Brothers in arms? : military economic entitlements and public quiescence in modern Egypt

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Wood, David Robert

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This paper uses modern Egyptian history to challenge the notion that public quiescence about an unjust situation necessarily stems from causes like apathy or a lack of political consciousness. The Egyptian armed forces have acted as a drain on state resources since the 1952 revolution, squandering public money on corruption and the development of a largely impotent fighting force. The military has also undermined the Egyptian economy with its extensive private sector interests, which benefit from state subsidies and conscript labor. By contrast, the general population has suffered widespread poverty and deprivation during the same period. Yet the Egyptian people have not seriously contested this grossly unfair distribution of economic resources. Indeed, the military consistently attracts very high public approval ratings. I argue that the military elite has promoted general quiescence about the armed forces’ financial privileges through the exercise of “third-dimensional” power (Lukes: 1974; Gaventa: 1980). Specifically, top officers colluded with the regime to convert this inequality into a “non-issue,” such that a critical mass of Egyptians did not form grievances about the situation in the first place. The powerbrokers supplemented these control mechanisms by developing coercive apparatuses capable of eliminating any dissent that did manifest in the community. Historical and textual analysis will explain how the military implemented these mechanisms of control from the 1952 revolution onwards. I conclude that these power structures remain in place today, providing a significant obstacle to any future social transformation that would subject the military’s financial interests to civilian control


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