Mon 09 Oct 2023 9:35 am - Jerusalem Time

The “ambiguous” role of the army in Arab countries

It is strange that the status of armies in Arab countries, and perhaps “developing” countries as well, and their fluctuating roles, no longer attract the attention of researchers and supposed stakeholders, as was the case in the sixties and seventies of the last century, despite the great importance that those armies still enjoy, and the prescribed roles that they play. She performs it, whether with her heavy presence at times, or with her absence, which is no less heavy at other times.

Perhaps this led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dominance of American unipolarity in the 1990s.

And the changes that have occurred in international relations, and even in the nature of the political movement in the state itself, and the belief that matters have become settled for those for whom history has “ended” to the belief that there is no room for any serious change in the other direction, not even in any direction, and therefore there is no need for any Interest in any element of change, including the army in this case, as long as change itself has become “impossible.”

Each army in the region has its own peculiarity. The army’s social composition, its intellectual and ideological structure, its political role, and its relations with the rest of the groups in its society and with the political system in its state are subject to many factors, which have a fundamental relationship to the nature of the state itself, and to the “historical” manner in which it emerged, and By the military and intellectual “school” in which he was raised, and by the strategic and political situation in which the army found itself.

But this “specificity” that characterizes every army in the region does not deny that these armies share many things, just as their countries share, as those countries were subjected in one way or another to colonialism, and also obtained, in one way or another, one form or another of “independence.” Their armies underwent “class” and ideological changes that had many similarities, and those armies achieved few common victories, suffered many common defeats, and at times they understood their national security almost in common, and then abandoned that understanding “almost” in common as well.

The mission of this article is to examine some of the basic changes that have occurred in the situation of the army in the region, the repercussions of those changes on the situation of the “national” state, and the opportunities that the global conflict currently taking place may provide, in order to create a new multipolar world order.

Introducing the army
The army in the region, especially in its early days, was usually described as the homeland's army and the people's army, as it is the comprehensive national institution for all segments and classes of society. Although its largest group consisted of soldiers from the poorest rural backgrounds, its senior officers and senior leaders were mainly composed of members of clans, feudal lords, and aristocrats.

But the group that was considered the elite, and played the most prominent role in the history of the armies of the region, was the one made up of middle and junior officers, which came mainly from the middle classes in the city and the countryside, and was called in socialist literature the “military intelligentsia.”

The armies of the region, which most likely arose with the emergence of the state or earlier, were highly respected. This was also the case with the military profession, which may have inherited part of its respect from the “prestige” enjoyed by the colonial armies during the occupation period.

But the basis for the positive position on the army - and talking mainly about Arab countries - came from its being, at least in the founding period, the largest, and almost the only, employer of young people. It is the comprehensive national institution, a symbol of the unity of the people, a carrier of the ideas of sovereignty and independence, a protector of the state and “the nation,” and it is the most modern and most organized institution in society.

The characteristics of these armies varied from one country to another in the region, depending on the circumstances in which they were established, the form and “function” of the state, and with regard to the armies of the Arab Levant in particular, their role in the wars with Israel. In this context, we can distinguish between three types of armies: those that were established by the colonizers before political independence, those that appeared in the midst of the liberation movement, and the third that appeared after the establishment of the “national” state.

The army and the state
The experience of the Palestinian Authority provided a living model for studying how the state emerged in our region, as well as the emergence of the institutions associated with it, including the armed forces. The birth of power before our eyes, as if we were in a real laboratory, freed us from research, historians, archaeologists, documents and archives, to embody the reality in which the state and its institutions arose, and presented to our generation a “clinical” case that we can, perhaps with a few exceptions, generalize to the rest of the countries of the region.

The nature of the emergence of a state determines the nature of its army. The contemporary Arab state arose in an “ambiguous” relationship with colonialism, and its army also arose with it, or at least, was radically influenced by it in cases where it was present in one form or another.

Colonialism prevented the emergence of a “natural” state in the region, that is, a state that arose as a result of a “social contract” between the ruler and the ruled, just as states are created. Rather, the “security” (coordination) contract was essentially, as well as the political and economic, between the “nominated” ruler and the colonial state, which was The foundation upon which the state and its system were built. Anyone who treats the state in our region as if it were the product of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau “contract,” and not the Sykes-Picot “contract,” is certainly suspect.

As is known, the army constitutes one of, if not the most important, element of the “deep” state. It is closely linked to it. Dissolving the army practically means "dissolving" the state, and the example of Bremer's Iraq is before us. The army is most likely in the shape of its state, or the state is in the shape of its army (there is no difference). The strong state has a strong army, the subordinate state has a subordinate army, the targeted one has its army targeted, the one that has lost its political and moral legitimacy has its army as well, and the one that lives in the pre-state phase, as most of them are. In our countries (to varying degrees), their army is in the pre-army stage, and when the state matures, its army matures.

The army...different roles
After the Palestinian Nakba, and in light of the world order that was formed after World War II, that bipolar system, in which the Soviet Union represented the national liberation movements in the colonial and semi-colonial countries, patriotic and nationalist movements emerged among the military intelligentsia (junior and mid-level officers), led by Some of their countries are against colonial influence, although in many cases they went in a direction hostile to the masses and to political and civil action, as this led to subsequent setbacks.

Things developed later, due to the weakness of the state, or - more precisely - due to the failure of the pre-state to transform into a state, and in light of weak and suppressed civil forces, and the imbalance that occurred in the global system in favor of Western imperialism, the army - and talk about our region - turned, From an army for the state to an army for the regime, then the army took control of the regime to become an army regime.

After America took control of the scene, and the unipolar system was established by eliminating all symbols of the dual world order except what was rare, major transformations took place in the countries of the region and their institutions, and the army was the most prominent and clear in these changes.

It was natural, under the bipolar system, for the regime to be with America and the opposition with the Soviet Union, or vice versa, but in light of the new situation, America is no longer content with the loyalty of the regime but also the opposition as well. It worked to subjugate the state with all its institutions: authority and opposition, regime and civil society, army and parties, secularists and Islamists, left and right.

The United States “accepted” that there would be an authority and an opposition, and that there would be political parties, civil society, and schools of “thought,” but it worked to ensure that the relationship with it would be outside, or even above, any conflict, and if there was to be competition between these, then let it be rapprochement. From her and win her affection. This required the United States not to limit itself to maintaining ties with the regime and its symbols, but rather with everyone. Regimes, peoples, parties, institutions, and individuals. This also required working to change values and beliefs, and all that results from education, media, and “religion”...

One of the most important institutions that the United States was keen to “communicate” with and influence was the army, which it worked to link directly to it, financially, organisationally, ideologically, armament and alliances, in a way that ensured that it would no longer act as a national institution, and instead of the army being a symbol of sovereignty and independence, As a factor in preserving them, it became a title and a tool for abandoning them.

Financially and economically, the United States allocated direct financial “aid” to the army and its leaders, which does not necessarily pass through the state budget and its financial institutions. It also encouraged the involvement of the military institution in “business” and “civilian” businesses, transforming the army from a social class that included representatives of all segments and classes of society, on which the state spent its various resources, into a fully-fledged social class that not only finances itself but also accumulates profits. The rest of the classes of society compete to own the means of production and control the market.
Ideologically, this formed a basis for changing the army’s doctrine and function - here normalization was necessary by transforming the state and its institutions, most notably the army, from a role to a function - so from a basic goal of defending the homeland and the people, the army became without a goal, or with any goal it was “assigned to” except that which it was assigned to. It should be. In terms of the military doctrine, which was summarized by most armies in the region, that Israel represents the main, if not the only, enemy of the nation, this has changed for many, to become the friend and “ally” as well as its army.

In light of normalization with Israel, the armies in the region have lost any strategic or moral justification for their presence, as there will be no wars “after today,” as Sadat said after the 1973 war, unless they are civil wars.

The conclusion here is that, in general, as the armies of the region differ depending on the degree of development of their countries and their strategic situation, there seems to be no hope that these armies will take advantage of the opportunity provided by the historical situation that the world is going through now, as some African armies do.... This The situation is difficult for people and their elites who seek change, and requires greater effort to find other tools to achieve this.


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