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As the military feathers its own nest, democracy can wait

The charges against deposed President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood co-defendants are a sad reminder of all that has gone wrong in Egypt since July last year. Those indicted include dead and imprisoned Palestinians who are, nevertheless, still accused of taking part in an operation to free Morsi from the Mubarak-era jail in which he was imprisoned. The prosecution officials appointed by the army officers running Egypt have given open clear notice of their dishonest and irrational nature.


Long before they actually appeared in court, the accused were tried and convicted by the state-controlled media; no sub judice rule to regulate the publication of matters under consideration by a court operates in Egypt. The political motives of the charges are obvious and transparent. No attempt has been made to establish a relationship with law or due process. It was all about exporting the Egyptian crisis to Gaza, distorting the image of the Palestinian people and scapegoating the Muslim Brotherhood to justify the coup.

Still outcasts at the African Union and shunned internationally the military junta is desperate to gain legitimacy, financial aid and international acceptance. Hence it has become increasingly reliant on Israel and the likes of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair whose neoconservative tendencies become more obvious by the day. Some apologists have even taken to the airwaves to assert that Israel is the biggest democracy in the Middle East and its political establishment has been dominated by generals for decades, so why shouldn't Egypt's?

Demonising Hamas and the Palestinian people may just be enough to ensure Israel's continued support but it is certainly well short of what is required for international acceptance. Indeed, Israel itself is in need of acceptance and its influence is limited on the world stage. Nowhere else is this more visible than within the UN, where Israel is gaining pariah status. By aligning itself to Israel so desperately, the Egyptian junta has joined the exclusive rogue states club.

For a regional government or its supporters to use Israel as an example of democracy is contemptible. They pay no attention to the racist rhetoric that comes out of the Knesset or the odious realities of life in the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, especially for the indigenous Palestinians.

Why should so-called Egyptian liberals propagate myths about Israeli democracy when even Israelis shatter them? Retired Major-General Shlomo Gazit said revealingly, "You have to understand that the military in Israel are first and foremost a trade union, they're interested in their own survival." Gazit, a protégé of Israel's most famous general, Moshe Dayan, admitted that the country possesses no political system to match the influence of the generals. "We have an extremely weak political system that is incapable of standing as a counterweight to the military and that is not capable of coming up with alternatives that are not military alternatives," he insisted.

Even though it has one of the best-equipped armies in the world, with nuclear and chemical arsenals to boot, Israel still cannot bring itself to accept one quarter of its population simply because they are not Jews. Hence, it passes laws almost weekly to exclude "the others" and ensure that the state's "Jewishness" is preserved.

As an army of conquest formed in 1948 out of a number of terrorist gangs and militias, the so-called Israel Defence Forces became immersed in national politics to ensure the survival of the state. Since then it has influenced political trends (such as the settler movement), shaped internal policies, dominated the national budget and operated a large part of the economy.

However, even if Egyptian generals have adopted a similar degree of interference in their own country's national politics, what need or justification can there be for this brand of "military democracy"? Egypt's is neither an army of conquest nor occupation.

Incredibly, the same army which has grandiose aims to monopolise domestic as well as foreign policy-making claims rather pathetically that 31 Hamas members crossed into Egypt, overpowered the guards and military intelligence officers and seized control of the border in less than an hour. What's more, the great Egyptian military claims that the Hamas men then crossed the Sinai Peninsula to the Suez Canal, overpowering soldiers and sailors on the way before fanning out across the various provinces where they controlled a number of prisons and freed 20,000 prisoners. No wonder the Israelis describe the Egyptian Army as a paper tiger, fit only for brutalising unarmed and defenceless civilians.

It is both disheartening and, indeed, appalling to see young children idolising this army's senior officer, standing next to his photo with jackboots on their heads. A truly revolutionary army would never encourage or condone abuse of vulnerable civilians, young or old. After all, the role of the military is to serve and protect the people, not to enslave and dehumanise them. This is why in real democracies, like the United Kingdom, they are referred to as the armed services and their budget is allocated by the state. It is increased and reduced according to the state of the national economy. There is no secret or hidden military economy in a genuine democracy.

As such, unless and until civil society in both Israel and Egypt develop institutions capable of controlling their armies and ambitious generals, their claim to be model democracies will always ring hollow. Equally importantly, western voters must wake up to the reality of what their hard-earned taxes are funding through "aid" to the governments in Egypt and Israel. While one wages a war of attrition against its own people, the other perpetuates a conflict with the Palestinians to spread the myth of a permanent "security threat" in order to fleece western taxpayers. As Major-General Gazit said, his fellow officers are only interested in their own survival; democracy can wait.

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AfricaCommentary & AnalysisEgypt
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