Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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The Mirage of Egyptian Stability

by Elliott Abrams
March 17, 2014


The usual argument for supporting the new military regime in Egypt is the same as the argument that was used for supporting the Mubarak regime (right up until it fell): Egypt needs stability. Secretary of State Clinton call Egypt “stable” two weeks before Mubarak was overthrown.

But like the old military regime the new one won’t be stable either, and today’s Washington Post explains one reason why in an article entitled “Egypt’s military expands it’s control of the country’s economy.” Under Mubarak the generals had control of a large part of the economy. Here’s the Post:

Now, experts say, the Egyptian economy is increasingly shaped by the opaque desires of the ruling generals. And the military’s business activities appear to be expanding — from the manufacture of basic items such as bottled water and furniture into larger infrastructure, energy and technology projects, analysts say.

“We’re dealing with a brand-new economy that’s now run by ‘Military Inc.,’ ” said Joshua Stacher, an Egypt expert at Kent State University who has studied the military economy.

Several military regimes have actually followed policies that brought prosperity: Chile under Pinochet and the generals in South Korea are examples. But in those cases the military did not control parts of the economy and followed free-market policies. Egypt is very different: less of a commitment to the market, and huge segments of the economy that will be off limits to reform. This suggests that Egypt’s economy will not take off and will not provide the prosperity that Egyptians seek–and perhaps now expect.

So the most likely prospect is a military regime that crushes dissent, insufficient economic growth, leading to more dissent, leading to more repression. That is not, to say the least, a formula for stability.



Post a Comment 11 Comments

  • Posted by Sheila Novitz

    It is difficult – actually impossible – for me, an ordinary 71 year-old, to understand how the adjective “stable” could ever apply to an Arab country; how anyone could even think it applies. All my life, and even before my life, Arabs have been haters and killers and far, far more argumentative even than we Jewish people – which of course always starts their hatreds and murders. Simple quarrels start small wars which become giant wars. As soon as the Arab “Spring” began, I knew it could only lead to horror, violence and murder. Surely I couldn’t have been the only ordinary Jewish person to know this? Why are we even vaguely surprised that the military might make a mess of their “brand-new economy”? They need education in order to find success, but will not ever accept that they need education and common sense, not violent emotions. One wouldn’t care if they were damaging only themselves (we are so, so, tired of them), but they always end up harming other countries, other peoples. And the fear remains that the country they will first harm will be Israel.

  • Posted by Andrew

    I thought Sheila Novitz’s comments were very wise and very articulate.

  • Posted by ah

    I think Sheila Novitz’s comments are racist and idiotic. Someone who thinks it is still acceptable in the modern world to group 300+ million Arabs into the category of “haters and killers and far more argumentative…” who will never accept “that they need education and common sense, not violent emotions,” is an embarrassment to all intelligent and well-thought out Jews who are able to understand that just like any other people or ethnic group in the world, there are a range of opinions, views, and positions within any group of people.

    Now, back to the topic at hand, I agree, the Egyptian military’s grasp and ownership of a significant chunk of the Egyptian economy is massively problematic and is absolutely one of the main reasons they were not uprooted at all during the Arab Spring.

  • Posted by EMT

    We cannot resolve a problem without first looking for its cause. We know the history of Egypt by looking to the past, which is a long story, but if we are starting with King Farouk, who was put in power by the British who at that time were militarily ruling the country the way they wanted, we can see that the king was removed by army generals Nagib and Nasser. Instead of building a strong Egyptian economy, they focused their attention on Israel, which had neither attacked nor threatened Egypt, using a religious pretext, in order to build up their military potential and blind the population.

    Fortunately, Sadat was wiser and recognized that his country had nothing to gain from a war, which would only increase Egypt’s debt to the Soviets. He opted for peace and stability, but unfortunately he was killed by the Muslim Brotherhood and later General Hosni Mubarak took over and followed in the footsteps of Sadat, keeping peace with Israel and the entire Middle East for thirty years.

    Alas Obama, who just got elected, but had no economic experience, thought he would bring the Arab World closer with what he believed was a good knowledge of the Muslim World. His Cairo Speech is a good indication for his mindset. He has encouraged the Arab Spring without any basis. He hastily pushed Mubarak away, believing that he would succeed in his philosophy. In fact, being that Obama did not plan for any alternative for Mubarak, this brought the worst results, empowering the Muslim Brotherhood, which is not endorsed by the intellectual elite and the entrepreneurial segment of the Egyptian population. The Muslim Brotherhood only focused on secretly training terrorists in the Sinai Peninsula and politically reinforcing his party and the Hamas. This is the reason why the Egyptian Army stepped in and removed Morsi.

    In order to build a country’s solid economy, that country must have some stability, and even so, it takes practical knowledge and years to achieve. From his side, Obama was not able to support an economic rebound in Egypt, being that he was struggling with the US economy.

  • Posted by yoo hoo

    If anything we have learned from Iranian and Russian support of Assad, the Russian invasions of Georgia and its take over of the Crimea; if a regime wants to be ruthless in its use of power there is no country or groups of countries that are likely to oppose them effectively. Sanctions? The fact remains most Egyptians realize the Muslim Brotherhood Islamic Revolutionary state would probably have been more brutal than Mubarak. But given the propensity to under estimate Assad’s resilience it would seem that facing Al-Qaeda and other Radical Islamic elements, for some reason the Western media is fed a bunch of hokum about how military governments are doomed vestiges of the 20th Century and Al-Qaeda has the upper hand.
    The Russians are more likely to bail out the Egyptian military already having gained some in roads with a port and weapons sales if the Egyptians campaign against Al-Qaeda is stalled because Obama has withheld Apaches and other military deliveries to propel the MB back into the Egyptian political mainstream a clearly anti-democratic and parliamentary majoritarian act it may totally back fire on the myth makers in media writing perspective from the Oval Office. This seems to be a harmless gambit by those who still want desperately to believe diplomacy is still and always more persuasive than military action in any situation The morality that creates is one in which any military act by an anti-war faction has no intent to to make those actions a “good”. It is simply a paradoxical event that no good can come put of; like Libya the last bally-hoo of NATO.

  • Posted by al neuman

    Guess you mean “Egypt’s military expands “its” control…

    Doubt the article referenced made this embarrassing grammatic error in its headline.

  • Posted by ah

    EMT – I’m not going to argue with your statements, for you, they are relatively well thought out, albeit a bit simplistic.

    I will however point out again that Sadat was not assassinated by a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. The assassin had left the Brotherhood years before because he deemed it too moderate.

  • Posted by emile Tubiana

    To ah ; From wikipedia

    The attackers included four enlisted men, an army major and a lieutenant. The major and two enlisted men were killed in the swarm around the reviewing stand, once other members of the military realized what was taking place. The rest were arrested. The attackers would eventually come to be identified as Islamist nationalists associated with the Muslim Brotherhood under the name of Islamic Jihad.

    The group was subsequently found to have hatched the assassination plot with Al Gamaa al-Islamiyya, a Brotherhood offshoot that would , in the mid-1990s, develop ties with al-Qaeda and be chiefly responsible for the 1997 terrorist attack in Luxor on Nov. 17, 1997, when six men dressed in black attacked tourists visiting the famous site in Upper Egypt.

  • Posted by ah

    Sorry Emile, use a reputable source next time.

    I’m also not sure if you are making up your source or what, the “Assassination of Anwar Sadat” page does not even mention the Muslim Brotherhood, as it is well known that the assassins were NOT Muslim Brotherhood.

  • Posted by EMT

    To Sheila Novitz, I don’t like to contradict any colleague but in this case I like to stay fair and correct.
    When Egypt was under Mubarak, there was calm in the entire Middle East for thirty years. We Americans, with our so-called democracy, are not really democratic. We are the ones, under the Obama administration who instigated the entire Arab spring without regard for their culture which is not prepared for our system. They had their own system for years. But we want to convert them to our way of life, instead of helping them slowly, slowly advance. You mentioned Israel, but you forgot that the Israelis had peace with Mubarak. We should not forget that for Europe and the United States it took centuries to build a democracy. Before that there were only wars and massacres and the Jews were the victims.

  • Posted by ah

    EMT – For once, I think I almost agree with you. It’s a historic moment.

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