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Will Falcon be Egypt’s Wagner?

October 10, 2023 at 11:27 am

Falcon security guard seen at ‎at AUC, Falaki Center in Cairo, Egypt on 27 May 2022 [Falcon Group International – فالكون جروب/Facebook]

Threads are joining in Egypt, towards formulating new roles, which may be suspicious, for a major security company, with ties to the government, security and intelligence departments, amid great fears that dirty and secret tasks will be assigned to it in the coming period.

Questions have arisen about the nature of the tasks of the Falcon Security and Guarding Group, which explicitly announced its participation in the campaign to support and secure a third presidential term for the current president, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.

There are even more questions due to the ambiguity surrounding the company’s activities, working mechanisms, formations, financial accounts, the tasks assigned to it and the nature of those responsible for its management.

Rising role

The security group (which includes seven companies) is not new. It was established in 2006, but its role escalated after the military coup on 3 July 2013, which was carried out by Al-Sisi, who was the minister of defence at the time.

The group played a prominent role in suppressing Egyptian university demonstrations against the coup, and arresting hundreds of students, in addition to its role in securing public facilities, airports, clubs, foreign embassies, prominent officials and political, sporting and art events.

The company is considered the largest in the security field, with contracts totalling over two billion Egyptian pounds (about $65 million), and the most influential, given that a large number of retired army, intelligence and police generals and officers hold senior positions in it. The Chairman of the Board of Directors is former Undersecretary of the Intelligence Service, General Khaled Sharif.

According to an informed source who spoke to Middle East Monitor on condition of anonymity, the company is not listed on the stock exchange, is not subject to any financial or legal oversight and the extent or nature of its activities is not known.

According to the company’s website, Falcon’s services include facility protection, personal protection, rapid support and intervention, security consultations, public event security, industrial security, women’s security, guard dogs, and occupational safety and health training.

Pivotal situations

A more in-depth reading reveals four pivotal situations that are the most prominent in the company’s history. The first is the announcement in August 2014 of the launch of the “Rapid Support and Intervention Sector” under the pretext of confronting security chaos and riots, tasks originally entrusted to the Ministry of Interior. This means that there is a private security apparatus parallel to the police, in addition to granting it a licence allowing it to use weapons, according to Egyptian newspaper Al-Shorouk.

Having the right to deploy rapid intervention forces allows Falcon to deploy armed groups, vehicles and motorcycles at targeted security points, in addition to planting tracking, spying and surveillance devices.

The second pivotal situation relates to providing legal cover for the company, through the issuance of Law 86 of 2015 regarding facilities guarding and money transfer companies, which allowed them to obtain licences for several activities.

In December 2016, the controversial group took a third pivotal step, but this time on an international dimension, by establishing security partnerships with Russian, American and British companies, the most important of which was signing a contract with STC, to become the sole commercial agent of the Russian company in Egypt.

Suspicious deal

However, the fourth pivotal measure is considered the most prominent and influential in the group’s history, which is the sale of the company to Sabri Nakhnoukh, who was previously convicted of serious crimes, and who in May 2018 received a presidential pardon from Al-Sisi from his 28-year prison sentence on charges of bullying and the possession of weapons and drugs.

Egyptian Law number 86 of 2015 regarding companies guarding facilities and transferring funds stipulates that “the heads and members of security companies must not have previously been charged with a felony or misdemeanour and sentence with the deprivation of liberty, or a crime against honour or trust, unless they have been rehabilitated.”

Nakhnoukh has been labelled with many titles, such as Prince of Thugs, President of the Republic of Thugs, and Parallel Minister of the Interior, according to Monte Carlo Doualiya radio, which titled its coverage of the deal as “Sabri Nakhnoukh, President of the Republic of Thugs, has Become the Owner and Director of Falcon Group the biggest security company in Egypt.”

READ: Al-Sisi’s stark warning to Egyptian voters: it’s either me or chaos

Nakhnoukh owned offices to supply thugs, drugs and weapons in the capital, Cairo, and had previously been used to sabotage public facilities and prisons during the 25 January 2011, revolution in order to spread panic across Egyptian streets.

What made the deal more suspicion was the fact that the group, whose holds more than a 60 per cent share of the guarding and security service market in Egypt, was sold for just three million pounds (about $97,000) in addition to assuming the company’s debt of 120 million pounds (about $3.9 million).

Wagner’s Egyptianisation

The deal is becoming very dangerous, with the issuance of controversial statements by Al-Sisi about the possibility of destroying Egypt and spreading chaos in the country. He said a few days ago: “I can give a sheet of Tramadol (a narcotic substance) and 1,000 pounds (about $32) to 100,000 people whose circumstances are difficult and send them out for 10 weeks to create a situation. I can destroy the country with a billion pounds ($32 million).”

The picture becomes complete once these circumstances and statements are analysed in a manner that puts Egypt in front of a new model based on the Egyptianisation and cloning of the Russian Wagner group, which includes thousands of mercenaries and carries out dirty operations in various regions around the world.

Political expert Hamdi Al-Masry considered Nakhnoukh’s assumption of the presidency of the company a qualitative development in its security and political work, raising real concerns in the coming period. After the company’s recruits had been retirees from the army and workers with high security specifications and standards, those who join later will be thugs. They will secure voting centres in the upcoming presidential elections, paving the way for violent incidents against those suspected of voting for any candidate opposed to Al-Sisi.

Al-Masry noted that this task in the elections will be part of a broader right to deploy rapid intervention forces and armed groups at focal points under the pretext of confronting terrorism in coordination with the Ministry of Interior. This means that it will be an alternative to the regular security forces in confronting demonstrations and may commit human rights violations. This exempts the Egyptian ministry from any legal and international responsibility and criticism from abroad.

Al-Masry added that the development of the company’s activities and the nature of the recruitment of its members raises real fears of the emergence of an Egyptian version of the Russian Wagner Group in Egyptian cities, which may draw the attention of the UAE to assign foreign missions to it after the decline in the capacity of the Rapid Support Forces in Sudan to provide mercenaries for such missions, after its conflict with the Sudanese army.

It is worrying that the Emirati arm is actually present behind the scenes, with Alpha Oryx Limited, a subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, acquiring 25 per cent of the shares of Commercial International Bank (CIB), the bank that owns Falcon, in addition to other partners.

Legitimising bullying

Without a doubt, Egypt now faces a very influential company with close ties to the security and military institutions in the country, and it may at some point operate as a parallel security apparatus, or militias that are supported and funded by Gulf parties such as the UAE to implement an external agenda if required.

An Egyptian political analyst, who preferred to remain anonymous, described assigning the company’s presidency to Nakhnoukh as “a means to legitimise thuggery and provide an official entity through which the thugs operate.” The official warned that the step is an indication of the expansion of Falcon’s role to carry out work to support the ruling regime in the future if the situation collapses or the official authorities stand against Al-Sisi.

Observers believe that Nakhnoukh is merely a front for the Egyptian version of Wagner, and that sovereign agencies are the ones who actually manage the group (the number of its members remains unknown), amid unofficial estimates that it has no less than 100,000 members.

The well-known diplomat, Mohamed Morsy, the former Egyptian ambassador to Doha, warned in a Facebook post that “the timing of Falcon’s sale to Nakhnoukh is inappropriate, and raises the idea, concept, and beginnings of forming private militias with different names, forms, and circumstances. Control over them may be lost as well as the tasks for which they were formed.”

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