Maged Mandour, political analyst for Open Democracy, explains the political and economic power of the military in the Egyptian state

Story Transcript

SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

The dropped charges against the former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak represents another successful moment in the counterrevolution to Tahrir Square. The military in Egypt has dominated the state since the 1952 coup d’etat, and it looks like it will continue to do so, but this time under the presidency of Mubarak’s cadre, led by military field marshal el-Sisi, who is now president.

Crimes committed by state security forces against the protesters and activists, including torture, intimidation, censorship, rape, and murder, have never faced the justice system, military or otherwise. If you remember, one of the greatest targets of Tahrir Square demonstrators were the state-owned media area well. Well, the media remains state-owned and controlled. Not much has changed. And even the media outlets that popped up as an alternative during the Tahrir Square uprising have been vandalized by state police, and most of them shut down.

The current president maintains the repressive rule of the media. The notion that military came from people and that they were defenders of the people (signs that we saw displayed early in the Tahrir Square revolution) has faded into dismal oppression.

Now joining us to talk about Egypt from Geneva is Maged Mandour. Maged is a political analyst and columnist for open democracy, publishing a special column on Chronicles of the Arab Revolt.

Thank you so much for joining us, Maged.


PERIES: Maged, so what’s your take on the dropped charges on Hosni Mubarak?

MANDOUR: As you rightly said, it is another successful action against the revolution. It is important to place this within a certain context. This is assembled. So it’s meant to send a message that the military will not reproach or will not pass judgment on its own.

PERIES: And tell me more about that. How do you translate this decision in terms of what the revolution was meant to achieve?

MANDOUR: Well, the revolution was meant to achieve a total rehaul of the power distribution in Egypt, meaning a decentralization of power–economic, social, etc. However, that Mubarak went free is sending a very clear message. It’s not about Mubarak. It’s about the symbol, it’s about the message that it’s sending to the people, which is basically dividing them into the haves and the haves not. So it is basically placing the haves above the law, above accountability.

But it is important to note that the law itself is corrupted, meaning is based on a certain relations of power where the concentration of wealth, power, in the hands of the military, is considered to be the norm.

PERIES: Right. Maged, now, one of the unique things about Egypt is normally you have this state being controlled by the sort of ruling elite, usually corporations, usually the wealthy. But in this case, much of the state flexing is done through the military. Military actually controlled much of the economy, military investments abroad. So at this moment and with this presidents, Sisi, we are going to face what is essentially military rule. How does that manifest itself in Egypt?

MANDOUR: Well, it is important to note that the military in Egypt is like a corporation. Some experts say that it controls about 40 percent of the GDP, but nobody really knows. So, basically, speaking what has been happening since the coup is that the military has been aggressively expanding its economic empire.

Just for the viewers to know, all of the activities of the military are not taxed–means that 40 percent of the economy is tax-free. So they’re producing everything from pots, pans, pastas, to military equipment. And they are also one of the largest recipients of military aid from the United States. So the final coup has basically removed any sort of facade that the military was hiding behind.

Let me be clear. We’ve been living under a military regime since 1952, but we didn’t know it, because ever since 1967 there has been a general trend towards hiding behind a civilian cloak. So when the people went into the streets, they thought Mubarak was the problem. That’s why the military was welcomed as the protector, as you rightly said. But it took very little time to see the nature of the regime.

PERIES: And, Maged, one of the things that we often see–in the Western media, at least–is, as you said, a cloaked representation of the state. How does the military actually control the economy in the country? Give us some details. Now, first of all, we know that the United States finances the Egyptian military to a tune of, I don’t know, some 80-plus million dollars a year–at least that’s what’s directly in the books, and we don’t know what other supports are being provided. But how does the military actually control the economic life of the Egyptians?

MANDOUR: There are a few very clear signs. For example, by law, the military is the largest landowner in the country. So they control the land, although they don’t own it, under the title of national security. So they are the largest land owner, for example. All of the latest megaprojects are involving the military. There are commercial and–.

PERIES: You mean construction and development projects, any state investments are all in the hands of the military.

MANDOUR: Of the military, like the major infrastructure projects. Like lately there was an expansion of the Suez Canal, and that is mainly done by the military. So the military is really penetrating the Egyptian economy. They have huge farms, huge dairy farms, etc. They own commercial companies. And that’s what we know. As you rightly said, there’s a lot that we don’t know. But this is what we know. That’s why it’s very difficult to know what’s the size of the military’s economic empire.

PERIES: Right. And the living conditions of ordinary citizens in Egypt really have not changed prior to Mubarak and post-Mubarak. Living conditions still remain rather dismal. And things like energy crises, rather, and gas and petroleum that people need for everyday transportation isn’t readily available, and we’re still seeing huge lineups. Why is this happening? And then, on the other hand, I also want to point out that if you’re military or you’re one of the military families, then you’d have more ready access to resources like petroleum. Tell me about these discrepancies and what’s really happening to ordinary folks that are living there.

MANDOUR: It is important to note that this has been happening for a long time. But it has been a gradual process. The revolution basically just accelerated the process.

So let’s imagine a situation where you live under the rule of a corporation that has 5,000 tanks and half a million men with guns. So there is basically little to no infrastructure investment or planning for the future. So the current regime’s main focus is to remain in power and to continue to maintain the status quo. So the desires or the wants of the Egyptians is not really the main concern of the military at the moment. They are relying on the rhetoric of the war on terror and fear of extremism to continue to remain in power. So it’s basically between them and what they call terrorist rule. I think there’s no alternative. So that’s the rubric that they’re using to sell their legitimacy, not improved economic performance.

What is happening actually, is the other way around. Things are getting worse. People’s lives are getting more and more difficult, the middle class is being completely crushed, the poor are increasing, the gap in wealth is increasing as well, and the military seems to be quite aggressive, and they’re very secure about their position. They believe that they are in control, which currently is not entirely false.

PERIES: And yet totally disrespectful of the revolution and the changes that the people were calling for. The foreign and international support, through the United States and Saudi Arabia and other countries, for this military-led state is still in place.

MANDOUR: Yes. Of course. The Egyptian military is the pillar of American foreign policy in the region. So it is absolutely necessary to maintain it as an ally, regardless of human rights violations or anything like this. It is essential to maintain Egypt as a close American ally. And, of course, the Gulf states are funding the counterrevolution with whatever they can, because they are also concerned about their own stability and the rise of groups like the Muslim Brotherhood within their own borders. So they want to really maintain the current status quo. So yeah.

PERIES: And these relationships are, of course, further complicated by the war on the IS at the moment. So I’m hoping that you could return and be one of our guests in exploring that avenue.

MANDOUR: I would love to. Thank you very much.

PERIES: Thank you so much for joining us today.

And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Maged Mandour

Maged Mandour is a Swiss/Egyptian political analyst and columnist for Open Democracy, publishing a special column called "Chronicles of the Arab Revolt."