On the second day of the 9th Al Jazeera Forum, a session entitled “Military and Politics in the Arab World,” in which a number of researchers in the spheres of defense and politics participated, was held.
Tawfiq Hamil, a researcher in military history and defense studies in France, presented at the beginning of the session an approach linking the circumstances of countries to their military and security needs. He maintained that “the governments always seek to use the financial resources to support the needs of the military institution. This should not be at the expense of the development and social priorities. It can be acceptable in cases of war.”
He then added, “In the Arab countries, the military requirements are given priority even in times of peace due to the possibility of the eruption of internal conflicts. These countries tend to reinforce defense resources and internal security. This is a trend which is still affected by the notion of Cold War and the changes in the international system.”
He also pointed out that the populations of Arab countries have tripled since the 1950s and hence that Arab regimes had to train their militaries to control the people. This also prompted the regimes to set up Special Forces that have nothing to do with the main military. This approach has been triggered by 9/11 and the obsession with terrorism that shaped relations between the West and the Arab world. There was a focus on the development of police forces and the creation of elite forces to suppress unrest.
He noted that this hampered the peaceful transition of power and led to the current developments in the Arab region. He suggested that the army has become a major player in Egypt and Algeria, noting that the army in Tunisia has become more prepared to play a future role in the security sphere.
Hamil tried to explain the nature of relations between the armies on one side and the monarchies and republican regimes on the other. He argued that “the monarchies sought diligently to reinforce their armies by boosting their capabilities and assigning them new tasks.”
Furthermore, he indicated that authoritarian rulers had been reinforcing their authorities although the latter would not have been threatened if they had introduced reforms. Finally, he noted that it is hard to speculate the future of the Arab world future because the period of change will not be short.
However, Aisha Siddiqa, Charles Wallace Fellow at St. Antony's, Oxford University, argued, “The Arab Spring, which was discussed in the forum’s sessions, demonstrates that the change happened to the individuals not to the regimes.”
She mentioned that the militaries in the countries which were supposed to experience change continued to receive support from abroad because these countries suffer political issues. They are so vulnerable to tension that their issues can only be settled by the use of force.
She also added, “Militaries in the Arab world make up a large category that belongs to the ruling family in most cases. It is interesting to know that these armies protect the monarchies and take refuge in them because they are the source of legitimacy. These militaries were always in the background. Similarly, there were partnerships between the military and the civil sector. In Turkey, for instance, the struggle between the military and the society was much stronger.”
In addition, she maintained, “When the Arab Spring started, many friends and monitors in Pakistan wondered, 'When will the Arab Spring reach here?' They were unaware that Pakistan had experienced its own spring, and that it survived this stage. It has become certain that the national interests require confrontation of military commanders when necessary."
She went on to say that Pakistan discusses the situation in the Middle East although it is far from it but that the Pakistani government considers itself part of this region.
Moreover, she stated, "The Pakistani army had made partnerships with the political forces and the media despite its claim of independence because it controlled the media for years. To bring about a genuine change, we need to put an end to the army’s role and introduce a strong agenda over the economic and social changes. Without an alternative agenda, the army will continue to be the source of power."
Deputy Director of Middle East Studies at Sarkaria University Ismail Numan Telci said that Egypt has been facing tense circumstances due to relations between the civilians and the military since the coup. The Egyptian experience turned out to be a nightmare following the counter-coup against elected President Mohamed Morsi.
He discussed Turkey’s experience with the military’s interference in public life and direct engagement in politics. He declared that "the army was influential. In 1997, it exercised pressure on the National Security Council to force Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan to resign."
“Turkey has been experiencing changes since then," he continued. "When Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan sought a second term in office in 2007, the army stepped in and tried to interfere. A period of struggle between Erdogan and the army began before the elections. The army attempted to dominate the scene. It tried to legalize its interference by saying that it interfered to defend the Turkish Republic. But it is the civilians who defend the republic today, after Erdogan’s government gained large popular support.”
He concluded that the Turkish experience is governed by local and external factors. Erdogan's government is a popular one which seeks to establish a democratic system and facilitate its accession to the European Union. This was manifested in a host of reforms that curbed the military's influence and cut the military's budget.
Head of the Iraqi Group for Strategic Studies Wathiq al-Hashimi talked about the history of the Iraqi military. He stated, "It is one of the oldest militaries. It was established in 1921. It continued to be operative until the occupation of Iraq in 2003." He discussed the Iraqi military's timeline and its most prominent changes from 1936 through 2003.
He gave an overview of the stages of the Iraqi military's development, saying: "58 cabinets were appointed in Iraq from 1921 through 2003. The army used to control the sovereign portfolios during this period. Twenty-three army personnel had portfolios. After 1958, all ministerial portfolios were assumed by army personnel. After 2003, there was a big issue due to the dismantling of the Iraqi military, which was the world's fourth most powerful army."
He also noted that "the cancellation of conscription in Iraq weakened the structure of the internal security and resulted in the army's inability to impose stability. In addition, the dismantling of the Iraqi military weakened the spirit of citizenship, and gave room to nationalistic and sectarian tones. Iraq did not experience this since its foundation."
He explained that this led to a shift of power balance in the region, particularly between the Arabs and Israel because the military had a role in the conflict. Moreover, the outbreak of chaos allowed for the interference of tribal forces and the eruption of sectarian and ethnic conflicts. Al-Hashimi noted that it is not the right time for the military to interfere in the political life because "we need to reconstruct state institutions and create a new military ideology based on the spirit of citizenship."
Sudanese officer and political activist Mohamed al-Amin Khalifa declared, "No nation can impose its control without power. There is no power without a military force. The country that does not take this into account is a failed one. Material and moral power is a must for the construction of the state. This can be achieved by establishing an army that defends the state and secures its interests."
He also added, "In developing countries, the military's interference in politics became a customary thing. All the Arab countries experienced the military's interference in politics. In Sudan, the military has a history of interference in politics because people used to call on it to interfere whenever the civilian regime was incompetent. The military has been in control for 48 years. It is as if the military rule is the rule, with a few years of civilian rule since the independence. The Sawar al-Dhahab era after the transitional period is also an exception to the rule."
Furthermore, he argued, "The ideal scenario for Sudan lies in the introduction of civilian leadership to impose reforms as the wind of popular uprisings in the Arab world must have effects. We should take advantage of the circumstances and introduce a new spirit to establish a state based on democratic foundations without the military's interference."
In his speech, founder of Egypt's Building and Development Party Tarek al-Zumar praised President Mohamed Morsi for not giving up his rights as an elected president. "How can we get rid of military rule?" he inquired. "It is the military's interference in politics that prompted people in Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Egypt to rise against them."
He also suggested, "The 25 January Revolution is a revolt against the military rule. It continued to strictly reject the rule of the generals who had to abandon the dictator for the sake of maintaining dictatorship. However, the revolution will continue. We are about to put an end to this situation in Egypt."
Additionaly, he noted, "We will not allow Arab countries to continue to be ruled by dictators while other countries have eliminated their own. The Arab world's dictators are in the final stage of their rule."
Al-Zumar discussed the failures of the military after its interference in politics, saying, "The military has failed and impoverished the people. It has surrendered the country to businessmen who have destroyed it. It has ruined education, housing, health, and national security. It continues to break up the Egyptian society and incite sectarian sedition."
He then maintained, "We need to assert that the military rule continued for 60 years through martial laws. The military used the struggle with Israel and the fight against terrorism as pretexts for the imposition of such laws. It confiscated everything, and violations and torture continued at the prisons and the security headquarters."
Finally, he concluded:
We did not abandon the goals of the 25 January Revolution, but we need another uprising to renew its concepts. We need to end the struggle between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood and the struggle between Islamic and liberal concepts. We also need to establish a communal reconciliation which will put an end to the coup. Also, we need to reassure the parties and institutions which were cheated by the military, and establish a patriotic alternative to build the state. Finally, we need to deal with the world amid these extremely complicated circumstances and assimilate the region's changes in a correct manner."