Little Lessons

Understanding the essential conflict in Egypt.

Militaries can be of several types:  volunteer, mandatory conscription, and professional.  Egypt has a mandatory conscription.  It can be deferred by higher education, length of service is increased by failure to graduate from high school.  If one is an only son, or has a disability, or dual citizenship, one does not have to serve.  Finally, there is an additional option of going abroad during the time of conscription, and returning, paying a fine, and receiving a dishonorable label that precludes one from public office.  The fact that the conscription is mandatory has implications for the population in general.  It means that the population is by default trained by the military.

So, the broader question being asked right now is this:  Can a democratically established government with a constitution defend itself nonviolently against a military with popular support?  If so, how?

I don’t mean to imply an internationalization of the Egyptian events.  Just as the word Muslim is a polarizing word in some Western communities, pro-democracy can be as well.  It is important to distill the polarizing aspect  of language (sometimes dependent on community) from a discussion of ideas (another Venn diagram).

I think that it is important to also acknowledge the strategy of reactive tactics:  that is that occasionally a position may be forced upon an individual or group, simply by “label” or insinuation.  For example, declaring the “Muslim Brotherhood” to be a terrorist organization, can in its extremist language, force the group to distinguish itself from a terrorist group or element within it (another Venn diagram – this time with dissociative effect).

There are 1000 largely nonviolent protesters who have been killed.  There is an international community that strives to understand the events in Egypt and assess their importance to global security and human rights.  The kind of government that Egyptians want, is, for the most part, an Egyptian question.  Sissi has pointed out that some restraint has been shown in the situation (relative to Syria).

The military in addition has some support from the international community through alliances and treaties – as is evidenced by the recent Sinai missile destruction.  So, the essential political science problem for Egypt to solve is the fact that the Egyptian people have apparently given mandate to the branch of government that is most forceful.  With every decision this government makes, there will be the threat of unbalanced military force to enforce it.  Although the mandate apparently came from the people, and military governments historically are eventually unstable, it is unclear to me how the people can ever take the mandate back.  Burma’s military government has lasted over 50 years.  Egypt’s most recent may have begun with the assassination of Sadat, and has seemingly been only temporarily interrupted.  The current reversal back to this regime may seem in some ways irreversible because of the issue of unbalanced force.  The good news is that because the military is by conscription, it comes from the people, and is not a separate class.  They will be more inclined to represent and respect the people.  The bad news is that there does not appear to be a way to ever return to a point where the threat of force will not be behind every act taken (perhaps) on behalf of the people. There will not be the forced negotiation or dialog that occurs in establishing direction for more democratic forms of government.  In addition, the military is pretty intolerant of disobedience – as evidenced by the treatment of protesters.  It is its own culture.

This is the secular version of the conflict.  There are in addition religious colors and terrorist labels that infuse into the secular conflict (with historical precedence in Egypt).  They appear to be manipulated variously by the sides to try to increase or decrease sympathy.  My feeling is that unity for Egypt may require religious appeal because the situation is so polarized.  If the religious leaders can establish integrative positions between the two sides, then religion will heal.  It is pretty clear to me that the 2 sides are polarizing even more right now.

At the end of the day, there may be a second fundamental question that is posed by the recent series of events in Egypt:  does nonviolence require a transcendental appeal in order to successfully counter force?

(Aside:  transcendental in mathematics can refer to complex numbers).

A little complex math quiz (I got a 67% the first time I did this without a calculator – one careless confusion of x and y when solving for angles, and another careless choice of similar answers when I looked back up at the screen after solving the problem).  I was tired.  Went back after enough time to forget the answers and after some sleep, and got a 100% with a little more care.

Only in Mexico … the article has to be read with a sense of humor!!!

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