Nowhere in the world is Mao Zedong’s dictum that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun truer than in the Middle East.Big thing to point out here: in cases where the kings rule the armies, the armies are usually very small. This is why Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, et al were unable to defend themselves from Saddam Hussein. The reason they're so small? During the heyday of Arab Nationalist movement that produced such lovely critters as Gamal Abd al-Nasser, the armies were always threats to topple the rulers. The thinking went: small army = small threat.
The armed forces have been the basis of power in the Arabic-speaking world and in Turkey, too. That’s why the nationalist dictatorships and traditionalist monarchies, which had seen so many coups and coup attempts in the 1950s and 1960s, had to find special ways to control the armed forces. They did so by special privileges, close intelligence watches, promoting officers on the basis of loyalty to the regime, and many other measures.
One of these was the creation of elite, parallel military formations. Examples include the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the Iraqi Republican Guard, the Saudi “White Army,” and others.
During the “Arab Spring” there has not been a single revolution in the usual sense of the word. In Egypt and Tunisia, what we have seen are essentially coups. The armed forces both used the mass demonstrations and responded to them by seizing power. In Libya, a rebel army was basically handed power by NATO. But where the army remained loyal, as in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and — so far but perhaps shakily — Syria, the regime remained in power.
This analysis raises the question of whether the army is going to remain in control of Egypt and Tunisia. In this situation, neither “revolution” nor elections nor revolutionary Islamist groups really matter. The soldiers are still the boss. Change, then, is more illusory than real and there is far less to fear.
Such an analysis is viable; it might be true; it might even be, from an international strategic perspective, the best outcome. While a stable, non-repressive, and non-aggressive democracy that benefited large numbers of people is preferable, what if it isn’t possible?
Here’s a chart to get a clear picture of the situation:
WHO RULES THE GUNS?
Professional soldiers: Algeria (closely tied to regime), Egypt (dual power with probable Islamist-led regime?), Syria (closely tied to regime with small numbers supporting opposition), Tunisia (dual power–?–with Islamist-led regime)
Islamists: Gaza Strip, Iran, Lebanon (army still independent but Islamist militia the strongest military force), Libya, Turkey (far from completely but that’s the trend)
Kings: Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Gulf emirates (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, United Arab Emirates)
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