By Mohamed Selim
On 3 July 2013, as then General, now Field Marshal, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi announced the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi, millions of Egyptians cheered, while others jeered, as they received that expected ruse by Egypt’s most powerful establishment. Nine months after that annunciation, is Egypt better off?
The answer is no. And as it’s palpable in the deteriorating security, economy and the daily agony of millions of Egyptians who are sick and tired of the perpetual power cuts, price surges and swelling hardships. Yet, Egypt’s Mainstream Media (MSM), whether private and/or official, is still pointing fingers at the wrong person(s) without a hint of plausibility. The self-aggrandising media pundits who are endlessly spewing their analyses of the country’s current affairs, find it acceptable to blame the prime ministers and ministers and their minions, but are still shy of asking a tough question of Egypt’s de facto rulers, the military establishment. This shyness cloaked in patriotism doesn’t mitigate the crumbling morale and the languishing living standards of millions of Egyptians. The country needs a healing operation, which won’t be attained and maintained except when the media ask the fact-finding committees, and when needed, tough questions, regardless of whom and with no holds barred, as long as they are respectful and are serving the public’s interest(s).
However, this attempt by media outlets to crush all built taboos will be impossible within the burgeoning culture of intimidation, fear-mongering and demonisation that Egypt’s rejuvenated deep state is staging against whoever opposes the single-narrative that they are regurgitating to the hapless Egyptians through their controlled MSM. Before the 2011 uprising, the Egyptians lived with a number of red lines that can never be superseded through the MSM without dire repercussions, namely, i) the President of the Republic (and his family), ii) the religious coexistential harmony that ought to exist among Egyptians and iii) the Military Establishment’s special place within the state. The above mentioned red lines have been shaken during the past three years, particularly the first two; yet, the latter is still holding all the cards and appears poised to maintain them for the longest period possible. Questioning the actions and intentions of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) in ruling Egypt, whether after former President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, or before and after the banishment of former President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood, will be deemed an insult and utter disrespect to the nation’s heroic soldiers and their only honourable saviors. The MSM are incessantly glorifying the actions of SCAF in the daily political scene and other establishments, particularly the cabinet (which was appointed and blessed by SCAF), which are blamed for all the misdeeds of the executive branch and impending quandaries that the people are living through.
That said, the Egyptian journalists followed by their MSM with its various conduits need to start abolishing the self-imposed censorship and be supported by their Press Syndicate (should it abolish its appeasing role), which must concur on an unequivocal advocacy to investigative journalism that edifies the public and breaks all the taboos that have no place in 2014 within a country that is in dire need for buoying up basic freedoms. The questions should start by scrutinising the role of the Military Establishment in Egypt’s economy. Questions such as, “What is the budget of Egypt’s Military?” and “What are its basic resources, other than the United States’ Military Aid?” are not taboos. Others such as: “What is the percentage dedicated to heavy industries, construction projects (including roads, bridges and housing units), civilian enterprises and other nonmilitary-related ventures, compared to the percentage allocated to purchasing ammunition, military kits and other tools to modernise and maintain the army’s fighting and defence capabilities?” need to be hurriedly addressed. Every minute of delay tarnishes the reputation of the army and deepens the bay of mistrust between the military establishment and the public, who are getting their information from other foreign news sources.
Bloomberg Businessweek, the weekly American magazine published in New York, has in its 17 March issue placed an estimate that the military in Egypt controls 5% to 40% of the country’s GDP in a report dedicated to the mushrooming role of the country’s army in construction, restoration and civil services, published under the title, In Egypt the Army Means (Big) Business. Is that true? Which institution(s) within the Egyptian state is overseeing the amount of money entitled for civilian purposes? Where are the Means and Appropriations Committees of the Egyptian state that oversee and audit those projects? The aforementioned queries are coupled with various ones related to the billions of dollars pouring from rich Gulf States, particularly the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, whose rulers have pledged support to Egypt’s ailing economy directly through the Military Establishment, hence bypassing the other executive institutions, which, according to Major General Taher Abdullah, the Head of the Engineering Authority of the Military Establishment, confirmed the fact that the Gulf states have entrusted the army in managing the benefaction and spending them as it deems fit. Abdullah made these comments in an interview with Reuters, published on 27 March, under the headline, Egypt Army extends Power by taking Charge of Gulf Aid.
His explanation was due to the establishment’s renowned integrity, reliability and cost-efficiency. Yet, Major General Abdullah didn’t mention the democratic virtues of accountability or oversight by the state’s other institutions. What kind of an example is the Military Establishment, which preaches lessons on loyalty and nationalism while shrouding its dealings in concealment and browbeating regarding its undertakings within the civil branch, setting? And where is the indefatigable role of the fourth estate in playing hardball and asking the right, tough and unencumbered questions to the military’s spokesperson, Colonel Ahmed Mohamed Ali, on the authenticity of these aforementioned reports and requesting clarifications on whether the army grants preferential treatments to companies and firms that are headed by former members of its upper brass, inner circle, entrusted cliques and their families? The media’s role is not to comply, nod in agreement and feign asking approved questions, thus playing a cheap role within an orchestrated charade of make-believe pulled by the military establishment’s Department of Moral Affairs to soothe the public and prosecute the ones who do not accept abiding by the rules.
Consequently, and in the absence of an Egyptian parliament since its dismantlement in 2012, I call upon the Egyptian media to jump to the fore and take the lead in questioning the country’s rulers (now and in the future) on all matters of the state in a respectful and professional manner sans sensationalism, hyperbole and disapprobation. Egypt will be saved only from its current opprobrium when a new social contract is woven, where every institution, including the Military and Security Establishments, are overseen by stringent watchdogs, where the media is joined by civil society and the public at large, who know that the development, modernisation, democratic practices and upholding basic rights are a teamwork’s tasks, not the function of one institution that acta as the chaperon of the state. Egypt is a state that is served by an army, not an army that has inherited a state!
Doing so will be essential in informing a weary public, soothing foreign investors, encouraging tourists to visit our magnificent land, and building trust with a tech-savvy new generation who will never again remit an Orwellian repertoire coupled with Kafkaesque machinations to rule a country that has broken down its fear barriers and will never allow another one to be built, regardless of the sacrifices. In the hazy environment in which Egypt is currently living, fetching for information about de facto rulers should derive from within the country with the army’s volition to stop spewing rumours, embrace openness and build trust with all members of the public, the opposition before the supporters! Given Egypt Miligarchy’s culture of secrecy that, if it continues and is condoned, will increase the country’s problems tenfold instead of solving the lingering ones. Secrecy breeds corruption and secrecy with violent clampdown sows the seeds of mayhem! The ball is in the Military Establishment’s court.
Mohamed Selim Khalil is a media scholar with a research emphasis on Political Communication in the Arab World, University of Osnabrück, Germany. Twitter @moselim