The Military In Egypt Keep A Stranglehold Over The Economy. And They’re Not Going To Give It Up Easily
Mustafa Amin writes from Cairo: Attacks by Muslims on Coptic churches are creating a lot of tension in Egypt. Who is behind this, the Muslim Brotherhood? But why should the brothers stir up trouble at a critical time when they are attempting to consolidate their power?
Could the police or the military be behind these attacks? The security forces, one can argue, have an interest in promoting conflict as this would allow them to declare that they, and only they, are capable of ensuring the security of the population. The Ministries of the Interior and Defence, in fact, are a state within a state. The leading institution is the military. This has led some people to talk about an Officers’ State.
Former President Hosni Mubarak used the military to assert control over practically every institution of the state since 1991. Senior officers were kept loayl by promises of cushy jobs on retirement in leading government ministries, agencies and state owned enterprises. By 2011, when Mubarak was removed, officers were already ensconced in leading positions in government, local government and the economy.
President Mohamed Morsi, in order to consolidate civilian rule, has to reach an agreement with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) about a new constitution and the role of the security services within it. SCAF has demanded that defence and security remain within its hands. A special budget will cater for their needs.
Officers received modest salaries but had the hope of a comfortable life style after retirement. Those who were deemed disloyal were never promoted above the rank of major. They then retired but gained none of the perks of their promoted comrades. Special ‘desert’ cities were built for officers’ families. There are over twenty of them now. This permitted the separation of the military from the rest of the population. The military have their own budget which is separate from that of the Ministry of Finance. This permits them to pursue their own sectional interests. They will fight to retain this under the new constitution.
Promotion owed more to loyalty than military competence. Hence analysts now consider the Egyptian armed forces incapable of waging a war successfully. The privatisation of many state-owned enterprises after 1991 provided many new opportunities for wealth accumulation. Senior officers were appointed to the boards of directors. Others used their retirement bonuses to set up private companies. These then received contracts from state and privately-owned enterprises.
Needless to say all enterprises involved in defence contracts are run by the military. One estimate is that military personnel control about 40 per cent of the economy. Any sector which was deemed important was penetrated by the military.
The role of the police was expanded under Mubarak. Now their numbers are about 50 per cent higher than those of the military. Ministry of Interior budgets are higher than those of the military. This interest group has been able to prevent necessary reforms in how the country is policed. The Muslim Brotherhood is going to find it very difficult to dismantle the networks which exist and which will resist any change which is viewed as weakening their position.
The drafting of the new constitution will be critical in limiting the power of the military and police. Unless the Brotherhood can unite all political parties behind it, SCAF will be able to pursue a policy of divide and rule. The Brotherhood’s record so far is not very inspiring. The secular parties see SCAF as a bulwark against an Islamic state. Irrespective of what Morsi says in public, the Brotherhood’s ultimate goal is an Islamic state ruled by Sharia or Islamic law. Hence, it is likely the military will retain many of their powers under the new constitution.