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Egypt’s imams, teachers, diplomats and judges are being militarised

September 26, 2023 at 9:45 am

Egyptian military vehicles stand guard in Cairo, Egypt, 16 August 2013 [Ed Giles/Getty Images]

Egypt is moving rapidly towards militarising politics, the economy and education, and more. There is a strong desire on the part of the regime of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi to extend the influence of the military establishment and subject all ministries and state institutions to the control of the generals.

With the weakening of political, party and union life in the country since the 2013 coup, the pace of this militarisation has quickened in a striking and dangerous manner. It has affected teachers, imams in the mosques, diplomats working overseas and members of judicial bodies.

The matter appears to be systematic under the pretext of the “keenness of the General Command of the Armed Forces to cooperate with the ministries and institutions of the Egyptian state.” That’s what a military spokesman said at the graduation of the first cohort of imams nominated to work in the Ministry of Religious Endowments after completing a training course at the College of Egyptian Reserve Officers a few days ago.

In his speech at the graduation ceremony, the Director of the college, Major General Bahaa Al-Sayed, said that holding these courses is “important for building community awareness and strengthening future generations against extremist and destructive thought and achieving the vision of the Egyptian state.”

Al-Sisi had called on the current Minister of Religious Endowments, Mohamed Mukhtar Gomaa, to form a distinguished generation of “enlightened” imams and preachers to formulate a “disciplined” religious public opinion in the country, according to a presidential statement in August 2021.

This is nothing new. It began after the 2013 overthrow of late President Mohamed Morsi’s government, just a year into his term of office. This was evident in the militarisation of music with the song “Tislam Al-Ayyadi”, which praises the army’s actions against its opponents. It was followed by domination of the arts, and the presentation of works that glorify the heroism of the security and intelligence institutions in Egypt which presented a one-sided narrative of the events that Egypt witnessed 10 years ago: The Choice (three episodes), for example; Battalion 101; Counterattack; Kalabsh (Handcuffs); and others.

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The plan was reinforced by the acquisition of influential media platforms by sovereign institutions, some of which were classified as independent voices, and placing them in 2016 under the command of the United Media Services Company, which is owned by the General Intelligence agency. This is an attempt to tighten control over public opinion and point it in one direction in order to adopt a one-sided point of view towards internal and external events and issues.

In addition, there was a move to appoint senior army officers to executive positions in ministries, governorates, city and district councils, and public sector companies; six ministerial portfolios were assigned to generals. Moreover, twenty army and police majors were appointed as governors in the country, and a military advisor was appointed in each governorate.

However, the militarisation process took a dangerous turn by targeting the judiciary and diplomatic service. Candidates for appointment to the judiciary since 2018 have been subjected to security and oversight investigations and courses of a military and security nature, under the supervision of the National Training Academy, which is affiliated with General Intelligence. The courses included a briefing on the achievements of the president and the armed forces; the dangers threatening Egypt’s national security; the conspiracies targeting the country; how to save Egypt from the Arab Spring; and the role of the judiciary in combating terrorism.

Moreover, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs subjected new diplomats to training courses within the Military College. They were lectured by former and serving generals, under the pretext of informing them about national security and enhancing their sense of loyalty. A photograph posted by one of the lecturers, former Major General Samir Faraj, on his personal Facebook page in August showed a group of new diplomats wearing khaki uniforms. It prompted widespread criticism of “the militarisation of the foreign ministry.”

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In the education sector, Al-Sisi took part in person. Accompanied by the Ministers of Defence and Education, he went to the Military Academy — affiliated with the Ministry of Defence — in April to supervise tests given to applicants for positions at the Ministry of Education, and to ask them questions about their thoughts and opinions on certain matters. Thousands of male and female teachers were subjected to the examination and faced security investigations of their relatives as a condition for obtaining a six-month qualification course before appointment. This is part of the procedure for appointing 30,000 teachers in Egypt.

Teachers who pass the militarised programme are expected to be granted a diploma in “Educational Leadership and National Security”. This paves the way for them to assume senior administrative positions in schools, according to Minister of Education Reda Hegazy.

In February, Al-Sisi also personally supervised part of the tests for applicants for several positions in bodies affiliated with the Ministry of Transport, which were also conducted in cooperation with the Egyptian Military Academy. At the time, Minister of Transport Lieutenant General Kamel Al-Wazir responded to the criticism of the president’s presence by saying, “I welcome militarisation if the selection of employees will be in accordance with this method. What is wrong with teaching applicants about security in order to protect them from evil?”

Journalists have not been spared this militarisation process. Training courses were held for hundreds of journalists at the Nasser Military Academy, under the heading “Methods of thinking and future studies”. This included studying information warfare and its impact on society, national security challenges, and the role of the internet in infiltrating minds and directing society.

the step aims to “brainwash” the participants into focusing on the fact that they are in the service of the regime

Opponents say that the courses that applicants for jobs and promotions must go through have a political and security nature, preceded by intelligence investigations, with the aim of filtering applicants and excluding those with opposing tendencies, then indoctrinating those selected with a unilateral vision that serves the orientations of the military establishment. According to an Egyptian political analyst, who requested anonymity, the step aims to “brainwash” the participants into focusing on the fact that they are in the service of the regime, and that they must stand alongside it in the trenches. The step is also an attempt to ensure that no religious and educational institutions move against the authority, as happened in the 25 January 2011 Revolution.

Government sources had previously revealed that the goal of the decision was “financial” and “political”, intended to add a source of income and ensure the loyalty of new employees, according to the Mada Masr website. Teachers told Middle East Monitor that linking appointments to military academy courses sends a message to everyone that loyalty to the rule of the generals is essential for employment opportunities.

However, the matter is bigger than this, according to political researcher Hamdi Al-Masry, who recalled the amended Article 200 of the current constitution in the 2019 referendum, which granted the armed forces for the first time the role to “preserve the constitution and democracy, maintain the basic pillars of the state and its civilian nature, and uphold the gains of the people, and the rights and freedoms of individuals.”

According to Al-Masry, more militarisation of the public sphere is expected. After the nationalisation of the media, education and mosques will be completely nationalised as well. This basically means the militarisation of socialisation after the militarisation of decision-making, the strengthening of the dominance and immunity of a specific institution, and the control of pro-military elements over the new elite, which will be characterised by a high level of pragmatism. This in turn means further impoverishment of society, more oppression and more dependency on external bodies.

The reality confirms that Egypt is witnessing a significant increase in the role and influence of the army, as an educational, religious, social, cultural, media and artistic institution, in addition to its political, economic and military role, in exchange for an accelerating the marginalisation of civilian state institutions. Perhaps even more dangerous than this is the expansion of the concept of the “Officers’ Republic”, which essentially refers to the growth of the army’s economic empire, to the spread of military ideology, stereotyping citizens into one mould, and the graduation of new generations who are planned to be in conflict with civilian rights to rule. This would be in exchange for loyalty to the “military’s right” to lead in all aspects of life.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.