Even among demonstrators chanting strident, once-unthinkable slogans in Tahrir Square last week — “Down with military rule!” — it was not difficult to find people such as Tarek Abo Elnaga, 16, who said he dreams of becoming an officer, or Medhat Mohamed, who said he would enlist in a heartbeat, even at age 45, “for my nation.”
The public admiration could bode well for stability. But as the generals fade from the spotlight, analysts say it could also hinder civilian efforts to wrest real control of parliament and military matters — something likely to require backing from a population that is tired of protest and looking for leadership from President Mohamed Morsi, who was sworn in last week.
“It’s definitely going to make the president’s — or whatever civilian institution’s — task all that much more difficult,” said Yasser el-Shimy, an Egypt-based analyst with the International Crisis Group. “It’s one thing to revolt against Mubarak. It’s completely another to revolt against the military.”
Since the revolution, there have been few reports of unrest within the Arab world’s largest military, which receives about $1.3 billion in U.S. funding annually. A blogger who cast himself as Egypt’s first conscientious objector was arrested and now lives in Germany, and his anti-conscription movement has only about a dozen members.
In an inauguration speech last Sunday, Morsi said the armed forces would “go back to the barracks.” But even before he spoke, the audience of dignitaries and former parliamentarians chanted that Egyptians and the army are one.
“The majority of Egyptians are very much pro-SCAF and pro-military,” said Sameh Saif el-Yazl, a retired army general and security analyst who is viewed as close to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. “People look to the army as the final salvation.”
Polls taken before the elections support his claim. A Gallup survey conducted in April found that Egyptians’ confidence in the military had dropped little since June 2011, from 95 to 89 percent. A Pew Research Center survey this spring indicated that three-quarters of Egyptians believe the military has a good influence. Both surveys found that majorities viewed the council of generals positively.
The military’s standing was built over decades of dictatorial rule by presidents who hailed from the armed forces and was aided by censorship laws that prohibit reporting on the military, shielding it from examination.