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Egypt's Military And Popular Sovereignty

An Egyptian woman stands in front of tanks blocking the street outside the state television building during a demonstration by Coptic Christians in Cairo on March 10.
"Al-Masry Al-Youm" commentator Alaa al-Aswani has published a thought-provoking (albeit sanitized) version of events in Egypt so far and facets of the dilemma facing Egyptians. In particular, Aswani tries to identify "five groups vis-a-vis the revolution" and posits key questions about the role and decisions of Egypt's armed forces along the way. There are some dubious passages, including the characterization of the Muslim Brotherhood's role (these Brookings scholars present a more cautious view) and the assertion that Egyptian revolutionaries' "political awareness is high, which allows them to make the right decisions." But he asks some questions that must be on the minds of many Egyptians as they await the results of the March 19 referendum.

Aswani's piece underlines the importance of the military and security establishments' perception of popular sovereignty, including farther afield.

It's hard not to think of Belarus, where security forces unflinchingly obeyed President Lukashenka's brutal orders after a flawed election, cracking demonstrators' heads and launching longer-term retributive measures. Or Kyrgyzstan, where nearly a year ago security forces initially fired on antigovernment demonstrators but appeared to abandon then-President Kurmanbek Bakiev rather than escalate the bloodshed. Or Iran since the marred presidential vote in June 2009, where formal and informal security have rallied to enforce the hard-liners' will. Or even Armenia, where police crushed postelection disorder in 2008 but the opposition is trying mightily to capture momentum from Tunisia and Egypt and portray its cause as one that's worth not fighting for.

-- Andy Heil

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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