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Die Welt: Egypt's army is its real economic power

Egyptian Soldiers The Egyptian army controls almost 45 per cent of the country's economy, German newspaper Die Welt claimed.

In a report entitled "The Egyptian army is Egypt's real economic power" the newspaper said following January 25 revolution which ousted President Hosni Mubarak, the military junta led by 75 years old Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi took over power and worked with all of its strength to protect its lucrative economic interests that made the military establishment a business empire and one of the most important factors influencing the country's economy.

The newspaper claimed the Egyptian army owns hundreds of hotels, hospitals, canneries, clubs and bakeries and employs thousands of workers in at least 26 consumer goods factories which include refrigerators, televisions and computers, train carriages and fire truck factories as well as waste incineration plants and sewage plants equipments.

The newspaper quoted the Middle East affairs expert; Robert Springborg who said "the Egyptian army has become more like an empire which employs hundreds of thousands of civilians and reaps billions of dollars in profit. The military establishment has become a company that does not wage foreign war but works to meet the public's consumption demands. The defence minister works as the company's director and instead of thinking about military matters; he is busy all the time managing his business. Investors wishing to invest in the private sector whether in the real estate or tourism projects along the Red Sea for example had to rent the land from the Minister of Defence.

Springborg who is a professor at the US Naval College in California believes the army's business interests motivated it not to suppress the January 25 revolution from the first moment. "After all, the revolution and scenes of bloodshed in the country are very bad for any entrepreneur."

Springborg added that the military junta led by Tantawi worked to suppress any real civilian president from reaching power to secure their secret.

The newspaper said that since the Egyptian army ousted the monarchy in 1952 and all the Egyptian presidents come from the army starting from Muhammad Naguib, Jamal Abdul Nasser, Anwar Sadat and ending with Mohammad Hosni Mubarak.

"The Egyptian army's economic empire flourished in 1979 following the Camp David Peace Accords when the army began investing in everything in the country from the agriculture to construction of roads and bridges, real estate and electronic industries, milk plants and chicken breeding farms, calf and cow farms, vegetable and fruit farms and fish farms," said the newspaper.

In addition to all of these profitable projects, the army invested in the Egyptian tourism industry where the forces' top leaders own and manage major hotels and tourist villages in Sharm El Sheikh; a project which the newspaper said, had started during the era of Field Marshal Abdel-Halim Abu Ghazala, Egypt' defence minister during the late era of President Anwar Sadat and the beginnings of the Mubarak era. Mubarak isolated Abu Ghazaleh in 1989 to exclude all of his rivals; fearing Abu Ghazaleh's growing popularity and to suppress corruption in Abu Ghazaleh's economic empire.

Mubarak appointed Yusuf Sabri Abu Taleb as Egypt's Defence Minister but soon dismissed him in 1991 because Abu Taleb vowed to separate the army from any economic projects that are not related to defence and competes with the private sector. Abu Talib said at the time that he will fight corruption in the military but he was unable to achieve his aspirations because he was soon discharged, perhaps because those intentions.

Abu Taleb was replaced by Mohamed Hussein Tantawi; a man who had refused all attempts to end the army's economic empire. On the contrary; during Tantawi's rule in the last ten years, the army controlled many of the state-owned companies that have been privatised or work in partnership with the new owners.

Without a doubt, the military's economic empire contributed to the social and economic prosperity for many poor Egyptians. Indeed, that empire has achieved prosperity for many leaders including Jamal Abdul Nasser, Anwar Al Sadat, Mubarak and Omar Suleiman who all came from families of moderate means and then became rich.

The Empire provided jobs to thousands of unemployed Egyptians from the 420 thousand soldiers to the hundreds of thousands of civilian workers. It serves as Egypt's largest employer.

The newspaper quoted German economist Springs Borg as saying: "The real change comes when the power is headed by a civilian president who demands the army to disclose its records."

The newspaper also quoted a similar statement by Samer Shehata; a professor at Georgetown University who said: "It is essential for any future Egyptian president to break the army's empire and isolate the generals by all means possible before entering into any confrontation ."

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