Mapping the ‘Civilian’ Generals of Egypt
A new crowd-sourced map of Egypt brimming with military berets reflects the geographical distribution of generals holding top posts in a variety of public sector fields.
Upon clicking on the beret-clad caricatures, a box pops up revealing the name, rank, current civilian post and sometimes a picture too.
The aim is to expose the militarization of Egypt that runs deeper than the control of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has ruled the country since February 2011.
“To fix a problem, we need to see it first, know it and understand it,” reads the introduction of the Military Rule Map.
The tradition of appointing generals in different fields during their tenure or after the end of their service with the forces is generally considered a customary retirement plan.
Officers often combine monthly salaries that can reach up to 1 million Egyptian Pounds with pensions, as part of a reward system that has gradually focused on the upper ranks at the expense of middle ranking and junior officers, according to Yezid Sayigh, a senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Center who focuses on the political future of Arab armies.
The trend started after the 1952 coup, was slightly reversed under late President Anwar El-Sadat, but accelerated towards the end of Hosni Mubarak’s rule in a bid to appease the generals as he groomed his son, a civilian, for power, according to Zeinab Abul-Magd, a professor of Middle East history at Oberlin College who writes extensively about military affairs,
After 1991, the year current Minister of Defense Hussein Tantawi assumed the post, “senior officers were incorporated into [ousted president Hosni] Mubarak’s crony system through the promise of “a loyalty allowance” they would receive upon retirement in return for abstention from political engagement – and acceptance of relatively poor wages – during their years of service,” Sayigh explained in a paper published by the Carnegie Center.
After Mubarak stepped down, delegating powers to SCAF, “officers appointed themselves to positions here and there … eventually seizing most positions at economic and governmental institutions,” Abul-Magd wrote.
“They use obsolete management techniques, which frustrate their employees,” she added.
Over 450 posts are listed on the Military Rule Map, spanning the entire country and a wide assortment of fields – from governors, heads of municipal councils and other administrative posts to more specialized fields such as telecom, sewage, media, finance and environment.
The number of clickable berets is increasing with users’ contributions. The team of volunteers behind the map could see patterns of whistle blowers in certain fields posting successive information about the generals in their respective companies.
The website, which was launched late June, occasionally posts lists that coincide with public debates and events. At the start of the ongoing water cuts problem, a list was circulated on social media showing the generals controlling the top posts at water companies and sewage facilities.
For those following Egypt’s performance at the Olympics and the counterfeit kits fiasco, checking the map will reveal three generals on the board of the Egyptian Olympic Committee, including its chairman.
Pulling the strings
The campaign Against the Militarization of Civilian Posts, whose members worked briefly with the map’s organizers, argued that the military wants to cement its hold on governance through involvement in all sectors.
Under Mubarak, Sayigh explained, the “military retirees have come to staff all levels of local government, acting as a parallel executive and security arm that ultimately reports to the president through the provincial governors he appoints.”
The relatively new campaign aims to raise awareness of the problem – sometimes tying rising unemployment rates with this militarization trend – and wants a legislation that bans appointing army officers in civilian posts.
During one of the sessions of the short-lived parliament, MP Karam Salah Noman said 5 percent of state jobs are set aside for the military. He said this denies over 1 million civilians their right to employment in the state. He wanted a legislation that bans state employees from combining salaries and pensions at the same time.
Little attention was given to his suggestion.
The decision to set up the interactive Military Rule Map came during the protests that marked the first anniversary of the January 25 uprising, when the “down with military rule” chants were heard across the nation, according to one of the volunteers behind the project, a lawyer who preferred to remain anonymous.
About five people work on developing the software of the map and vetting users’ contributions and changes – the number fluctuates depending on the needs of the website.
“It’s like Wikipedia. Users can add information and can also edit others’ contributions,” said the lawyer. The team also contributes research when some of the information posted is contested by other users.
Their work is sometimes mistaken for exposing military secrets. In their frequently asked questions section they posted an answer explaining that they only focus on civilian sectors that should be better left to those qualified to run them.
The volunteers’ budding efforts are dwarfed by the SCAF’s battle to maintain its network of benefits and power, including pushing for constitutional provisions that protect its custodianship. “If it succeeds,” Sayigh wrote, “the ability of future civilian authorities to devise and implement policies autonomously to confront the massive economic and social challenges facing Egypt will be severely constrained. Under such circumstances, any democratically elected government will be chronically unstable.”
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