Posted on Thursday, 24 May 2012 17:02

Egyptian army's long goodbye

By Musa Khalil in Cairo

The run-up to presidential elections has been plagued by violence, meanwhile the military is making its last stand to protect its many powers.

The standoff between civilian protestors and the military government continues, while relations with the Islamic Brotherhood are increasingly strained/Photo/SIPAThe first stage in the prolonged exit of Egypt's military from the political stage was meant to start with the first round of presidential elections on 23 May, but scepticism about the army's intentions is growing with each new crisis in the transition. The generals who took charge after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak are struggling to safeguard their privileges. 

More than 100 Egyptians have been killed in brutally suppressed anti-military protests, and the Islamist-controlled parliament accuses the military of having a double agenda. Beyond the Islamists, many say the military might be prepared to leave government formally but is not ready to surrender power.

Top priority for the generals is to protect their secretive economic empire – the core of Egypt's military-industrial complex – and to secure guarantees that their other prerogatives will be respected. More than $1bn a year in aid from the United States, a dividend for Egypt's 1979 treaty with Israel, goes straight to the military hierarchy. The rest of the military's budget remains obscure.

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Some estimates calculate that the military controls at least one-fifth of the economy through a network of factories and hotels. The military has never disclosed its economic holdings. In a rare public statement on the issue in March, a member of the ruling council warned against "any interference" in the military's businesses.

Major General Mahmoud Nasr, the deputy defence minister for financial affairs, insists that the military received just 4.2% of the national budget but argued that it deserved 15%. Nasr reckoned the military's business interests yielded about $200m per year. Khairat al-Shater, the barred presidential candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, estimates that the military controls 10-30% of the national economy More accurate calculations of the military's business empire should emerge in negotiations for a $3.2bn loan from the International Monetary Fund.

Break-away assembly 

The frontrunners in the presidential elections are all civilians: former foreign minister and Arab League leader Amr Moussa; Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, running on the Salafist Al Nour ticket; and Mohammed Morsy, the Muslim Brotherhood's reserve candidate. Former air force chief and Mubarak-era prime minister Ahmed Shafiq trails far behind in the polls.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which dominates the legislature, poses the biggest challenge to the generals. Rejecting the military's attempts to shape the constituent assembly, in late March the Brotherhood established an assembly that was then boycotted by liberals and Coptic Christians.

After several petitions, the constitutional court declared the assembly invalid in April. But the Brotherhood wants the current military-appointed cabinet to be dismissed and to have the right to choose its replacement. Amid this tussle, the Islamists are accusing the military of trying to retain control through a proxy president. The next fight will be over the military's self-declared 'red line': its share of the national budget. ●

This article was first published in the June 2012 edition of The Africa Report, on sale at newsstands, via our print subscription or our digital edition.

Last Updated on Thursday, 24 May 2012 18:01

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