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Egypt – Mursi and the Military

November 28, 2012

In all the furore over President Mursi’s decree placing himself beyond the remit of the judiciary, one question occurs – where does the newly-enthroned Pharaoh stand with the military?

One of the President’s early actions on taking office was to “retire” the chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Field Marshal Mohammed Tantawi, and his chief of staff General Sami Annan.

It’s a question pertinent to the current goings on, because while the dismissal of Tantawi and Annan made a big splash both domestically and internationally, there was little mention of any move to lessen the grip that the armed forces exert over the economy.

In June of this year, the BBC website ran a story about a massive new sports centre recently constructed by the army. The article went on to say:

“As the debate over the role of the military in post-Mubarak Egypt intensified, General Mahmoud Nasr, the assistant defence minister, told a press conference in Cairo last year that the army would never hand over control of these projects to any other authority, adding that these were not state assets but were “revenues from the sweat of the ministry of defences and its own projects”.

At around the same period it was announced that the army had come to the rescue of the ministry of finance by lending the state a substantial amount of money to shore up its rapidly-depleting coffers.

This sums up how the Egyptian military operates like a state within the state.

Estimates vary as to the size of their industries – they account for around 8%-40% of Egypt’s gross national product.

But since all the military’s accounts are kept secret no one knows for sure.”

Since Tantawi’s dismissal, there has been no mention in the international media of any attempt by Mursi to reduce or gain control of the army’s economic interests. I am no expert on the murky world of Egyptian politics. But common sense suggests that in order to assure the loyalty of the military, he might have come to a tacit understanding that he would not threaten those interests.

Could it be that because he is confident that he has the army’s might on his side, he felt secure enough to issue the decree?

In the event of a prolonged stand-off between Mursi’s supporters and his opponents, the actions of the army, as they were in 2011, would be critically important. And if the army maintains its control over a substantial slice of the economy, is it accurate to describe Mursi as the latest Pharaoh?

One of my favourite bloggers from Egypt, Mahmoud Salem (aka Sandmonkey), wrote a very cutting post about this issue shortly after the departure of the generals. Since then he has been inexplicably silent.

I find it strange that the potential role of the military has not featured in the coverage I’ve read about the current crisis. Perhaps I haven’t read enough.

From → Middle East, Politics

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