It is high time we removed the aura of nebulous sanctification that surrounds Arab military establishments and curtailed their political role, which necessarily comes at the expense of their professional function as protectors of the sovereign state and its people.

The first priority is to re-shape perceptions and break the reverence in which the military is popularly held. Debate is urgently needed about its role in the state, about accountability for its huge budgets by democratically elected parliaments, and about shedding light on excessive and often unjustified arms deals, since those arms are often not used.

And when they are used, they are all too often directed against their own people. In many cases, they are merely used to secure political support for the ruling regime, or as a means of bragging, as is the case in the Gulf. There states compete with each other to buy sophisticated and expensive weaponry to display in their military salons in Abu Dhabi and Riyadh.

Moroccan author and journalist Ali Anouzla (photo: AFP/Getty Images)
Ali Anouzla is a Moroccan author, journalist, director and editor-in-chief of He has founded and edited several Moroccan newspapers. In 2014 he received the "Leaders for Democracy" award from the American organization POMED (Project on Middle East Democracy)

What the tragic war in Yemen has revealed is that the armies of the UAE and Saudi Arabia have not been able to use these weapons effectively on the ground, enduring losses at the hands of ill-equipped militias that are barely fathomable, given their relative capabilities.

The pedestal needs to go

Without adjusting the political, societal and military balance of power, there can be no democratic transition towards a civil state. We need to restore the army to its traditional role as a professional force without the halo of national reverence and to reduce its legal room to manoeuvre in public outside the barracks. We also need to codify its constitutional role in the state and in society.

Many Arab states have suffered and continue to do so from military rule. Indeed, the military has led coups, sometimes against elected civilian governments, as happened in Egypt and Mauritania. In many cases, the military has morphed into oligarchies, as is now the situation in Algeria and Sudan. In these two countries, cabals of thieves, opportunists and corrupt businessmen have been able to enslave the people, plunder their wealth and steal their dreams.

It is time to shed much more light on the role of military institutions in the Arab world and to look again at their contribution in the light of current developments in the region. The military has emerged as a key player, controlling the fate of people who have suffered from their rule for many decades. And yet, people still see the army as their saviour and deliverer! That is the greatest calamity.

Ali Anouzla

© 2019

Translated from the Arabic by Chris Somes-Charlton

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