Neoliberalism, the state and revolution: the case of Egypt

Issue: 155

Philip Marfleet

The Egyptian Revolution that began in January 2011 was the most important breakthrough for the Arab working class in over 50 years.1 It was a blow against capitalism in its neoliberal mode and an inspiration to activists worldwide. The counter-revolution of 2013, led by Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, demonstrated the energies required to interrupt a powerful mass movement. Continuing repression presents intense problems for activists; at the same time they have been affected by a crisis of politics that has had an impact across the left. One response is withdrawal and passivity, even from attempts to understand the counter-revolution, the immense problems faced by the regime and the further prospects for change. This article addresses the crisis of the left in Egypt at a time of repression, and as an example of the problems and possibilities associated with a challenge to capitalism in the era of neoliberalism. It focuses on the role of the state and the efforts of Egypt’s liberal and reformist parties to ally with the armed forces—ostensibly in the interests of the mass movement.

The 25 January Revolution presented a significant challenge to Egyptian capitalism. Within days the offices of its command centre, Hosni Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), were smoking ruins and in April 2011, in order to meet popular demands, the interim military government formed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) dissolved the organisation.2 Workers engaged in collective action on a scale not seen since the 1940s, forcing the state to recognise independent trade unions and to revise Mubarak-era labour laws. Demands for tathir—cleansing or purification—soon removed thousands of managers, officials of state-run unions and workplace security officers and police from their positions. When SCAF attempted to use the army to break strikes, it was forced to retreat, having highlighted the power of organised labour vis-a-vis key institutions of coercion. The movement inflicted serious damage on some of the most important bodies of the state. The Amn al-Markazi (Central Security—the riot police), at the frontline in maintaining repression for over 30 years, was withdrawn to barracks. Weeks later State Security Intelligence (SSI), the key agency within mukhabarat (intelligence) networks, was paralysed after demonstrators invaded its offices and jails across the country. In March 2011 the official newspaper Al-Ahram headlined: “The Fall of the State of State Security”.3 For the first time in 60 years workplaces and public spaces in most cities were free of the close control exercised by successive regimes.

The armed forces remained intact but struggled continuously to assert their authority. In January 2011 soldiers entering Cairo’s Tahrir Square, which was occupied by protestors, had been welcomed with the assertion: “Al-geish wa al-sha’ab eid wahda” (“The army and the people are one hand”). After attacks by troops the popular mood changed and SCAF’s attempts to delay elections during the summer of 2011 produced huge protests. Further attacks on the movement brought demonstrations in which vast crowds joined in slogans against military rule; key figures such as SCAF leader Mohamed Hussein Tantawi were targets for popular anger.4

Demands for radical change continued. A slogan heard at countless marches, rallies and workplace meetings called for: “Aysh, hurriya, adala igtema’eya”—“Bread, freedom, social justice”. It was in this context that Egypt’s first free elections took place, contested by a host of new parties, most formed in the months following the fall of Mubarak. The influence of the mass movement was clear in their policy statements and manifestos. Even the Muslim Brotherhood, at base elitist and authoritarian, adopted the language of the revolution to set out the aims of its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).5 In 2011 a first free general election produced a parliament dominated by the Brotherhood and in 2012 its leader Mohamed Mursi was elected president. Their self-serving policies and attempts to suppress the revolution soon alienated millions. Under Mursi the demands of the movement became more insistent. Shortly before the coup of 2013 Maha Abdelrahman observed:

Egypt today is still teeming with millions of Egyptians who are taking to the streets on a daily basis in an unabashed struggle against the ruling elite’s policies which continue to impoverish and marginalise them. Groups of activists are relentlessly trying to carve spaces for action.6

Revolution “in reverse”

However, political organisations ostensibly formed to meet the interests of the movement had distanced themselves from demands of the movement. To the consternation of many rank and file members, leaders of liberal and reformist parties became less and less visible in public politics. In a revealing comment, a young member of the Destour (Constitution) Party alleged that its leaders were focused on their own ambitions: “There is a group of people controlling the party that believes they will win the majority in parliament and will become ministers”.7 An ambition to participate in government outweighed formal commitments to the mass movement. Leaders of such parties were drawn inexorably towards the armed forces, as the army command prepared an intervention that, they anticipated, would marginalise the Brotherhood and reward them with high office.

Days after the coup el-Sisi announced a government led by liberals and the reformist left. The Destour Party provided the deputy president, a deputy prime minister, the foreign minister and the minister of social solidarity; the Egyptian Social Democratic Party (ESDP) provided the prime minister and a deputy prime minister; the Popular Current Party filled the key position of minister of labour. These “headline” appointments demonstrated the significance for el-Sisi of parties associated with the mass movement. Their role was to provide ­legitimacy from the left for an onslaught on the revolution.

The first target was the Muslim Brotherhood. In July 2013 Mursi was abducted and imprisoned. The following month some 2,000 of his supporters in the Brotherhood were massacred during protests at two sites in Cairo; hundreds of members of the Brotherhood were subsequently sentenced to death and tens of thousands imprisoned. Most political parties and currents that had benefited from freedoms established by the mass movement endorsed this offensive. Organised in a National Salvation Front (NSF) that had been formed in 2012 and combined supporters of Mubarak with new liberal capitalist parties and organisations of the left, they mobilised for pro-army demonstrations, providing el-Sisi with ideological backing. As police and troops attacked the Brotherhood in Rabaa al-Adawiya Square, the Front issued a statement: “The NSF salutes the police and military forces, and bows its head in tribute and respect for the great people, imposing their will of complete victory… Glory to the people, to the great army and to the courageous police”.8

The officer command presented its coup as a “revolutionary” initiative consistent with the aspirations of the masses. Parties of the left endorsed these claims. According to Hamdeen Sabbahi, a radical nationalist and leader of the Popular Current Party, the intervention of the armed forces was not a coup but a “popular revolution”: he insisted that the army and the police were “patriotic state institutions”.9 Meanwhile the official Communist grouping, al-Tagammu’ (the Rally), was among the most fervent supporters of the coup and of the new regime.

With this backing el-Sisi proceeded in a campaign of repression against the revolutionary movement as a whole. Many Egyptians, including key activists of the mass movement in the streets and workplaces, had been hostile to Mursi and had joined mass protests against the Islamists. However, they were not prepared for the coup or for the onslaught that followed as the armed forces and their allies sought to deny freedoms established since the January uprising. El-Sisi announced a curfew, installed checkpoints across the country and ordered that violators should be shot on sight. Within weeks a presidential decree prohibited all collective public action:

Participants in public assemblies or processions or demonstrations are prohibited from violating security or public order or impeding production or calling for this, or impeding the interests of citizens, or harming them or exposing them to danger or affecting their ability to perform their rights and their work, or influencing the course of justice, or public facilities, or blocking roads or public transportation, or ground, sea, or air transportation, or blocking traffic, or assaulting individuals or public or private property or endangering them.10

Activists of youth networks and the left who had played leading roles in the mass movement were soon under arrest for “illegal protesting”, while scores of thousands of people were seized from the streets and workplaces—many disappearing into military prisons. Human Rights Watch commented that the revolution had gone “into reverse”, as institutions of the state led a retributive campaign against the mass movement.11

Pinochet to el-Sisi

The traumatic developments in Egypt followed a pattern seen in other revolutionary upheavals in which parties of the left aligned with forces that then unleashed an assault on the movement itself: the example of Chile in 1973 is particularly relevant. Comparisons between el-Sisi and Augusto Pinochet of Chile are heard widely among activists in Egypt. General Pinochet was appointed as commander-in-chief of the armed forces by Chile’s radical socialist president Salvador Allende, head of a left-wing Popular Unity government, during the upheavals of the early 1970s. Less than a month later Pinochet led a brutal counter-revolution, seizing power at the head of a military junta that retained control until 1981, and ruling as a dictatorial president until 1998.

In Latin America, activists who had witnessed the Chilean coup drew parallels with Egypt. Argentinian journalist Cesar Chelala observed that events were “eerily reminiscent” of those 40 years earlier.12 According to Ariel Dorfman, who had been an advisor on cultural policy to Allende, the Egyptian coup re-ran the scenario of 1973:

[In Egypt] you had a democratically elected government, and a military…overthrowing it, and once again censorship, and once again tortured bodies in jail, and once again lying…

It was very troubling to see that history was horribly repeating itself, that once again a democratic experiment that was so important had been brought to an abrupt end by unelected soldiers.13

A key issue at stake in both countries, and in other revolutionary movements disrupted by military intervention, is the approach adopted by those who identify publicly with the aims of the mass movement towards the institutions of the state. When political parties ostensibly committed to change embrace senior figures in the apparatus of the state, they place the movement in extreme danger. Misunderstanding the nature of the state and its representatives has existential implications for the revolutionary movement and especially its leading activists.

As early as the mid-19th century the founders of the communist movement concluded that the state was embedded in the capitalist order and could not be mobilised in the interests of the mass of people. Attempts to use the state as an agent of change were illusory and dangerous, they argued. These insights guided the leaders of the October Revolution of 1917 in Russia, becoming strategic principles of the international Communist movement. They were later “unlearned”, however, with all the consequences of which founding figures of communism such as Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels had warned. How has this process affected the left? What are the implications in Egypt and more widely for movements that challenge the capitalist order in the 21st century?

“Instrument of the ruling class”

The foundational text of the international communist movement sets out a fundamental problem in relation to the state. In The Communist Manifesto, published in 1848, Marx and Engels observed that the modern state had become an instrument of the capitalist class:

The bourgeoisie has at last, since the establishment of Modern Industry and of the world market, conquered for itself, in the modern representative State, exclusive political sway. The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.14

This insight was confirmed by events taking place in France, where an insurgent workers’ movement met savage repression at the hands of the armed forces. Analysing the revolution of 1848, Marx set out in more detail the role of the state and its constituent bodies. He concluded that revolutions of the past, notably the French Revolution of 1789, had “perfected” the bourgeois state—a set of institutions and practices that served the needs of the capitalist class.15 The state, he suggested, had become an “executive power with its enormous military and bureaucratic organisation…[an] appalling parasitic body”. Although the bureaucracy was now an “instrument of the ruling class”,16 contending parties of the 1848 revolution “regarded possession of this huge state edifice as the principal spoils of the victor”.17 The machinery of state could not be appropriated by an insurgent workers’ movement, for it was part of the class system and was embedded in the regime of oppression. It had to be “broken”, Marx concluded.18

Marx argued that the experiences of the Paris Commune 20 years later provided further evidence that: “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the readymade state machinery and wield it for its own purposes”.19 This proposition was of such importance to the emerging communist movement that when the Communist Manifesto was produced in a new edition in 1872 its authors noted that the original document was “out of date” because it did not emphasise this critical issue.20 In a new preface, they insisted that rather than attempting to appropriate the capitalist state by transferring the bureaucratic military machine “from one hand to another” the revolution must aim “to smash it”.21

When Engels later reflected on the origins and development of the state, he added that the modern state had specific characteristics. It was a “public power”, he said, endowed with special resources to secure the interests of the capitalist class. Such a power existed in every modern state, resting ultimately on bodies organised to mobilise force: “It consists not merely of armed men but also of material adjuncts, prisons, and institutions of coercion of all kinds”.22 These were institutions developed for a specific purpose: they could not be appropriated for the purposes of fundamental change.

As revolutionary events unfolded in Russia 30 years later, there was intense debate on the left about how to advance the interests of the masses in the face of such institutions. For Lenin, drawing extensively on the writings of Marx and Engels, the state was irreconcilably opposed to the interests of the masses. His pamphlet The State and Revolution: The Marxist Theory of the State and the Tasks of the Proletariat in the Revolution, proposed that “the state is an organ of class rule, an organ for the oppression of one class by another”.23 Although it might appear to mediate between contending classes—to stand above them in the interests of society as a whole—it was an instrument of oppression, “an organ of the rule of a definite class which cannot be reconciled with its antipode (the opposing class)”.24 Writing during the most intense phases of the Russian Revolution, Lenin noted the attraction for many liberals and social reformers of the notion of harmony between classes and the idea that the state could mediate conflict and resolve political crises for the general good. This was an illusion, he maintained, for liberation of the oppressed class is impossible “without the destruction of the apparatus of state power”.25 The modern state cannot be free of class antagonisms, Lenin insisted: it cannot be a “people’s state”.26

This approach was shared widely in the Communist movement in the years following the October Revolution. It emphasised not only the dangers of attempting to appropriate the capitalist state but also the importance of workers’ own forms of democratic representation—the means of asserting workers’ power vis-a-vis the ruling class and its instruments of coercion. The Russian Revolution successfully removed the Tsarist state by mobilising workers’ power. The Bolsheviks, rather than attempting to colonise the state or to capture it by means of alliances with senior officials and military men, declared: “All power to the soviets”.

But the rise to influence and then domination of the Soviet Union by the Stalinist bureaucracy and its control of the Communist International, subsequently blurred and then replaced the focus on independent workers’ struggle with an orientation on “progressive” capitalists. Within a decade of the October Revolution, the Comintern had abandoned the project of workers’ power, directing activists worldwide to seek formal alliances said to facilitate “democratic” advance. Institutions of the state were among their principal targets, especially in the Global South where control over the army and state agencies had become a key issue in anti-colonial struggles, and where soldiers and bureaucrats played leading roles in movements for independence and in post-colonial governments. Now Communists routinely subordinated the interests of the working class to those of “progressives” within the state, or those who wished for control over it. Far from “breaking” or “smashing” the state, much of the left was obsessively oriented upon preserving it.

The left in Egypt

Since the late 1920s institutions of the state have exercised a magnetic influence over Communist parties worldwide, also encouraging liberal, social democratic and nationalist currents in their belief—to paraphrase Marx—that the state is the main prize to be seized within the political arena. In the Global South nationalists and Communists have often pursued parallel strategies. In the Middle East, Communist currents played an important role in the anti-colonial movements of the 1930s and 1940s, but increasingly party leaderships subordinated the interests of the working class to those of nationalist leaders, especially within the armed forces.

Here the case of Egypt is of special importance. Egypt’s Communists developed an influence far beyond their numbers, playing a key role in the trade union movement and in mobilisations against the British. By the late 1940s there were widespread expectations of a revolutionary upheaval in which the left would challenge the colonial state and the Egyptian monarchy. The historian Selma Botman observes: “The revolutionary left [the Communists] or the Muslim Brothers could have become the heirs of political power in Egypt. Each was organised, politically conscious and growing in popularity. Yet both groups were unable to capture the moment”.27

Communist (Stalinist) orthodoxy of the period insisted that change would be accomplished in alliance with a “progressive” capitalist class by means of a popular (“people’s”) front. Egypt’s Communists therefore sought an imagined ally in the bourgeois nationalist Wafd Party, long compromised by its relations with the British. The result was paralysis on the left. Joel Gordon comments that among Communists: “Ideology, organisational deficiency, and a mindset that remained reformist precluded serious thoughts of revolution”.28

The Communist movement, observes Botman, “was not set up to assume political power”.29 Communist leaders could not countenance a challenge by the mass movement to the decaying colonial state. Their hopes for change relied increasingly on the army and the Free Officers group led by Gamal Abdel Nasser, the focus of what Gordon calls a “saviour myth” in which Nasser played the role of a progressive with whom Communists could establish the required popular front.30 In 1952 the Free Officers seized power and within weeks began an assault on the workers’ movement. Over the next two years hundreds of communists were imprisoned. Communist leaders were nonetheless transfixed by the idea of a progressive government under nationalist leadership. Despite repeated waves of repression at the hands of president Nasser, they bent all efforts to support his regime. Finally in 1965 they dissolved the Egyptian Communist Party (ECP) in order, they said, to recognise Nasser’s leadership of the entire people. Members of the party and those under their influence were directed to join the Arab Socialist Union (ASU)—a state-run “shell” party that was part of the apparatus of repression. The ECP informed Nasser: “this one party [the ASU] under your leadership is the substitute for our independent organisation”.31 Now Communists were formally allied with the state—the “substitute” for an independent working-class presence. Nasser had constructed a military-bureaucratic ruling class prepared to crush the workers’ movement and the left: this, they said, was to be the vehicle for “revolutionary” change.32

Dissolution of the ECP had serious long-term consequences. It liquidated a political current that had earlier played a central role in working class organisation. It encouraged others, including liberals and radical nationalists, in the belief that the left had no alternative to military rule. And as opposition to Nasser and later to Anwar Sadat’s regime gathered momentum, it opened a space that would soon be occupied by Islamist currents.33

Joel Beinin observes that for several years after the dissolution of the ECP, “the Marxist intelligentsia [the party leadership] all but ceased to concern itself with working class issues and concentrated on integrating itself into the Nasser regime”.34 When the Communists eventually reappeared as an organised presence, they were part of the state-run ASU. The rump of the ECP took up leading positions in the National Progressive Unionist Party (al-Tagammu’), one of the manabir (literally “pulpits”) established under Sadat and allowed to operate within strict limits as platforms within the ASU. For over 30 years Tagammu’ acted as what Maha Abdelrahman calls “the government left”.35 It opposed mass opposition to the regime, including a national uprising in 1977 in protest against IMF-imposed economic measures, insisting: “our main struggle is focused on the formation of the widest front of patriotic and progressive forces”.36 The axis of this front was the state itself, so that when Mubarak followed Sadat as president, he too became a focus of Communist ambitions, with Tagammu’ hoping for a role in government. The party was never rewarded but persisted in backing Mubarak against a growing movement from below. It opposed the mass protests that initiated the revolution of 2011 and played no active role in the movement that followed.

During mass struggles in industry in the 1970s Tagammu’ had recruited thousands of labour activists, independent opponents of the regime and members of underground Communist groups;37 it had also attracted nationalists alienated by Sadat’s rejection of the Nasserist agenda. Beinin notes that by the 1990s secular opposition parties—left, Nasserist and liberal—“[had] lost all efficacy and credibility”.38 Each had little to offer as an alternative to the ruling NDP. Tagammu’, however, had a distinct strategy: support for the regime in the hope of creating space “to manoeuvre on the margin of an authoritarian political structure”.39 Many activists who passed through Tagammu’, including Nasserists and liberals who would later emerge in independent political currents, were deeply affected by this approach. When the Soviet Union and its allied regimes collapsed in the late 1980s, official Communism was no longer able to exercise its old authority. However, Stalinism remained an ideological current that constrained the views of those who had come under its influence. It had a long “half-life”, continuing to suffocate most independent initiatives on the left.

“Political suicide”

The coup of July 2013 was soon followed by sustained state violence against the Muslim Brotherhood. One of the new appointees to el-Sisi’s government, Mohamed ElBaradei of Destour, found the bloodletting unacceptable and resigned in protest against “massive deaths”.40 But his colleagues, without exception, remained in office. The new minister of labour was Kemal Abu-Eita, a Nasserist and close associate of Sabbahi. A year earlier Sabbahi, who was to found the Popular Current, had led a dynamic campaign in the presidential election as, he said, the candidate of the revolution: “I believe that our task has been spelled out in Tahrir Square: bread, freedom, social justice, human dignity. These are the slogans that guide my programme”.41

Sabbahi finished a close third in the election, winning Cairo and every major industrial city—an important marker of the popular mood and a spur to radical activists. In 2013, however, he endorsed el-Sisi’s intervention and Abu-Eita’s role in government. The events of July did not constitute a coup, he said, but a “popular revolution” that would bring forth a democratic state, adding: “The army and police are patriotic state institutions. They are all at war against terrorism”.42

Abu-Eita had long been a key figure in the workers’ movement—a radical activist widely trusted for his personal courage and organisational abilities. As leader of the independent trade union federation EFITU, he had been an author of a joint statement by leading activists, “Demands of the Workers in the Revolution”, which declared for “Revolution, Freedom, Social Justice”.43 However, as a minister in the post-coup cabinet, he aligned with the state and the counter-revolution, declaring: “Workers who were champions of the strike under the previous regime should now become champions of production”.44 While Mursi had been dispatched from the presidential palace to a prison cell, Abu-Eita had moved dramatically from the picket line to the ministerial office—from poacher to gamekeeper.

At the time of his appointment Abu-Eita commented: “This may spell ­political suicide for me”.45 Within six months he had been ejected from his position in government, together with most of those appointed from liberal parties and the left. Field Marshal el-Sisi (promoted by a president who was himself a military appointee) dismissed the entire cabinet, introducing in its place a group of technocrats who could be fully moulded to his purpose. The liberals, social democrats and Nasserists who had earlier been coopted were now tossed aside, having served their purpose in deflecting potential opposition to the coup and providing resources for a new ideological project—promoting the notion that “revolution” could continue under military rule.

The coup was one part of a sophisticated strategy to initiate counter-revolution, involving the armed forces and security services, the Tamarod (Rebel) campaign against Mohamed Mursi, and parties of the NSF.46 Mursi had indeed alienated millions of Egyptians who placed him in office, by failing to meet the aims of the movement. Sameh Naguib of the Revolutionary Socialists observes:

Mursi did protect the old regime, Mursi did protect the leadership of the military, Morsi did carry out the same neoliberal policies of Mubarak. Mursi did not implement a single demand or achieve a single goal of the revolution. Mursi didn’t even carry out any of his own promises, let alone the demands of the revolution.47

A popular movement against Mursi was inevitable, argues Naguib. It was accompanied, however, by a counter-revolutionary mobilisation organised by figures from the old regime and the heads of the intelligence services.48 The NSF, and particularly its radical wing, was integral to this project. In the wake of the 2013 coup it transpired that its leaders had for months been involved in discussions with the military. What had they hoped to achieve? Why had they aligned with the state—and what was the outcome?

“Democratic revolutionary bloc”

Experiences in Chile in 1973 and in Egypt 40 years later differ in several important respects but at the same time there are striking similarities. Soon after el-Sisi seized power in 2013, Naguib observed that Pinochet had launched his assault on revolutionary activists: “to send a message to the Chilean people…‘it’s over, you think you can go out on strike whenever you want? You think you can demand anything you want? No’”.49 El-Sisi’s purpose in perpetrating a massacre of Islamist protestors, Naguib suggested, was “a message to the Egyptian revolutionaries, to the Egyptian people that, ‘This is over. This is the price you’re going to pay if you continue’”. Even el-Sisi’s backers in Egypt noted similarities with the Chilean dictator. Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour, leader of the Wafd Party and a minister in the el-Sisi government, acknowledged that the Egyptian general called to mind “the image of a Pinochet rather than a George Washington…a dictator rather than a reformer”.50

Counter-revolution in Egypt, as in Chile, was associated with an embrace of the armed forces command by parties of the left. Organisations of the liberal left that emerged into the democratic space created by the 2011 uprising shared much with Egypt’s official Communists. The Socialist Popular Alliance Party (Tahaluf) was the most radical of the new parties, combining independent activists with a large group that had split from Tagammu’. At its first public rally in September 2011, slogans included: “The Alliance stems from the factories and the land,” “Down with military rule”, and “We demand social justice”.51 In 2012 Tahaluf joined the NSF and remained within the Front, despite increasing criticism from young members. Like activists within Destour and the Popular Current, they attacked their party leadership for maintaining relations with feloul—“leftovers” or “remnants” of the Mubarak regime—and for failing to support protestors attacked by the forces of the state. The NSF, they said, “represents an affront to the revolution”: “We…refuse to see our party leaders stand side-by-side with remnants of the former regime in the NSF… Members of the former regime have always been our enemies and enemies of our revolution”.52

According to a leading member of Tahaluf, however, the party was committed to the construction of “a democratic revolutionary bloc”.53 The “bloc” of 2013, like the Communist fronts of an earlier era, embraced businessmen, allies of the former regime and those in command of state institutions.

The Popular Current was established in 2012 by Hamdeen Sabbahi, who declared for “freedom, social justice and human dignity”, insisting at a founding rally: “We…will not compromise a single one of [the revolution’s] goals”.54 Large numbers of revolutionary activists joined the party, many soon angered by its leader’s role in establishing the NSF. Khalid El-Sayed, a leading party radical, argued: “Most of the members of the Popular Current rejected the idea of forming a coalition with organisations led by Mubarak-regime figures. It was against what the revolution stood for”.55

Sabbahi’s guiding principles were those of the Nasserist movement. For Nasser the state was synonymous with the nation and the people—and the army, at the core of the state, occupied the position of national leadership. All Egyptians had a responsibility to accept its authority, he argued: those who challenged the officer command damaged national unity, subverting a patriotic project.56 Nasser’s repressive rule alienated many Egyptians; at the same time, he won widespread support for removing the monarchy and the British, and for initiating land reform, nationalising large sections of industry, controlling rents, providing universal free education and introducing welfare measures including subsidies on basic food, medicines and essential household goods. These changes, together with his success in confronting British, French and Israeli aggression during the Suez war of 1956, shaped his reputation as an icon of modern Egyptian nationalism. They also gave military institutions added legitimacy: the armed forces were widely identified with national independence and with economic and social reform. More than 40 years later Sabbahi continued to describe the army as “an authentic patriotic force”.57

Military Incorporated

Leaders of the left anticipated that the army would depose Mursi and arrange new free elections, subsequently standing aside in favour of a civilian government. Their vision of the armed forces was strongly influenced by nostalgia for the Nasser era. Official histories had long glorified Nasser as a patriot and successful military leader. The left went further, depicting him as a socialist, even a “revolutionary”—ideas borrowed from official propaganda of the 1950s and 1960s, and sustained by false accounts of Nasser’s principles and practices. The role of radical nationalists such as Sabbahi and el-Sisi’s minister of labour Abu-Eita was particularly important. According to Sabbahi, Nasser had been “the most dedicated to his nation in our recent history…had he lived in our time he would have talked of democracy, pluralism, civic and political freedoms and rights, multi-party system [sic] and free elections”.58 In 2011 Sabbahi had been hostile to SCAF and to the conduct of the armed forces vis-a-vis the mass movement. By 2013 he was in alliance with el-Sisi, appearing to project onto the army—and on to el-Sisi as leader of the armed forces—his vision of Nasser and of the institutions of an earlier era.

Nasser’s state capitalism had been shaped by circumstances of the post-colonial period. In the 1950s independent governments in the Global South were under intense pressure worldwide from mass movements that insisted on change: in Egypt the Free Officers’ reforms were the minimum they could concede to an expectant people. Manoeuvring between rival superpowers, Nasser obtained finance and expertise for economic development while massively strengthening the institutions of the state, both civil and military. His successors Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak had a different agenda. Sadat’s infitah or “opening” of the mid-1970s was an attempt to impose neoliberal policies, enforcing a retreat by the state as an economic actor in favour of private capital. It was initiated soon after the Pinochet coup, and involved pursuing an approach similar to that undertaken by the Chilean dictator and driven by the “Chicago Boys”, inspired by free-market guru Milton Friedman. Under Mubarak, Egypt’s neoliberal project was advanced until, in the 1990s, the public sector of the Nasser period had been stripped and sold to private capitalists in Egypt and—importantly—to both government and private investors in the Gulf region.59 In a symbolic initiative, Mubarak repealed Nasserist land reforms—the jewel in the crown of the nationalist era. Under Law 96 of 1992 landowners of the colonial era could apply for their estates to be “desequestered” and returned to private ownership: millions of peasants who had benefited from the earlier reforms soon lost access to the land. The independent activist Khaled Ali concluded: “Privatisation has stolen Egypt from its people”.60

By the mid-1990s Egypt was viewed by partisans of neoliberalism worldwide as a model for change in the Global South. Governments in Europe and North America endorsed Mubarak’s agenda; international financial organisations (IFOs) flattered him. Egypt was soon “an IMF poster child”;61 in 2006 the World Bank declared the regime its global “growth champion”. The IFOs demanded more and Mubarak responded willingly, advancing as his NDP party’s principal economic strategist his son Gamal, who was proud to boast that he drew his inspiration from the neoliberal zealot Margaret Thatcher.62 Welfare reforms of the Nasser era were repealed and subsidies on staple foods and fuel reduced or abolished. The cost to the mass of Egyptians was immense, with unemployment, insecurity, landlessness and impoverishment key factors that eventually stimulated the uprising of 2011. The beneficiaries included investors from the Gulf States, who had entered every key sector of the economy. Between 2000 and 2008 they were involved in deals amounting to almost 40 percent of the value of all privatisations in Egypt,63 creating major new players in the regional economy. Qalaa Holdings, established in 2004 as Citadel Holdings to mobilise Gulf investments in Egypt, had within a decade become the largest private equity firm in Africa and among the ten largest in the Global South.64

By the 1990s state authorities in the form of senior military men and bureaucrats had long since ceased to be agents for national economic development. The purpose of government under Mubarak—especially his “dream team” cabinet of 2004, appointed to undertake “privatisation in earnest”65—was to liquidate public assets. It approved numerous corrupt deals in which public resources were sold for speculative purposes through the NDP, now a clearing house for businesspeople organised in nepotistic networks around the ruling family. State institutions were integral to these arrangements. The army, police and intelligence agencies maintained the regime of repression, attacking peasants who opposed the seizure of their land, workers involved in labour disputes and the mushrooming democracy movement. At the same time, senior officers shared the spoils of privatisation, asset-stripping the public sector in deals that often linked them to investors abroad.

The ruling class of the Nasser era had restricted private capital; at the same time it remained dependent on private business in key areas of economic activity. In effect, Nasser had laid the basis for cohabitation of military-bureaucratic and private elements within Egyptian capitalism. Sadat consolidated this arrangement, steadily advancing private interests. When Mubarak accelerated the process he enriched rather than marginalised the officer elite. Robert Springborg notes, “an unwritten rule under Mubarak that mid-ranking officers and generals would get senior positions within privatised companies”.66 When Mubarak was eventually deposed, the armed forces held assets in a vast range of enterprises, from construction to transportation and manufacturing.67 The officer command had become “Military Incorporated”,68 with holdings sometimes shared with major investors from the Gulf and further afield. Yezid Sayigh describes an “officers’ republic”: “Thousands of retired senior officers embedded in government ministries and authorities, local government bodies, and the very sizeable state-owned holding companies and their subsidiaries…have acquired extensive vested interests.69 Like private capitalists “proper”, they were integrated into the networks of regional capital and into the world market.70

Illusions in the state

Although the military sector was shrouded in secrecy, many opposition activists of the Mubarak era were well aware of its economic interests, not least because the labour force in army-controlled enterprises was often drawn from young men conscripted into the armed forces. The political leaders who emerged to national prominence after the fall of Mubarak had more detailed knowledge. Hazem El-Beblawi, who served as deputy prime minister and finance minister under SCAF and later as prime minister under el-Sisi, was an economist who had been chairman and chief executive of Egypt’s Export Development Bank. Ziad Bahaa-Eldin, like Beblawi a founder member of the ESDP, had been chairman of the Egyptian Investment Authority and later head of the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority. Nabil Fahmy, a member of Destour who served as foreign minister under el-Sisi, was a career diplomat with intimate knowledge of the ruling circles of the Mubarak era. Kemal Abu-Eita, labour minister under el-Sisi, had spent a lifetime as a union activist, engaging in many battles with the state authorities. Collectively, the leaderships of liberal and left-wing parties who partnered with the military in 2013, could be in no doubt as to the embedded interests of the armed forces in the structures of Egyptian capitalism and their role in advancing neoliberal change. The military elite were part of an aggressive capitalist class that had long since abandoned the reformist agenda of the Nasser era.

Nor could leaders of the left be unaware of the record of state institutions during periods of mass struggle. For decades armed forces in Middle Eastern states had intervened against movements for change. In Iraq the Baath Party used military networks to launch a murderous assault on the left during the revolution of the early 1960s. In Algeria the armed forces brought to an abrupt end the “North African intifada” of 1992—the most important mass movement since the war of independence 30 years earlier. Most important, in Iran Ayatollah Khomeini mobilised the institutions of the Pahlavi state to assault the mass movement that had brought down the Shah in 1979. On the fall of Iran’s monarch, observes Assef Bayat, the outcome of revolution was uncertain: “neither the proletariat nor the bourgeoisie were able to exert their political hegemony”.71 Clerical networks associated with Khomeini coopted key institutions that had survived from the old regime, notably the officer corps and civil administration, to establish an “Islamic” order. They were assisted by most of the left, including Communists, social democrats, liberal Islamists and guerrilla organisations, which aligned with Khomeini and the religious establishment and were soon targets of a savage counter-revolution enacted by both Islamist militias and institutions of the state.

The case of Chile was most significant, however, not only because of the nature of military intervention in 1973 but also its outcomes, which suggested important parallels with developments in Egypt. Allende’s Popular Unity government—a coalition of Communists, socialists and independent activists—had strong support in the mass movement. Seeking alliances in the command structures of the Chilean state, Allende appointed senior officers to positions in government and even after an attempted military coup—El Tanquetazo (the “Tank Putsch”) of June 1973—he installed Pinochet, another officer who had spent a lifetime in the military as Chile’s commander-in-chief. In effect Popular Unity attempted to share power with high officials of the state. It was these officers, led by Pinochet, who savaged the mass movement, inflicting a defeat with historic consequences for Chile and the region. Pinochet’s regime combined military rule with economic policies taken from the early neoliberal textbooks. When theorists of globalisation later claimed that market-driven change would weaken the power of the state worldwide, Chile already stood as an example of a different development in which the state consolidated its coercive functions, while retreating from economic and social responsibilities in order to transfer public resources to private hands. Egyptian capitalism had developed on similar—almost parallel—lines, with the armed forces part of a voracious ruling class committed to further neoliberal change. What could such a state offer to the Egyptian Revolution?

“Did he just threaten a coup?”

In January 2013 el-Sisi used an address to army cadets to warn of dangers to the state. Continuing conflict, he said, constituted “a real threat to the security of Egypt and the cohesiveness of the Egyptian state”, adding that the army was “a pillar of the state’s foundations”.72 The speech was posted on an armed forces’ Facebook page and seen widely as a public warning that el-Sisi was prepared to execute a coup. In the US, the business journal Investor’s Business Daily suggested, “a coup may be the only way to put the country on track to real freedom”:

There are some things the US government can’t say out loud—such as, “We’d like to see this elected government kicked out by the military”. But even Barack Obama may now be quietly hoping for a reboot, courtesy of the Egyptian army…

Enter Gen. Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, Egypt’s defense minister and head of the army… It doesn’t take much imagination to sense the warning here: either civilian politicians create an effective government or someone else will have to do it for them… Did he just threaten a coup?73

With NSF leaders in talks with el-Sisi and his officials, there could be no doubt that military intervention was high on the agenda. Within months the army had seized power. It was soon clear that el-Sisi would not only impose repression more intense that the worst excesses of the former regime, but would also enact economic policies taken from the agenda of Gamal Mubarak. In 2014 el-Sisi initiated talks with the International Monetary Fund for a major loan, falling into line with its demands for increases in the cost of electricity and fuel. If the Mubaraks had made Egypt a global “champion” for capitalism, el-Sisi could make a new claim for the crown.

His allies among the rich and powerful hesitated, however. El-Sisi wanted full control of Egyptian society. In closing democratic space opened by the revolution he also limited the scope for political expression of important sectors of private capital, notably those most closely integrated into global networks. His intelligence agencies routinely interfered in bourgeois organisations such as the Free Egyptians Party, established in 2011 by billionaire Naguib Sawiris, and in the mainstream nationalist Wafd Party—both were paralysed, noted one report, by “state-inspired leadership struggles and corruption scandals”.74 In the case of the Free Egyptians, state-sponsored oppositionists were alleged (apparently without irony) to have undertaken a “coup” against Sawiris, “hijacking” the organisation because of its leader’s criticisms of the government.75 The Arab Forum for Alternatives identified a familiar pattern—the use of infiltrators to create schisms in political organisations. According to its director Mohamed ElAgaty, under el-Sisi the practice demonstrated a desire for “blind obedience” to the regime, stifling political expression.76

In 2016 the Economist magazine, a leading advocate of neoliberal change, highlighted anxieties in Egypt and abroad that the economy and the political system were in deep crisis. The country was “a powder keg” in which repression and regime incompetence were “stoking the next uprising”, it suggested, adding:

Mr Sisi has proved more repressive than Hosni Mubarak, who was toppled in the Arab Spring; and he is as incompetent as Muhammad Morsi, the elected Islamist president, whom Mr Sisi deposed… Mr Sisi cannot provide lasting stability. Egypt’s political system needs to be reopened”.77

El-Sisi reacted furiously, clearly stung by judgments that could influence the international circles in which he now sought membership.78

Although many activists of the streets had been intimidated into silence, workplace resistance continued, with many local disputes. Most had not generalised, for with state-run unions reinforced by the regime and police and troops mobilised at workplaces, strikes had limited impact. Immediately after the coup and in further waves of struggle in 2014 and 2015, workplace protests had nonetheless increased in number. The Carnegie Foundation noted: “Despite unprecedented repression and media censorship, Sisi has faced a persistent wave of protests. For Egypt, big data may tell us more than the emptiness of a once-occupied [Tahrir] square”.79 The mass movement of 2011 to 2013 had been assaulted and contained, but workers had not been decisively defeated—one significant difference between the case of Chile in 1973 and Egypt in 2013, and a key problem for a regime bent on imposing policies designed to satisfy the demands of the IMF and its creditors in the Gulf states.

The “deep state”

The Tahrir Revolution gave testimony to the power and creative energies of the mass of Egyptians. It also exposed the poverty of politics among liberal and reformist currents willing to sacrifice the movement in the illusion that they could grasp a share in power. In efforts to displace responsibility for their own inadequacies they have highlighted the role of a “deep state”—networks within government and the military said to organise secretly to control policy. In 2012 analyses from liberals and the left identified SCAF with the “deep state”, drawing analogies with the Turkish military. For example, the journalist Issandr El Amrani reported “Sightings of the Egyptian Deep State” in the form of efforts by SCAF to ensure “behind-the-scenes dominance for the military”.80 The armed forces did not stand “behind the scenes”, however. They were part of an Egyptian ruling class that shared power with private capital and had its own interest in suppressing the revolution. For at least three decades the military command had been a party to neoliberal change—a participant in the process by which resources held by public authorities were transferred to private hands. The social reforms of the Nasser era had long since become memories. The armed forces undertook the traditional functions of coercion while sharing the spoils of privatisation and integrating more and more fully into international capital networks.

In June 2012 Hania Sholkamy of the Social Research Center at the American University in Cairo warned of the dangers posed by institutions of the state. She observed:

The deep state is comprised of the security and administrative apparatuses and the interests and values that they represent and support that had begun to consistently endanger the future of a new Egypt… The new political elites of Egypt, whether those installed in parliament or others adored by the media and respected by the public, have been naively complacent about this deep state.81

Revolution could remove a fragment of the edifice of this state, she argued, “but cannot do away with the whole structure”.82 The means to address the problem was to engage the state. Sholkamy made an appeal:

I hope that this time the lessons of the past have been learnt and that politicians and protestors engage with and try to make peace with the Egyptian state so as to rid the state of its demons and rid the country of the elements that seek to keep it in turmoil and in despair (emphasis added).83

If the “deep state” was comprised of the security and administrative apparatuses, as Sholkamy suggested, this conclusion was perverse and dangerous. History provided ample evidence that a revolutionary movement could not expect to purge the state, expelling its “demons” in order that it might serve societal interests. The institutions of coercion existed to maintain class rule: attempts to “make peace” with the state exposed the movement and opened the way to counter-revolution. The state could not be stripped of its dysfunctional elements in the mode of tathir. Although the revolutionary movement could remove individuals or groups associated with the old regime, the state as a set of institutions was constitutive of class society: it could not be cleansed or purified and made to serve the interests of the masses.

A year later the ESDP, with which Sholkamy was affiliated, provided leading figures for the el-Sisi government. They appeared to learn little from their experiences. In 2017, Bahaa-Eldin—a founder of the ESDP and deputy prime minister under el-Sisi—lamented the failure of the state to pursue just social policies:

[Countries] advance and grow when they’re able to manage competing class and social interests in a balanced, democratic way—when local councils, parliament, the media, NGOs, labor unions and business associations are strong, independent and truly representative of their members’ interests, and when channels are open for continuous, collective, social bargaining.84

The government he joined in 2013 had suspended the constitution, dissolved parliament and launched a violent attack on independent media, NGOs and trade unions, promoting the interests of business and of international capital. It did not manage competing class interests, as Bahaa-Eldin recommended, in a “balanced, democratic way”, for the armed forces were focused on the destruction of the movement from below.

The ESDP, like Destour and other liberal, reformist and radical nationalist currents, has since been in deep crisis. Parties of the left have been marginalised in parliament after el-Sisi rigged the electoral system by reinstating a system of voting lists used under Mubarak. They have also been wracked by disputes—less the work of the mukhabarat than an outcome of internal turmoil and most importantly the failure of leading ideologues to assert independence from the armed forces and their continuing orientation on the state. Each of the parties has been affected by mass resignations. In 2017 a former member of Destour who had joined the party as a student activist said: “What’s happening in the party is happening everywhere else… There are no inspiring ideas or projects, so it becomes normal to see divisions, conflicts and resignations. The crisis of the Destour Party is the crisis of the revolution and the youth”.85

Learning from Egypt

Lessons from revolutionary crises of the past must be central to debates about social justice in the 21st century. In Egypt the “political suicide” of Kemal Abu-Eita can be seen as an act of auto-destruction undertaken by liberals, reformists and Communists alike, with only a fraction of the left dissenting.86 Consistent with the conduct of the left under the regimes of Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak, it reflects a chronic incapacity to learn from Egyptian history or from the crises of the left worldwide. During 2013 the leaders of Egypt’s opposition parties spent months in clandestine meetings with the military and security agencies: as Gilbert Achcar observes, in effect “the Egyptian progressives asked the army to remove the president [Mursi]”, presenting the military command with an opportunity to seize power for itself.87 They abandoned an active and highly-organised working class movement which had every prospect of advancing workplace organisation and its prospects as a class for itself.

An orientation on the state substituted for independent political action: having exhausted their own limited agendas for change, liberals and the left sought a “saviour” in much the same way that the Communists of the 1950s had turned to Nasser and the Free Officers. Pursuing accommodation with the state, they discovered that the political space in which they had grown, created by the movement from below, had been closed. Rather than a new Nasser they were rewarded with el-Sisi and a military regime focused on market economics, austerity and further self-enrichment.

To what extent is it possible to generalise about neoliberalism, the state and revolution, based on recent experiences in Egypt? The neoliberal agenda has differing impacts worldwide. In the Global South its effects vary according to the nature of colonial rule and of the post-colonial state, the interests of global capital in the local context, and the willingness of governments to bend to the demands of corporate capital and the international financial agencies. Where the independent state once acted as an agency for national economic development, it is most likely to be viewed nostalgically as a means of promoting societal advance. Decades of neoliberal change have had their impact on such states, where key institutions have been devoted increasingly to functions of repression. Much of the left nonetheless maintains an orientation upon the state as an imagined partner in facilitating change. This vision of the state at the centre of a “progressive” alliance was always false. Today it is increasingly dangerous, with institutions of coercion imbricated with private capital and prepared, as in the case of Egypt, to attack movements for change with even greater vigour than nationalist regimes such as that of Nasser.

Four years after the coup, Egypt remains highly volatile. With scores of millions of people under unprecedented pressure, there is every likelihood of further mass struggles. Socialist organisation independent of the state, and without illusions in a reformist “peace” with capitalism, will play a crucial role—with implications for revolutionary activists worldwide.

Philip Marfleet is Emeritus Professor in the School of Social Sciences at the University of East London and author of Egypt: Contested Revolution (Pluto Press, 2016).


1 Thanks to Alex Callinicos, Anne Alexander and John Rose for their comments on this article in draft. Thanks, in particular, to Egyptian readers who must remain anonymous.

2 SCAF took power in February 2011 and remained the formal ruling authority until the formation of a government by Mohamed Mursi in June 2012.

3 Al-Ahram quoted in Ashour, 2011.

4 Military police were involved in assaults in Cairo at Maspero in October 2011, the Mohamed Mahmoud street battles of November 2011 and the “blue bra” assaults on women protestors in Tahrir Square in December 2011. Demonstrations called to mark the first anniversary of the revolution on 25 January 2012 raised the slogan: “Down with military rule”—Marfleet, 2016, p128.

5 Its manifesto for the 2011 parliamentary elections declared: “The absence of social justice was one of the most important causes of the January 25 revolution and achieving it was one of its most important goals. Thus our election program regards achieving social justice [sic] and ensuring that distribution of revenues from economic activity achieves justice, equality and equal opportunities, some of the most important obligations of the State”—Muslim Brotherhood, 2011.

6 Abdelrahman, 2013.

7 El Gundy, 2013.

8 National Salvation Front, 2013.

9 Ahram Online, 2013a.

10 Human Rights Watch, 2013.

11 Human Rights Watch, 2013.

12 Cesar Chelala in Daily News Egypt—an article that seemed to have escaped the attention of el-Sisi’s new censors—Chelala, 2013.

13 Chipman, 2014.

14 Marx and Engels, 1959, pp110-111.

15 Marx and Engels, 1959, p477.

16 Marx and Engels, 1959, p477.

17 Marx and Engels, 1959, p477.

18 Marx and Engels, 1959, p477.

19 Marx and Engels, 1959, p22.

20 Marx and Engels, 1959, p22.

21 Marx and Engels, 1959, p22.

22 Engels, 1968, p577.

23 Lenin, 1971, p386.

24 Lenin, 1972, p387.

25 Lenin, 1972, p387.

26 Quoting extensively from Marx’s writings on 19th century revolutions, Lenin puts special emphasis on Marx’s insistence that a “real” revolution cannot succeed by appropriating institutions of the state. He notes Marx’s comment on the difference between the revolutionary upheavals of 1848 and 1871: “If you look up the last chapter of my Eighteenth Brumaire, you will find that I declare that the next attempt of the French Revolution will be no longer, as before, to transfer the bureaucratic-military machine from one hand to another, but to smash it…and this is the precondition for every real people’s revolution on the Continent. And this is what our heroic Party comrades in Paris are attempting”—Neue Zeit, Vol.XX, 1, 1901-2, p709, quoted in Lenin, 1972, p384.

27 Botman, 1988, p115.

28 Gordon, 1992, p32.

29 Botman, 1988, p115.

30 Gordon, 1992, p38.

31 Telegram sent to Nasser by leaders of the Egyptian Communist Party in March 1965: “The most beautiful thing we present to you on this historic occasion is the information that the representatives of the Egyptian Communist Party Haditu in their meeting held today decided to put an end to their independent organisation because of their belief in your call for the unity of all the socialist forces in one revolutionary political organisation, and that this one party under your leadership is the substitute for our independent organisation”—quoted from the original by Ismael and El-Sa’id, 1990, p124.

32 Anouar Abdel-Malek, an ex-Communist who retained hopes for change, attacked the regime’s “quasi-socialist schemes and formulas”, which he said were used to obscure the growth of an “enormous bureaucratic and security apparatus with all its privileges”—Abdel-Malek, 1968, p367.

33 See Marfleet 2016, chapters 5 and 6.

34 Beinin, 1994, p256.

35 Abdelrahman, 2014, p116.

36 El-Hamalawy, 2009, p8.

37 In the early 1970s small groups of Communists reformed in clandestine organisations oriented on the growing workers’ movement. Most prominent were the 8 January group and the Communist Workers Party—see Marfleet, 2016, chapter 6.

38 Beinin, 2009, p25.

39 Beinin, 2009, p24.

40 Fleishman, 2013.

41 Eleiba, 2012.

42 Ahram Online, 2013a.

43 The declaration concluded:If this revolution does not lead to the fair distribution of wealth it is not worth anything. Freedoms are not complete without social freedoms”—See Abu-Eita and others, 2011.

44 Beinin, 2013.

45 Charbel, 2013.

46 For an assessment of Tamarod see Marfleet, 2016, chapter 9.

47 Naguib, 2016.

48 Asma Alsharif and Yasmine Saleh make a reasoned case that the Interior Ministry played the key role in planning intervention against the Brotherhood—Alsharif and Saleh, 2013.

49 Magdy, Bechler and Naguib, 2013.

50 Browning, 2013.

51 Ibrahim, 2011.

52 Ali, 2013.

53 Ahram Online, 2013b.

54 El Sharnoubi, 2012.

55 Rashwan, 2013.

56 See Nasser’s Philosophy of the Revolution—Abdel-Nasser, 1955.

57 Achcar, 2016, pp86 and 100.

58 Achcar, 2016, p100.

59 Hanieh, 2013, p138.

60 Muhammadeen, 2015.

61 Mabrouk and El-Bakry, 2008.

62 Adès and Drouhaud, 2009.

63 Hanieh, 2013, p138.

64 Go to Qalaa linked some of Egypt’s biggest private capitalists with Saudi business groups, a sovereign wealth fund based in the United Arab Emirates and the Qatari royal family—Hanieh, 2013, p141.

65 Cook, 2012, p176.

66 Marroushi, 2011.

67 The army’s portfolio included holdings in arms production, construction, shipbuilding, oil and gas, railway engineering, IT, docks and container services, finance and real estate, steel, cement, automobiles, home appliances and foodstuffs. In addition, it owned a large number of gas stations, hotels, wedding halls, supermarkets, parking lots, domestic cleaning services, and transportation and shipping companies—Marfleet, 2016, p151.

68 Marroushi, 2011.

69 Sayigh, 2015, p1.

70 The armed forces were key players in regional initiatives. When they partnered with the Kharafi engineering group of Kuwait, a former Egyptian minister hailed the deal as a “model of cooperation” between the state and the private sector—Marshall and Stacher, 2012.

71 Bayat, 1987, p134.

72 Knell, 2013.

73 Investor’s Business Daily, 2013.

74 Dunne and Hamzawy, 2017.

75 Afify, 2017.

76 Afify, 2017.

77 Economist, 2016.

78 According to el-Sisi’s spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid: “It’s indeed deplorable, and even disgraceful, that such a professional magazine resorts to using subjective, insulting and politically motivated terms to characterise the economic policies of a country, attributing it to the sole person of the head of state, let alone the poor analytical structure and superficial reading of the Egyptian economy and the nature of the challenges it is facing”—Abu Zeid, 2016.

79 Holmes and Baoumi, 2016.

80 El Amrani, 2012.

81 Sholkamy, 2012.

82 Sholkamy, 2012.

83 Sholkamy, 2012.

84 Bahaa-Eldin, 2017.

85 Shams El Din, 2017.

86 In July 2013 the Revolutionary Socialists and the 6 April Movement were the only organised currents on the left publicly to reject calls from el-Sisi to mobilise against the Muslim Brotherhood and rally in favour of the armed forces.

87 Achcar, 2016, p104; emphasis in original.


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