explain the differences between the two militaries and the way the revolts played out.
Egypt’s ability to remove Mubarak from power is highly credited to the cooperation of the armed forces with the rebellions. This is a