Egypt: the intricate security apparatus is indispensable for the regime's survival

(by Laura Santilli)

The Egyptian government regime, headed by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, is characterized by an imposing security system, in which the role of the army, the state police and, above all, the different intelligence bodies, is indispensable to feed the fear of the population on a daily basis and therefore, to hold power. The article describes this dense safety net, but questions, above all, the external aid it receives in order to continue its work.


1. The organisation of the defence and security system


The current government of President Al-Sisi, was born from a military coup he led in July 2013, together with some officers and with the support of the army, with the aim of bringing down the then government of President Mohamed Morsi, democratically elected in 2012, following the power vacuum created after the strong popular protests of the Egyptian Arab Spring that succeeded, challenging and overcoming all forms of fear and repression, to get the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, who had been in power for almost thirty years. What led Al-Sisi and his army loyalists to carry out the coup d'état in 2013 were the precarious political, but above all financial, conditions in which Egypt was then, no thirst for power had guided their work. However, the following year, Al-Sisi ran for the presidential election which he then won, with an overwhelming 96.91% of the vote, against his only opponent Hamdīn Sabāhī.


If we look at the years in which Al-Sisi came to power and compare them with the current situation in the country, we can see how he worked towards a progressive increase in the security and defense system, especially internal, in Egypt.


The issue of defence and security is dear to the Egyptian President, since before taking up his current role he was Commander-in-Chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces and previously Head of the Directorate of Military Services and Investigation. Although from the point of view of international security, since 2014 Egypt has been at the forefront of the problem of the birth and advance of the Isis and has therefore had to act as a decisive regional player in its defeat, the motivation that best explains the strengthening of the regime's internal security apparatus is the fear that it may be overthrown by new protests by the population, as is happening in recent weeks and as happened to the regime of former President Mubarak, overwhelmed by the Arab spring of January 2011. Security, increasingly oppressive, serves to fuel the fear of the population and therefore to keep the situation calm, which cannot and must not get out of hand with the regime, especially because Egypt would be an insecure country from the financial point of view and, therefore, would escape major international investments, including those in the oil and armaments sector, which see, among other things, two Italian players, respectively Eni and Leonardo, among the main clients of the Egyptian regime. A vicious circle is thus generated between security, the foreign investments that serve to maintain it and the power of the regime.


This heavy internal security apparatus of the regime is not a recent or temporary feature in Egypt: every Middle Eastern regime, from Ben Ali's Tunisia to Assad's Syria, as well as Saddam Hussein's Libya or Iraq were and are, in the Syrian case, repressive dictatorial regimes, characterized by strong violations of human rights, in which corruption, especially of the government and electoral fraud, votes bartered with small favors by the regime or extorted with threats, are the norm. The West, for its part, accepted and turned a blind eye to this situation until the outbreak of the Arab Springs, not out of ignorance or stupidity, but out of economic interest.


The Egyptian security network is composed of three main actors: the army, the police and therefore the prison system and the different intelligence bodies. The army is mainly responsible for the external defence of the country, however, it played a leading role in the aforementioned coup d'état of 2013, also because the Egyptian army generals control every sector of the country: they own factories, airlines, hotels, insurance companies, banks. Former President Mubarak had always controlled their interests and it was the Egyptian army generals who abandoned him, advising him to resign: they would then change their leadership, but they would not abandon power. On the contrary, the police is competent, on the contrary, on the internal security of the country, above all, for the actions of anti riot and repression of the demonstrations and plays a liaison role with the Egyptian intelligence, which plays the role behind the scenes of the regime, guaranteeing what must be substantial stability: it has the task of preventing and directing the moves of the police or the army. As in every country, also in Egypt the government agencies that deal with intelligence are different and with different tasks.