Sunlight Shining Through Cloud

Egypt and the Business of Fighting

Posted on: February 14, 2011

Egypt is a mess.  It was a mess before Mubarak and before Sadat.  Now, after decades of repression, subjugation and torture, the Egyptian people have spoken.  They have gained their freedom.  Or have they?

The Egyptian Army is in charge during this “transition” period.  That could be bad; patrols on every corner; the possible emergence of military rule.  But I don’t think that’s what will happen long term.  Why?  Because the army has a business to run; many businesses, in fact.

The army manufactures and markets olive oil, cement, kitchen ware, fire extinguishers, heavy appliances, TV’s and laptops.  They run oil companies and the hotel industry.  The Egyptian Army is responsible for somewhere between five and forty percent of that nation’s economy.  No one knows for sure because the army isn’t showing its books.

Things could go one of two ways, if not more.  First, the army could choose to continue the repression of the Egyptian people, some thirty percent of whom live in abject poverty.  But that would mean that the army would have to divert some of its resources to non-business matters.

More likely, I think, is a scenario where the army releases its control to a new regime as quickly as possible, so as to return full-time to the profitable thing that it is.

To be sure, the Egyptian Army is a fighting force, the largest on the African continent and second largest in the middle-east.  Only Israel’s Army is larger.   Egypt’s Army has allied itself with the U.S. military for its bi-annual “Bright Star” exercises, and fought well in the first Gulf War.  It is also a major buyer of U.S.-made heavy military equipment; some of it licensed for manufacture in Egypt.

But the army’s bread and butter, it knows, is the business conglomerate that it controls.  It is in their best interest to see Egyptians produce and prosper.  In that way, cash will flow into army business coffers.

It should be noted that retired generals and political cronies helm some of these enterprises.  Too, there is a fair amount of corruption in the army’s business ranks.  No one who seeks leadership in the new Egypt will achieve that position without the army’s backing.

But, for the moment, the army is a money-making machine, and would like to stay that way.  They’re interested in stability.  Unrest and chaos are unwelcome.  If that means holding onto power, they will; but, I think, with a soft hand.

Another thing.  The army’s lower ranks, the troops who would be closest to the people if there was military rule, are, financially, little better off than the general populace.  These troops would not be highly motivated to attack their own brothers and sisters who, just yesterday, were playing in their back yards with them.

These are possible “perfect world” scenarios.  There is little “perfect” about things in Egypt these days.  The people have spoken in a mighty way, and for the first time in most of their lives, have won what they perceive to be their freedom.  Their battle was noble, hard-fought and bloody.  But the slate is clean now, as is Tahrir Square.  Many questions must now be asked; answers must be proffered.  What kind of government will be created?  Who will lead Egypt into its next phase in history?

An interesting dichotomy now exists.  Other populations in the region see that it’s possible to win their freedoms; and geo-political and economic interests want a return to (relative) stability in the mid-east.

It’ll be a tough ride for the Egyptian people.  The eyes of the world are upon them.

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