I listened to the most fascinating podcast this weekend. It was from NPR's Planet Money. The other day, they had a story about Egypt's military and seriously...it explains everything.
What do I mean by that?
I, for one, have marveled at the fact that the military
has more or less sided with the protesters. At least they haven't really
come down on them.
Cairo resident Sherine Barakat told the BBC on Friday that she did not think there would be violence between the protesters and the army.
"Yesterday in the square soldiers were saying: 'If you march to the palace, no officer will stand in your way'. I think the army will help the people," she said.
I have been stunned that Egypt's citizens have been able to sustain these demonstrations. I considered them lucky as all get out that things would go down in their favor to such a large degree. In the BBC article where I found that quote, we also learn that the military has pledged to end the 30-year "emergency" once the current situation is resolved. And a story from this morning's NYT
tells us this:
The Egyptian military, complying with most of the principal demands of the opposition, said Sunday that it had dissolved the country’s parliament, suspended its constitution and called for elections in six months, according to a statement by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces read on state television.
I mean, it's just fantastic...non-violent mass protest actually affecting change and it isn't being quashed by the military, when we all know they could. I've applauded and cheered every positive development along with everybody else. Each new development actually amazed me, though, because knowing what kinds of things go on here during protests, I just couldn't believe that the police and military weren't taking a harsher line.
Now I know why, thanks to that Planet Money piece
. The podcast isn't terribly long and it is absolutely worth the listen. But basically, the Egyptian Military is kind of like a Wal-Mart, a REIT
, and manufacturer supreme all rolled into one.
The reasons for this arrangement go back to the '60s and '70s, when the Egyptian military was very large as a result of the wars with Israel. After the peace treaty with Israel was signed, the need for such a large fighting force disappeared. But leaders worried about all those young men released from military service suddenly flooding the job market.
So the military transformed itself from a fighting force to hiring force. And some of the businesses it got into were pretty far away from its traditional mission.
...car assembly, we're talking of clothing, we're talking of construction of roads, highways, bridges. We're talking of pots and pans, we're talking of kitchen appliances. You know, if you buy an appliance there's a good chance that it's manufactured by the military. If you ... don't have natural gas piped into your house and you have to have a gas bottle, the gas bottle will have been manufactured by the military. Some of the foodstuffs that you will be eating will have been grown and/or processed by the military.
Did you catch that? Egypt's military is moonlighting as farmers, and so much else. Since the only understanding of this situation comes from Wikileak(ed) cables, nobody is really sure just how much of the local economy is controlled by the military's pecuniary interests, but the high end could be 40%. Even if it's the low end estimate of 5%, that is not insignificant for a country 1.5 times the size of Texas with a population over 3 times larger than that of Texas.
Given their highly improbable forbearance (on the whole), I'm guessing the truth is closer to the 40% mark, which, of course, makes their forbearance not at all improbable. In fact, it would be expected; to put it mildly, instability is very bad for sales. So is opening fire on your customer/employee base.
Who knew monopsony and monopoly could be forces for good?!