Egypt army protects business

Egypt army protects business

CAIRO
Egypt army protects business

Egyptian soldiers guard the entrance of Egypt’s stock exchange in Cairo in this file photo. Army rulers denies that the military is ‘a state within a state,’ responding to criticisms of angling to stay in power after elections. AP photo

Egypt’s ruling army council has issued a warning to the country’s upstart civilian rulers, saying it will not allow non-military personnel to encroach on the armed forces’ extensive business enterprises.

The warning comes as the military prepares to hand power to a civilian leader when presidential elections end in June, and as the dominant Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing, pressures the generals to sack the current council-backed government.

Maj. Gen. Mahmoud Nasr, the deputy defense minister for financial affairs and a member of the ruling military council, defended the military’s economic establishment and warned that the military “will not allow any interference from anyone in the armed forces’ economic projects.” He said the generals had even lent the government money to prop up its failing finances during the turmoil that followed the popular uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak last year.

In the unusually detailed defense of the military’s economic ventures, which include factories and hotels, Nasr said the businesses’ annual revenues were $198 million. Nasr, who made the comments at a panel discussion on March 27, said the military’s enterprises were meant to allow the army to become self-sufficient and complied with financial and tax regulations. He also denied that the military, which dissidents suspect of angling to stay in power even after the planned transfer of power to civilian rule, was “a state within a state.”

Nasr said the businesses also compensate for the small percentage of the budget allotted to the military, adding that the military received only 4.2 percent of the budget rather than its “deserved” 15 percent.

Expanding business ventures

Nasr’s comments appeared aimed at winning public support in the face of unprecedented national scrutiny of the huge military economic sector. The military has enjoyed near-autonomous power in Egypt for the last 60 years, providing all the country’s leaders since the 1952 military coup that brought military officers to office. Over that time, it expanded its business ventures that gained it huge perks and privileges such as large government construction contracts and well-paid government jobs for its retired generals.

In recent years, it built a massive economic empire that is shrouded in secrecy and, according to some estimates, accounts anywhere between 15 and for 40 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product.
The generals have never confirmed any figures.

Leaders of the uprising have demanded civilian oversight of the military budget, and the new Parliament, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, has promised to work toward realizing that demand.

The military, which amended its penal code last year to allow only military courts to investigate charges of corruption against officers, has said it wants the final say over any army-related matters in a future constitution.

Its detente with the Muslim Brotherhood unraveled into a war of statements this month, as the brotherhood wants the military to sack the Cabinet and replace it with an Islamist-led one before a new constitution is in place. The Islamists also want the new constitution to grant further powers to the prime minister.

Compiled from AFP and AP stories by the Daily News staff.

Egypt, army, business