The popular uprisings that swept Egypt and Tunisia this winter were remarkably similar, but their immediate outcomes have been quite different. In Tunisia, civilian politicians and technocrats quickly took the helm of the country in the wake of the revolution. In Egypt, by contrast, the military’s Supreme Council is slated to rule the nation for six months, and whether it stays in power or returns to the barracks, it will surely try to ensure that civilians do not subordinate its role in politics. Given the nature and history of the two countries’ militaries, this divergence is not surprising. Still, Egypt’s military may not have the stranglehold on power that many think, and a real Tunisian solution -- a civilian government free of military involvement -- could form in Egypt as well.
Under President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia was a police state. The president relied on his handpicked security and intelligence forces in the Interior Ministry to maintain his rule. Mistrustful of large militaries, he purposefully ensured the weakness of the army. With merely 50,000 in uniform, the army, as a proportion of the population, is among the smallest in the Arab world. Denied significant amounts of the foreign assistance that came into Tunisia, undersupplied, poorly equipped, and excluded from Ben Ali’s patronage network, it was not invested in the regime. Meanwhile, over the past few decades, Ben Ali had effectively placed it under U.S. tutelage, where it was given training and modest arms transfers. This was a hedge against the French, who retained some influence over the police after Tunisian independence. They supplied and trained the security and intelligence forces, and even helped the government suppress an uprising in 1955. U.S. involvement with the military, Ben Ali supposed, would prevent the French from having a monopoly of influence over his country’s means of coercion. At the same time, it meant that the army, which already had little loyalty to Ben Ali and no economic interest in