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The Egyptian Military's War on Alcohol
March 12, 2014 12:12 AM   Subscribe

The Egyptian Military's War on Alcohol Just before the Ahmed Hamdy tunnel, which links Egypt's main bulk of land to the Sinai Peninsula, there are two consecutive checkpoints. One of them is run by the military, and the other by the Ministry of Interior. This weekend, on a trip to Sinai with a group of friends, we were stopped at the military checkpoint. The conscripts insisted on searching us, and a mere inquiry as to what the purpose of the search was made them adamant on going through every bag.
posted by modernnomad (20 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
I told him that he had taken something that belonged to me and undermined the authority of the state, which allowed me to purchase the bottle.

Try taking a bottle of water through American airport security. Even if you legally purchased it in the airport they make you throw it in the bin.

"You are undermining the authority of the state" is an odd accusation to hurl at someone exercising the authority of the state.
posted by three blind mice at 2:59 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]


Actually, that seems like an entirely accurate thing to say. The problem is that the military was exercising the authority of the state incorrectly, which erodes respect for the state. Certainly, my respect for authority has been whittled down to a sliver courtesy of countless boneheaded actions. YMMV. One can quibble over the phrasing but the results are usually the same.
posted by Bella Donna at 3:54 AM on March 12 [9 favorites]


Last time I was in Egypt (a very long time ago) there was a massive distinction drawn between foreign duty-free booze (available to foreigners, eagerly sought by black marketeers) and local booze (easily available from state shops, brewed by state (I assume military-run) firms - quite horrible). This just sounds like the military shoring up an income stream.
posted by pompomtom at 4:14 AM on March 12


The problem is that the military was exercising the authority of the state incorrectly, which erodes respect for the state.

Really? In Egypt, the military IS the authority of the state. Especially since the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces dissolved the democratically-elected parliament and suspended the constitution.
posted by three blind mice at 4:58 AM on March 12


Nothing three blind mice said contradicted anything Bella Donna said.
posted by ardgedee at 5:14 AM on March 12 [4 favorites]


Perhaps the article could have delved into why the military are so keen to smash bottles of booze.

Was this:

- something specific to the Sinai (for example, to prevent alcohol being smuggled into Gaza or sold to Bedouins)
- a tax issue
- a revenue protection issue on alcohol for the military specifically
- a sop to harder line muslims
- none of these
- some of these

Aside from that, I suppose complaining about military checkpoints destroying alcohol is an example of the banal tyranny of a military autocracy. But there are much bigger and more effective points to be made about how and why the military subverts democracy and the rule of law in Egypt.
posted by MuffinMan at 6:14 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]


The dumbest part is making him smash the bottle: Just pouring out the contents is easier, safer and makes less of a mess. I guess them being the army they feel they've done a better job by smashing things real good though.
posted by Dr Dracator at 6:22 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]


Let the people be. It is their country. They can do as they choose. You may not agree with it, but that is the way life works.

You realize that one of the problems with the military regime in Egypt is that the people can't do as they choose, right? The military can do as it chooses, but I assume that's not who you mean by "they." One of the points of the article is that the author, an Egyptian, was not free to do as he chooses with his legally purchased alcohol because of the arbitrary actions of an unaccountable instrument of state power. Your comment makes basically no sense.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:32 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]


Dr Dracator: "...I guess them being the army they feel they've done a better job by smashing things real good though."

"Great. Looks like we got that nerd, Dr. Banner, again. Remember, this time pour the contents on the ground.

If you don't, he gets angry, then pouring by itself isn't good enough... he feels he hasn't done his job properly at that point... He gets... angry.

Trust me, you wouldn't like him when he's angry.

He'll insist you SMASH, or worse..

HULK SMASH!"
posted by symbioid at 6:44 AM on March 12


I suppose complaining about military checkpoints destroying alcohol is an example of the banal tyranny of a military autocracy. But there are much bigger and more effective points to be made about how and why the military subverts democracy and the rule of law in Egypt.

Well, this is an account, written by an Egyptian, about a slice of life experience dealing with the military regime, and reflecting on how arbitrary and heavy-handed life under them feels. I don't think he's trying to make any really big points. He's trying to illustrate how daily life in Egypt is a whole collection of small points, checkpoints included.

Not all journalism is about the big picture. Sometimes it's just about one experience.
posted by hippybear at 6:46 AM on March 12 [5 favorites]


Reminds me of a story posted to a model airplane forum from a hobbyist in Egypt who was arrested and had all of his gear seized by the military.
posted by smoothvirus at 6:46 AM on March 12


"You are undermining the authority of the state" is an odd accusation to hurl at someone exercising the authority of the state.

The illegitimate exercise of state authority undermines people's faith in the legitimacy of that authority (hence, undermining it). What's not to understand?
posted by saulgoodman at 7:39 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]


Unless we've rolled democratic history back so far by this point that we no longer even recognize the consent of the governed as the minimum threshold.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:41 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]


Making the legitimacy of government conditional on the consent of the governed is a pretty new idea, historically, and doesn't seem to exactly be gaining a lot of ground these days, Western progressivist ratchet-of-history notions to the contrary.

All the Egyptian military needs to maintain legitimacy (in the Weberian Rational-legal sense) is to be generally perceived as better than the alternatives. Which, given how badly Islamist governments tend to fuck things up, will probably sustain them for quite a while.

Smashing up booze certainly doesn't help, though.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:14 AM on March 12


Making the legitimacy of government conditional on the consent of the governed is a pretty new idea, historically, and doesn't seem to exactly be gaining a lot of ground these days, Western progressivist ratchet-of-history notions to the contrary.

Perhaps, but it's still the most basic prerequisite for democracy.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:14 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]


All the Egyptian military needs to maintain legitimacy (in the Weberian Rational-legal sense) is to be generally perceived as better than the alternatives.

Not if they want to maintain legitimacy as a democracy. The thinking on modern democracy since Locke has been pretty clear on the point about "consent of the governed" being requisite.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:15 AM on March 12


Dr Dracator: "The dumbest part is making him smash the bottle: Just pouring out the contents is easier, safer and makes less of a mess. I guess them being the army they feel they've done a better job by smashing things real good though."

It's probably an anti-corruption measure. Smashed bottles can't later be found to not have been properly poured out. And while I can come up with all sorts of mechanical devices to destroy the bottles, bottles smashed by throwing upon rocks need no special equipment, no training, no PPE and have visual verification of destruction to the seizees. Plus the pile of broken bottles serve as a warning.
posted by Mitheral at 11:55 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]


Interesting slice of life. But what about the bigger picture? I watched The Square, of course, and found it very informative. Is the consensus now that it's all over for any real secular democracy in Egypt? From everything I read in the news, it seems like the military has pretty much sewn up the whole shebang and are settling in for a good stretch of complete control. It seems like the two biggest power centers are the Islamist theocrats and the military. What a choice. Genuine grass roots secular democracy probably never had a chance, despite all the optimism of The Square. So sad. What does the future look like for Egypt, over the next 10 years or so? Military control?
posted by VikingSword at 2:20 PM on March 12


Not if they want to maintain legitimacy as a democracy.

I'm not disputing that. But it's sort of a big "if".
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:46 PM on March 12


Indeed secular grassroots democracy never really had a chance essentially because Egypt does not have any of the necessary institutions to support a successful democracy. The Egyptian Revolution was led by people just like Wael and those who produced The Square: upper middle class, privately educated, politically-inclined and very very internet savvy. It's important to note however that people like this account for maybe less than 1% of the population. There was a good article in Al-Monitor about Egypt's "missing political middle" in which the author argues that the upper and middle classes have yet to shoulder the burden of actual reform and are content instead to maintain the status quo - which in this case means broken institutions and a severe deficit in political capital.
posted by desert_laundry at 3:09 AM on March 13


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