Why do Dictators Draft People Into Their Armies ?

Last night and today I watched on Al Jazeera (streaming) what sure looks like a Egyptian revolution. At the moment Hosni Mubarak is still President, however, he is not in control. The apparent turning point occured when he sent the army to suppress demonstrations after the vastly outnumbered security police didn’t manage. This is a throw of the dice and he knew it. I read in the New York Times

“This is the revolution of all the people,” declared the side of a second tank in downtown Cairo. Egyptian men all serve in the army, giving it a very different relationship to the people from that of the police.

An army of drafties can’t be trusted to side with a dictator against a crowd of demonstrators. The security police are volunteers who understand the choice they are making, are thoroughly disciplined and fairly well paid. Actually a few of them took off their badges and joined the demonstration, but most held their lines and fired tear gas and rubber bullets until they withdrew last night.

In Italy, people have only fairly recently been confident that there won’t be a military coup. The fact that attempted dictators can’t rely on drafties was key to the decision to maintain universal military service (to protect Italy from what ? Slovenia ?) until recently.

So why did Mubarak draft his subjects and give them guns and tanks ? A small well paid professional army would have been more reliable and certainly powerful enough to terrify civilians armed with stones and the occasional molotof cocktail. Why did he feel the need to have a huge army ? There is no way the Egyptian army could defeat Israel (been there tried that). There is no way any other conceivable adversary could last a week against the Egyptian army or even a much smaller army.

Why ? My guess is that the generals want to command a huge army for reasons of ego and they have always had the power to overthrow Mubarak. On the other hand the people only become dangerous to him when they are united.