Egypt’s Military Holds the Masses in Check

A decade on since the Arab Spring in Egypt, the scenes in Tahrir Square central Cairo are now a distant memory as the removal of Hosni Mubarak saw the military remain firmly in charge
Muzammil Hussain Muzammil Hussain28th December 20206 min

When is a revolution not in fact a revolution? It is when before, during and after the revolution the authority remains in the hands of the same faction. The surreal scenes of protestors and baltajia – the hired thugs of the Hosni Mubarak regime both handing their captured foes over to the same army vehicle underscores the fact that before, during and after the so-called revolution the military remained firmly in charge, with a thinly veiled threat of military intervention hanging over the drama that it was orchestrating in Tahrir Square central Cairo.

Similar to most former British colonies, where the imposition of British administrators ensured that local civilian administration was invariably inept and corrupt, the militaries in these nations emerged from the colonial periods as the one institution that maintained a degree of competence and efficiency, characteristics which they used ruthlessly to seize the reins of power in their respective nations.

The Egyptian Military came to the fore in the 1952 revolution where the free officer’s movement predicated their actions on the deep and almost universal public dissatisfaction with the rule of King Farooq, to seize power in a CIA sponsored coup.[1] This marked the beginning of the militaries’ ascension to become the preeminent force in all aspects of Egyptian society.

Involvement in politics has served the military well especially the cadres in its upper echelons, from pharmaceuticals to transport and even dairy products.[2] Military Inc has significant investments and insurmountable advantages over its privately owned competitors, like the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt, in whose service seasonal farmers toiled for little or no personal gain to build their monuments, hundreds of thousands of young conscripts, toil in the plethora of military factories and enterprises in their mandatory 2 year conscription for very little pay or benefits.[3]

The Egyptian Military came to the fore in the 1952 revolution where the free officer’s movement predicated their actions on the deep and almost universal public dissatisfaction with the rule of King Farooq, to seize power in a CIA sponsored coup

The situation is summed up adequately by an anonymous owner of a marble production facility. He states after the Egyptian army took control of the country’s mines, “the army will get the raw materials for free, use labour provided by conscripts for free, won’t pay for transport and won’t pay taxes or customs duty. How are we meant to compete with that?”

The largess that control of 40% of Egypt’s economy affords the army is on display for those brave enough to discern. Officers enjoy a retirement at the barmy age of 55 whilst for most Egyptians a liveable pension is a figment of their imagination. The army also enjoys  subsidised accommodation in army maintained gated communities, free health care in facilities where the staff actually care whether the patients’ lives or dies and guaranteed employment post military service. Many will maintain access to a system of patronage and graft that enriches generals and their families beyond the wildest imagination of Egypt’s struggling citizens.[4]

It is commonly assumed that the motivation for the Egyptian military to move against President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood was ideological, where a desire to stifle any move toward a more Islamic form of governance was the main factor behind its intervention.  Although this notion cannot be completely disregarded, an aversion to civilian oversight into its opaque business practices was probably the main motivation for the military’s removal of President Morsi. After all, despite winning the presidential election and a presidential decree awarding himself superlative powers over the legislative and administrative systems of Egypt, power in its real sense evaded President Morsi and his cades in the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). In spite of the revolution the army through the SCAF and the deep state retained absolute power.

So, although the west realises that militaries, especially the self-serving types do not pose the attributes to form dynamic and successful administrations, they continue to support autocratic regimes often derived from serving or retired military officers, to rule Middle Eastern and Asian nations, as representative governance is not considered a viable option that will preserve western interest in the region

So rather than the rhetoric issued by Sisi to placate a mainly a western audience it was in fact, the Muslim Brotherhoods interference in matters formerly the preserve of the armed forces, trying to side-line the military on megaprojects such as the Suez Canal development plan and the Toshka land reclamation project that so threatened the position of the military and precipitated its intervention.[5]

With over a thousand killed and tens of thousands in prison, repression, torture and fear once again stalk those that dare to criticise the state of affairs in Egypt.  The armed forces have garnered significant experience from the revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak, from nebulously worded laws prohibiting inciting public panic to laws banning the defamation of the military the armed forces have effectively stifled any and all criticism.

On the Economic front, in 2018, Sisi’s government also passed a “contracting law,” No. 182 of 2018, which allows the military and the military’s companies an exemption from oversight and auditing. It stipulates that executing contracts, without an option for public bidding, helps fulfil the goal of “protecting national security, a pretext often used by the armed forces to ward off any insight into its business practices.

But despite the billions paid by Gulf monarchies and the IMF to buttress the rule of Sisi, Egypt continues to sink into the morass, FDI decreased by roughly $1.8 billion, inflation stood at around 23% during the fiscal year 2018-2019 and foreign debt increased by $16.1 billion to $108.7 billion, sky rocketing poverty levels and 30% youth unemployment the factors that led to the January 2011 revolution remain.[6] As squandering money on white elephant mega projects whose real intentions to provide opportunities for graft and embezzlement, does not lead to a flourishing of innovative Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs) which form the back-bone of employment opportunities and sustainable economic growth.

So, although the west realises that militaries, especially the self-serving types do not pose the attributes to form dynamic and successful administrations, they continue to support autocratic regimes often derived from serving or retired military officers, to rule Middle Eastern and Asian nations, as representative governance is not considered a viable option that will preserve western interest in the region.

For Egypt to solve its issues and progress to the nation that it deserves to be, it needs to annul the grand Faustian bargain that its citizens have made with its military. In exchange for stability and continuity, they have given their right for self-determination, oversight and accountability of their own armed forces, in effect creating a situation where they have created their own self derived colonial masters, where stability has become stagnation.

 


 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_FF

[2] https://ti-defence.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/The_Officers_Republic_TIDS_March18.pdf

[3] https://english.alaraby.co.uk/english/comment/2017/9/5/egypts-conscripts-serving-the-armys-economic-empire

[4] https://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/videos-accusing-egypt-s-sisi-military-of-graft-go-viral-119090901264_1.html

[5] Shana Marshall, “The Egyptian Armed Forces and the Remaking of an Economic Empire”, Carnegie Middle East Center (web), 15 April 2015

[6] https://carnegieendowment.org/sada/81376

 

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