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Should Army Chief calls on demonstration in a democratic system? Egypt’s General Abd Fatta7 Sisi
Egypt’s army chief, General Abd Fatta7 Sisi, has called on Egyptians to rally on Friday to mandate the army to confront violence and terrorism following the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi.
The  Moslem Brotherhoods called for demonstration on Thursday to preempt the Army demonstration.
Arwa Gaballa posted this July 24, 2013:
“I really fear what’s about to happen under this authorization to fight “terrorism”.
Before you get overly excited about your much-anticipated genocide and unfair prosecution of your political rivals, ask yourself these questions:
What terrorism?
So far the majority of protests organized by Mursi’s supporters have been quite peaceful.
There are the occasional violent confrontations here and there (with opponents or security forces), but I bet you were hoping that they would go on a complete rampage and burn down the country to have an excuse to call for their killing and return to prison.
But they didn’t do that.
We need justice and law: perpetrators of violence must be prosecuted, a national reconciliation that includes all factions must be reached and violence is not the answer even if it’ll wipe a group of people that you hate with passion from the face of the earth.
And yes, Islamists are humans too.
What about Sinai Peninsula though?
Things are messy in the “strategic” peninsula. I’d focus my efforts there if I were the army and actually serious about combating “terrorism”.
Okay, it was pretty kind of the army to oust Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood. Not because they are Islamists, but because the Mursi administration failed miserably to deliver on its promises.
But why can’t the police play that role of confronting post-Mursi violence?
The protesters are civilians and must be dealt with within the law. Yes, even if they are Islamists. Yes, I don’t care if they look messy and shout unpleasant things that make you scared.
Can we and do we trust the army?
Have we forgotten the unfair military trials? The arrests of children? Samira Ibrahim and virginity tests? Maspero? Port Said? Mohamed Mahmoud? The Cabinet clashes? The blue bra incident? Tantawi’s finger? Can you trust the army?
It seems to me that the army is kindly asking for a license to kill, which I’m not sure I’m comfortable with.
يسقط يسقط حكم العسكر يسقط يسقط حكم المرشد يسقط يسقط حسني مبارك عايزنها مدنية… عيش, حرية, عدالة اجتماعية

Imagining Gender in Cairo Graffiti: Intimidation and Resistance

The issue of women’s empowerment continues to be of paramount significance in determining the future of the incomplete Arab revolutions.

Numerous scholars, activists, and feminists have commented with concern about the precarious position of women after the contagious revolutions, which started in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

Many have expressed anxiety that the controversial gender issue in the Middle East will dominate the coming years, as even Christian leaders transmit Islamists’ pressure on women to dress “more modestly” to their communities.

Others have remarked that misogynist attitudes are observable today across the post-revolutionary Arab States, because the Islamists in power have revealed themselves to be agents of an “Islamic neo-liberal” ideology that works hand in hand with constraining measures regarding women.

Observers have pointed to various shocking acts that all converge in one direction: the targeting of women’s bodies.

Mona Abaza posted on Jadaliyya this June 30, 2013: “Intimidation and Resistance: Imagining Gender in Cairene Graffiti”

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[Caption: “Don’t categorize me”. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 13 September 2012)]
[Caption: “Don’t categorize me”. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 13 September 2012)]

The aged President Hosni Mubarak had long embodied the oppressive and institutionalized patriarchy in Egypt. After Mubarak’s ouster in February 2011, an ageing military junta replaced him, and continued to use violence to subdue protest.

It was as if a targeted vengeance were being directed against Egypt’s youth, and as if the generational conflict between the old generals and the young protesters had to be played out through the mutilation of young bodies.

Today, almost a year since the election of Muslim Brotherhood figure President Mohamed Morsi, there is a general feeling that nothing has really changed in terms of citizens’ rights. None of the security officials responsible for the series of killings of protesters since January 2011 have been convicted. As this in turn sparks new demonstrations, the Brotherhood regime continues the use of thuggery and public violence, together with sexual harassment, to terrorize citizens and deter them from protest in Tahrir Square.

These policies, and the statements legitimizing them by military officials and Islamist politicians alike, have become the butt of jokes and biting comments in oppositional media. Among the most striking examples of this has been the graffiti art of young Egyptian activists across the country. The impertinence in their depictions of the authorities has become one of the most powerful ways of unmaking the system.

Indeed, many believe that the military junta had been defeated morally well before Morsi replaced it, thanks to the public ridicule of its violence in popular jokes and graffiti.


[“I want to kiss you”, graffiti outside the al-Ahly Club in Zamalek, Cairo. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 12 September 2012)]

Public Violence against Women’s Bodies: Egypt under SCAF Rule

Once the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) took power in February 2011, sexual harassment became an obvious means of intimidating and publicly humiliating protesting and dissenting women. Sexual assault was used to deter foreign female journalists, as well as to tarnish the morally pristine image of Tahrir Square, which had been a famously harassment-free zone throughout its occupation in January and February 2011.

In March 2011, so-called “virginity tests” were undertaken on female protesters by military personnel. The army spokesmen justified this act by stating that it prevented them from being blamed for having “deflowered” young women protesters. One of the victims, Samira Ibrahim, filed a case against the army medic responsible. He was acquitted, like the majority of police officers implicated in the killings and injuries of thousands of protesters in January and February 2011.


[Samira Ibrahim, image on Mohamed Mahmoud Street, off Tahrir Square, Cairo. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 11 September 2012)]


[Caption: “Girls and Boys are Equal”, Figuring Iconic actress Suad Hosny graffiti on Mohamed Mahmoud Street, off Tahrir Square, Cairo. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 9 March 2012)]

The discourse of the former regime, which continued after February 2011, sought to equate protesting women with prostitutes, for having left their place in the home and headed out to demonstrations. By this logic, they deserved to be raped. Similar reasoning led some Salafist preachers and a pro-Mubarak television presenter to call a female protester – and victim of police violence – a prostitute, because she appeared scantily clad after her ordeal. When she went to join anti-SCAF demonstrations near the Egyptian cabinet building on 17 December 2011, the unknown female protester had been wearing her veil, and was dressed in jeans and a black cloak (abaya).

The previous day, security forces had begun attacking protesters viciously, killing twelve, wounding hundreds, and dragging one body into a rubbish heap. That afternoon in Tahrir Square, several military policemen in riot gear violently dragged and beat up the veiled protester, leaving her blue bra exposed.


[Caption: “Blue Bra” graffiti, Mohamed Mahmoud Street, off Tahrir Square, Cairo. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 16 March 2013)]

Ironically, the blue bra turned into a symbol of national contestation against both the SCAF and the Salafists. On 20 December 2011, activists organized one of the most significant women’s demonstrations against SCAF policies, marching from Tahrir to Talaat Harb Squares, and attracting thousands. As such women’s protests and marches against the military multiplied, the “blue bra” remained an iconic symbol.

The protesters chanted for the end of military rule, and the slogan “Egyptian women are a red line” gained tremendous momentum. Soon, the city’s murals, and the cement walls, which the SCAF had erected after November’s protests in Mohamed Mahmoud Street, were filled with hundreds of blue bras.


[Caption: “Blue bra” assault, graffiti on Mohamed Mahmoud Street, off Tahrir Square, Cairo. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 28 September 2012)]

Just after the incident of the blue bra, painter Mohamed Abla produced a remarkable series of paintings, entitled Wolves, in which he drew the female protester being dragged by police forces with wolves’ heads. He exhibited the paintings in Abdin Square and marched, carrying them, through Tahrir Square with a group of artists.

Abla’s act was disseminated via his FB account, and protesters displayed photographs of his painting, similar to other graffiti on the blue bra, in public as a reminder that the incident would never be forgotten.


[Caption: SCAF erected wall in Mohamed Mahmoud Street, off Tahrir Square, Cairo. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 21 February 2012)]


[Caption: 6 October Bridge, Zamalek, Cairo. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 30 June 2012)]


[Caption: Graffiti painted during the Mohamed Mahmoud Street incidents of November 2012. The text conveys the message: “W for Women, We’ll Put Red Dresses on All of You”. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 23 November 2012)]

Protesting Women: Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood

Today, under Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, violent attacks have continued to be a regime tactic for frightening female demonstrators. One victim was a female who had been reporting clashes between Muslim Brotherhood members and opposition activists whom they prevented from entering Tahrir Square in October 2012. Late that night, a large horde of men attacked her.

Sexual assault escalated to peak in December 2012.

After Morsi’s unpopular constitutional declaration the previous month, young activists had set up a peaceful protest camp outside the presidential palace in Cairo. The Muslim Brotherhood sent armed supporters to attack the protesters on 5 December. The men set up their own torture chambers in collaboration with police, establishing a qualitatively new level of public violence.

There followed what appeared to be the systematic gang raping of women protesters in Tahrir Square, by large numbers of thugs who moved in organized groups to isolate and encircle their targets. Such gang rapes have recurred with regularity since, as if sexual molestation were becoming a repertoire designed to smear the Square.

Armed men had reportedly assaulted some twenty women in separate incidents over ten days in November 2012 alone – a tactic being used repeatedly by the regime to deter women demonstrators.

By February 2013, some members of the Islamist-dominated Shura Council were arguing that women who are victims of gang rape should be held accountable, as that they should not be demonstrating in Tahrir in the first place. This can only mean one thing: the regime is now legalizing crime.


[Caption: Graffiti by Mira Shehadeh, on SCAF wall in Mohamed Mahmoud Street, off Tahrir Square, Cairo. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 1 March 2013)]

[Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 1 March 2013)]

The tactic of humiliation through sexual molestation of women, young and old alike has precedence in Egypt. The most common explanations are that such behavior is the indirect outcome of sexual frustration, or of taboos and inhibitions born of religious sanctions and segregation. Another reason often cited is the unbearable economic hardship associated with the increasingly consumerist and unaffordable institution of marriage, in a society with some eight million unmarried men and women above the age of thirty-five, while premarital sex is taboo.

To my mind, these clichéd explanations remain simplistic. When the omnipotent authoritarian state that claims to be the spokesperson for Islamic morality, and constitutional defender of Islamic sharia, turns out to be the main perpetrator of sexual violence in the public sphere, then why would the “citizens” not follow the same violent path?

[Caption: “No to Sexual Assault”, Mohamed Mahmoud Street, off Tahrir Square, Cairo. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 11 September 2011)]

[Caption: “Whatever is or is not revealed, my body is free, it is not to be humiliated”, graffiti on Mohamed Mahmoud Street, off Tahrir Square, Cairo. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 11 September 2012)]

[Caption: Feminist graffiti on Mohamed Mahmoud Street, off Tahrir Square, Cairo. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 11September 2012)]

Black Wednesday, 25 May 2005, marks the date when protesting women were sexually harassed in public for the first time in Egypt’s modern history. These women had been demonstrating in front of the Journalists and Lawyers Syndicates against a constitutional amendment that would have guaranteed the succession of Mubarak’s son to the presidency. They suffered attacks by the paid thugs of the then ruling National Democratic Party. This incident was followed by a series of gang rapes all over the city of Cairo that targeted young women during the season of the religious festival in 2006, whether they were veiled or not.

[Caption: Mohamed Mahmoud Street, off Tahrir Square, Cairo. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 2 November 2012)]

All the attacks on women since February 2011 have been nothing but a remake, a déjà vu, in which paid thugs of the previous regime reappear, while the army and police forces stand around as voyeurs, if not facilitators, responsible for this sexual harassment and countless other attacks on citizens.

[Caption: “Treat Me Like a Human Being”, graffiti on SCAF wall, Mohamed Mahmoud Street, off Tahrir Square, Cairo. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 12 March 2013)]

Women in the Electoral Process and the Brotherhood in Parliament

The mesmerizing public visibility of women in Tahrir in January 2011 clashes powerfully with the near total invisibility of women in the parliament elected that November, and recently dissolved. Compared with Morocco and Tunisia, Egypt scores the lowest in women’s parliamentary representation, with only eight women having won in the elections, and two others appointed.[1] Among the reasons for this defeat, Hania Sholkamy cites a “state sponsored feminism” that imposed “an unpopular quota for women within corrupt electoral practices”.

[Caption: Painting by Alaa Awad. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 26 March 2012)]

[Caption: Painting by Hanna al-Degham. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 9 March 2012)]


[Caption: Na’ehat, mourning women, painting by Alaa Awad. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 21 February 2012)]


[Caption: Wassifat, ladies-in-waiting confronting the military, painting by Alaa Awad on Mohamed Mahmoud Street, off Tahrir Square, Cairo. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 12 March 2012)]

The theme of Egypt’s short-lived post-revolutionary parliament’s sessions, from January to June 2012, was the Islamists’ alarming obsession with exercising control over women’s bodies, through their reactionary draft laws on gender. These included bills encouraging female circumcision, demanding the marriage age for women to be lowered to nine years old, and rejecting the khul‘ law that allows women to file for divorce.

[Caption: “Don’t categorize me”. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 13 September 2012)]

One of the most vocal proponents of these measures was a woman herself: Freedom and Justice Party Member of Parliament Azza al-Garf, who has advocated the annulment of the anti-harassment law, citing her belief that it is women who are to be held responsible for such incidents, as their light dressing provokes such lustful acts from men. Garf alarmed Egyptian feminist groups by also calling for the abolition of the khul‘ divorce law, as well as the non-recognition of the offspring of illicit relationships, and the annulment of the recent law granting Egyptian nationality to the children of foreign fathers.

Furthermore, Garf wanted to acknowledge the right of the husband to have sexual intercourse with his wife by force if she refused him, and to forbid women from traveling without their husbands (in order to enforce a requirement that they obtain their husbands’ permission to travel). She also wished to cancel the law stipulating that the first wife be informed about her husband’s second marriage, and to cancel the law that guarantees the divorced wife access to any housing which she acquired as private property.

Garf publicly supports “female circumcision”, or rather female genital mutilation – a practice that was banned in 2007 after years of feminist campaigning in Egypt. She calls it a form of “beautifying plastic surgery”. How then does she differ from the Salafists, who feel threatened by women in the public sphere, and advocate the banning of women from political life (which would expel Garf from parliament)? The Salafists’ demands include removing the age limit on marriage, legalizing marriage from puberty, and the stoning of the adulterers – all constituting a direct attack on women’s freedoms.


[Caption: figuring iconic actresses Nadia Lutfi and Suad Hosny “There is no such thing as ‘exclusively for men’” (Referring to the famous film Lil rigal faqat, For Men Only). Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 12 March 2012)]


[Caption: SCAF wall, Mohamed Mahmoud Street, off Tahrir Square, Cairo. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 16 March 2013)]

How can women fail to be alarmed when the Muslim Brotherhood, as part of its community work for the marginalized and poor, as Mariz Tadros observed, sends “mobile health clinics” to Upper Egypt to offer the “service” of female circumcision? Even though the Brotherhood has denied this, researchers and activists  confirm that a flyer distributed by the Brotherhood in the village of Abu Aziz in Minya did indeed advertise the service. These mobile clinics are making their rounds while the health system is in a state of collapse.

Unfinished Revolution

This article remains unfinished, much like the Egyptian revolution. It is unfinished because many in Egypt feel that Islamists hijacked their revolution with the help of the army. There is therefore no conclusion to speak of yet, while the pace at which the graffiti multiplies is exhilarating, far exceeding attempts to erase it. Since Morsi became president, the Islamists have tried to conquer the walls and produce their own graffiti, covering that of their opponents, but theirs is devoid of humor, and without effect.

Meanwhile, Egyptians nationwide have been preparing for mass protests against Mohamed Morsi on 30 June, having declared their lack of confidence in his presidency through the Tamarod (“Rebellion”) petition campaign. Egypt’s streets remain vibrant through protests and public performances, and street art is a barometer of this contestation and resistance, its visual narratives having revealed a powerful assertion of gender claims. This innovative, humorous, and thought-provoking iconography teaches us that there is no turning back. Egypt’s youth subcultures will continue to protest, and to wage their war on an ageing patriarchal regime through the lightness of being of art and laughter.


[Caption: Graffiti by Kaizer, outside the al-Ahly Club in Zamalek, Cairo. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 12 September 2012)]


[Caption: Graffiti by Kaizer, outside the al-Ahly Club in Zamalek, Cairo. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 8 June 2012)]

NoteAndrew Bossone had this comment:
Some people wonder how any reasonable Egyptian could support the military after all it’s done. I saw an answer yesterday morning.
An old lady with a cane wanted to pass through a roadblock of barbed wire. A soldier descended from the tank and placed two wooden planks on top of a section of barbed wire. The soldier got down on one knee and held the planks in place as the old lady walked across them while holding the hand of her son (I didn’t take a picture).
In Egypt military conscription is mandatory, which means that just about every family has a member who has served in the military (with exceptions such as those in privileged class and those who have only one son).
In other words, many people don’t see the military as some abstract entity, but an organization with which they have personal ties or into which they were indoctrinated. It is quite difficult–particularly when talking about a total institution such as the military–to separate the soldiers as individuals from the military as a whole.
I’ve seen the same phenomena in the States, where people don’t accept criticism of the military. I’m not saying it’s right, but it’s understandable.

[1] According to Hania Sholkamy, women represent 17%  in the Moroccan parliament, even after the electoral success of the religious parties, while women reached 28% of seats in Tunisia. By contrast, Egypt scored only 2 percent.

Black Box of Egypt Military and Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF): A pattern of abuse?

A few examples of what demonstrate the “unhinged” state of  Egypt Supreme Council of Armed Forces:

1. The young Egyptian woman wore a traditional headscarf and shawl, known as an “abaya,” and stood off to the side of the protests before she was knocked down by Egyptian military police. Then she was beaten with batons, stripped to her bra, dragged through the street and stomped by one soldier.  The image was circulated on social platforms and has become iconic in Egypt’s continuing revolution.

Captured on video December 17 and broadcast around the world, the attack on this anonymous woman, known simply as “the girl in the blue bra,” has enraged young Egyptian protesters on the streets, offended old-guard loyalists to the regime and galvanized the international human rights community.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called it “shocking.” (What Hillary did to stamp out these recurring behaviors?)

2.  Last week, the military raided the offices of Western non-governmental organizations in a campaign to crack down on what the ruling military body repeatedly refers to as the “hidden hands” behind the pro-democracy movement.  The Egyptian military receives $1.3 billion in annual military assistance from the United States.

3. In November, just days before the first of a three-phase vote for the lower house of parliament, in the first elections since the fall of Mubarak, the military shocked voters by trying to push through constitutional provisions that would have made the military unaccountable to civilian government.  One specific proposal would have shielded the military’s secretive budget and its economic interests from parliamentary scrutiny.

That triggered the protest movement, with the full weight of the Muslim Brotherhood behind it, to hold a massive rally in Tahrir Square on November 19. And that’s when the military showed it was willing to exert all of its force to protect its interests.  The military killed 40 people in six days of clashes around the country and severely injuring thousands and sending hundreds to military courts.

4. In April, the military began mass arrests of protesters. In less than a single year, the military has put some 13,000 civilians before military tribunals.  Human rights investigators say the charges are trumped up:  Long sentences and little to no opportunity for appeal.

5. In round up, female protesters were detained and administered so-called ‘virginity tests’ by uniformed male officers.   Samira Ibrahim filed an administrative case claiming the procedure was tantamount to rape. Last week, the Egyptian courts challenged to the military and heard the case and ordered the military to put an end to the practice of ‘virginity tests.’

6. In October,  25 Christian protesters were killed for demonstrating at Maspero, the national television building. The protests were against what the Coptic Christian minority widely perceive as government indifference to attacks on Christians, and specifically over the failure for anyone to be held accountable for the burning of a church. This mass killing was followed by the November demonstrations in Tahrir in which the military “allegedly” killed 40 people over six days and left hundreds wounded.

In mid-December, violence flared again when the military moved in to put down a relatively peaceful sit-in in front of a set of government buildings just off Tahrir Square. Demonstrators there were protesting the steady rise in heavy-handed tactics. In this crackdown the military reportedly killed 13 more people.

Charles M. Sennott of GlobalPost “ witnessed men in uniform on the roof of a parliament building hurling concrete blocks and Molotov cocktails down on civilian protesters in what seemed an extraordinary breakdown of military discipline. Some soldiers made lewd gestures, and one image captured a man in uniform urinating on the protesters from the rooftop.

Is Egyptian military acting out of control?  Hossam Bahgat, executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said: “Egypt’s military is becoming the enemy of our revolution.”

Critics say the military is panicking as an emerging civilian democracy poses a threat to its power and to the military hierarchy’s vast economic holdings.  Amr Hamzawy, an outspoken political analyst and a member of the country’s secular elite who recently won a seat in the new parliament, says:  “it is time to unravel the vast economic power the military wields and make it more accountable.”

Hossam Bahgat said:  “We always knew that the military has stakes to protect, that they will not happily espouse the proposal of moving from 100 percent of power in 60 years to zero. We knew they’d want to protect veto power over national security decisions, protect their military budget, funding from the US… But we never expected them to engage in this bloodshed.”

Bahgat explained:  “The damage that is caused will be lasting. It’s going to haunt the army for many years to come. Egypt’s military is becoming the enemy of our revolution. Just like Mubarak was — another hurdle in our road to democracy and justice. The military officers are going to do everything to resist meaningful civilian oversight. They are panicking about this. This panic is causing them to create one crime after another. And their ability to protect their interests is diminishing the longer they stay in power.”

Ambassador in Washington for a decade until 2008, Nabih Fahmy, dean of a new center for global affairs at the American University of Cairo,  said: “I think the military must be extremely disappointed and extremely worried by it,” he said, referring to the image of the young woman being beaten and dragged through the streets. “It left a severe tarnish on the reputation and you saw that in the attempts to clarify what happened in a press conference. The power of the images of even just one person being brutalized is truly devastating. I think there was some excessive force; there is no question about that… And I think no matter what explanation the military offers or who is right and who is wrong, the main point is that we all lost in this.

“The lessons one can draw from that is that the military should not, medium or long term, play the role of the police. That’s not their function… I am not in any way justifying what has happened and will not. But this is not the kind of theatre they are used to. That’s where you see the discipline breaking down,” said Fahmy.

How American power comes into play?

Human rights activists say they can hardly keep up with the civilian complaints about the tide of violence by the military, and the steadily rising death toll it is producing.  Frustration is mounting that the U.S. seems unwilling to exert its considerable influence over the military to put an end to the violence. And for serious reasons:

1. The U.S. has unparalleled access to our army generals. They have spent years receiving training, going on trips. They have a strong rapport with the U.S. military leaders.

2. The U.S has much at stake in its relationship with the Egyptian military: a key ally in a region where the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ has awakened forces for change. The U.S. is a “guarantor” of the 1979 Camp David accord between Israel and Egypt, which is seen by the U.S. as a pillar of regional stability. (Since when US written guarantees have been applied, except when closely related to its interests?)

3. Egypt’s 350,000 strong military has everything at stake in a new Egypt, most pointedly its $1.3 billion in annual assistance from the United States and the sprawling economic enterprise it helps to support.

4. Hamzawy, a newly elected parliamentarian, estimates the military may control up to 30 percent of Egypt’s $180 billion economy.  Mohamed Kadry Said, a retired major general and long-time military analyst for the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, put the figure at an estimated 8 percent of GDP. Western diplomats in Cairo say a safe guess is somewhere in the middle of these estimates.

“Perhaps the U.S. realized that this leverage they have is not infinite. They are going to use this leverage wisely on the things that matter to them most. And those are the same things that they prioritized under Mubarak: regional stability, peace with Israel. Unfortunately, we see the U.S. as hostage to this old notion of stability, this idea that brutality is fine as long as it doesn’t upset stability. They seem to fail to realize that it is through violence that the preconditions of instability are established”.

Egypt military economic empire

A  glimpse of the military economic might emerged last week when the government-run media reported that the military had provided $1 billion to the Egyptian government’s central bank to help prop up its faltering currency. How many militaries in the world have revenue that provides capital which exceeds the government’s own coffers? Current and former American and Egyptian government officials all say that the military and its full economic portfolio are very much a “black box”.

GlobalPost has interviewed more than a dozen officials, including retired Egyptian generals as well as former and current diplomats and military attaches, and tried to get a baseline of the Egyptian military’s reach. Here’s what these officials confirm:

The military owns huge tracts of land around Cairo where opulent residential developments are built and officers are given housing. In New Cairo, there is a new national sports stadium being built by the Air Force. The military controls bakeries, farmland and industrial factories that make everything from tanks to toasters as well as hospitals and the toll roads to the highly profitable port of Suez. The economic empire is present at just about every turn in a country where they openly hold claim to gas stations, hotels, shopping complexes and even their own chain of supermarkets.

One of those critics is Mohammed Okasha, who lives in a modest apartment in Cairo and has written several books on the history of the military. He gets by on a military pension that gives him a middle class lifestyle for which he says he is grateful.

A decorated bomber pilot who led raids in the 1967 Six Day War and again in the 1973 conflict with Israel, which in Egypt is commemorated as the ‘October 6’ victory. The retired general was so proud of the military supporting the youth in Tahrir Square that he painted his own banner and marched to the square just a few days after the protests began on January 25.

The banner read, “The fighters of October 6 stand with the fighters of January 25.”

Okasha said he has always been proud of his military background even if he was not so proud of fellow officers enriching themselves through perks which he says eventually became outright greed. Now Okasha says he is increasingly ashamed of the military. He watched in disbelief in recent months as the army descended into violence and brutality and showed the “true face,” as he puts it, of the old regime.

“Of course, they don’t want to give up this power that they enforce with their military equipment. This power comes with other facilities and other profits. … It’s a cash flow for the businesses owned by the military,” says Okasha.

“They will never give it up with out a fight,” he adds.

Former Ambassador Fahmy is more confident that the military will ultimately live up to its promise to relinquish power in six months when a new president takes office. But he concedes that this transfer of authority will mean many challenges for the military as it will struggle to live up to a new and more democratic system of transparency and accountability.

“I think that people actually want to believe in their military … But this will require moving to civilian rule quickly and requires putting together a system based on four basic principles,” he said, listing them as “transparency, accountability, inclusiveness and finally competitiveness.”

These principles of governance will be a direct challenge to the military’s vast economic reach. And undoing the military’s hold on so much economic power may in the end of the day be needed for the much-needed modernization of Egypt’s struggling economy. Right now Egypt’s economic growth is at a precarious zero percent. That is particularly ominous in a country with a surging population that needs to produce 175,000 new jobs every year just to maintain its already very high level of unemployment, particularly for youth.

Several high-level Egyptian and Western officials point out that the military’s economic empire – combined with the vast corruption throughout the regime – has been holding Egypt back economically for decades. So more transparency and better governance over the military may, these officials say, actually be a key to Egypt’s peaceful transition to democracy.” End of report

Note: Charles M. Sennott is GlobalPost’s Executive Editor and co-founder. His reporting in Egypt is part of a ‘Special Report’ titled “The Army, The People …,” which  is examining the role of the military in Egypt’s continuing revolution.




April 2023

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