Major Tamer Badr: Who’s Afraid of Desertion?

He has merely put his weapons down, he says, and is willing to pick them up again and rejoin his unit should the revolution succeed in putting the army under civilian control. (Photo: Austin Gerassimos Mackell)

By: Austin Gerassimos Mackell

Published Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Hailed as a hero by Tahrir protesters, Egyptian Major Tamer Badr spoke to Al-Akhbar about his decision to fight the military council by laying down his arms until civilian rule is in place.

Cairo - As Egypt goes to the polls in the first round of voting for its first post-Mubarak parliament, many remained focused on the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) and its head Field Marshal Tantawi, who currently fills the presidents proverbial shoes, and exercises similarly unchecked power. Such stewardship, they say, is not fit to run the elections.

One Egyptian who holds this view is Major Tamer Badr, a 37-year-old with a career in the infantry going back to 1994. “I used to like my job,” he says, “but after all this started happening, I stopped wanting to be on that side and I started wanting to be on the other side of the conflict.”

The conflict he saw was between the aspirations of the people and the interests of SCAF. It was this conflict that drove him to announce publicly his desertion to join the protests in the square.

Badr rejects the label of “defector” as that would imply turning his weapons against his former comrades.

He has merely put his weapons down, he says, and is willing to pick them up again and rejoin his unit should the revolution succeed in putting the army under civilian control. Should the revolution fail in this, however, he says it is unlikely he will even have that option.

The People Want to Topple the Field Marshal (Nidal El-khairy)

Badr told Al-Akhbar that he had previously attended protests in his civilian clothes, much to the distress of his family, who feared for his safety, and that he has been participating in the latest round of anti-SCAF protests since their onset on November 18, even joining the street battles with police.

However, the final decision to publicly announce that he, an army officer, was present in the square, only came on November 22, a day which saw one of the biggest turnouts of the recent anti-SCAF protests, and some of the most intense fighting.

He says he was well aware of the risks associated with such a gesture, citing the example of the April 8 movement, when another group of officers made a similar statement of solidarity with protesters. The next morning, unverified reports emerged claiming some of them were dead, and the rest were in prison. This is what Badr says awaits him if SCAF remains in power. “Either the revolution will succeed, or I will die... or I will be caught, arrested and put through a military trial.”

Despite the spontaneity of this decision, and its potentially severe consequences – for his wife and two children as well as himself, he says he has no regrets. “I don't regret anything. I am ready to die in the square with these martyrs and be one of them.” The fate of the eighty five million people of Egypt are more important to him than the fate of him and his family.

Badr came to demonstrations alone, without discussing the idea with any of his colleagues, not only because “this is a personal thing,” but also because any attempts to organize a group desertion would risk discovery – any officers found to be participating in the revolution face military prosecution and a sentence of up to 10 years. He estimates the number of soldiers at around thirty, but adds that he has no definitive number.

Now that he has made his move, however, he calls on officers who share his sentiments – and he believes there are many of them – to come forward and make themselves known. “I do call on all officers who want to join, who want to belong in the square to announce it.”

He says coming in uniform (as one captain Ahmed Shoman did recently), implies defection, rather than desertion. “All the protests I have joined I have joined in civilian clothes, even the day I announced I was going to show solidarity as an armed forces personnel.”

Badr is clear that there is no attempt underway to establish a fighting force composed of disillusioned soldiers like the “Free Syrian Army” or military defectors in Libya. He is simply refusing to serve in an army that he says is being used against the interests of people of Egypt.

It is this he is calling on other officers to join him in, though he has no intention of creating any formal group. He is happy to be just one more Egyptian who dreams of living in a democratic Egypt, with a civilian president. It is a dream he is prepared to risk his career, his freedom and his life for.

While the loss of one officer may not cripple the army, Badr’s actions taken together with those of Captain Shoman and the April 8 officers, it does indicate that the perception of brutality by SCAF could threaten the army's unity.

Badr also told Al-Akhbar that he was joined on Saturday night by a man identifying himself as Lieutenant Colonel Yossr Abdel Hadi of the Egyptian police, who carried official ID to back this up. The man gave interviews to Egyptian media, and left.

Since then Al-Akhbar has called the man, who subsequently repeated his claim that he was an officer who had joined the protesters in Tahrir because of a moral conviction that he must stand with the people. The claim comes a month after a nationwide strike action by low-ranking police demanding better pay, working conditions and a purging of the higher echelons. If it is true, it will add to speculation that this institution could also face a revolt from within the ranks.

Exclusive Interview with Egyptian Major Tamer Badr conducted by Austin Gerassimos Mackell

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