Publication: Egypt After the Spring: Revolt and Reaction
12 January 2016
Less than one month after electing a new president in summer 2014, Egyptians awoke to dreadful news that the government had significantly reduced food and gas subsidies, leading to sudden increases in the prices of basic goods. Due to an acute budget deficit, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, the former defence minister who had just swept elections, called on the nation to adopt austerity measures. To make things worse, he refused to respond to strikes calling for a minimum wage; a court decision subsequently sent striking employees into early retirement. Meanwhile, the president approved an increase of 8.3 billion Egyptian pounds (about US$1.2bn) to the military budget for 2014/15, followed by an increase of 4bn Egyptian pounds the following year (a total of US$1.7bn), and raised officers’ pensions by about 25%. Furthermore, military contractors established a near monopoly over public construction projects. The army’s business enterprises expanded – opening new filling stations, for example – and received new tax breaks. In a charitable move, the military decided to sell cheap produce from its expansive farms to needy citizens through its numerous retail outlets, and distributed free food boxes in villages and Cairo’s slums.1
Sisi was the fourth officer to take off his uniform and govern the country since 1952. Before him, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak had all formed authoritarian regimes, under which fellow officers enjoyed superior political and economic privileges entrenched within the state apparatus. This chapter argues that despite fundamental political and economic transformations, including a ‘revolution’ in 2011, the military as a semi-autonomous institution has managed to adapt to, and survive, these changes. At crucial moments of socialist, neoliberal or revolutionary transition, the military has maintained a hegemonic position in the state structure and maximised its economic profits, while deploying nationalistic rhetoric and constantly forging new socio-economic alliances. Evidently, the officers have successfully weathered the most recent wave of change, from which they emerged retaining their dominance. Nevertheless, this chapter poses questions about the ability of the Sisi regime to adapt to simmering discontent in such difficult post-revolutionary times, particularly because he has enacted incoherent economic policies unfavourable to the very socio-economic groups that elected him.