Oman: An Amazing Arab Country

Of all the twenty plus countries I have visited or lived in over the years, one of the most interesting is the Sultanate of Oman. Certainly it is the most interesting of all the countries, emirates, etc in the Arabia peninsula. The diversity of people, cultures,  topography, history and strategic location  make it a singularly important  small nation that few, even American Middle East “experts” know much about.( Digression…more and more I put parenthesis around the term Middle East “experts,” particularly after their whining and idiotic reactions to the  elimination of the “Che Guevera” of the Middle East,  Qassem Suleimani.  Also I needed refuge from the fake “impeachment” show trial.

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The Sultanate of Musqat and Oman as it was originally known. The Musqat region in red and the Omani Imamate in orange.

I visited there with an officer student in about 2000 or earlier and I was very impressed with the possibilities of the country with the right leadership.  Since 1970 until January 2020 they had that leadership, under the Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said who died on 10 January  2020.  Qaboos was  gay and had no children. He was married briefly for cosmetic reasons but divorced a few years ago. He selected his cousin Haitham bin Tariq al Said as the new ruler.I know very little about Haitham but had a chance to observe the Sultan while visiting Salawah, the western- most city in Oman.  Amid the blaring of horns and a lot of yelling we watched a caravan of the Sultan in a convertible followed by  a number of pickup vehicles with a bunch of young men packed into them. Unlike the rest of the Arab world,  he had little or no security escort.  The young men did not appear to be armed.  How different from every other place I had visited or lived in during my time in the Middle East over the years.

Sultan Qaboos sent his father  Sultan, Said Bin Taimur, 1932-1970  packing after  Qaboos returned from the British Military Academy (Sandhurst). Bin Taimur was a larger than life character. He was the very embodiment of a reactionary and feudal leader. He told the British commander of the Sultan’s forces, Colonel David Smiley, that he did not want any more health clinics, saying,

We are a very poor country which can only support small population. At present many children  die in infancy, and so the population does not increase. If we build clinics many more will survive- but for what? To starve? “

When British officials pressed him to educate his people he replied,

“Where would the teachers come from? …They would come from Cairo and spread seditious ideas among their pupils. And what is there here for a young man with with education?  He would go to the university in Cairo or the London School of Economics, finish in Moscow and come  back here foment trouble.” The Sultan may have been reactionary but he was no dummy.  His only son, Qabuus returned from Sandhurst and  sent his father to London for good, assuming the rule of Oman.

However Oman has never been an easy  country to rule. It’s history  is replete with brutal factional and tribal warfare, dating back to the original division of the Arabs, the Adnani and Qatani tribal confederations. In fact there are some 200 tribes that reside in Oman, which coalesce around two main factions, the Ghafiri and Hinawi confederations. This rivalry is magnified by the fact that the Hinawi strongly identify with the Ibadis and the Hinawi with the Sunni.

The Ibadis are one of the three main sects of Islam, the Sunni, Shi’a and Ibadi. The Ibadis have a long and bloody history. They originated with the Kharajites, the most militant of the various forms of Islam. The Kharajites originally formed as the result of  the Battle of Siffin in which Ali, the son in law of the Prophet Mohammed was vying for the leadership of the Umma ( the Muslim Community). Ali unwisely chose to negotiate with the pretender Muawiyya, and came out the loser. The Kharajites, ( also known as the seceders), believing that Allah did not accept arbitration,  withdrew from the support of Ali and became his most implacable enemy. One of them assassinated Ali near Kufa in Iraq.

The Kharijites evolved into many branches,  mostly very violent , and influenced the leader of the Zinj revolt in Iraq, who led the black slaves ( originally imported from East Africa) of the Abbasid regime, employed in the saltpeter mines of southern Iraq, in one of the bloodiest revolts of all history. According to the German orientalist, Theodore Noldeke, the storming of the last bastion of the Zinj rebels, “Thus ended one of the bloodiest and most destructive rebellions in the history of West Asia records.”

The branch of the Kharajites who settled in Oman evolved into a rather inoffensive branch and in practice their day to day religious activities differ very little from the Sunni. however they generally do not intermarry with the Sunni and zealously guard their identity.

At one time Oman was a vast empire, stretching from east Africa  to Western India and the Omanis were intrepid seamen, ferrying goods from the Middle East as far as Indochina. One of the principal commodities were humans…the slaves from east Africa. This was one of the principal slave  trade  routes from Africa to the Arab world and East Asia.  It was a trade involving human suffering not exceeded in any epoch of history. A full  and gut wrenching  description of the Arab slave trade and its effects  can be found in Oman: a History by Wendell Phillips, (Longmans, 1967).  This aspect of the Arab slave trade has been largely ignored by modern writers, one of the many baleful effects of being “politically correct” ( dishonest, being  a more truthful description).

Since 1750 the Al Bu  Said family has ruled Oman and lived in near isolation, invaded by the Portuguese,( for over a hundred years), the Persians, and their Arab neighbors, the Saudis. When not under foreign rule, the Omanis were at each others throats, leading the most renown historian of the Persian Gulf region, J.B. Kelly, Arabia, the Gulf and the West, to write. As an aside perhaps it should be mentioned that none of the European imperialists could possibly approach the brutality of the Portuguese who routinely slaughtered women, and children,  burning down the towns. The Portuguese era in the Arabian peninsula is a very interesting one. I need to read more about them. Any way the quote by JB Kelly,

“Centuries of feuding have bred in them ( Omanis) a rancorous disposition , and long isolation has made them intensely suspicious of strangers and foreign influences. The contentiousness which is so marked a feature of Omani life is due in large measure to the inveterate religious discord and factional rivalry that exits within Omani society.”

I found that to be true. They were not of the generally welcoming nature one finds in Arab culture. Most Omani individuals seemed very dour and reserved but not as bad as their neighbors the Yemenis. There were some great exceptions but these mostly turned out to be  Indians, or Persians. Most of the shops were managed by Persians and Indians, both Hindu and Muslim but the shop owners were  Omanis, who largely eschew work as something real men don’t do. The oil wealth of the Omanis, not approaching anywhere near that of the Persian Gulf emirates, nevertheless has exacerbated the lack of a work ethic.  However,  what they lack in civic virtues they more than make up in martial qualities. The Dhofaris of the Dhofar  region of western Oman are justly renown for their soldierly qualities. as are the tribesmen of the Green mountain region of north east Oman..

I had the distinct pleasure of spending some time with the Trucial Oman Scouts in 1968, the British officered, Arab defense force of the Emirates ( now UAE). I was with the Squadron that was almost entirely  Dhofaris. They were  excellent tough soldiers and I very much enjoyed my time with them.

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Dhofaris of the Trucial Oman Scouts ( the paleface in the back is a Brit SAS troop)

Oman under the wise and benevolent rule of Sultan Qabuus leaped from the 15th Century several hundred years ahead. The society is still fairly primitive but the progress made under the late Sultan is truly remarkable. He is the example of what could happen in the Arab world if they had decent  leadership…….leaders who actually cared about the people instead of pursuing glory, quest for more power and personal wealth. It is probably the most peaceful nation in the Middle East , boasting of  many years of stability. He had maintained a miraculous degree of neutrality in a region wherein it is almost impossible to do so, amicably working with the Arab nations,  Iran, and Israel. He had not become embroiled in the useless and self defeating Palestinian issue.

Bibi, wife and Qabus

Bibi and wife greeting Sultan Qabuus. Note that Ms. Netanyahu is not wearing hair covering as so many American female  diplomats do  hoping to curry favor.

To be sure the British have played an important part in the stability of the Sultanate, very visible in the government  since  about 1891, when Oman became a British protectorate. In 1958 the Omanis and the British concluded an agreement in which the British assumed control and training of the armed forces of the Omanis. The Commanders of the British advisory in Oman have been some very famous British Officers. Brigadier Pat Waterfield , and especially retired Colonel David Smiley were among them at the time most crucial to the survival of the Sultanate.

Almost all the equipment  of the Omani military is of British origin, including the main British battle tank, the Challenger II and Typhoon fighters. British support has been critical in supporting the Sultan. The reign of Sultan Qabuus’s father, Said bin Taimur, was not always peaceful as the Marxists, Arab nationalists, and  the Saudis of Saudi Arabia have tried to overturn the regime. The first attempt was called  the Jebel Akhdar rebellion which lasted  from 1954 to 1959. One can get the left wing view of the war from wikipedia or the British view from J.B. Kelly and Wendell Phillips. The former depicts it as a war over oil discovered in the region, eagerly sought by the rapacious Sultan  and pushed by the greedy British imperialists. The British saw it as a war to  consolidate the rule of the Musqat  Sultan al Said over the rebellious interior which was involved in tribal warfare fanned by ambitious tribal sheikhs, amply supported by Egypt, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia with arms and training.  After some serious losses by the Sultan’s forces, the British began deploying regular units to defeat the rebels. In 1959 the British deployed  major Special Air Services units ( SAS) and  air force assets to decisively defeat the rebels.

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Green Mountain revolt  in the brown area in the north and the Dhofar rebellion in the south shaded area.

The more serious revolt fanned by Arab nationalism and Marxist expansionism was the Dhofari revolt, which dragged on from 1963 to 1976.  In this war, the British, the Shah’s Iran, Jordan, and Egypt assisted the Omanis,  while the Soviet Union, China, South Yemen, and Iraq supported the Dhofari rebels. Again it was the British SAS which made the difference and finally defeated the  Dhofari rebels in 1976.

Oman is  polyglot of different people, including Arabs, Persians,  Baluchis, Indians, East Africans, and a substantial number of British expatriates who are very involved in every aspect of Omani life.  In fact, the Dhofaris have their own own dialect of Arabic which sounds very different to the ear from Arabic, including traces of Amharic, the language of Ethiopia. In the Musandem peninsula, live a tribe called the Shihuh,  who also speak a different brand of Arabic mixed with Farsi. They are famous for a long handled axe which they use in an upper cut fashion to slash the throat of their opponent.

shihuh axe

The Jizr of the Shihuh

I bought one off a Shihuh tribesman who showed up at our campfire when I was with the TOS soldiers. Unfortunately in one of our many moves it disappeared.

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Market place in Musqat

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The blogger hanging out in Musqat on the waterfront

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One of many amazing things about Oman is the amount of water found in many parts of the Sultanate

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water water… not everywhere but Oman is blessed

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a grocer in a small town north east of Musqat. A happy guy. Doesn’t look like an Omani.

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hello! whats your sign?

 

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at the market with a contented grocer. The Omanis have the water in certain areas to grow almost anything,

But the most fantastic part of the visit to Oman was the time spent in Salawah, on the further most  western tip of  Oman. Flying from the city of Musqat to Salawah we flew over hundreds of miles of sun-baked desert with practically no vegetation, and then suddenly we flew into a fog shrouded mist that covers a good part of the region around Salawah and everything below turned green. It reminded  me of the movie Shangri La. This drastic change of scenery is the result of the tip of the Indian Monsoons reaching Salawah and the surrounding mountains to the north keeping the dry hot winds from Arabia from burning up the terrain.

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The interior Omani desert

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Approaching  Salawah the humid but cool mist comes into view

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At Salawah near the Ocean

Many Brits go camping in Oman and if properly equipped it is very enjoyable…… I was told. I chose to camp out in the Salawah Holiday Inn.

 

 

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Salawah is about a 1000 KM from Musqat. One can drive there ..it is about a 10 hour trip.

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near Salawah

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Streams near a park in Salawah

So in conclusion I am wondering why anyone with a choice would prefer stumbling around  cathedrals  and crumbling ruins in “old” Europe,  fighting their way through throngs of other tourists and being cheated by every surly arrogant shop owner the guide brings you to. I prefer being cheated the Arab way…with smiles and proffered coffee and tea. But there is no accounting for tastes!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Christianity in the Middle East

Turkey Saint Sophia

St Sophia Cathedral behind me  A symbol of the Sad History of Christianity in the Middle East. Mostly a museum for tourists but Sultan Erdogan  wants to turn it into a Mosque. another one of his actions meant to stick his finger in the Eye of the Wes

THE TRAGEDY OF THE CHRISTIANS of THE MIDDLE EAST

This is from an article I wrote for the Jewish World Review about a year ago with slides from one of my presentations at the John F. Kennedy  Special Warfare Center and School.

Christmas has not been a particularly happy time for Christians of the East for many decades, and much of it is the result of the West’s indifference and their  more recent habit of burying their heads in the send to avoid confronting the Islamist  ( political Islam, the ideology) threat.

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The West, especially Western Europe, has shunned the Christians of the East as their Christianity has been mostly replaced by Hygge (a  lifestyle of Scandinavia emphasizing comfort and contentment)

I was discussing the sad plight of the Christians of the Middle East a few days ago with a Lebanese friend who recited a familiar refrain for the near extinction of the Christian communities of the Middle East. The basic reason he insisted was the Church teaching on “turning the other cheek.” In the face of militant Islam of the Arab expansionist era, the aggressive Muslims overwhelmed passive Christian communities, Then faced with dhimmi status, that of a second class citizen, they gradually assimilated or emigrated to non Muslim lands. As the story goes, the battle of Yarmuk presaged the fate of the Christian Byzantine Empire and   from there on, Islamic success brought more successes with many Christian communities switching sides at critical times.

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The Early Christians had to battle with a number of heresies centered around the nature of Christian…… fully human, dual nature, fully divine. Docetism   held Christ was totally totally ethereal, a phantasm, and Arianism  held that Jesus was wholly Human, the son of God but not consubstantial  ( three persons of the Trinity, i.e., Father, Son, and Holy Ghost)

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The Christians continue to divide and splinter into factions

The ill fated Crusades, ostensibly to regain the holy land from Islam, exemplified the basic deadly dichotomy of Christian East and West . “ Mutinous” soldiers of the fourth crusade (1204) attacked and sacked Constantinople, the Christian capitol of the Byzantine Empire. The lands of the longest lasting empire in history were divided up among the victors and the Byzantine Empire was too weak to withstand the unceasing expansionism of the Ottoman Empire. The destruction of Constantinople by Christians of the West really defines the basic weakness of Christianity of both West and East; they were always divided and at each others throats. The separation of the East and West church in 1054 came about principally over the issue of leadership, but the Western Church began to view the Eastern Church as idolatrous, providing a veneer of religious motivation for the sack of Constantinople. After that the Christian community began to splinter into many communities, at times persecuting one another. An example of this was the Greek Byzantine persecution of the adherents of the Latin Church driven into the mountains of Lebanon, now known as Maronites.

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Pope Urban II Nov 27, 1095 urges Christians to begin the Crusades to regain the holy land overrun by the Islamic Conquest.  “Deus Vult” God wills it.

 

In the modern era I observed up close the disintegration of the Christian communities and their pathetic efforts to survive in a world in which they are, at best, only tolerated.. In every surge of Islamic fervor, such as the brutal Islamic State expulsion of Christians, they have been subject to depredations.

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A Cave near Ephesus  used by Christians to escape the depredations of the Romans.

 

One would think that the Christian communities, driven apart by divisive opinions on the nature of Christ, with complex and often obscure inscrutable theological arguments, would band together to maintain their survival, but they do not and never have. Moreover they tend not to feel any commonality with other non-Christian minorities in the Islamic world, such as the Jewish, Yezidi, and Sabeans and have fought bloody wars with the Druze minority.

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The well at the site of the home of Paul the Apostle in Tarsus Turkey maintained by two Muslim Brothers who show you around for a few Turkish Lira. I drank from it despite my reservations. Saint Paul  kept me well. Praise the Lord!!

To my initial surprise I found that many Eastern Christians had antipathy to Judaism similar to that of the Muslims. This is, at least partially, a result of the often fruitless, but totally understandable, attempts of the Christian clergy to curry favor within their Muslim communities by finding some commonality. An egregious example of this happened in 2010 Baghdad when a number of Chaldean Catholic churches were attacked, and the Church leaders blamed Zionists. This sort of pathetic attempts to avoid blaming Muslim extremists only makes them seem weaker and somewhat ridiculous. It was Ibn Khaldun who wrote that subjugated people under the yoke of tyranny tend to acquire characteristics of “ insincerity and trickery.” So it has become for Christians in the Arab world.

\In Lebanon, the bloody civil war described by the media as a war between Christians and Muslims, but in fact, most Armenian Christians and Greek Orthodox avoided taking part. At the end of the Lebanese civil war the Maronites were reduced to killing each other. This war revealed another cleavage in the Christian community; an ethnic division added to the religious one, as Greek Orthodox consider themselves Arabs while the Egyptian Copts, Armenians, and Maronites do not.

Two other factors have also diminished the Christian communities of the Arab world. One is the proclivity to seek the protection of despots as shelter against Muslim hostility. Thus Christian communities have supported Saddam, Assad, and Mubarak. Of course when they go down, enmity for the Christians increase.

Secondly the Western powers have manipulated the Christians of the Middle East for their own purposes. The British used the Assyrian Christians in Iraq as an auxiliary force to maintain themselves in power, with tragic consequences for the Assyrian people as the British lost control. In the Levant the French sought to maintain a Maronite state to secure their empire after WWI but then greedily included the heavily Muslim Bekaa valley as part of Lebanon, which has had the sad result for the Christians losing their controlling status in Lebanon. Western Protestant missionaries came to the East, not to convert Muslims, but convert Eastern Christians to Protestantism, adding another dimension to their disunity. Today as their numbers continue to dwindle., the   secular West has essentially lost interest in the plight of the Christians in the Near East.

Nothing so illustrates the disunity of the Christians more than the state of the most sacred of Christian sites, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Six Christian denominations claim residence, but unable to agree on who should maintain the key and open the Church, the Church elders depend on two Muslim families to do so.

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Erudite Report. A New Online Periodical

http://www.erudite.report                     check it out.

For a long time it has been obvious that the American news media has downgraded international news ,except for news flashes on disasters or terror attacks, and then after a day or so they disappear  completely.  There is very little analyses, and very often these days, the slant on foreign news is oriented toward domestic political ideologies. I have written many times that one of the burdens of the Arab world toward a more civilized and democratic state has been the corruption of the Arab press and Media. The media and press are owned by the government or are heavily censored by the government.

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John Sjoholm editor of Erudite Report

Now I find to my chagrin that American media and especially the press are not much better, simply a Johnny  one note reflection of a superficial viewpoint – a zeigeist- that has suppressed contrary opinion or managed to submerge it under a deluge of political correct mantras that reflect only the views of the “elite.” The “elite” these days are poorly educated in that they are propagandized and not allowed to think for themselves. Many run  the media or are in the classrooms,  pontificating on issues they know very little about.  Social media are totally regulated by the amorphous “elitist” self censorship. It is a case of massive  “group think.” Those few periodicals and media that tries to  rise above this morass of  1984 Orwellian measures to keep the public content with bread and circuses, or more lately using East German Stasi tactics to put fear into the hearts of the  opposition. (Read  God’s Spies by Elisabeth Braw and the History of the Stasi by Jens Gieseke)  are ridiculed or legaled to death in a Court system that mirrors the zeitgeist.

So a very sharp and well traveled friend of mine, John Sjoholm, a modern  renaissance  man has set up an on line periodical called the Erudite Report ,  with a modest assist from myself, which will dissect and analyze foreign affairs- in depth- with a special focus on political – military affairs and trends. We will combine the historical and cultural factors with the current social environment to attempt to make sense of events that make the news ( or should make the news).

John is a former Swedish Special Forces troop , a former intelligence contractor turned management consultant, having done field research for investment companies. He has a lot of experience as a journalist in the Middle East and Europe and has a knack for surfacing the  meat of complicated issues in a coherent and cogent manner.

You can read who I am in a number of places but basically I am a senior citizen, retired army colonel from the artillery with many years on the ground experience in the Middle East. I love much about the Middle Easterners, but like all peoples they have grievous societal faults which continue to keep them under achievers. I love to read and write, whether read by anyone or not. Somewhat immodestly, I think I have something to add the market place of ideas, and I do not defer to any of the big names in the contest of ideas.

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Writer and Artilleryman

 

so check it out folks, the first report is on Turkey.

find at http://www.erudite.report

 

 

 

 

 

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Cocktail Commando: Another View

 

In 1999 I wrote a very strong plea for the correct use of political-military officers. Military officers who can add their military expertise to complicated  foreign policy issues are a tremendous asset. This is particularly  vital in the mostly low intensity wars we have been fighting for the past few decades.  The article is article below

The Political-Military Army Officer: Soldier Scholar or Cocktail Commando

But as we have seen there  always  a downside  to this when political-military  officers ( pol-mil)  forget the mil and go wild on the pol.   T.E. Lawrence is a good example of this; An asset of extraordinary  value leading the Arab tribes against the Turks but a  difficult burden when his blind support of  Feisal bin Hussein Ali AL -Hashemi, and his Arab tribes and his machinations  to install him king of  Syria.

The LTC Alexander  Vindman, case exemplifies my point.  Vindman,  a fuctionary in the National Security Council,  by virtue of his position,  had considerable power to do damage but not much to do any good.  One can argue the morality issue, but as an officer he can object to what he considers an unlawful order, but in this case he was given no order. As the “impeachment inquiry”  drags on  the only salient points I have seen so far is hard ball politics, and military officers should not become involved. It only diminishes the  image of the military. In my article above I did sound a cautionary note as below.

“The result of too little time in the “real” Army is evidenced by some officers who spend a great deal of their career within political-military upper echelons and often identify with their colleagues; in seeking acceptance, they try to become one of them in outlook, which is of no value to either side of the equation. Over the years I have known some who, having spent years in civilian clothes, tend to absorb the culture of their organization and the reason they are there, i.e., to provide a military voice to the process of making decisions is negated. The last thing needed is another echo.”

I recall an incident from my time in the Pentagon that had I been the Vindman type I could have achieved my 15 minutes of fame. While working in Army Intelligence I  was made  aware  of communications, intercepted  in Paris  between a senior aide to President Carter with aides of the Ayatollah Khomeini which  seemingly  considered a deal to hand over the Shah of Iran, who at that time was in the U.S. for medical treatment. The quid pro quo was continued Iranian relationship with the U.S,

The idea of that was morally repugnant to me and the person who shared it with me, but we were professional officers and we kept our noses out of politics.  Neither of us had much respect for the Carter regime. Had we gone to the media we would have momentary fame ( At least in some of the conservative  Press.)  and then shortly thereafter rightly cast out onto the dust bin of history.

Over the years, since I wrote the article above, there has been an explosion of military folks, especially the big shots, getting their asses entwined in politics and by doing so, in my not so humble opinion, vastly diminishing their  military reputation.  It seems to be an inevitable evolution that happens when military leaders,  primarily of flag officer rank , become quasi celebrities, get lionized in the Press, especially by journalists of a somewhat leftist bent.  They immediately begin to believe their own press releases and transfer their knowledge to politics, anthropology  and a host of other fields.They become very conscious  of their public image and legacy.  Unfortunately this can lead to untoward events. Getting too close to your  biographer can be fatal, particularly if she is winsome lass.

Of course when an officer retires he is free to speak his mind, but it is my considered opinion,  based on a lot of history, that top level flag officers, lieutenant general and above,  even when retired, should keep their opinions confined to military matters. If they really care about the military as much as they claim, they should keep their lips zipped.

This problem is particularly aggravated by relatively lower ranking officers assuming roles far beyond their pay grade, not even in military matters, (which they should at times)  but not in politics in which they are totally out of their element. But as a member of the upper level bureaucracy,  with bosses who are indifferent, or weak ,or scared of  reining in subordinates, these pumped up military officers ( they all seem to take on rather pompous attitudes ) can do a great deal of harm.  (I think of Oliver North in this respect). Mostly, however they erode the reputation of the military.  Having spent all these years in the Middle East I have seen first hand what happens to countries where the military becomes enmeshed  in ideologies, politics, and commerce. The country is weakened  and the military is destroyed.

No doubt these officers, in their minds,  believe they are “saving the country”  ( as apparently one recently did) or with their new found Middle Eastern expertise, saving the country from an  impending war with Iran, or even saving the president from himself, or most grievously, one four star  who recently adjudged  himself able to look into the hearts of a man and see evil.  Like supreme court judges who evolve, these senior intellectualized military leaders ascend from the knuckle dragging status they are usually initially assigned  by the “informed Press”  to find a warm embrace within academia  and the liberal press. These officers find the heady atmosphere intoxicating and for a short time bask in the glow. Alas and alack they often find the glow wears off rather quickly and they must resort to finding a job in industry again. In the process  many of us who do not agree with the exalted visions they claim for themselves,  write them off as just another idol with feet of clay.  No great problem there. However,  much more  sadly, the military as an institution has been tarnished and its pristine image- among those who care for it the most-  has been irretrievably harmed.

I usually go back into Middle Eastern history  for lessons unlearned and one popped right out of an older book I am reading…Arabic Political Memoirs and other Studies by Elie Kedourie. Published by Cass in 1974. One particular short chapter caught my eye, called “Wavell and Iraq.”

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  Lord Wavell  a distinguished   Soldier Scholar

Field Marshall Lord  Percival Wavell, commander of all Middle East  forces, including those  in Iraq in 1941, was an extraordinarily gifted military commander. In fact General Rommel opined that he ” showed a touch of genius,”.  He has served in the second Boer war,  and was wounded in WWI.  Wavell had spent a good part of his life in the Middle East,  including time spent with General Allenby ‘s force in Palestine and Syria. He was popular with his troops and officers and  a man of congenial disposition.   He was as gallant an officer as the British could field and was known as a “Soldier-scholar.” Unfortunately Churchill wrongly assumed  he was not quite the right stuff and replaced him with  Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck.

Wavell was appointed commander-in-Chief. Middle East in 1939 and held that position for two years. Prior to that time as commander of the British troops in Palestine he showed his cautious inclinations and his unfortunate plunge into the murky socio-political world of the Arab world. He refused to send his troops into a mosque to arrest the Hajj Husseini , Grand Mufti Of Jerusalem, for fear it would inflame the Arab world. The Grand Mufti, later safe  in Berlin, would give no end of grief to the British, both during the war and post WWII.  As an analyst on the Nazi- Arab connections in World War II, Jeffrey Herf wrote, ” …..the Mufti played a central role in the cultural fusion of European with Islamic traditions of Jew – hatred.” His vitriolic broadcasts against the Jews and British  were a constant problem for the British trying to win “Arab hearts and minds.”

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Haj Husseini with Hitler who was widely admired throughout the Arab word

Wavell also refused to proclaim martial law in Palestine as he saw it as simply provoking more violence.  He, like the vast majority of the British academics, opposed Zionism and were basically pro-Arab. He refused Churchill’s request to arm the Jewish settlers in Palestine as it would  unduly provoke  the Arabs.

Alie Kedourie wrote, “There has grown a whole literature in English about British policy in in the Middle East  since the world War, which is irredeemably mediocre,  the mediocrity of which resides primarily in the fact that it attributes to the conflict between Zionists and Arabs as exorbitant importance in explaining the tangled and tortuous  relations between Arab States in this period, as well as every reverse to the British position in the Middle East  and its ultimate and total ruin.”

This mind set has in no way diminished, as it permeates the State Department, and has recently found a secure home in mainstream journalism. One need only go back to the 9/11 report and the academic interpretation of it to find that  support of Israel was claimed as a major reason for the attack and as one of the reasons for Muslim animosity  toward the Americans.    American academics John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have become famous ( notorious?) spouting these ideas. I’m sorry to say that Mearsheimer is a West Point graduate, but happy to say he served in the Air force, not the Army,  and only for the required 5 Years.

As I have written before, a good part of this ideological mind set was the absorption of the Toynbean philosophy as embedded in the British political and military circles of the era. Kedourie termed it the “Chatham House version,” the mindset inculcated in the ruling elite, scholarly, and military circles of Britain, especially the idea of a monolithic Arab world beset with problems engendered by Western colonialism.  It wasn’t that Wavell was pro-Arab. That was not the problem.  As Churchill wrote, Most British generals were anti Zionist . The problem was that he viewed the Arabs as a unitary, rigid people of narrow views.  According to one  British writer, a former  American  commander  of CENTCOM, who was one of the smartest generals I ever listened to  (extremely articulate  and charismatic) was fixated on the idea of “Arab honor,” and  that our use of the term “Shock and awe” violated their sense of honor in the invasion of Iraq in 2003. These superficial ideas of the Arab culture frequently drives our policies in the Middle East.

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King Feisal returning to Iraq  after fleeing from the Iraqi Nazi takeover. He was imposed on the Iraqis and during his reign was never accepted by the Iraqis. However after the calamities of modern rulers he is remembered  more kindly.

As the “golden  Square” of pro-Nazi Iraqi army officers seized power in Baghdad, Wavell tenaciously tried to forestall British intervention in Iraq.  Again,  he and the British ambassador  tried to assure Churchill that all was well and there was no need to intervene.  Wavell wanted to negotiate with the coup leader General  Rashid Ali al Kailani,  and was assured by Rashid that Iraq would uphold all obligations to the British…all the while he was permitting German fighter aircraft to land in Baghdad.  Wavell  greatly over-estimated the fighting power of the Iraqi army,  assuming that the advance of the British  would unite the Iraqis against his small force,  telling the War Office that the British could advance no further than Basra. Again, the old bugaboo of widespread Arab rebellion  was the main fear of Wavell,  ,beseeching  Churchill to avoid “major conflict with the Arabs.” Nevertheless, Churchill, who correctly observed that the only thing that mattered was strength and power,  and who the Arabs perceived as the winner.  Churchill had to continually urge Wavell to push on  from Basra,  as Wavell sent a stream of messages back reminding the Imperial staff of the disastrous Mesopotamian campaign in WWI.

habforce2

British force crossing the desert to get to Iraq were attacked by German aircraft flying from Mosul or Baghdad.

Under constant pressure from Churchill, a small force called the “Habforce” was formed  from scratch British units in Iraq and pushed the Iraqi army back as they mostly fled from a decisive encounter. There was very little enthusiasm among  the Iraqi population to support the Iraqi army, and many Shi’a  and Kurds supported the British. Ultimately, The British deployed two Indian divisions to Iraq and the Rashid Ali  al Kailani’s regime collapsed almost immediately. There was no uprising in the Arab world. Haj Husseini  made his way to Berlin where he was warmly welcomed, later serving as the Mufti for the Waffen SS 13th Mountain Division of Muslim Croats, and the Free Arabian Legion, Neither was of much fighting ability except to  terrorize Serb and Jews but they did have considerable propaganda value.

assyrian troops

Assyrian Iraqi troops securing bridge to Falluja. The Assyrians were serving the British Colonial regime and paid for it in blood after the Brits departed

 

There was one final, and for many, fatal error in  Wavel’s judgement. He believed that British troops entering Baghdad  would arouse the Arab population to great heights of violence, and to maintain the fiction that the Iraqis were self governing, he kept the  British troops standing for two days behind the gates of Baghdad while mobs of thugs, including police and some Iraqi military, surged through the city, raping, killing, and looting, mostly Jews  and Jewish businesses, a violent episode  termed a Farhud. 

At the time Wavell was fighting five different campaigns with a greatly under strength forces but while understanding his problems it seems even more problematic why he spent so much time interfering in a country Iraq ? He was under tremendous pressure from Churchill and the  Commander in Chief, India, Field Marshal Auchinleck, Wavells’ immediate boss. There is much to sympathize with in his defense.  Particularly as he was occupied fighting campaigns in 5 different regions. And he had particular animus about Iraq. As he wrote, ” I always disliked Iraq- the country, the people, and the military commitment…..” as Field Marshal Auckinleck believed, Wavell’s procrastination  was not based on military considerations but rather political ones.

I remember in my military era, politics was strictly avoided. I did not even vote till I was a Lt.  Col.  and most officers of my era were totally outside the political circuses.. I  don’t think our republic, or us officers, suffered because of it. Today it seems that high ranking officers take on all sorts of political hues and in the process make asses of themselves.  They seem to glory in the idea that somehow in their ascent to the top they have attended enough academic conferences, read enough  books on the Pentagon reading list to qualify as Middle East experts, etc. The problem is they learn just enough to become dangerous.

Today I find too many “celebrity” generals and admirals have absorbed an academic  viewpoint that the Arabs are too frivolous and  fickle to bother with, except for diplomatic niceties, and that we should,  somehow, mend fences with the Iranians and accept the fact that they are the emerging power in the Middle East. With enough mea culpas for assisting in dumping Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh ( not a nice guy BTW) and abject apologies for supporting the Shah, perhaps we  could  obtain a few kind words from President Hassan Rouhani  or  Prophet Mohammed’s Vicar on Earth, the Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei.  Seriously?

Those who understand the way despots and religious fanatics ( sincere or frauds)  operate in the Middle East know that the Iranians  will not cease aggressive Persian imperialism until stopped dead on the battlefield. That battle fields will be in the capitols of the West as well as the towns and deserts of the Middle East and Persian Gulf.

The action and feisal photos were taken from an excellent little book, Iraq1941: the Battles for Basra, Habbaniya, Fallujah and Baghdad. Published by Osprey Press. The photo of Haj Husseini and Hitler  is from the book Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

avoiding a war with Iran or ininMiddle Eastern affaairs

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Egypt and its army

eg trng

 

https://www.aljazeera.net/programs/rest-of-the-story/2019/11/11/%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%ae%d8%a7%d8%b1%d8%ac%d9%88%d9%86-%d8%b9%d9%86-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%b5%d9%81-%d8%ad%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%a7%d8%aa-%d8%a7%d9%86%d8%b4%d9%82%d8%a7%d9%82-%d8%b9%d9%86-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%ac%d9%8a%d8%b4-%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%85%d8%b5%d8%b1%d9%8a?fbclid=iwar1h8maoe5rsfdizwhy-bubuysvmfx1j6prbctsmg8nxgn86oncedllaawu

This long link above is the way to the Al Jazeera interview I did  some weeks ago. I am only on for a few minutes but the questions they asked me were interesting. Basically the program was about the huge military involvement in the Egyptian economy…some thing like up to 40% of their GDP with the army using low paid recruits to make not only military armament but also washing machines, baby formula,   etc. They also run hotels, service stations, farms and recreation areas.

The Egyptian president , Abdel Fattah al Sisi fooled everyone, including the previous president Mohammad Al Morsi, who currently resides in prison, put there by  Sisi who was selected to be al Morsi’s top military leader by Morsi himself. He passed himself off  as a closet member of the Muslim brotherhood.  While in the American Army War college  he wrote a thesis that some, very wrongly, depicted as fundamentalist. He is simply an opportunist and whatever else he is or is not he is way better than having Morsi or other members of the Muslim brotherhood running Egypt.

Having written that, the al Sisi regime is shot through  with corruption, nepotism, and every ill one can think of. He has used the military economy as featherbeds for retiring high officers despite a lack of any knowledge of the industry in which they are involved, putting them in charge of a number of state run industries and enterprises.  It might not be so bad if the generals simply let the mangers run the show but too many actually take their jobs seriously and muck up the industries they head.

Moreover many  lower grade officers own businesses, farms, shops, hotels etc. Many of these officers derive their primary income . not from the military but from their extra-curricular businesses. The officers themselves have a fairly comfortable life, living within “military cities, with commissaries, tax free shopping, and interest free auto purchases. Their apartments inside the military city are better than anything on the outside and rented for only a nominal fee.  But nevertheless many Egyptian officers find it necessary to look for other sources of income. In short they have it pretty good, but for many, apparently, not good enough.  Like any other human beings they look to care of their families first and are unlikely to bite the hand that feeds them. Thus the regime keeps the officer corps generally loyal.

Now in the program, Al Jazeera alleges  that more young officers are defecting from the  Al Sisi  regime. That could be true but I have no knowledge  of that. A young social media type named  Mohamed Ali has been making a lot of noise on social media from Spain attacking al Sisi and the corruption. No doubt the corruption is rampant but is it any worse than before? Doubtful!  Al Sisi has become much more authoritarian in the last year, making sure the population, especially the elite youth understand  that he will brook no upheavals. So it goes.

But, concerning the pervasive Egyptian army involvement in the economy, the most important truth is that while it is harmful to Egypt’s productivity, the impact on the military effectiveness of the military∗ is devastating. The fact that so many Egyptian officers find it necessary to have a secondary source of income makes it difficult to concentrate on soldiering when he needs to keep track of a business as well.

A  good book to read is Militarizing the Nation  by Zeinab Abul  Magd and a great article is in  Transparency International. Defence and Security at https://ti-defence.org/publications/the-officers-republic/

∗In Egypt as in most Arab countries, the army, despite its problems is usually seen as the only trustworthy institution in the country. See Dalia Said Mostafa; The Egyptian Military in Popular Culture

 

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Military Orientalism? A Response

Iranian troops

Academia in lock step

CSIS just published an article that should be  required reading  for anyone interested in Arab culture in general or particularly Arab military culture and more specifically Arab Gulf military culture. It is at  https://www.csis.org/analysis/military-officers-gulf-career-trajectories-and-determinants.

The  author Zoltan Barany, a professor at the University of Texas, pretty well underscores the fact that  culture determines a major part  ( if not the primary component) of how an army fights, and to a degree, how  successful  will it be. He does this……. not by using newspaper clippings from journalists who write nice things in order to maintain access to vain Arab westernized elite, or erudite  tomes written by leftie academics who write gushy reviews for one another. Barany has written a piece of wisdom based on interviews with military people ( like me) who were on the ground with the Arabs. That’s what makes it the sort of wisdom that soldiers and officers deploying to the Middle East need.

Now it is generally true that I have written about all this before and have been doing it for about 30 years but I don’t usually  get much support from the anointed ones in Middle East scholarship.  ( however lots of support from the folks out there in the field). Being totally and irreversibly  politically incorrect, and not depending on a pay check from a “Think Tank” ( oxymoron) or Arab sheikhs, and potentates, or a victim of the Chatham House Version lockstep syndrome, ( Read Ellie Kedourie),   I can tell my version of the truth.

Over 20 years ago I wrote the piece “Why Arabs Lose Wars, ” which has been recycled hundreds  of times, because folks, mostly trainers,  need some semblance of reality  to understand their lack of progress in bringing their Arab trainees up to a decent level  of proficiency. They need to know it is not their  fault. Its the culture stupid! It is at….https://www.meforum.org/441/why-arabs-lose-wars

I followed up on this with an article on the historical and cultural impediments that  constitute a firewall to creating a Western look – alike army.  It first appeared in MERIA and Barany   references it in his article.  https://www.academia.edu/9494672/Western_Training_Arab_armies

I then wrote an article on the cultural reasons Arabs do much better at  unconventional warfare. Again it’s the culture stupid. You can read that at “The Arab as Insurgent and Counterinsurgent,” in Barry  Rubin’s book Conflict and Insurgency in the Contemporary Middle East

In fact the Arabs are so wedded to tradition and culture ( or what they believe to be their culture) The Islamic State warriors  tried to re-invent  the way the Prophet Mohammed taught them to wage war 1400 years ago.    see my blog:  https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/muhammad-taught-us-how-fight-isis-early-islamic-warfare-deatkine/

Anyway the reason I bring this up is that I recently read a book entitled  “#Military Orientalism” by  #Patrick Porter published by Oxford University Press -, and  with glowing snippets by “Big Names” in the academic world e.g., David Kilcullen etc.

Sample snippet: “This important new book takes a fresh and and detailed look at the role of culture, culturism, ethocentrism, and perceptions of the ‘other’ in strategy.” Note. All the post modern buzz words are there.  Fresh and new? Not really! Edward Said and his acolytes have been doing that for decades.  Porter merely put a thin veneer of military verbiage on a very old story.

Browsing  through his references most  are based on some academic tome, paper or   other academic “think” piece. Some are very good of course. But they do not have  the clarity and down to earth observations  of the people who have been  out there with the Arabs; I see very few based on talking to trainers or observers  who actually worked with Arabs.   One footnote is reference to my writing in which he gets it totally wrong. As he writes, my “Why Arabs Lose Wars”,( is)  “an  idea still alive within strategic studies, needs further thinking. These recent studies focus narrowly on the fate of Arab States in the post colonial period, whereas a more comprehensive coverage would include successful Arab guerillas and insurgents, and might even start withe medieval Muslim conquests.”

Obviously Porter never read my chapter on Arab insurgencies in Barry Rubin’s book. The same culture which inhibits Arab  conventional war-fighting is the same culture which enhances their unconventional warfare, or my article on How the ISIS tried to emulate the Way of War of the Prophet, “Mohammed Taught Us How to Fight.”

Porter, who seems to have absorbed the post modernists ( globalists) outlook tries to take all humanity  and put them through a meat grinder  and come out with the hamburger of  conformity  shaped  as a preconceived “universal man” (or manwoman. In doing this he has to deride Raphael Patai’s book, The  Arab Mind,  de rigueur for a writer wanting a nice review from the Guardian or NYT.  He snidely mentions  Patai’s book as typecasting the Arabs as “lovable but infantile” In the venacular of today that is fake news. Patai never wrote that or in any way inferred it.  However, it is the normal calumnies the “informed ones,”   paying homage to the memory of Edward Said, must write. He also writes, “Colonel ‘Norvelle Atkine’ ( where was the fabled Oxford University press editing job on this?) at the JFK Special Warfare School at Ft Bragg, who use to brief American military personnel, approvingly introduces the 2001 reprint of the Arab Mind  . It’ formed the basis of my cultural instruction’ as he briefed ‘ hundreds of teams being deployed to the Middle East.'” Yes I did, and I am very  happy and proud that I was  able to send at least some of our people off  with an unvarnished and reality- based  knowledge of the culture they would encounter. I did not teach textual deconstruction, metafiction, unreliable narration, self reflexivity, intertextuality……etc. (What?)

In addition to the great ( and still the best)  book by Patai I spent almost 9 years on the ground in the Arab world many with the Arab militaries  ( and over 45 in study) and I have to wonder how many years did Edward Said, or Juan Cole, or Patrick Porter spend on the ground with the Arab military?

Just a thought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Revolution or Business as Usual in Egypt

An article in The New York Times, never a fan of the Al Sisi government, and as usual, in sync with the Obama administrations viewpoint that the Muslim Brotherhood was the wave of the Arab world’s future, . It quotes a number of “experts” predicting instability in Egypt. Apparently this is mostly due to a wealthy young Egyptian named Mohamed Ali, living in Spain,  attacking Al Sisi on social media, using videos, exposing corruption in the Al Sisi regime.  ( surprise surprise!!! Imagine corruption in the Egyptian government!!).  Following the removal of Mubarak, under  temporary military rule an election was held in which the only tightly organized political party in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood “won” and Mohamed Morsi became president. Morsi, has become part of the conventional narrative  as “the first democratically  elected president” in Egypt’s history.

al sisi

General Al Sisi ( he now wears civilian attire)

It quickly became apparent to the Egyptian urbanites that “democratically” electing Morsi, representing a movement that is antithetical  to democracy, was problematic at best.  General  Fattah Al Sisi positioned himself to head the Supreme Council of  the Armed Forces (SCAF)  which assumed power upon the removal of Mubarak, and quickly moved to position himself as amenable to working with the Islamist Brotherhood, as did most of the military leadership. Morsi convinced himself he was the man of the year and fumbling his way through his short presidency, brought in Al Sisi to become his defense minister, firing the former Mindef, Field Marshal Tantawi, after several bloody  attacks on  Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai. These attacks were perpetrated by the Egyptian branch of al Qaeda, a more violent wing of the Islamist movement. The Muslim Brotherhood government rapidly made themselves very unpopular trying to impose medieval  Islamist regulations on daily social life.  Instead of attacking the basic and massive problems of the Egyptian people, they  contented themselves debating the Muslim version of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Morsi was a disaster, at one time being caught on camera scratching his crotch while talking to a foreign dignitary.

Al Morsi and Erdogan

Morsi and Erdogan (Birds of a feather except Erdogan a  lot smarter)

To some military leaders, it appeared that Morsi was imitating the path of Erdogan in Turkey, assuming dictatorial powers which he would then use later to crush the power of the military in Egyptian political and economic life. Actually, Morsi himself, tried very hard to cozy up to the military granting them privileges beyond that bestowed by Mubarak and  Anwar Sadat. Meanwhile Western commentators began circulating rumors that Al Sisi was a closet Muslim Brotherhood (MB) member, based on his appointment by Morsi to the top military position in Egypt, and the term paper he wrote while attending  the  American Army War College. It was also noted that his wife  and daughter wore the hijab.  Neither was indicative of Islamist tendencies. I read his paper and it was typical Arab boilerplate stuff, e.g., Arab-Israeli inequities, Western misunderstanding of Arab needs, etc.,  nothing radical in it.

Despite the close alliance of the MB with the SCAF, the military leadership recognized the danger of the Islamist movement, and Morsi seemed  slow or unwilling to deal harshly with the Islamist  terrorists in the Sinai peninsula.  So despite  the displeasure of the American state department, the  Obama White House, and the risk of siding with liberal youth groups, who were notoriously fickle, a decision was made to remove Morsi.  The army and security apparatus using the  cover of liberal youth demonstrating against the incompetent,  but oppressive  Islamist government,  took  the plunge and removed Morsi and the leadership of the MB. Most of them found warn receptions in Turkey where they continue to agitate against the Al Sisi regime.  Morsi  then took Mubarak’s place in prison. ( Mubarak  is now in house arrest).

 

Arab rulers have always known that being feared is better than being loved. Reading some of the Naguib Mahfouz novels  illuminate  how seemingly random arrests and brutality of the  omnipotent security apparatus enervates and paralyzes opposition. So another revolution in Egypt?

It will not happen. The idea of another “Arab Spring”  in Egypt is wishful thinking on the part of the anti – Al Sisi axis of leftists, Islamists, and Western academic “experts.”

Mohamed ali media

Mohamed Ali  Abdel Khaleq film producer and wanna be revolutionary

The Egyptian people are not in the mood for more political upheavals, and under the short tenure of Morsi , Islamism has proven that it is not the answer.  Over the years Egyptian military  has insinuated itself  into into every aspect of Egyptian life, especially the economic. The military is an institution onto itself.  With some sectors of exception, the military establishment is shot through with corruption, nepotism, and incompetence,  but nevertheless, like most Arab militaries,  is revered by most of the people. Given the poisonous attributes of the Arab political climate it is not difficult to understand why the Arab people see the military as the only bastion of worthiness  to cling to. Recommended reading: The Egyptian Military in Popular Culture by Alia Said Mostafa.

Mubarak, though authoritarian, was ironically, the most liberal of the Egyptian leaders since the departure of King Farouk. It was his quest for a more liberal economic system to be managed by his son, being groomed as his successor, which the bloated bureaucracy,  (the deep state) military leadership,  and security apparatus resisted. These are the pillars of the state of Egypt. Mubarak would still be president had the aforementioned pillars of the state decided to keep him. His promotion of his son, and vision of the future, was not in their interest, (particularly financial) and so they stepped aside, and for a while allowed the mobs to present a facade of revolution.They allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to rule till they hanged themselves and then stepped in to “right things.”

Under  Al-Sisi the pillars of the state have thrived. Like the Ba’ath party in Iraq, the military has woven itself into the fabric of the state, ( Recommended Reading: Militarizing the Nation by Zienab Abul-Magd) and I, at least, see no way for a “revolution” to unseat him. It is always possible that a palace coup could occur if a cabal of senior authorities within the  pillars of the state  become  disenchanted, but the mystic of social media and elitist students bringing down the new pharaoh  is a pipe dream.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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