Since 2013, Egypt has been strengthening its naval power: this particularly regards the strategic direction of the Red Sea. In fact, the military declared “strategic zones of military importance”, areas where infrastructural, mining and tourism-related projects are flourishing.
Over the last decade, the deep transformations moving through the broader Mediterranean region have created new opportunities and challenges. The Libyan crisis and the tensions in the Levantine Sea emerged as paradigms of the contemporary chaos in the region as a whole. This is a complex and ever-changing context in which littoral countries clash over natural gas and maritime borders, while regional and international powers could get drawn into these disputes.
As Egypt approaches the ten-year anniversary of uprisings against former president Hosni Mubarak, wins and losses of the past decade have come into a clear focus. The military, above all, has emerged as a political “winner”, having resumed its control over Egypt’s executive and, increasingly, legislative and judicial branches, as well as its much-discussed expansion into the economy.
When Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi seized power in 2013, he inherited a military economy under the control of the officer corps and primarily serving its economic interests. He immediately began transforming it into a securitized economy, one in which the entire economy is subordinated to the military and security services.
Egypt’s formal political scene is tightly controlled as President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi strives to institutionalize military rule. However, the significant role played by different elements of the security sector in shaping the post-2013 political and economic environment risks further politicizing these agencies. The military, along with different intelligence services, constitutes the organizational backbone of Egypt’s political order under el-Sisi.
Under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the Egyptian military is tightening its grasp on the economy and strangling civilian politics and society — but this is nothing new. Rather, it reflects a decades-old phenomenon that dates to the 1960s under former president Gamal Abdel Nasser. Yet, while not a phenomenon, under Sisi, the military has significantly increased its roles in commercial enterprises and embarked on new infrastructure projects.
Under the presidency of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt’s military presents old and new dynamics. Civil-military relations remain imbalanced: but paradoxically, the overwhelming role of the military, also as economic player, combines with the subtle narrowing of the military as cohesive entity. In fact, the rising competition among security, intelligence services and the military turns the security sector into the main Egyptian locus of politics.
In the aftermath of Egypt’s July 2013 coup that ousted the Muslim Brotherhood President, Mohamed Morsi, and set the stage for the country’s current military-led political order, the regime of President ‘Abd Fattah al-Sisi has single-mindedly and ruthlessly sought to eliminate independent political life in Egypt. While the initial focus of the al-Sisi regime was the repression and eradication of the Muslim Brotherhood, the security establishment quickly pivoted to a much broader course of repression to include any and all independent civilian political actors or parties.
As in many parts of the world, COVID-19 has brought into sharper relief the structural problems in Egypt’s economy. In many respects, these problems are far from new. Egypt’s economy has had a current account deficit since it was a monarchy. Government efforts at regime-led industrialization and economic growth failed in the 50s and 60s under Gamal Abdel Nasser due to a combination of poor economic planning and insufficient investment, due in large part to high defense spending.