Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Egypt military's economic empire

Calls for accountability and transparency grow at a time the military has fallen out of favour with the public.

Sherine Tadros
(See Video, 4 Posts Below)

"The military’s vast economic interests in Egypt are one of those secrets which is not really a secret. Their social clubs, complexes, villages and products are clear for all to see, but their precise hold on the country’s economy has never been determined.

Analysts have predicted the Egyptian military control anything from 15 per cent to 40 per cent of the economy. Even those are wild estimates.

Khaled Fahmy, head of history at the American University in Cairo, calls it a “grey economy, in the sense that we know very little of them, they are not subject to any Parliamentary scrutiny, the Egyptian government auditing office has no control or knowledge of them".

The military has, over decades, created an industrial complex that is well oiled and well funded. In over 35 factories and companies it produces everything from flat-screen televisions and pasta to refrigerators and cars.

It owns restaurants and football grounds. Much of the work force are conscripts paid below the average wage. And it is not just manufactured goods: the military provide services, managing petrol stations for example.

The influence extends far beyond Cairo across Egypt. They are huge land owners in the country.....

Critical issue

The people rose up and the declaration never passed, but it was an indication of just how critical the issue of their economy is to the military establishment, and the concern over an elected authority scrutinising it.

So far it does not seem like the new parliament, dominated by Islamists, will want to pick a fight with the army over where it gets it’s money.

But if Egypt is going to be a true democracy complete with transparency of it’s institutions, at some point the military will have to diverge some of it is business dealings and its privileges [subsidies, tax breaks] will be questioned.

In countries around the world the military enjoys a degree of benefits and even secrecy in its operations.

In Egypt where the army is already in hot water with the population, calls for accountability and transparency are growing."

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