August 16, 2013

Napoleon's Wise Advice To Egypt In Its Current Period of Transition: "Beware of A Militarist Government"

Painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme.

Brief Comment on Egypt: General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi does not come across as a military despot but a civic-minded guardian of a nation in deep crisis. He did not engineer the coup against Morsi because he is hungry for power, he acted out of a sense of patriotism and concern for the political life of Egypt and the long-term security of its citizens. He saw the damage that Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood was inflicting on Egypt and acted to save his country from a disastrous and unpopular course that was being taken under a dictatorial and ultra-secretive religious party.

In a speech to a group of officers and soldiers in mid July General al-Sisi explained his reasoning, saying: "When it comes to the people's freedom to elect their leaders no one can claim he is more religious than the others, and say: It is the shari'a, or else . . . Absolutely not. If you succeed as a leader, it is your success, and if you fail as a leader, it is your failure. But don't dare say that (you represent) religion, and the others combat religion. You are confusing things. Religion is all about kindness, ideas, and knowledge."

II. Napoleon's Wise Advice To Egypt In Its Current Period of Transition: "Beware of A Militarist Government" 

Source: "The Mind of Napoleon: A Selection from His Written and Spoken Words," edited and translated by J. Christopher Herold. Columbia University Press: New York. 1955. Pg. 76-77.
"[Conseil d'Etat, 1802] In every country, force yields to civic qualities. Bayonets are lowered before the priest who speaks in the name of Heaven and before the scholar who inspires respect for his science. I have predicted to certain military men, who had scruples, that military rule will never take root in France, unless the nation were stultified by fifty years of ignorance. All attempts will fail, and their authors will be the victims. I do not govern in the capacity of general but by virtue of the civil qualities which in the eyes of the nation qualify me for the government. If the nation did not hold this opinion, the government would not last. I knew what I was doing when, as army commander, I styled myself "Member of the Institute"; I was sure of being understood by the last drummer boy.

We must not apply the lessons of the barbarian eras to our present times. We are thirty million men united by civilization, property, and commerce. Against this mass, three or four hundred thousand soldiers are nothing. A general owes his command exclusively to his civic qualities; but aside from this, as soon as his active employment ceases, he returns to civilian status. Even the soldiers are merely the sons of citizens. The army means the nation. Looking at the army without taking these relationships into account, one would become convinced that it knows no law but force, that it looks only to its own needs, that it sees only itself. The civilian, on the contrary, sees only the common good. The distinguishing mark of the military is to want everything despotically; that of the civilian is the desire to subject everything to discussion, to the criteria of truth and reason. Each looks through his own prism, which often misleads him. Nevertheless, discussion gives birth to light. If men were classified into military and civilians, the result would be the establishment of two orders, whereas there is only one nation."

"[Conversation, 1800] If I died of fever three or four years from now, in my bed, and if to conclude the tale of my life I made a last will, I should tell the nation to beware of a militarist government: I should advise it to choose a civilian magistrate."