Richer than Mubarak: Junta’s Stranglehold on Egypt’s Economy Imperils Reform

Will Military Allow a Free Egypt If it Ends Their Massive 'Off-Budget' Industries?

With reports putting his personal fortune upwards of $70 billion, it isn’t hard to imagine why aging dictator Hosni Mubarak was so resistant to the notion of wholesale changes in Egypt. After all, it was the status quo that allowed him to steal the world’s single largest personal fortune.

But these same factors could be at work inside the Egyptian military, which itself controls far more of the Egyptian economy and directly owns far more assets than even the ousted tyrant. With the military now directly in control, those same reforms could imperil their own collective fortunes.

Egypt’s “military” is far from just a military of some half a million poorly paid conscripts, you see. When they reached a peace deal with Israel in 1979, the military sought to justify its enormous size by setting about producing weapons of war and its own supplies. As time went on, those tax free and regulation free factories and farms quickly moved into the public sector, and the military is now amongst the region’s largest bottled water producer, grows 20 percent of its food, and manufactures large portions of its appliances. They even manufacture automobiles and shampoo.

Which is where things get messy. No one really knows how big Egypt’s military is, its industrial holdings are all “off-budget” and its profits never show up on the bottom line of anything publicly available. It is quite well documented that the off-budget wealth has funded considerable largesse for the military’s leadership, with palatial estates set aside for high ranking officers.

As this new junta looks to crack down against the protesters and especially union organizers it seems increasingly that the force, though swept into power as an “interim” ruler with a mandate for wholesale reform to Egyptian society, sees its own fabulous wealth imperiled by the prospective freedom of the population. To that end, the protesters being chased off the street may have traded in the world’s richest tyrant for the only group whose wealth and avarice surpass his, the Egyptian military leadership.

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Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is news editor of Antiwar.com.