November 23, 2011
Nine months since the toppling of President Mubarak Egypt continues to be more firmly than ever under control by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
Contrary to earlier promises parliamentary elections did not take place in September but are now set for November 29. Presidential elections originally scheduled for November are unlikely to take place before the end of 2012.
The Constitutional Declaration adopted by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces March 30th provides for the future President to appoint and dismiss the prime minister without approval of the Parliament. The Army visibly wants to delay and discredit the democratic process and have another general “elected” as the President.
Contrary to expectations by the military, the “Arab civil society”, reinforced by the Moslem Brothers, remains profoundly sceptic about the Army’s intentions. Consequently it has returned to Tahrir Square protesting against these dilatory manoeuvrings and forcing the Army to back-pedal and promise to respect civilian control of the Army.
Civil society is right to mistrust the Egyptian Army, which has enjoyed immense privileges during the past 50 years and wants to preserve these under future governments. That is why it seems so keen to have a general continue presiding over the fate of the country, prevent cuts in the excessive military budget and bar the parliament from obtaining oversight of military matters.
By the number of soldiers, the budget and its influence across the economy and society the Egyptian Army is one of the most powerful in the region.
- With 469 000 active personnel and 479 000 reserve personnel in 2009 it was the biggest army in Africa and the Middle East and 10th globally.
- Its annual $ 85 billion budget accounts for 3 per cent of the Egyptian GDP, far too high for a poor country like Egypt.
- It controls large swathes of the economy, from construction to manufacturing, tourism and real estate. According to some estimates this control extends to 40 per cent of the economy!
Effective Reforms in Egypt will be impossible without containing the role of the Army. That is what the present struggle in the country is about.
The US government was therefore right in sending a word of warning to Cairo last week. Thanks to its military aid exceeding $ 1 billion annually and its supply of sophisticated weapons it has still more influence than any other country.
The EU should also make its voice heard and let the Supreme Military Council know that they have to accept a civilian defence minister and proper parliamentary control of the defence budget by the future parliament. This will be bitter pills to swallow by both the Egyptian generals and Western arms contractors. But in the interest of sustained political and economic developments in Egypt there is no alternative.
Author : Eberhard Rhein