by Jacob G. Hornberger
The Egyptian military is denying having killed 26 Egyptian citizens who were protesting on the streets of Cairo, even though witnesses claim to have seen Egyptian troops shooting the protestors and running them down with tanks. One thing is clear though: the military has no intention of relinquishing its dominate role in Egyptian society.
Like here in the United States, the Egyptian military plays an enormous role in the economy and life of the Egyptian people. In Egypt we might well refer to the entire military machine as the military-commercial complex, as compared to the military-industrial complex here in the United States.
The U.S. military-industrial complex consists of an enormous military presence all over the country, with military bases in cities and towns all across the country. There’s also a vast overseas military empire, with some 700-1000 military bases in some 130 foreign countries, along with the occupations of two countries, Iraq and Afghanistan. Countless companies, both foreign and domestic, receive hundreds of billions of dollars in military largess, including for such things as soft drinks at the bases, meals for the troops, uniforms, supplies at the PX, refreshments at the theaters, and so forth. There is a vast number of contractors, with the assistance of lobbyists, whose income depends on the military.
In Egypt, the situation is much the same, except that the Egyptian military doesn’t maintain an overseas military empire. What it does is own and operate a vast number of commercial retail establishments in Egypt, such as hotels. Like here in the United States, countless Egyptians are dependent on the military largess.
During the protests against Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, many Egyptians believed that the solution to their economic and social woes lay in the ouster of Mubarak from power. Today, some of them are discovering that Egypt’s problems were not rooted in the wrong man at the top but rather in Egypt’s political and economic system, including the presence of the giant military-commercial complex in Egypt.
Like any other government operation, the Egyptian military operates as a huge drain on the Egyptian economy. An enormous amount of taxes are imposed on the private sector to fund its operations — monies that otherwise would go into productive endeavors if they were left in the hands of the private sector. Moreover, the military personnel themselves do not contribute to the productivity of society. Finally, the hotels and others commercial establishments run by the military are inevitably like any other socialist enterprise — expensive and shoddy, especially compared to how things would operate if they were privately owned and operating within a free market.
Thus, if the military commercial complex were dismantled, there would be a triply positive effect: the private sector would keep the money that is today taken from people in taxes, the soldiers would now be in the private sector producing instead of draining, and private companies would be running the commercial establishments.
Several weeks ago, however, the military announced that while the citizenry would be permitted to establish a new government, it would have to be done with the premise that the military would serve as the foundation for Egyptian society. In other words, the military comes first — as the foundation of society — and a “democratic” government comes second, built on the military foundation.
That premise did not go over well with many Egyptians and the military has ostensibly abandoned it. But most everyone knows that the military has not abandoned its fundamental premise — that the military-commercial complex must be a permanent feature of any new government.
The Egyptian people might well experience why America’s Founding Fathers opposed standing armies. Our American ancestors believed that standing armies were antithetical to the principles of a free society and, in fact, a grave threat to the freedom and well-being of the citizenry.
The Egyptian military obviously takes the position that Egypt’s existence depends on the continued existence of the Egyptian military-commercial complex. The military is convinced that without such a complex, the nation would fall to terrorists and drug dealers. In the minds of military officials, freedom and prosperity in Egypt depends on the continued existence of the military-commercial complex. The way the military sees it, dismantling its privileged position in Egyptian society would be a grave threat to national security and economic prosperity, and they’re not about to permit the Egyptian people to make that sort of mistake.
Moreover, notwithstanding the demands of the protestors during the Mubarak demonstrations, Egyptian military officials have steadfastly refused to relinquish the temporary emergency powers that have been in existence for some 30 years. Such powers encompass the temporary emergency powers now being wielded by President Obama, the U.S. military, and CIA — the omnipotent power to arrest, torture, and kill citizens suspected of being terrorists.
One can only wonder whether Egypt’s military dictators, notwithstanding their denials, simply desired to send a not-so-subtle message to the Egyptian people with those 26 dead protestors: “Don’t mess with us. We are here to stay. Get used to it.” For its part, the U.S. government can certainly attest to the brutality and efficiency of Egypt’s military regime, given that the U.S. government selected Egypt’s military to serve as one of its rendition/torture partners in the U.S. government’s global war on terrorism.
Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of the Future of Freedom Foundation.
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