It has been a decade since the mass protests that called for the overthrow of the regime in 2011. These protests triggered a process of deep structural change, in a manner that the protestors did not anticipate. Indeed, rather than overthrowing the regime and liberalizing the political system, the current regime has morphed into an open military dictatorship, triggering a process of structural change in the state and the economy that will far out-live al-Sisi. In essence, power was consolidated in the hands of the military establishment, ushering in the way to direct military rule. This power consolidation was underlined by a process of “state de-modernization”, where civilian state institutions came under the sway of the security apparatus, losing independence and institutional integrity. This process was accompanied by the expansion of the military`s economic enterprises, in a manner that augmented the crony basis for capital accumulation, through the appropriation of public funds for private gains. These processes are deeply intertwined and connected and can only be viewed as such, with the military`s penetration of the economy and the accompanying value extraction being made possible with the structural transformation of the state. The primary goal of these policies is to ensure that no other competing centre of power, with an independent economic power base, can appear to threaten the military`s hold over the state. This is accompanied by mass repression and horrendous human rights violations to not only repress opposition to these policies, but to also consolidate esprit de corps among the regime supporters and the security establishment.
The process of “state de-modernization” has taken a number of forms, affecting the judiciary, the legislative branch, and the civilian bureaucracy. The judiciary was not only a direct accomplice in state repression, through the orchestration of the number of heavily criticised mass trials, the extensive use of pre-trail detention, and the recycling of defendants into new cases after the original charges had been dismissed, but has also had its independence severely curtailed. The most notable example of which is the latest amendment of the constitution, passed in 2019, which grants the president the power to select the heads of the judicial institutions, as well as the creation of a high judicial body headed by the president, which oversees appointments and promotions within the judiciary. In addition to this, the amendments curtailed the power of the State Council, the system of courts responsible for resolving disputes between the general populace and the state and for reviewing contracts signed by the state and any of its public institutions, in effect heavily reducing the ability of the populace to challenge the state authorities, through legal means (Mandour, Generalissimo Sisi, 2019). The curtailing of the power of the judiciary was also accompanied by a weakening of the independence of the civilian oversight agencies, which could act as bulwarks against graft. For example, in 2014 the Administrative Monitoring Authority (AMA) was made answerable to the president, while in 2017 its jurisdiction was limited to the civilian bureaucracy, exempting the military`s economic enterprise from any form of oversight, even in diluted form (Sayigh, 2019).
The erosion of the independence of the judiciary was also accompanied by a similar process for the legislative branch. Parliamentary elections were heavily manipulated by the security establishment, with some clear cases of electoral fraud appearing in the parliamentary elections of 2020 (The New Arab 2020). This was also preceded by a direct campaign of repressing legal political parties, with the arrest of a number of prominent politicians on fabricated charges, as well as a continuous campaign of repression of the Muslim Brotherhood. The regime has also opted not to create a ruling party, similar to the Mubarak era’s National Democratic Party (NDP) which could act to broaden civilian participation in military rule, but to continue to rely on the security apparatus as its primary power base. The regime has created the Mostaqbal Watan party, which controls the parliament and has close association with the security apparatus, although it does not act as a governing party.
The militarization of state institutions also extended to the civilian bureaucracy, which was made apparent in the Covid-19 pandemic. The response of the Ministry of Health to the pandemic relied on propaganda as well as the repression of medical staff and journalists who contradicted the official narrative, working closely with the security apparatus to represses dissent. In essence, treating the pandemic as a security issue, rather than a public health crisis (Mandour, Repression and Coronavirus Response in Egypt, 2020).
The process of “state de-modernization” has not only allowed the military to centralize power in its own hands but has also ushered in its economic expansion, which would not have been possible without total control over the state apparatus. This expansion was driven by a debt-financed spending spree on major infrastructure projects, with dubious economic benefits (Mandour, Sisi’s Vanity Projects, 2019). The spending spree amounted to $US 200 billion over a period of 5 years, as stated by President al-Sisi. The military played an important role in executing and managing these projects, with an estimated 5 million civilians being engaged in them. This is in addition to the expansion in the commercial sector, for items ranging from cement to fast-moving consumer goods. This process of expansion has entailed the appropriation of public funds and the transfer of wealth from the lower and middle classes to the military elites (Mandour, Sisi’s War on the Poor, 2020). In essence, the military was transformed into the most important economic force in the country, due to its ability to dictate economic policy, through its direct control of the state and its ability to extract surplus from the populace.
The consequences of these policies are legion and will far-outlive the current regime. In essence, the military is “hollowing-out” state institutions, in its attempt to centralize power. This process is negatively affecting the long-term capacity of these institutions, and their ability to provide public services, essentially weakening their professionalism and legitimacy. In the case of a large-scale social upheaval, the prospect of collapse of these institutions becomes more probable. It also lowers the probability of a peaceful democratic transition, since this would require major institutional reform, especially of the security apparatus and the judiciary. On the economy front, the debt-financed expansion of the military has negatively affected the private sector and has promoted cronyism as a basis for capital accumulation, in a manner that will lead to long-term economic deformities. In essence, rather than divert investment to building a durable economic base, the regime has weakened the private sector and appropriated public funds for its own benefit. Indeed, combined with a policy of mass repression, the military`s attempt to centralize power in its hands has turned Egypt into a tragedy, whose chapters are still being played out, with devastating human consequences.
Mandour, M. (2019, February 14). Generalissimo Sisi. Retrieved from Sada Journal.
Mandour, M. (2019, August 2019). Sisi’s Vanity Projects. Retrieved from Sada Journal.
Mandour, M. (2020, July 15). Repression and Coronavirus Response in Egypt. Retrieved from Sada Journal.
Mandour, M. (2020, September 23). Sisi’s War on the Poor. Retrieved from Sada Journal.
Sayigh, Y. (2019). Owners of the Republic: An Anatomy of Egypt’s Military Economy. Beirut : Carnegie Middle East Center.
The New Arab. (13 December, 2020). The New Arab. تم الاسترداد من The New Arab.