The Egyptian military emerged as one of the good guys in the recent political unrest, refusing the shoot at demonstrators and ultimately forcing Hosni Mubarak to step down. But the Mubarak regime was, in its inception, a military dictatorship launched decades ago by Gamal Nasser. And over the years, the Egyptian armed forces have worked themselves into a privileged position in the economy. David Kirkpatrick reports that one thing the interim military regime is doing is moving to further entrench that economic control:
“Protecting its businesses from scrutiny and accountability is a red line the military will draw,” said Robert Springborg, an expert on Egypt’s military at the Naval Postgraduate School. “And that means there can be no meaningful civilian oversight.”
Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the minister of defense and military production who now leads the council of officers ruling Egypt, has been a strong advocate of government control of prices and production. He has consistently opposed steps to open up the economy, according to diplomatic cables made public by WikiLeaks.
And already there are signs that the military is purging from the cabinet and ruling party advocates of market-oriented economic changes, like selling off state-owned companies and reducing barriers to trade.
Obviously the phrase “market-oriented economic changes” has a certain valence in the context of domestic politics in the west. So note that the reverse of “market-oriented” in the Egyptian context is “set up by the dictatorship to reward itself and its clients” rather than, say, Social Security payments. The path to a functioning welfare state runs through democratic capitalism.