Over the past few weeks, I have skimmed articles in Dutch newspapers about Egypt. The pictures speak a thousand words, but in this case, I had one thing wrong; I had envisioned the high number of injuries as a result of brute military force. Yet, the pictures did not show a line of soldiers with riot control gear. My mind just filled in this information as status quo.  I know. I’m giving away my state of ignorance on longstanding world politics and affairs, but I am struck by what I learned today.

I finally picked up an English paper and was surprised to learn that the military was actually shaking hands with the anti-Mubarak forces, and standing aside during the clashes. The Egyptian military is approximately 500,000 strong, according to a Financial Times article, and has an image of a respectful institution that watches over the Egyptian population. Although the upper echelons of the Egyptian military are reportedly aligned with Mubarak and have much to gain by keeping him in power, they are reluctant to order the soldiers on the ground to fire against the protesters. Hmm? Isn’t this the military? Aren’t soldiers supposed to follow orders regardless of their personal convictions?

Apparently, this particular military construct recognizes the complexities of the human condition, and in this case, the fact that many of the soldiers, who are poor, share the same social frustrations as the anti-Mubarak protestors. Thus, they would be hard pressed to pull the trigger against one of their countrymen rallying for change they recognize as valid.

As the rallies get more intense and more violent, the army is “stuck between a rock and a hard place.” 

Apparently, that stance of military neutrality also applies to attacks on the press. Seeing Anderson Cooper’s video of being attacked by angry Pro-Mubarak supporters, while the military did nothing to intervene shows that such a hands-off approach will only turn more deadly, and perhaps lead to shutting the world out through lack of news coverage–a position that would not benefit anyone but the pro-Mubarak side.

How long can the military maintain it’s position of neutrality? Perhaps as I write these words, the answer has already unfolded.

Coming up next: An Ugly Crack in Dutch Hospitality to Asylum Seekers