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Different Leader, Same Regime

Although the military has been a powerful institution since Egypt’s 1952 military coup,94 Egypt’s war against terrorism in the 1990s promoted the Ministry of Interior in the country’s political hierarchy.95 By 2010, Egypt’s active military personnel were outnumbered by domestic security services by three to one, with approximately 1.5 million personnel in the Ministry of Interior. Counting the army of plainclothes thugs, agent provocateurs, and informants that constitute the Ministry of Interior’s undercover community, security forces may have reached as high as three million.96 The lower ranks of the police hailed from the expanded paramilitary Central Security Forces (csf), of whom 60 percent were uneducated and poor.97 csf police were effectively indentured policemen receiving two meals a day and four dollars a month who harbored deep class-based resentment against the public.98

In Egypt, police not only oversee law enforcement but also are involved in almost every aspect of Egyptians’ daily lives.99 The police keep records on, and issue, virtually all forms of personal identification in the country, including driver’s licenses, passports, and birth and death certificates.100 The hiring of university presidents, deans, and professors is subject to vetting and approval by police authorities.101 Opaque national security criteria are used to determine the eligibility of graduate students to be hired as teaching assistants, select textbooks, and approve faculty travel abroad.102 State security can even bar students from running in university elections. Anyone deemed to be affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood is often vetoed. By 2010, Egypt could accurately be described as a security state.103

As the demand for internal security grew, so too did the Ministry of Interior’s budget. Some experts estimate that Egypt’s total security budget totaled $1.5 billion in 2006, surpassing the nation’s health care budget.104 As state expenditure on internal security grew, the military budget shrank.105 To offset the decrease, the regime granted the military more financial autonomy and the authority to dabble in a variety of profit-making enterprises, including construction companies and service projects.106 The military soon became the largest landowner in the country, with extensive business and commercial interests over which there was little or no civilian oversight.107 The business ventures funded the military’s security budget as well as subsidized private hotels, sporting clubs, grocery stores, and other businesses available exclusively or at a discount to military personnel.108 These economic interests put the military at odds with the January 25 demonstrators’ demands for systemic economic and political reforms, including civilian oversight of military private-sector endeavors.109

Starting in 2004, when Gamal Mubarak’s ally Ahmed Nazif was appointed prime minister, the economy came under the control of a small group of businessmen within Gamal’s inner circle.110 While forty million Egyptians lived at or below the poverty line, macroeconomic policy was increasingly used as a tool to enrich this small group of elites.111 Gamal and his cronies purchased land at far below market value, enacted privatization schemes that benefited themselves at the expense of the public purse, and effectively monopolized the steel and energy sectors.112 The military resented Gamal’s rise to power. Not only did he lack military credentials, but his economic liberalization schemes were increasingly at odds with the military’s business interests,113 which represented as much as 40 percent of Egypt’s economic output. Thus, the military was eager to appease public demands to remove Hosni Mubarak, and as a consequence his son, from power.

In the euphoria that gripped Egypt upon Mubarak’s forced departure, few noticed the military’s ingenious move to occupy the apex of a deeply entrenched authoritarian political system. The system, composed of depoliticized institutions formed around loyalty to the president as opposed to common ideological or institutional interests, effectively made its head the most powerful state institution.

Having no other institution to turn to, Egyptians welcomed the military’s willingness to serve as the caretaker government until democratic elections could be conducted. As a result, Egypt witnessed not a breakthrough for democracy but a reshuffling of the ruling elite and the fundamental perpetuation of the institutions that formed the authoritarian status quo.114

The scaf employed duplicitous legal tactics to legitimize and even expand its rule, all the while obscuring its political objectives from public scrutiny. Exploiting the public’s elated state of disbelief that Mubarak was finally gone, the scaf carefully manipulated a public referendum on the timing of the parliamentary elections to determine whether they should precede or follow the drafting of a new constitution. Despite the referendum’s narrow mandate, the scaf successfully imposed a constitutional declaration on the country that preserved its grip on power. The military’s leadership sidelined democratic governance and unilaterally appointed an unrepresentative committee of eight experts to draft the nine articles that would serve as Egypt’s interim constitution.115 For example, the military appointed Tariq Al Bishri, a retired judge with Islamist leanings, to head a committee that included a Muslim Brotherhood leader, Sobhi Saleh, but excluded other opposition parties, women, and leaders of the January 25 uprising.116 Under the guise of emergency, temporary measures, the scaf manipulated or entirely ignored public sentiment and the revolutionaries’ demands as it secured its grip on power.117

The constitutional referendum was ultimately approved by 77 percent of voters on March 19, 2011.118 Eleven days later, despite a narrow public mandate to amend only nine articles of the 1971 constitution, the scaf unilaterally abrogated the 1971 constitution altogether and issued a sixty-three-article interim constitutional declaration that superseded the approved constitutional amendments.119 The scaf’s scheme blatantly mirrored Mubarak’s tactics, promulgating unchecked executive power under the guise of the rule of law.120 Article 189, for example, was amended to effectively allow the presidential election process to be delayed indefinitely without affecting the constitutional drafting process. Coupled with Article 61, which maintained the scaf’s executive privilege until both parliamentary and presidential elections could be completed, any delay in presidential elections translated into prolonged scaf rule.121 Moreover, the absence of much of the 1971 constitution’s checks on executive power resulted in the scaf retaining executive prerogative to resolve issues not addressed in the constitutional declaration.122 The scaf thus commanded virtually unchecked power until elections were held.123

When the scaf announced its plans in the fall of 2011 to postpone the presidential elections by two years, their ulterior motives became all the more difficult to hide from the public.124 If any doubt remained that the military was out to secure its economic and political interests, skeptics were convinced by the scaf’s issuance of “supra-constitutional principles” authorizing them to appoint eighty of the one hundred members of the forthcoming constituent assembly tasked with drafting the country’s new constitution.125 This all but guaranteed that the next constitution would protect the military’s interests, and any pretense of defending the supposed gains of the 2011 revolution was exposed.126

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