The topic of military influence in Egypt’s political, social, and economic affairs has garnered a total of 26 papers from various think tanks in 2019. The influence of the military in Egypt’s modern history has been apparent since the former British colony gained independence in 1922. (1) Following the military coup in 2013, the rise of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi concurrently has given the military a stepping stone in Egyptian hierarchy. Through the success of constitutional amendments in late April 2019, the military has increased its share of power in reflection to previous constitutions. Despite the advantages this will appear to give the military over the president, a closer examination shows that Sisi is befriending the military with economic perks and social dominance to minimize the possible threat of a coup. Hence, ironically, this development is not merely a coincidence rather it is a strategic move by the incumbent to entrench his iron fist upon Egyptian society.
The successful passage of constitutional amendments codifying the military’s power highlight a new process of instilling authoritarianism in Egypt. Article 200 affirms that the military is now able to intervene in Egyptian affairs to “maintain the constitution and democracy” and “safeguard the basic components of the state.” (2) In other words, the military is now able to step into the political realm whenever it pleases. Without constitutional backing, the Egyptian military has twice been involved in Egyptian political affairs in the last decade. The first was in 2011 when the military helped push Hosni Mubarak out of power while the second time came only 2 years after, as the military overthrew Mohamed Morsi. (3) This begs the question: as the military has been given constitutional backing to step in whenever they want, how then does this amendment benefit Sisi?
Strategically, as long as Sisi has a healthy relationship with the military then his position should be secure. At first glance, this amendment may seem to have the function of a check and balance against the president. However, as Andrew Miller and Amy Hawthorne points out in their paper ‘Worse Than Mubarak’, a closer examination of this constitutional revision suggests that as Sisi is strengthening his ties with the military by offering economic and social perks to the armed forces, “the amendment would actually build a praetorian guard that is constitutionally empowered to defend Sisi against any and all dissent.” (4) To illustrate, Maged Mandour explains in his paper ‘Generalissimo Sisi’ that the military is now able to repeal future election results (e.g. preventing any Islamist rule) as well as increase its ability to prosecute civilians. (5) Michele Dunne agrees with the aforementioned analysis, suggesting that this amendment does not protect the integrity of Egypt but rather it is to entrench Sisi’s power with his fellow friends in the military while simultaneously dismissing other relevant institutions. (6)
The new constitutional amendments in late April 2019 further builds upon the autocratic principles and expansion of the military seen in the 2014 constitution. Prior to the 2012 constitution, historically, the role of the military in Egypt was not to preserve the integrity of the state. (7) Bahey Eldin Hassan identifies in ‘New Political Struggles for Egypt’s Military‘ that the 1964 constitution was the only past document giving the military similar powers to the current constitution. (8) The 2012 Constitution’s preamble stated that the armed forces were to remain neutral and professional with no interference in the political sphere. (9) After the coup in 2013, regressively, the 2014 Constitution removed such caveat which ultimately gave way to the new amendment. Despite the codification of the military to willfully go against the incumbent, or any future president, Sisi has befriended the military with social and economic benefits.
Recent publications about Egypt’s economy indicate that the success on the macro-level papers over the struggling realities of most Egyptians. To illustrate, Egypt has, thanks to $12 billion in loans over three years by the IMF, reduced its large budget deficit as well as projected a GDP growth rate of 5.9% in 2019. (10) Despite this positive outlook, unemployment remains a prevalent issue, particularly for the youth, as most new jobs were found in the informal sector. As Gregory Aftandilian explains in his paper ‘Positive Economic Growth in Egypt Belies Mounting Problems’, the unemployment crisis is as a result of both the public and private sector not having the same economic playing field in addition to the military’s control of numerous enterprises. (11) To illustrate, critics of Egypt’s ‘Investment Law’, which goal is to kickstart new companies and attract direct investment, contend that the law does little to fight against the ever-growing military. (12) Consequently, this has affected foreign direct investment since investors do not want to get involved in an unfair playing field. (13) Related publications on Egypt’s economy shockingly revealed that around 32% of Egyptians live in poverty. (14) Sherif Mohyeldeen states that the general feeling of Egyptians concerning the high poverty levels point towards the Egyptian regime and the military “who have taken on a range of economic activities, are responsible for this deteriorating situation.” (15)
With this economic backdrop in mind, one of the ways that the military have been involved in the Egyptian economy is through mega-infrastructure projects. As Maged Mandour unravels in his paper ‘Sisi’s Vanity Projects’, part of the reason the Sisi regime has undertaken high-scale projects is to “provide the military with additional opportunities to increase its involvement in different aspects of the Egyptian economy.” (16) According to Yezid Sayigh’s paper ‘Alone at the Top In Egypt’, the military has dominated civilian bureaucracy who have “managed approximately one-quarter of all government-funded public works since 2014.” (17) Timothy Kaldas points out in his publication ‘Egypt’s Economy: Neither Collapsing nor Thriving’ that the military’s forceful entrance into the Egyptian economy is in fact scaring away potential investors. (18) This has been exemplified in the cement industry where the military owned El Arish Cement Co has constructed the nation’s largest cement factory. (19) As mentioned in Ahmed Hafez’s analysis ‘Crisis of Egypt’s Cement Sector’, most cement companies suffered losses in the first quarter of 2019. (20) The struggle of the cement sector is as a result of declining demand and increasing supply, with the military’s El Arish Cement Co producing 12.6 million ton a year to that of Egypt’s 79 million capacity. (21) (22)
Further, the military has been given tremendous influence in the Ministry of Health infringing on civil rights and the overall working environment of Egyptians. (23) To illustrate, the positions of directors of hospitals were given to the military. Amgad Hamdi asserts in ‘Militarization of Egyptian Ministry of Health‘ that this is against the constitutional values of equal opportunity whereby a citizen applying for a job should not be discriminated because of their affiliations. (24) Further, these appointments will add to the already high salaries of military officials causing anger to lay employees. Military hegemony of the Ministry of Health comes at a time when government spending on health is lower than expected leading Egypt to be classified 18th (among the bottom 20 performing country in health) by World Classification of 2019. (25) As shown, Sisi has befriended the military with economic and social prowess. However, the relationship between Sisi and the military is not utopian.
According to Bahey Eldin Hassan’s paper ‘New Political Struggles for Egypt’s Military’, the relationship between the military and Sisi is not flawless and subject to a struggle between the two. (26) Despite Sisi’s proactivity in altering the military establishment via firing numerous officials in order to safeguard his presidential role, this strategy was contested when two previous renowned officials decided to challenge Sisi in the 2018 elections (27) Due to the repression of the opposition, their defiance was cut short and was worth house arrest and jail time. (28) Notwithstanding the possible conflict between the president and the military is the contention within the army itself. Hassan points out two areas of conflict within the army: the spoils of economic benefits and possible disarray if Egyptians decide to revolt. (29)
The growing military influence in Egyptian affairs is as a result of Sisi’s determination of instilling his iron fist as president. With the new constitutional amendments, the military now has the ability to intervene in Egyptian matters whenever they deem fit like repealing election results and prosecuting civilians. Further, since the military have been favored in managing a quarter of all government-funded public works, foreign investment and unemployment rate have faced negative consequences. This is best represented by the military’s growing involvement in the Ministry of Health which infringes on civil rights of lay Egyptians. Ultimately, the advantage for Sisi in befriending the military with economic and social perks is to minimize the threat of a coup.
(3), (7), (8), (26), (27), (28), (29) https://carnegieendowment.org/sada/79096
(14), (15) https://carnegie-mec.org/diwan/79687
(16), (19), (22) https://carnegieendowment.org/sada/79625