Egypt: Is Mandatory Conscription Pro-Democracy?

Watching the situation in Egypt, I’ve been struck repeatedly by how the Army has behaved. Today the Egyptian Army announced that it won’t use force against protesters.  Earlier in the protests, we saw reports of Egyptian soldiers shaking hands with protesters and inviting them onto their tanks.

An Egyptian army Captain identified as Ihab Fathi holds the national flag and salutes while being carried by demonstrators during a protest in Tahrir Square in Cairo on January 31, 2011, on the seventh day of mass protests calling for the removal of President Hosni Mubarak.

Above: An Egyptian soldier is held aloft by a crowd of protesters in Cairo.

By contrast, both the regular Police and State Security were fairly brutal in attempting to repress the protests.   Egypt, like many other countries, has mandatory conscription.   Whereas certain people specifically seek out roles in the police force, effectively self-selecting for certain ideologies or personality types, the lower ranks of the Army reflect a fuller cross-section of Egyptian society, and if anything are likely to tilt towards the poor.

I wonder:  does that fact explain anything about the behavior of the Egyptian Army in this situation?   The Generals in Egypt are unlikely to represent such a broad cross section, but they might reasonably wonder whether their troops actually would fire on protesters if ordered to do so.

Could it be that mandatory conscription is pro-democracy?   I’d love to hear your thoughts below.

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