Published online by Cambridge University Press: 15 September 2020
Egypt’s top military generals remained loyalists until the very end in 2011 and yet were unable to save their hero and benefactor, Hosni Mubarak. Why? To answer this question I break the officer corps along generational lines, which other studies have so far neglected to do. I show that the Egyptian military commandership dreaded a pro-uprising military coup from below after demonstrators occupied Tahrir. The top brass understood that they could not order their subordinates to open fire on demonstrators without risking an open mutiny in the officer corps. I give evidence that the behavior of the officer corps in 2011 reflected the conflicting preferences between the upper level of the officer corps, and its mid-ranking and junior members particularly, and demonstrate that when mid-ranking and junior offices are against the status quo, it cannot be upheld, irrespective of the preferences of the top brass. In Syria, I also show that ethnic stacking and all-in-the-family tactics made the military–security complex impervious not only to potential coup-plotters but also to civilian demonstrators in the streets of Syria. Whether Sunni opponents to the al-Asads came from within or without the armed forces, they found no critical mass of Alawi officers ready to build a cross-sectarian alliance with them against the dynasty in power. And so the al-Asads survived the massive peaceful uprising in 2011 – and later triumphed in civil war – just as they prevailed over military challenges to their rule previously. Contra Egypt’s coup-proofing system, Hafez and Bashar al-Asad’s tactics delivered coup-proofing and more.