Whether of their own volition or contrived, Egyptians conformed to military regimes and absorbed their values and culture. Their bond has been narrated by the military achievements of Gamal Abdel Nasser. These achievements may have faded, but the military values remain.
Mohammed wakes up every day moments after the Morning Prayer: The only time he can buy the cheaper subsidized bread. He finds himself surrounded by tens of villagers from Shibin Al Kawm, the capital of the Manufia governorate.
The 32-year old Mohammed is a former member of an Egyptian leftist party and fervently participated in the January 25 Revolution, optimistic about an impending change. But despite his degree from the Institute of Performance Arts and the numerous local plays he directed, Mohammed was recently assigned as a mathematics teacher in a public school.
At school, Mohammed feels like a captive of militarization norms that dominate the educational process. Speaking to Raseef22, he says those norms are seen everywhere, “starting from the morning lineup, saluting the flag, to indoctrination. The school Principal is so concerned with blindly implementing the orders of the Ministry of Education, that he disregards the real problems of the educational process or the actual use of those directives.”
Following the rise of the Free Officers Movement and the coup d’état of 1952 that deposed King Farouq, the military system inherited the values of the old Egyptian state modernized by Mohammed Ali and whose centralization relied on despotism.
During Abdel Nasser’s mandate, the military values were the pillars of progress and social mobility as phrased in Jalal Amin’s book What Happened to the Egyptians? This was not only the military’s golden age but also that of Egyptians in general. The state managed the day-to-day life of its citizens, who in turn depended on it. Abdel Nasser operated a quantum leap in economic and social conditions; he resisted on the people’s behalf, distributed feudal lands to smaller farmers and supported free education and healthcare as he flooded the public sector with employees to reduce unemployment.
Abdel Nasser’s achievements contributed to the cementing of military values, and polishing the image of military officers who became more significant than any other politically active citizen. He was unlike any other leader. After the 1967 defeat, the public cheered the “military leader” and pleaded with him to stay in office.
Back then, work was dissociated from freedom, and the work philosophy consisted of obedience to the leader and the waiver of freedom. When Egyptians say, “we want to eat bread,” they mean let us keep our jobs and not upset authorities nor bosses. “Eating bread” becomes dependent on observing rules, regardless whether those making them are right or wrong.
A Relative Openness
During Anwar Sadat’s mandate, the middle class succeeded on multiple levels and military values somehow retreated. However, Sadat did bring back the splendor of the military with the victory of October 1973 after the defeat of 1967. But the adoption of economic openness and free trade introduced competition to the Egyptian market and mindset. However the absence of big projects and appropriate skills for an economic recovery rendered that same openness harmful for the Egyptian economy and culture. The journalist Ahmed Baha'eddine and the poet Ahmed Fouad Najem even went on to ascribe the expression “everything goes” to the Egyptian culture and economy.
When Hosni Mubarak came to power, the Egyptian state deteriorated, making room for corruption and favoritism that spread like the plague in the private sector. Gamal Mubarak, the President’s son, severely damaged the military and its values almost to the point of eradication. They no longer garnered respect or admiration. The young Mubarak sought rapid gains by buying state-owned lands and factories at reduced prices and later selling them to foreign investors.
This new liberal approach promoted by Gamal Mubarak and his entourage coincided with a lack of innovation, the encouragement of a non-productive economy, monopolization, and the absence of competition. Egyptians eventually overthrew the Mubarak regime in the January 25 Revolution. Once again, they longed for a regime that complied with the military values they believe in.
The Decline of Military Values?
Did the military values become useless? Did the Egyptian people lose faith in them or are they still yearning for the old social mobility achieved by Abdel Nasser with heavy industry?
Military institutions all share values of sacrifice and sanctity of the nation, championing the latter over individuals. The rules of war dictate the absence of the individual neutralizing wit and adventure. But the diffusion of those same values among civilians is problematic.
Scholar Abdul Rahman Kawakibi (1854-1902) warned early on against military values and their negative repercussions on the nation. In his book Characteristics of Despotism, Kawakibi writes: “Military service corrupts the morals of the nation and teaches people the ferocity, blind obedience, and dependency. It also kills activity and notions of independence, and greatly costs the nation in the name of despotism.”
In his book State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century, the American scholar Francis Fukuyama highlights “social capital” or the crucial cultural values that rule the behavior of employees whether in the bureaucratic system of the state or within the private sector institutions. In the same vein, Fukuyama excludes the success of military values in managing the private and public sectors as they are only useful for managing armies. The employee should not be concerned with upholding their country’s interests before their own, or obeying their employers, without question, whenever they face problems at work.
When the military command in Egypt considered solving civic issues like shortage in liquidity, it adopted donations as the solution. Ridiculously, during his tenure with the military council, former Chief Commander of the Egyptian Army, Marshal Hussein Tantawi thought that donations could substitute the American aid to the Egyptian economy and army.
The January 25 Revolution introduced new and different values to Egypt such as freedom, rebellion, and creativity. However, these values originate in the West and did not receive the support of investors, syndicates, or major political parties, as they have no solid foundations in the Egyptian community. They resemble nothing more than a young adventurous spirit.
Mohammed and his young compatriots participated in the January 25 Revolution with a childlike enthusiasm. Some of them now work in the Gulf, others in media outlets affiliated with remnants of the old regime and military cadres, while the rest are employed in the public sector. Despite their beliefs, they feel the enormous bitterness and frustration. In his book Escape from Freedom, Erich Fromm analyzes this moral status and calls it the “dynamic adaptation” which stands for the psychological changes that occur when someone responds to the reality and bows to what they had not wanted, only in order to fulfill their primary needs.