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Progressives and the military — bound together, in the US and Egypt

on 11 Comments

This post is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

Is Egypt quieting down or is a permanent opposition to the governing authorities consolidating? Yesterday’s demonstrations lacked the fireworks of previous days.  It may be the lull before another storm.

Whether that storm is increased pro-Morsi street activity or increased army and police activity – or both – is yet to be seen.  If the militarization of Egyptian society increases over the next months, progressive forces will find themselves in an even deeper dilemma than they are in now.  Progressive Egyptians have little choice but to back the military even if it becomes more aggressive.  Their fate is in the military’s hands.

Egypt’s deep state – the military, police judiciary, state bureaucracy and economic elite, in sum, the core of power in Egypt instead of the civilian political veneer – is reasserting itself.  Egypt isn’t alone here.  There are deep states everywhere.  That’s why significant political and social change is so difficult.

Speaking of cores on the political scene, did you see the New York Times report on Hillary’s latest gear-up for a Presidential run?  Hillary is bringing in buckets full of money – $200,000 a speech and more.   The Clinton wealth is expanding exponentially.  So is its reach.

What change would Hillary bring to the political arena?  Once an outsider, she is now part of the deep state.  But then, as in Egypt, progressive forces in America have their hands tied.  If you’re convinced that a vote for Hillary is a vote for the deep state, who will you vote for?  Governor Rick Perry of Texas?

Hillary and Bill – with the Bushes – have dominated American presidential politics for decades now. There may be another decade or so left in their dynastic reach.  The Obama administration is more Clinton than the Clintons and Obama’s new pick for director of the FBI is a Bush retread who spoke up for the Patriot Act.  (James B. Comey).  Change isn’t always change.

Jews of Conscience can learn from the unfolding drama of coup d’état and martial law in Egypt if we widen our angle of vision.  An example is the military – the essence of the deep state – in America and Israel where most Jews of Conscience live.  The militaries of these countries are more or less the same.  Our predicament is similar to progressive forces in Egypt where they’re using the military to help them accomplish their goal of a freer and more democratic society.

The danger, of course, is that the democracy the Egyptian generals ‘guard’ is the very same democracy that rarely makes it to its vaunted terminus – a minimal military presence that has less and less effect on society, politics and public policy.

Right now the military dominates the organized sector of Egyptian society.  Can we say less of Israel?

In Israel the military is everywhere and ready to strike at a moment’s notice.  Soldiers in uniform with weapons at the ready are in the streets, traveling on the highways, in buses and hanging out in crowded areas.  That’s within Israel’s 1967 borders.  In East Jerusalem and the West Bank there is even more of the military on display in the security terminals, along the roads and in bases that guard the settlements. 

Israel is on a permanent war footing without war, let alone with it.  War is simply an extension and acceleration of Israel’s daily life.

Name a country that is as militarized as Israel?  If there are any, they are few in number.  Those that are as militarized are usually larger in size and territory, therefore their militaries are largely hidden from public view.  And though few militaries are as directly involved in their economy as Egypt’s army is, they are nonetheless crucial to the economies by employing large numbers of people and pumping the economy with money from government. 

There are many examples of this military largesse.  In fact, it seems that thriving modern economies are dependent upon it.  First on the list, but by no means the only country, is the United States.  Can you imagine the employment figures and industrial capacity in America if suddenly the military and all that it takes to supply it disappeared?

When President Dwight Eisenhower spoke of the military-industrial complex in his farewell address to the nation he envisioned a future difficulty – the military-industrial complex was only in its infancy.  Today it is entrenched and assumed.  The United States economy would collapse without it. 

The national security state arrived a long time before Edward Snowden revealed the NSA spying.  Many of the countries that Snowden has on his asylum wish list are either participants or wannabes in the national security state club.  Yesterday he again appealed to Russia, the epitome of an authoritarian – and thoroughly corrupt – national security state.  (Another contradiction: Progressive non-interventionist activists regarding Syria are dependent on Russia’s opposition to the United States on this issue and its support of the Assad regime.)

Say what you will about the ethical cost, in the modern world development is linked to militarization.  The more militarized a society is, the more developed.

Jews of Conscience thinking about Egypt should look within – America and Israel.  Our fate, too, is tied up with forces beyond our control.  Outside of our imagination, in real time, can we break with the ties that bind us?

Marc H. Ellis
About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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11 Responses

  1. W.Jones
    July 13, 2013, 11:21 am

    ” If you’re convinced that a vote for Hillary is a vote for the deep state, who will you vote for? Governor Rick Perry of Texas?”
    3rd Party.

    • Citizen
      July 13, 2013, 12:25 pm

      Me too. Since both will be all IHeartIsrael, what else does either have to offer as primary goal? I’d guess at this juncture: Hillary has timing re first female POTUS. Perry has fact Texas is # 1 in Jobs, and that’s been so for a decade.

    • Keith
      July 13, 2013, 6:34 pm

      W.JONES- “3rd Party.”

      Absolutely! Folks who advocate for the lesser of two evils don’t seem to realize that they are, in effect, voting for actions and policies which they will likely abhor, and that they are providing electoral legitimacy to those who represent the 99%.

      • W.Jones
        July 14, 2013, 9:37 pm


        I understand that it’s a tough call. If Bush hadn’t been president, we might not have had 911, Iraq, etc. But the fact that Obama’s presidency has seen the sponsoring of terrorists in Syria (along with McCain’s photo ops there) suggests that US intervention and regime change for competitors of the Israeli State would still be on the table whichever of the two candidates was elected.

        One of the curious things is why the US prompted the Arab Spring in Egypt at all in the first place to occur, if it would bring to power someone that recent events have shown it did not support.

      • Keith
        July 15, 2013, 7:06 pm

        W.JONES- “One of the curious things is why the US prompted the Arab Spring in Egypt at all in the first place to occur, if it would bring to power someone that recent events have shown it did not support.”

        I doubt that the US prompted the Egypt uprising, why should they? The US supported Mubarak as long as that was a viable option, then helped push Mubarak out in such a way as to essentially preserve military control. Having Morsi in power for 2 years to get the blame for the inevitable consequences of neoliberalism was somewhat astute. Let the politicians accept the blame for the actions of the deep state. In fact, one writer went so far as to say that allowing Morsi the Presidency, then undercutting him, effectively destroyed the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood politically. Below is a link to an excellent article on all of this by Joseph Massad.

      • W.Jones
        July 17, 2013, 12:23 pm

        “I doubt that the US prompted the Egypt uprising, why should they?”
        Alot of things don’t make sense at first glance. However in hindsight we see that there was a pattern of regime change that affected one country after another from Tunisia to now Syria, which was performed in different ways. Norman Finkelstein, not long before the Arab Spring began in Tunisia, said that there would soon be a massive western intervention across the Mideast that would start in Tunisia.

        Maybe they wanted things to work out this way, with the MB being discredited. I don’t know.

  2. Citizen
    July 13, 2013, 12:26 pm

    “The more militarized a society is, the more developed.”

    Where do S Korea and N Korea fit in this picture?

  3. Citizen
    July 13, 2013, 12:34 pm

    Also, the US is an all volunteer military, while Egypt has military conscription for Males of premium age, same as the US had previously (with US males still obligated to register, lose benefits like Pell grants if they don’t), and Israel has full gender conscription, with continuing reserve obligations. How does this info factor into the theme here that progressives and the military are bound together? Seems only more or less. With what conclusion, I don’t know.

    • annie
      July 13, 2013, 8:36 pm

      Israel has full gender conscription

      you might want to rethink that.

  4. libra
    July 13, 2013, 5:02 pm

    Professor Ellis: Say what you will about the ethical cost, in the modern world development is linked to militarization.  The more militarized a society is, the more developed.

    I’m sorry Professor Ellis, but the example of North Korea, which represents the final stage of over-militarization, destroys your entire thesis. And need I mention the USSR?

    On the other hand, clearly you have not visited Scandinavia recently or, dare I suggest, Germany.

  5. Keith
    July 13, 2013, 7:06 pm

    MARC ELLIS- “There are deep states everywhere. That’s why significant political and social change is so difficult.”

    Lately, I find myself agreeing with almost everything you say! I might add that the “deep state” (institutions of power within political economy) is why it is wrong to overly focus on the political system as if the government was running things rather than administering society for the benefit of the 99%. It is also critical to understand that nowadays the “deep state” is a global phenomenon, an interdependent matrix of control and influence which transcends national borders. The American empire has morphed into a global elite empire.

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