Uncritical backing of Sisi has waned considerably, even among his staunchest supporters.
Egypt’s president has fought back against criticism that the military is being distracted from its core duties by its growing involvement in economic activity.
President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said on Monday that the military’s involvement in the economy was a choice, citing a meeting with top military brass in which he asked them to take on the added task of helping him to “rebuild” Egypt.
“There is a ferocious campaign against the state and the armed forces,” Sisi said in his first public comments on the subject.
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“This is your army, the army of your country. Your sons. It is not anyone else’s army.”
Sisi said that the military could deploy across the entire country in six hours if needed.
“No one, thanks be to God, can harm the Egyptian state,” he said, raising his voice. “Let no one think that we will abandon it [Egypt] or allow it to be taken away from us … I am responsible before God … to defend it until the very last moment.”
Earlier this month, the military said it would directly import baby formula to counter shortages.
The move was ridiculed by many on social media and re-energised a long-standing debate over whether the military is devoting too much attention to its economic ventures at the expense of national security.
The military’s economic activities date back to the 1970s, and since then the armed forces have built factories, hotels, bridges and roads. The military also runs gas stations, farms and livestock enterprises.
The military has significantly broadened its economic profile in the three years since the overthrow of president Mohamed Morsi, the country’s first freely elected leader. Today it supervises massive infrastructure projects and runs a retail network that distributes food at discounted prices.
Egypt’s economy has been battered by unrest since the 2011 uprising that toppled long-time autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Inflation and unemployment are in double digits, and domestic and foreign debts are growing as Egypt’s currency tumbles.