What you must know about the Egyptian military industrial complex


Article re-blogged from the original post dated Thursday, January 03, 2013. By Alshimaa Helmy.

Picture from Tahrir square in the beginning of the uprising in Feb 2011.
The challenge between the Egyptian people and their military is beyond their physical confrontations

Before the day the military took to the streets of Cairo on the 28th of January 2011 and before I was detained by the military while leaving Tahrir square on the 4th of February 2011, my information and knowledge about the Egyptian military itself, and the Egyptian military-industrial complex and their relationship with the U.S equivalent were very limited, like everyone else.

Due to these two major events I witnessed, and while observing the way both the Egyptian and American news positively portrayed the Egyptian military for over than a year like this profile on Sami Anan here until the ugly face was revealed, I was motivated to do my own extensive research.

Most of the readings out there was on foreign resources so I was lucky I can read English. (Speaking and writing about the military in Arabic and in Egypt was a taboo until early 2011). I also had the time and interest to devote more efforts than many others around me on researching this point.

Since Morsi became president and later after Tantawi and Anan “retired”, it seems that people are gradually overlooking this significant player in Egypt’s politics: The military industrial complex and its long direct relationship with the U.S military industrial complex.

People are fighting the civilian front of the Egyptian military dictatorship and forgetting its core. The military might not be on the front but it’s influencing the process and intervening in a direct manner using indirect approaches.

Controlling an estimation of 25-40% of the Egyptian economy while making sure they’re persevering more privileges than any other Egyptian faction in the new constitution, the Egyptian military should be talked about more often.

It’s not in the news anymore, possibly because the focus should be on the government and because the military is not killing as much people as thy did last year before the presidential elections.

However, I think it is important for those observing the political and economical situation in Egypt from the outside to have a background and understanding to the dynamics of the key role the military is playing here.

I collected all the important readings I came across regarding this issue in order to keep them as a reference that people can easily share and go back to when they’re explaining to others or trying to understand the Egyptian ongoing crisis.

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The first group of articles and studies were published on the Jadaliyya website and the second group is short articles from Antiwar website all came out in the years 2011 and 2012.

1- The first article on the military and media from the free officers to SCAF : Year of the Ostrich: SCAF’s Media Experiment.

“For 55 years, the military has survived without having to give the media any unfettered access, let alone scrutiny. Any mention of the Egyptian Armed Forces in the media comes after a very rigid and paranoid vetting process and scrupulous attention to connotations. Interviews given to journalists by military officers were extremely infrequent and were limited to hyperbolic lofty statements about its discipline, power, patriotism, and heroism. However, the level of secrecy with which the institution operated, turned it into a black box for the media—a fourth branch of government beyond transparency, accountability, or criticism. Insulated by layers of inaccessibility, the military was able to deflect attention from its growing assets in virtually every sector of Egyptian society—from the economy and politics to security, governance, and industry.”

2- The second article which is a very important and detailed reading on the military’s business in Egypt:  The Army and the Economy in Egypt

Members of Egypt’s armed forces display canned tomatoes, roasted onions, and other foods that the military factories manufacture. Image by David Degner

“Should the production of pasta, mineral water, butane gas cylinders, and gas station services qualify as classified military secrets? And does discussing these enterprises in public pass as a crime of high treason? The leaders of the Egyptian Armed Forces believe the answer is “yes.”

Until this very day, the role of the military establishment in the economy remains one of the major taboos in Egyptian politics. Over the past thirty years, the army has insisted on concealing information about its enormous interests in the economy and thereby keeping them out of reach of public transparency and accountability. The Egyptian Armed Forces owns a massive segment of Egypt’s economy—twenty-five to forty percent, according to some estimates. In charge of managing these enterprises are the army’s generals and colonels, notwithstanding the fact that they lack the relevant experience, training, or qualifications for this task.”

3- The third article is a more technical piece on another industrial revolution that’s taking place in Egypt:

Egypt’s Other Revolution: Modernizing the Military-Industrial Complex
If SCAF is able to use its executive power to engineer a post-transition system that protects the military’s economic perquisites, the latter will use the tactics described above to augment the share of the economy already under military control. This is only likely to increase the longer SCAF remains in control of the political system, allowing the military to shape electoral outcomes and legal frameworks. And foreign arms manufacturers will intensify their collaborative activities with Egypt’s armed forces for the same reason that they have historically formed partnerships with regime power brokers—preferential access to state contracts and the levers of economic influence. Or put more succinctly: profit.
4- The forth and most recent article is on the privileges the Egyptian military will have in the new constitution. One of the reasons I didn’t want to be one one side with the Felol-revolutionary current opposition front is their silence on the articles related to the military.

Egypt’s Draft Constitution in Focus – The Role of the Army

(Video that’s summarized in text in the article)”Political researcher Ibrahim El Houdaiby and Hossam Bahgat explain how the draft constitution puts the Army and its extensive industrial activities—estimated to be between twenty-five and forty percent of the Egyptian economy—beyond the scrutiny of elected bodies. If the draft constitution passes, parliament would not have the right to discuss or even be briefed on the details of the military’s budget.

El Houdaiby and Bahgat discuss the economic consequences of ring-fencing the military economy from the national budget and its alarming relationship with the question of forced labor and conscription in the constitution.

They conclude that the draft constitution grants greater powers to the Army and military institutions than any other Egyptian constitution in history, entrenching the Army deep within the legal system, and striking at the heart of the revolution and widespread calls for a civil state.”

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These two articles are from early 2011 and were posted on the Antiwar website. They’re shorter and more news-wise compared to the previous group that is academic oriented but they’re still very good for a quick read and a start.

5- Egypt’s Military-Industrial-Bottled Water-Farming Complex:
Heavy Funding by US, But Egypt’s Military Has Vast ‘Off-Budget’ Industries

“Suppose driving home from the market in your military-made Hyundai Sonata, turning on your military-made range, which runs off a bottle of military-made natural gas, heating up a can on military-made soup (filled with military-grown vegetables) and washing it down with a military-made bottle of water.

It’s more likely than you’d think in Egypt, where the military is literally into every conceivable industry from tourism to hair-care products. With nearly half a million active duty personnel in the nation and no serious prospect of a war with any of its neighbors, Egypt’s military is a major employer and industrial powerhouse in a nation whose command economy has sparked vast unemployment and growing unrest.”

6- Richer than Mubarak: Junta’s Stranglehold on Egypt’s Economy Imperils Reform.
Will Military Allow a Free Egypt If it Ends Their Massive ‘Off-Budget’ Industries?

“Egypt’s “military” is far from just a military of some half a million poorly paid conscripts, you see. When they reached a peace deal with Israel in 1979, the military sought to justify its enormous size by setting about producing weapons of war and its own supplies. As time went on, those tax free and regulation free factories and farms quickly moved into the public sector, and the military is now amongst the region’s largest bottled water producer, grows 20 percent of its food, and manufactures large portions of its appliances. They even manufacture automobiles and shampoo.”

About Operation Egypt

Global standing in solidarity with the people of Egypt in their peaceful struggle for their rights.
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