Monday, February 14

Egyptian army: "culture of obedience", strong links with business

The character of Egypt's armed forces: analysis from

Before the 1967 war, military officers were "spoiled," and constituted a social elite. Following the military's poor performance in the 1967 war, officers began a descent out of the upper ranks of society that accelerated after Abu Ghazalah's ouster in 1989. Since Abu Ghazalah, the regime has not allowed any charismatic figures to reach the senior ranks. Defense Minister Tantawi looks like a bureaucrat. The mid-level officer corps is generally disgruntled, and one can hear mid-level officers at MOD clubs around Cairo openly expressing disdain for Tantawi. These officers refer to Tantawi as "Mubarak's poodle," he said, and complain that "this incompetent Defense Minister" who reached his position only because of unwavering loyalty to Mubarak is "running the military into the ground."

A culture of blind obedience pervades the MOD where the sole criteria for promotion is loyalty, and that the MOD leadership does not hesitate to fire officers it perceives as being "too competent" and who therefore potentially pose a threat to the regime.

Military-owned companies, often run by retired generals, are particularly active in the water, olive oil, cement, construction, hotel and gasoline industries. Military companies built the modern road to the Ain Souknah Red Sea resorts 90 minutes from Cairo and Cairo University's new annex. There are large amounts of land owned by the military in the Nile Delta and on the Red Sea coast. Such property is a "fringe benefit" in exchange for the military ensuring regime stability and security. The military's role in the economy as a force that generally stifles free market reform by increasing direct government involvement in the markets. Most analysts agree that the military views the GOE's privatization efforts as a threat to its economic position, and therefore generally opposes economic reforms. Privatization has forced military-owned companies to improve the quality of their work, specifically in the hotel industry, to compete with private firms and attract critical foreign investment.

There is a concerted effort from the top of the regime to penetrate the civilian bureaucracy with retired senior military officers. Many retired officers fill top civilian jobs, such as governors, and chief of staff positions and other senior slots at the Information, Transportation and Education ministries.

The military helps to ensure regime stability and operates a large network of businesses as it becomes a "quasi-commercial" enterprise itself. While there are economic and political tensions between the business elite and the military, the overall relationship between the two still appears to be cooperative, rather than adversarial.

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