This long link above is the way to the Al Jazeera interview I did some weeks ago. I am only on for a few minutes but the questions they asked me were interesting. Basically the program was about the huge military involvement in the Egyptian economy…some thing like up to 40% of their GDP with the army using low paid recruits to make not only military armament but also washing machines, baby formula, etc. They also run hotels, service stations, farms and recreation areas.
The Egyptian president , Abdel Fattah al Sisi fooled everyone, including the previous president Mohammad Al Morsi, who currently resides in prison, put there by Sisi who was selected to be al Morsi’s top military leader by Morsi himself. He passed himself off as a closet member of the Muslim brotherhood. While in the American Army War college he wrote a thesis that some, very wrongly, depicted as fundamentalist. He is simply an opportunist and whatever else he is or is not he is way better than having Morsi or other members of the Muslim brotherhood running Egypt.
Having written that, the al Sisi regime is shot through with corruption, nepotism, and every ill one can think of. He has used the military economy as featherbeds for retiring high officers despite a lack of any knowledge of the industry in which they are involved, putting them in charge of a number of state run industries and enterprises. It might not be so bad if the generals simply let the mangers run the show but too many actually take their jobs seriously and muck up the industries they head.
Moreover many lower grade officers own businesses, farms, shops, hotels etc. Many of these officers derive their primary income . not from the military but from their extra-curricular businesses. The officers themselves have a fairly comfortable life, living within “military cities, with commissaries, tax free shopping, and interest free auto purchases. Their apartments inside the military city are better than anything on the outside and rented for only a nominal fee. But nevertheless many Egyptian officers find it necessary to look for other sources of income. In short they have it pretty good, but for many, apparently, not good enough. Like any other human beings they look to care of their families first and are unlikely to bite the hand that feeds them. Thus the regime keeps the officer corps generally loyal.
Now in the program, Al Jazeera alleges that more young officers are defecting from the Al Sisi regime. That could be true but I have no knowledge of that. A young social media type named Mohamed Ali has been making a lot of noise on social media from Spain attacking al Sisi and the corruption. No doubt the corruption is rampant but is it any worse than before? Doubtful! Al Sisi has become much more authoritarian in the last year, making sure the population, especially the elite youth understand that he will brook no upheavals. So it goes.
But, concerning the pervasive Egyptian army involvement in the economy, the most important truth is that while it is harmful to Egypt’s productivity, the impact on the military effectiveness of the military∗ is devastating. The fact that so many Egyptian officers find it necessary to have a secondary source of income makes it difficult to concentrate on soldiering when he needs to keep track of a business as well.
A good book to read is Militarizing the Nation by Zeinab Abul Magd and a great article is in Transparency International. Defence and Security at https://ti-defence.org/publications/the-officers-republic/
∗In Egypt as in most Arab countries, the army, despite its problems is usually seen as the only trustworthy institution in the country. See Dalia Said Mostafa; The Egyptian Military in Popular Culture