Retired generals render election platforms unfeasible

Since the Presidential Elections Commission announced its final list of candidates, we have seen discussions of their platforms in various media outlets. Now the candidates, particularly the more revolutionary ones among them, discuss their platforms as if they are competing in a clean electoral race.

But those so-called revolutionary candidates must either be fools or playing the fool. They have published long platforms replete with romanticized ideas for the development of the country, all while ignoring the fact that the military menaces their rosy dreams, having forcibly seized most of the senior bureaucratic and economic positions in Egypt.

The candidates speak in boring detail about unworkable plans, knowing that they cannot achieve anything of what they promise simply because the military occupies every corner of the state.

None of the presidential hopefuls have so far tackled the issue of demilitarizing the Egyptian state, be it out of fear, ignorance or a desire to continue playing the fool.

I will analyze the platforms of the more revolutionary presidential candidates here, to show how they have failed to address the crucial and pressing issue of demilitarizing the state apparatus. This issue is crucial since the military’s dominance over state affairs makes the implementation of their platforms simply unfeasible.

Abdel Moneim Abouel Fotouh, who ideologically belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood and who is considered by some to be a revolutionary candidate, has written a lengthy election platform full of unnecessary detail and complicated academic jargon, with the word “Sharia” being overused.

Abouel Fotouh has tried to present a comprehensive platform, presenting ideas for the development of every economic sector. For instance, he says he would increase health spending by 15 percent, encourage investment and small-scale projects, and make Egypt one of the world’s top five tourist destinations. Regarding local councils, Abouel Fotouh says governors and city council heads will be elected. He emphasizes the need for accountability and combating corruption. In order to give his platform an up-to-the-minute hue, Abouel Fotouh discusses environmental issues and climate change. Finally, he proposes a massive national project to transform the Suez Canal into an international trade hub.

Well-written, indeed, Abouel Fotouh, but let me tell you that the assistant health minister for financial and administrative affairs is a retired military officer, Major General Ashraf Khairy. Other major generals hold several positions in the ministry. Even the medical equipment you would want to purchase is in the hands of another general, Nader Fouad. If you try to obtain needed information, you will find that the manager of the Information Center is Major General Salah Badr.

If you try to implement your ambitious industrial platform, you will find that Major General Ismail Abdel Moneim Nagdy was appointed in June after the 25 January revolution to the helm of the Industrial Development Authority.

The New Urban Communities Authority, which is responsible for distributing land to new industrial projects, is run by several army officers, four of whom were appointed after the revolution.

If you try to overhaul any of the holding companies, which were originally public sector factories and companies, you will be faced with yet more army generals, such as Magdy Amin, Ahmed Hassanein and Mohamed Hafez, all of whom work at the Food Industries Holding Company.

In your platform, you discussed the cement industry, so let me tell you that Major General Mohsen Mostafa is the chairperson of the National Cement Company, and that the military institution owns major cement factories.

In tourism, the president of Misr Travel is Major General Fouad Sanad, and the Tourism, Hotels and Cinema Holding Company is full of generals, such as Essam Abdel Hady.

When you launch your war against corruption, you will discover that the Administrative Control Authority's head is an army general and that employees at its headquarters and governorate offices are as well.

The Environment Ministry, much to your frustration, is saturated with retired army generals ― 65 to be exact.

It may have come to your attention that the vast majority of governors and city and district council heads are retired army generals. It remains unclear if you are going to expel all of those to have new civilian managers democratically elected.

As for your Suez Canal project, do I need to tell you that the Suez Canal Authority is headed by retired army officer Ahmed Fadel? Also, the canal's companies and ports are rife with army officers.

Is Abouel Fotouh going to sack all of these generals and replace them with more competent and experienced people to implement his platform, which now seems like an unachievable dream in light of the army's grip on so many positions of power? The people and your voters do need a clear answer.

Even though Abouel Fotouh's platform delves into too much detail when discussing different sectors, he seems hesitant and terse when discussing the military institution.

"All of the state's military and security institutions submit to the elected civilian authority," his platform reads, failing to elaborate on how this could be achieved.

Only when a question is posed to him at public rallies does Abouel Fotouh tackle the military's finances. At one such rally in the Cairo neighborhood of Imbaba, a participant asked him what he would do with the military's budget and demanded a precise response. Abouel Fotouh replied: "The military will be dealt with like all other state institutions. Everyone is equal before the law and its budget will be part of the state's. It will not have a privileged position over other state institutions."

Moving to the left, we have presidential hopeful Hamdeen Sabbahi, the Nasserist candidate. Historically, the left has had no problems with military dominance, since Nasser himself was a military officer.

Contrary to Abouel Fotouh's platform, Sabbahi's platform is short, but oddly enough it lacks any mention of the armed forces.

Sabbahi's platform tackles health, development, industry, agriculture and tourism, and suggests a national project to urbanize Sinai. I would also like to reiterate the same concerns I had regarding the implementation of Abouel Fotouh's platform and add that the head of the Sinai Urbanization Authority is Major General Mohamed Nasser, the governor of South Sinai is Major General Khaled Fouda Seddik and the governor of North Sinai is Major General Abdel Wahab Mabrouk.

Likewise, I ask Sabbahi if he is going to sack all those generals to implement his platform.

Sabbahi does not feel comfortable exercising his authority to appoint a defense minister. When it was rumored that he would appoint a new defense minister as a first step upon reaching power, Sabbahi was quick to refute the claims. At a popular rally in Monufiya, Sabbahi said he would "support the army and strengthen it to enable it to carry out its sacred mission."

Khaled Ali, who has the lowest odds of winning and therefore feels the least in need of appeasing the military, is the most courageous. Ali's platform makes no secret of its bias to the poor and marginalized. The platform begins by discussing workers, farmers, fishermen and wage workers, before moving on to the structure of the state, development and health, among other issues.

He wrote his platform in colloquial Arabic to reach out to the youth, which could be viewed both as an advantage and a drawback. Ali presents his radical ideas for restructuring state institutions, including the military establishment. Ali flatly states that the army should relinquish all administrative positions in civilian institutions, be they companies, factories or governorates, and dedicate itself entirely to protecting the state. Ali says "the military institution's encroachment on civilian life should end to establish the civil state of which we all dream."

If we go back to the Islamists, Mohamed Morsy, the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, presents a platform that suffers from the same inadequacies. Like Abouel Fotouh, he mentions the word "army" only once in his Renaissance Project platform, saying he will work to enhance its competence and ability to protect Egypt's interests. He regrettably fails to say what he will do with the generals that permeate the state.

I will not discuss the platforms of candidates known for their love of the military, such as Mohamed Selim al-Awa and Amr Moussa.

And finally, I would like to send the following message to the revolutionary candidates. My dear revolutionary candidates, Islamist or leftist, if you are indeed so naive, then we want to tell you that your platforms are worthless, for we do not need guileless dreamers. Alternatively, if you are choosing to play the fool, and ignore the major obstacle that hampers any change, which is the domination of retired military generals in all sectors, then this is an even worse sin for which the people will soon hold you accountable.

Zeinab Abul-Magd is a historian. She teaches at the American University in Cairo.

Translated from Al-Masry Al-Youm by Dina Zafer.

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