Inside Story

Egypt: Another era of military rule?

We ask what lengths the country's army chief will go to to stay in power, and if this will include silencing the media.

Last Modified: 14 Oct 2013 13:14
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A leaked video appears to show Egypt's military generals deciding how to control the country's media.

All we have been hearing since the overthrow of Morsi is that Egypt is on the path to democracy .... Well, controlling the media is not democratic …. The problem is that the army is able to get away with this because a large part of [the] Egyptian public is cheering on the crackdown on [the] media ....

Sharif Nashashibi, a Middle East political analyst

The footage was released by activists, and shows General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt's army chief, addressing senior officers in the months before President Mohamed Morsi was ousted.

The recording starts with an officer urging el-Sisi to find a way of frightening journalists into not criticising the army. "We must re-establish red lines for the media. We need to find a new way of neutralising them; the media in Egypt is controlled by 20 or 25 people. We should engage with these people directly and individually - either terrorise them or win them over," the officer is heard saying.

For his part, el-Sisi is heard saying: "I know how to win them over, but tell me how you suggest I terrorise them? ... It takes a long time before you are able to affect and control the media. We are working on this."

In another leaked broadcast, el-Sisi is heard lobbying journalists and intellectuals, arguing that he should be granted immunity from prosecution should he fail to become president: "You together with the educated elite are supposed to lead a campaign calling for an article included in the constitution granting immunity to General Sisi by virtue of his office as a defence minister allowing him to re-assume his duties in case he is not elected as a president."

Yasser Rezq, the editor-in-chief of Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper, has described the recording as a fabrication and accused the Muslim Brotherhood of being behind it.

The influence of the Egyptian army can be traced back to the start of the modern state, when a coup led by the so-called Free Officers overthrew the monarchy in 1952. Since then, every Egyptian president, including Morsi and Hosni Mubarak, his predecessor, has had a military background.

When Egyptians led their revolution against Mubarak in early 2011, the army gave assurances that it was on the side of the protesters, with the phrase "'the army and the people are one hand" commonly heard.

We will never see the military creating [a] democratic process. What we have seen in Egypt is that all dictators came from the army. They spoilt a normal political democratic life in Egypt.

Ahmad Sharkawi, the founder of Journalists Against the Coup

But after the uprising, the army came under mounting pressure during the 18 months that it led Egypt's transition.

Once power was transferred to a civilian government, the army made sure that its privileges and assets were protected by the constitution. Those assets include everything from tourist resorts to factories that produce kitchen appliances. And while estimates vary widely, the army's business empire is said to account for anywhere between five and 40 percent of the country's economy.

Once a minister of defence in Morsi's government, el-Sisi played a leading role in the July 2013 military coup against the Muslim Brotherhood-backed president. He is now widely considered to be the man who really runs Egypt.

With the country in turmoil, we examine the significance of the leaked footage and ask what lengths el-Sisi will go to to stay in power. What is the role of Egypt's military and what does it mean for the country's democratic process?

Inside Story, with presenter Veronica Pedrosa, is joined by guests: Sharif Nashashibi, a Middle East political analyst; Ahmad Sharkawi, the founder of Journalists Against the Coup; and Omar Ashour, a senior lecturer in security studies at the University of Exeter.

"During President Morsi's rule, they [the army generals] actually didn't have a bad deal. The immunity deal was there. They won't be tried on corruption or repression charges. It was settled to a large degree .... The military economic empire is a black hole really because nothing goes to the treasury and nothing gets taxed .... They confiscate land for a military training centre and then you find a tourist resort afterwards .... It was more or less a bribe to keep them away from politics ... but then they apparently wanted more."

Omar Ashour, a senior lecturer in security studies


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