The Independent

Finally, Eƿpt is forced to control its greedy generals


For years, the economy of the Arab world’s most populous nation has been collapsing before our eyes. This is largely due to what many consider to be the corruption and gross mismanagem­ent of president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the military leader who seized power in

Egypt in a 2013 coup and has now led the country for nearly a decade.

The Internatio­nal Monetary Fund (IMF) has come to the rescue with a $3bn 46-month package that has some strings attached. Some of the conditions entail even more pain for average Egyptians, including a reduction in subsidies and a removal of controls on exchange rates that has led to a further collapse of the country’s currency, the pound, which now trades at nearly 30 to the dollar.

But key provisions of the IMF could only benefit Egypt, at the cost of the powerful military that has been ruling over the nation since the 1950s and continues to pilfer the country. In particular, the new reforms are aimed at reducing the state’s footprint in the economy and opening up its books.

“The IMF finally went to the mat in order to bring much greater urgency to Egyptian pronouncem­ents – which are frequent, but have yet to lead to concrete results – on reinvigora­ting the large public and public business sectors, whether by restructur­ing them or selling shares in them to private investors, and on levelling the playing field in order to facilitate private sector-led growth,” wrote scholar Yezid Sayigh of the Carnegie Middle East Centre.

Egypt was forced to turn to the IMF for the fourth time since 2016 after internatio­nal investors pulled out of the country last year. The economy is a shambles. Inflation is running at about 25 per cent.

The new IMF deal finally goes after a key source of Egypt’s economic woes, the aggressive expansion of the military’s economic empire

Timothy E Kaldas, Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy

The Egyptian military’s business interests have long been a black box. Since Sisi seized power in 2014, its role has expanded dramatical­ly. His friends in the armed forces oversee much of the housing and public infrastruc­ture constructi­on, as well as procuremen­t and distributi­on of consumer goods, including food. In some major sectors, such as building and infrastruc­ture, the military controls up to a quarter of all activity.

This state of affairs enriches generals and their hangers-on, who have emerged as the country’s new oligarchy. It also scares off any accountabi­lity for shoddy work or cost overruns. What civil servant or journalist would dare challenge a senior member of Egypt’s armed forces for botching a housing project, or pilfering funds from a power plant renovation?

The military’s economic power has also scared off private investors, who fear they will have to either partner up with the armed forces or be muscled out or worse should they run afoul of some general or his business pursuits.

Then there are the massively expensive and gratuitous projects the Egyptian armed forces have undertaken. They include the ill-conceived $8bn expansion of the Suez Canal and the wasteful building of an entirely new administra­tive capital in the middle of the desert, at an estimated cost of $45bn. Both were conceived by Sisi, received little civilian input and are pursued or even owned in part by the military.

The IMF’s deal at least identifies the root of Egypt’s economic problems. “The new IMF deal finally goes after a key source of Egypt’s economic woes, the aggressive expansion of the military’s economic empire,” says Timothy E Kaldas, a researcher at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. “The deal calls for transparen­cy of military finances and subjecting military companies to the same rules as the private sector.”

Kaldas warns that the deal will only work if the IMF and its major shareholde­rs, including the United States, UK, France and Germany, insist that Cairo complies with the deal. “That means maintainin­g vigilance during each review and refusing to disburse future tranches if the government fails to live up to its

promises, and we see a significan­t change in the scale of the military’s business empire and the rules their companies are subject to,” he says.

Egypt has long sought to bully world powers to meet its demands, with the assumption that it was too big to fail. The thinking is that a collapse of the country would entail such a dramatic security and economic fallout that world powers would bow to its whims. But its recent economic troubles mean it has very little choice but to turn to the IMF to finance its considerab­le debts and tax shortfalls. “The IMF has leverage and seems to finally be willing to use it,” says Kaldas.

The IMF has a chequered history of cramming neoliberal reforms down the throats of beleaguere­d developing countries. But in the case of Egypt, any steps that could reduce or even expose the power of the armed forces can only help.

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 ?? (AP) ?? The IMF wants to reduce the influence of corrupt military leaders before handing the country financia laid
(AP) The IMF wants to reduce the influence of corrupt military leaders before handing the country financia laid
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