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Businessmen in Arms

Businessmen in Arms
How the Military and
Other Armed Groups Profit
in the MENA Region

Elke Grawert and Zeinab Abul-Magd

R o w ma n & L i t t le f i el d
Lanham • Boulder • New York • London
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Grawert, Elke, editor. | Abul-Magd, Zeinab, 1976- editor.
Title: Businessmen in arms : how the military and other armed groups profit in the
MENA region / [edited by] Elke Grawert and Zeinab Abul-Magd.
Description: Lanham, Maryland : Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2016. |
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Identifiers: LCCN 2016011779 | ISBN 9781442254558 (cloth : alk. paper) |
ISBN 9781442254565 (electronic)
Subjects: LCSH: Middle East—Armed Forces—Economic aspects. | Africa, North—
Armed Forces—Economic aspects. | Military-owned business enterprises—Middle
East. | Middle East—Armed Forces—Political activity. | Africa, North—Armed
Forces—Political activity. | Civil-military relations—Middle East. | Civil-military
relations—Africa, North.
Classification: LCC UA832 .B87 2016 | DDC 355.00956—dc23
LC record available at http://lccn.loc.gov/2016011779
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National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library
Materials, ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992.

Printed in the United States of America


List of Illustrations vii

List of Abbreviations and Acronyms ix
Foreword xi
Acknowledgments xvii
Introduction: Political Economy of the Military and Nonstate Armed
Groups in the Middle East and North Africa 1
Elke Grawert

1 Egypt’s Adaptable Officers: Business, Nationalism,

and Discontent 23
Zeinab Abul-Magd
2 Businessmen in Boots: Pakistan’s Entrepreneurial Military 43
Ayesha Siddiqa
3 The Conglomerate of the Turkish Military (OYAK) and
the Dynamics of Turkish Capitalism 69
İsmet Akça
4 All the Sepah’s Men: Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in
Theory and Practice 97
Kevan Harris
5 Jordan’s Military-Industrial Sector: Maintaining Institutional
Prestige in the Era of Neoliberalism 119
Shana Marshall

vi Contents

6 Civil-Military Relations in Sudan: Negotiating Political

Transition in a Turbulent Economy 135
Atta El-Battahani
7 Patronage Politics in Transition: Political and Economic
Interests of the Yemeni Armed Forces 157
Adam C. Seitz
8 Libya’s Tentative State Rebuilding: Militias’ “Moral Economy,”
Violence, and Financing (In)Security 175
Philippe Droz-Vincent
9 Syria’s Army, Militias, and Nonstate Armed Groups:
Ideology, Funding, and Shifting Landscape 197
Sherifa Zuhur

Conclusion and Outlook 217

Elke Grawert

Appendix A: Glossary of Arabic Words 239

Appendix B: Maps 249
Appendix C: Tables 253
List of Contributors 313
List of Illustrations


Figure 2.1 Pakistan’s Milbus 47

Figure 6.1 Government Expenditure 2012 Budget 147


Table 2.1 Division of 11.58 Million Acres of Military-

Controlled Land 50
Table 2.2 List of Fauji Foundation Projects 52
Table 2.3 List of AWT Projects 53
Table 2.4 List of SF Projects 54
Table 2.5 List of BF Projects 56
Table 3.1 OYAK’s Subsidiaries (2014) 72
Table 4.1 Divestment in Iran 100
Table C.1 Characteristics of the Armed Forces in Nine
Country Cases (2014) 254
Table C.2 Military Conflict Data by Country
(between 1946 and 2013) 255
Table C.3 Economic and Other Indicators by Country 256


Map 1 Research Area  250

Map 2 Libya  251
Map 3 Syria and Iraq 252

List of Abbreviations and Acronyms

Advanced Industries of Arabia AIA (Jordan)

al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula AQAP
Arab Organization for Industrialization AOI (Egypt)
Army Welfare Trust AWT (Pakistan)
Association of Independent Industrialists MÜSİAD (Turkey)
and Businessmen
Bahria Foundation BF (Pakistan)
Central Bank of Iran CBI (Iran)
Central Government Expenditure CGE (Pakistan)
Development Investment Projects fund DIP (Jordan)
Egyptian Pound EGP
Fauji Foundation FF (Pakistan)
Foundation for Strengthening the Turkish Armed Forces TSKGV (Turkey)
Free Syrian Army FSA (Syria)
Frontier Works Organization FWO (Pakistan)
General National Congress GNC (Libya)
Global Militarisation Index GMI
Gross Domestic Product GDP
Import Substituting Industrialization ISI (Turkey)
International Monetary Fund IMF
Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps IRGC (Iran)
Islamic Front IF (Syria)
Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps IRGC (Iran)
Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (the Levant) ISIS or ISIL
Islamist Welfare Party RP (Turkey)
Joint Integrated Units JIUs (Sudan)
Justice and Development Party AKP (Turkey)
Justice Party AP (Turkey)
King Abdullah II Design and Development Bureau KADDB (Jordan)
x List of Abbreviations and Acronyms

King Abdullah Special Operations Training Center KASOTC (Jordan)

Middle East and North Africa MENA
Middle East Defense & Security Agency MEDSA (Jordan)
Military Economic Corporation MEC (Sudan)
Military Economic Corporation MECO (Yemen)
Military Industry Corporation MIC (Sudan)
Milli Güvenlik Kurulu (National Security Council) MGK (Turkey)
Motherland Party ANAP (Turkey)
National Congress Party NCP (Sudan)
National Defense Council NDC (Yemen)
National Intelligence Service of Sudan NISS (Sudan)
National Islamic Front NIF (Sudan)
National Logistics Cell NLC (Pakistan)
National Service Products Organization NSPO (Egypt)
National Transitional Council NTC (Libya)
Nongovernment Organisation NGO
Nonstate Armed Groups NSAGs
Nonviolence Movement NVM (Syria)
Pakistan Ordinance Factories Foundation PoFF (Pakistan)
People’s Defense Forces PDF (Sudan)
People’s Protective Units YPG (Syria)
Rapid Support Forces QUDS (Sudan)
Rapid Support Forces RSF (Sudan)
Shaheen Foundation SF (Pakistan)
Special Communication Organization SCO (Pakistan)
Special Operations Forces Exhibition and Conference SOFEX (Jordan)
Sudan Armed Forces SAF (Sudan)
Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North SPLA-North
Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army SPLM/A (Sudan)
Sudan Revolutionary Front SRF (Sudan)
Supreme Council of Armed Forces SCAF (Egypt)
Supreme Council of Armed Forces SCAF (Sudan)
Supreme Military Command SMC (Syria)
Supreme Security Committee SSC (Libya)
Syria Islamic Liberation Front SILF (Syria)
Syrian Arab Army SAA
Syrian National Council SNC (Syria)
Transitional Military Council TMC (Sudan)
Turkish Armed Forces Assistance (and Pension) Fund OYAK (Turkey)
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees UNHCR
Virtue Party FP (Turkey)
Yemeni Economic Corporation YECO (Yemen)

Coercion is increasingly central to the political economies of the Middle East

and North Africa (MENA). Its states may be the most militarized of those in
any global region. Those states are also characterized by sprawling security
and intelligence agencies. Paralleling accelerating growth in these state agents
of coercion, especially in the wake of the “Arab Spring,” has been the rise of
nonstate armed groups (NSAGs). Some are linked to, while others oppose,
the states in which they are operating. Still others operate transnationally and
explicitly oppose the region’s present state configuration and even statehood
itself. This proliferation and intensification of coercion and of the agencies
implementing is neither predicted nor adequately explained by available
conceptual frameworks. Most existing conceptualizations have evolved from
a previous era’s theorizing about the sociology and politics of militaries.
These have been informed empirically primarily by civil-military relations in
Western democracies and/or Latin America. While the fit of this theorizing
with MENA realities has never been perfect, recent developments have made
it abundantly clear that the region’s empirical realities have bulged so far out
of existing theoretical frameworks that new tailoring is required.
Businessmen in Arms is just such an undertaking. It is addressed specifi-
cally to the vital relationship between coercive power and material wealth.
This nexus, which has long been at the heart of MENA political economies,
received little attention in the civil-military relations literature informed by
other regions’ experiences, where capital is typically autonomous from or
even dominant over political/coercive power. The extension of militaries
into MENA economies, which intensified in the 1980s and then again in
the wake of the “Arab Spring,” has been widely noted, but its causes and
consequences have heretofore not been systematically compared nor drawn
upon in the effort to articulate a framework with which better to understand

xii Foreword

civil-military relations in the MENA. Nor has the more recent phenomenon
of direct and/or indirect, systematic capture of material resources by NSAGs
or by states’ coercive agents, which results primarily from state decay, been
adequately described, let alone theorized. This book addresses both these
lacunae. By so doing it provides a rich body of empirical information cou-
pled with suggestive hypotheses to account for similarities and differences
between the region’s state and nonstate coercive actors, while helping us to
begin to understand how and why the nexus between coercion and capital
accumulation is so central to MENA political economies. In the remainder of
this foreword, a few of the book’s most relevant themes will be briefly noted.
What might be termed the emergence of a Frankenstein military economy
may be the most recurrent theme running through the chapters on state-
based militaries. Regimes in the Arab republics of Turkey and Iran initially
breathed financial life into their respective “Military, Inc.” monsters out of
mixed motives, key of which was coup proofing. Endowed with the gift of
financial autonomy and provided guaranteed life support by a robust drip-
feed of state resources, these militaries spawned sprawling enterprises, which
in turn assisted the efforts of those armed forces to subordinate or even
devour, as in Egypt and Pakistan, the very regimes that first created those
Frankenstein military economies.
The consequences for the position of the military in national political
economies, for military capacity, and for national economic performance
have been profound. Material growth and reward have supplanted national
security as the raison d’être of these armed forces and their officers. As the
authors of the various chapters contend, the political and class alliances
of militaries have changed in tandem with the evolution of their mission
from fighting to enrichment. Increasingly allied with state and private upper
bourgeoisies, militaries have subordinated workers, peasants, and lower
bourgeoisies in whose name they seized power in the immediate postcolonial
era. Formerly champions of import-substitution industrialization, militaries
have embraced at least some elements of neoliberalism, including the need
to forge business relationships with global economic actors, whether from
the East or West. Accompanying this distorted globalization has been the
shift from dependence based on Cold War–generated rents to those that flow
from security assistance predicated on alleged shared interests in combating
terrorism. Those relationships, again whether with East or West, have been
vital not just to the further growth of military economies, but to the mili-
tary’s marginalization of civilian organizations and institutions. The primary
antithesis to the thesis of militarization of economies and polities is Islamism
in its various forms, it being virtually the only movement capable of giving
voice to those marginalized by militarization and the accompanying politi-
cal and economic stagnation. The rise of Islamism has in turn reinforced
Foreword xiii

the claims of militaries to be the sole force capable of containing the jihadi
threat, thus presenting foreign backers with a Hobson’s choice. Except in the
cases of Turkey, where the West backed the AKP against the military, and
Egypt after 2011, where the United States in particular willingly accepted
the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power, the West has chosen to support
armed forces in preference to civilian organizations and institutions. This
has in some cases been interpreted by militaries as literal licenses to kill
their civilian opponents, as the cases of the Bhuttos in Pakistan and Muslim
Brothers in Egypt suggest. In virtually all these countries, civilian political
actors have been neutered, as attested to by the means of return to civilian
rule in Pakistan, where General Musharraf was forced from power not by an
organized political movement, but by the judiciary, the sole remaining coher-
ent civilian institution.
The volume provides ample evidence of the negative impacts on national
economic performance of the empowerment and embourgeoisement of
militaries, as well as indications of the deleterious effects on their discharge
of security duties, which is, of course, the justification for that empower-
ment and accompanying enrichment. It also provides evidence in support
of the proposition that patronage is steadily supplanting professionalism
within these armed forces, thus further undermining an already precarious
Within this broad characterization of civil-military relations in the MENA
countries under consideration there is considerable variation in detail. In
Iran, for example, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is por-
trayed as a less-dominant political and economic actor than are militaries
now in Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan, and Sudan and formerly in Turkey, Yemen,
and Syria. The Iranian political system is comparatively complex, providing
counterbalances to the IRGC and other armed forces. The state of Pakistan
was from its creation virtually an extension of the military, so its penetration
of the national economy is deeper and broader than elsewhere. The Turkish
and Iranian militaries have taken direct control of financial institutions, sug-
gesting their development of a type of military financial capitalism, whereas
armed forces in the Arab republics and Jordan have neither created banks nor
listed their companies on stock exchanges. These Arab military economies
have thus not graduated from industrial to finance capitalism. In Yemen and
Sudan, state institutions, including the military, are less coherent, with tribal
and regional loyalties having undermined the state to the point of secession,
threatening to leave Yemen’s reunification a temporary phenomenon and to
further fragment the unity of (northern) Sudan. Moreover, a greater propor-
tion of resources captured by these two countries’ militaries appears to derive
from autonomous unit action, such as through smuggling and trafficking, than
it does in the more corporate MENA militaries.
xiv Foreword

All the military economies described in the book are a mix of directly
owned and operated enterprises; firms controlled through subsidiaries, such
as pension funds; so-called officer economies, meaning businesses estab-
lished by retired officers engaged primarily in subcontracting to the military
economy or the civilian state; and direct seizures of assets through illegal
activities. But the mix varies substantially from country to country. So,
too, does the degree of centralized control by ministries of defense or their
equivalent. In some cases, such as Pakistan and Turkey, many units within the
armed forces have their own business enterprises that operate autonomously,
whereas in others central control is asserted by the high command, typically
concentrated in ministries of defense, over all military-controlled enterprises.
As for relations between the military economy and the “national bourgeoi-
sie,” they are generally mutually beneficial but vary in intensity across and
within any given country over time as the two contest for market shares and
external partners. Finally, land and specific types of economic undertakings,
such as cement production, which benefits from energy subsidies, lack of
pollution controls, and natural protection from imports, are of importance in
most of the military economies under study, albeit in different manners and
The volume also provides insights into particular cases that invite specu-
lation as to their relevance elsewhere. The steadily expanding Jordanian
military economy, for example, appears to be impelled and structured by the
need for royal patronage to sustain officers’ loyalties, reflecting the continued
political preeminence of the king. Presumably this relationship also obtains
in Morocco, another personal rather than family dynasty, so lacking kins-
men to serve in the armed forces. But whether nascent military economies
in the GCC family dynasties serve an equivalent function or the need for
such patronage is obviated by sons, cousins, and uncles serving as officers, is
the type of comparative question that this volume stimulates. Similarly, the
issue of how militaries and security/intelligence services divide the share of
the nation’s economic pie they control is alluded to in several of the country
studies, thus inviting more systematic comparison. Yet another phenomenon
suggested by the work for future comparative analysis is the ways and means
by which militaries sought to counter the “Arab Spring” upsurge of marginal-
ized forces, in part because such an upsurge is ongoing in some countries and
likely to recur in others.
The book also addresses the roles of NSAGs in Yemen, Libya, and Syria
and their relations with surviving state institutions as they compete for control
over resources. Of particular interest is the observation that these residual
states can, and at least in Libya and Yemen, do, serve NSAG interests in that
they channel resources to them. Rump national militaries and NSAGs also
coexist, as in the case of Iraq, which is not analyzed in the book, suggesting
Foreword xv

that it would be misleading to dichotomize into state or nonstate all MENA

military economies.
In sum, this volume provides substantial foundations upon which forth-
coming studies of MENA civil-military relations can be based. Most impor-
tantly, it demonstrates the centrality of material resources to those relations,
a fact that has heretofore not been as central to the study of those relations as
it needs to be.

The idea of this book started from a two-year research project on Arab
militaries as economic actors that brought the editors together in 2012. The
project included field and archival research on four Arab armies, those of
Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Sudan, to investigate how their economic interests
influenced the way they reacted to the “Arab Spring” uprisings in 2011. The
project as well as the book production was funded by the Volkswagen Foun-
dation, which had approved our research proposal “Understanding the Role
of the Armed Forces during the Arab Spring and Thereafter” within its fund-
ing initiative for pilot research projects in social and media sciences on the
developments in the Arab region. We express, first of all, our deep apprecia-
tion of the Volkswagen Foundation for its financial support of the research,
as well as for its patience with all the modifications the team made during
the project. We also would like to extend great thanks to the scholars who
participated in the project, namely Salam Said, Walid Abu-Dalbouh, Atta
El-Battahani, Afag Mohammed Sadig, and Ahmed Khalifa. We are greatly
indebted to them. Especially the lively discussions about the first findings
on the enterprises of the military and the emerging proliferation of nonstate
armed groups during our project workshops in Amman (June 2012), Aswan
(January 2013), and Bonn (June 2013) helped a lot to develop the concept
of this book. Special thanks have to be extended to each author of this book,
who came and contributed most valuable ideas and insights during the final
project workshop in Bonn (October 2014), and Shana Marshall already in
Aswan. We are also very grateful to scholars who commented on papers we
presented during panels and workshops in Europe, the United States, and the
Middle East to share the findings of this project and to develop this book, in
particular during conferences of the Mediterranean Program in Mersin and
MESA in New Orleans (2013), and BRISMES in London (2015). We would

xviii Acknowledgments

like to thank all colleagues who gave us feedback at these events and beyond,
in particular Robert Springborg, Amy Austin Holmes, Nefissa Naguib,
Holger Albrecht, the BICC researchers, and among them in particular, Marc
von Boemcken. We are grateful to BICC for housing and administering the
project, and in particular, to Heike Webb, the copyeditor, for her commitment
and keen eye for detail and to Max Messling for his tireless correction work.
We greatly appreciate the continuous advice in managing the team given by
Mohammed Yousif Aburok, and, in particular, his commented glossary.
Political Economy of the Military
and Nonstate Armed Groups in the
Middle East and North Africa
Elke Grawert

“Bread, freedom, dignity” had been the demands of the masses of people who
rose up to oust the corrupt, repressive military or military-backed regimes1 in
the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in 2010 to 2011. The words of this
slogan revealed deep frustration in society about the economic, political, and
moral decay of state-society relations in the countries of the region. However,
the emerging spirit of optimism toward a new social contract2 with freely
elected civilian rulers after the fall of the long-standing presidents of Tunisia,
Egypt, Libya, and Yemen soon receded. In the years following the eruption of
the “Arab Spring,”3 societies in the MENA region had to cope with even more
economic hardship, setbacks in political reform processes, rapidly deepening
divisions within societies, and increasing violence.
The MENA region is one of the most militarized regions in the world, with
thirteen countries in ranks 1 to 30 of the Global Militarisation Index (GMI),4
measured by military spending in relation to gross domestic product (GDP)
and health expenditure (cf. Appendix C, Table C.1). Severe violence of vari-
ous state security forces against citizens and frequent incidences of torture
are rampant in the region (see Appendix C, Table C.2). The response of the
military to the popular uprisings of the “Arab Spring” in Tunisia, Egypt, and
Yemen, where it had refused to turn against the masses and thus helped oust
the presidents in 2011 to 2012, brought to light that within the armed forces,
there have been different factions with different interests.5 In both countries,
a strong faction of the military had withdrawn support for the president, indi-
cating a loss of regime legitimacy and an erosion of the ruling bargain.
One year after the beginning of the “Arab Spring,” in 2012, the gov-
ernments of Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Sudan were at war with nonstate
armed groups (NSAGs). The violent domestic conflicts developed regional
dimensions, most significantly in Syria in 2014. It is important to note that

2 Elke Grawert

“the military” is not a homogenous unit, but consists of components with

differing interests. These can particularly be army divisions (such as the 4th
Division of the Syrian Republican Army), paramilitary units (such as the
Republican Guards or Special Forces in Syria and Yemen), armed units of
national security services (such as the National Intelligence Service of Sudan
[NISS]), government-armed militias (such as the Rapid Support Forces
[RSF] in Sudan) and different kinds of armed people’s forces (such as the
shabbiha in Syria or the People’s Defense Forces [PDF] in Sudan). On the
other side, there is a range of different kinds of NSAGs. There are groups
that have broken away from the military (such as the Free Syrian Army
[FSA]), oppositional groups that have armed themselves or formed armed
wings of civilian groups (such as the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North
[SPLA-North]), local militarized groups that were already armed long ago
(such as numerous Libyan brigades), militant cells using terror as a means
to destabilize the state (such as al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula [AQAP]), or
coalitions of previously marginalized groups brought into line ideologically
to engage in armed struggle (such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham
Renewed military-backed regimes, as in Egypt, as well as countries in
civil war after the “Arab Spring,” show the unabated importance of the mili-
tary in shaping regimes and state-society relations in the MENA region in the
aftermath of the “Arab Spring.” The tremendous influence armed organiza-
tions have in the region inspired the authors of this book to dig deeper into
the origins, history, class structures, civil-military relations, and the political
economy of armed organizations—the military and its components as well
as NSAGs—in the larger MENA region. In this region, such analyses of
the military had been a topic during the 1960s and 1970s, but disappeared
from research agendas in the 1980s. Soldiers in Business,6 Military Inc., or
milbus7 are terms coined more recently to describe economic activities of
the military, studying parts of the world other than the MENA region. On
the other hand, studies about “New Wars,”8 “Markets of Violence,”9 and
“Violence as Regulation”10 examined the involvement of NSAGs in markets
and economies mainly for Sub-Saharan Africa and a few cases in other con-
tinents, with the exception of the MENA region. Considering this research
gap, the book sets out to make understood what is behind phenomena such
as the following:

• Egyptian institutions with names apparently pointing to civilian economic

entities, such as “Arab Organization for Industrialization” and “National
Service Products Organization,” are in fact military enterprises. These insti-
tutions engage in the production of civilian commodities, services, tourist
resorts and hotels, and provide, among other goods, “luxury jeeps, infant
Introduction 3

incubators, butane gas cylinders, . . . pasta and poultry products . . . (as well
as) . . . services such as domestic cleaning and gas station management.”11
• The King Abdullah II Design and Development Bureau (KADDB) is
an independent government entity within the Jordan Armed Forces,
established for industrial production. Under this bureau, joint venture
companies between the Jordanian military and foreign arms producers
design and develop defense and security products. KADDB also provides
military training and cooperates with technical research institutions and
universities.12 It pursues “offset projects that directly benefit the regimes’
domestic security constituencies,”13 such as transfers of arms technology,
infrastructure, housing and employment creation, and converting facilities
for manufacturing defense products into factories for civilian commodity
• NSAGs in Libya and Syria have captured oil facilities and ports and are
generating revenues through oil sales and exports. Leaders of armed groups
use the combination of military power and conquest of oil sites as a dead
pledge in order to make political deals.14 The control of crucial parts of riv-
ers and dams by NSAGs has become a weapon in their conflict with regime
forces in Syria and Iraq.15

These examples represent a range of economic activities of armed orga-

nizations in the MENA region. The authors of this book examine the emer-
gence and development of military businesses; economic privileges linked to
military careers; patterns of financing, earning revenues, and accumulating
capital in the cases of Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Jordan, Sudan, and Yemen; and
take a new look at “milbus” in Pakistan. In countries where NSAGs have
proliferated—Yemen, Libya, and Syria—they examine the resource base of
the armed groups and how it has evolved over the course of war. Moreover,
the authors study how military companies, and firms or facilities in control
of NSAGs, are embedded in or linked to the national economy, and how the
military and NSAGs combine economic with political power. Last but not
least, they relate the dynamics of economic involvement of armed organiza-
tions to changing contexts of an international and globalized economy. In
their analyses, they combine historical analysis with political economy and
social theory approaches, investigating the practices of armed actors and
organizations in the field of the economy driven by “the academic interest of
knowing more about what is actually happening and how it works.”16
Accordingly, the authors in this book consider the military as a social insti-
tution embedded in the larger society, whereby the military as an organization
enjoys particular structural advantages. These advantages comprise special
access to technology, availability of cheap labor by using conscripts, privi-
leges due to subsidies, budget autonomy, a monopoly over strategic goods,
4 Elke Grawert

and control over strategic infrastructure—means that enable the military to

wield a strong influence on the political economies of the MENA region.17
NSAGs are regarded as contesting these advantages not only in terms of
undermining the monopoly of violence by taking up arms but also in terms
of building their own economic resource bases to maintain their struggle and
consolidate control over territories, population groups, and their resources.
This introduction provides a review of earlier research on the economic
role of armed organizations starting from the 1950s, when the military was
considered a potential vanguard for development. In the 1980s, in the context
of structural adjustment programs and economic liberalization, studies on
the economic activities of the military and military institutions in the MENA
region at large were in eclipse. A few sociologists touched upon the economic
resources of the military when conducting research on regime transformation
during the 1990s. After the end of the Cold War, the “new wars” gained a lot
of research interest, with some studies showing that militaries and NSAGs
could hardly be distinguished in terms of involvement in business in global-
izing markets. These insights led to new perspectives, avoiding the previously
prevailing state-centeredness. Several authors attempted to consider the eco-
nomic activities of NSAGs from a societal perspective in the 2000s. On the
backdrop of this review, the analytical approach of this book is outlined in
greater depth, followed by a short overview of the case studies presented in
the subsequent chapters.

Military, Modernization, and Development

A review of historical scholarly work on the role of the military in national

economic development reveals that some of the above issues had been relevant
research topics in the post–World War II wave of decolonization between the
1950s and 1970s. Early modernization theory envisaged military-dominated
authoritarian regimes as having the potential to solve structural problems of
underdevelopment, and early studies about modern Arab political history also
considered analyses of the military as a necessity.18 In several countries, the
military had come to power through a coup d’état and was the backbone of
postcolonial regimes.19 As the incarnation of praetorian rule, it had a key role
in breaking political stalemates and occasionally, it functioned as an arbitra-
tor in civil wars. Scholars and politicians considered the military to be a pow-
erful corporate interest group, a vanguard of the middle class, and sometimes
the most modernity-oriented group in society.20 The military as a carrier of
multiple roles in developing societies was also an outcome of the trend to cre-
ate a large public sector with crucial productive companies, which were state
owned or parastatals.21 Some of the emerging industries came partly or fully
Introduction 5

under the control of the armed forces.22 The military organized infrastructure
and building campaigns and made soldiers work in construction, pursuing a
vision of rapid modernization to catch up with the industrialized world.
One focus of research in the postcolonial MENA region was on the
dynamics of military disengagement from political rule. Frequent abrupt
change, large-scale political upheavals, demonstrations, and strikes created
uncertainty, not only among the protesters but also in the military.23 Civilian
coalitions coming to power had an impact on the military, which usually split
into factions of hardliners and moderates.24 This undermined the cohesiveness
within the military and either led to a coup by one faction of the military or to
a political stalemate, which used to be broken by the military after a period of
time. Hence, the withdrawal of the military hardly led to sustainable regime
change. Ben-Dor identified several reasons for the temporary character of
civilian regimes: their failure to build a civilian framework of politics with
political participation of individuals and pressure groups, and the stabiliza-
tion of military rule.25 These are a persistent corporatism based on threat and
use of force and oriented toward the center of rule, concentration of coercive
power in the military, which they legitimized by the fear of Israeli expan-
sion, “mastering government technology,”26 propaganda and a sophisticated
security system, and the elimination of civilian and intramilitary opposition.
Whereas focusing on the military, this strand of studies also sheds light on the
power resources of the armed forces and their centralized and biased resource
On this background, the historical analyses of the economic activities of
the military in the cases presented in this book consider the question of if and
how the military had been involved in development and modernization of
their respective countries.

Research on Democratization and

Economic Liberalization and Eclipse
of the Military as a Topic

Along the ideological—and teleological—lines of modernization theory,

democracy was the model and measure developing countries were expected
to strive toward. A new research field opened up on this basis, dealing with
the potential for and obstacles against democratic transitions, which started
with the seminal work of O’Donnell et al.27 on transitions from authoritar-
ian rule in Latin America. This study came to the insight that elite pacts
between military leaders and agrarian oligarchs provided a viable path toward
democratization while safeguarding the economic interests of the elite. Many
studies followed, looking into the 1990s wave of democratization in Eastern
6 Elke Grawert

Europe and Africa and, later, into the rigidities of authoritarianism from an
institutionalist perspective.
Along this line, studies by Fähndrich, Schlumberger, and Beck et al.28 pro-
vided an elaborate insight into the functioning of the regimes in the MENA
region and their socioeconomic orders. Elbadawi et al.29 developed a model
about the relationship between economic development and democracy in
the MENA region, systematically extending the work of Lipset.30 Accord-
ing to their findings, oil and violent conflict have been the main variables
correlating and leading to a “democracy deficit” in the MENA region. The
cross-country analysis confirmed earlier insights in the neopatrimonial char-
acteristics of political systems erected by rent-seeking states based on oil
wealth, and semirentier states gaining revenues from a favorable location for
strategic reasons or tourism.31
Of late, a (renewed) research focus examined authoritarian systems using
a macro-quantitative institutional perspective.32 Subsequently, several schol-
ars dropped the concept of transition with its implication of being a phased
period leading to democracy.33 Research on system change opened up toward
all possible directions such change can take. However, most of these studies,
including the above-mentioned books on the MENA region, applied as a nor-
mative measure the degree of political and economic liberalization in order
to identify the deficits, hindrances, or opportunities toward democracy and
liberal market economy. These studies did not explicitly focus on the armed
forces when analyzing changes within authoritarian regimes or processes of
transformation, and hardly considered the economic position and interests of
the military.
Economic research on the MENA region focused on the attempts and
setbacks of economic liberalization,34 reflecting the growing influence the
International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank wielded on indebted
states. Along with the shift from the belief in the developmentalist state
toward perceiving the private sector as the engine of development, structural
adjustment programs reducing the state’s economic role became a condition
for international loans.35 Fawcett compiled studies about the incorporation
of MENA states in the globalized economy and the social and political
challenges they had to face in this process.36 Others argued that neoliberal
changes fostered authoritarian rule in the region and undermined attempts
toward democracy.37 Whereas some authors related the spread of crony
capitalism among the circles closely linked to the regimes to the (neo-)liberal
turn,38 the economic role of the military was left out of the scholarly analysis.
The authors in this book therefore shed light on the response of the military
to the neoliberal turn in the cases of Egypt, Turkey, and Jordan.
Along with the scholarly trend to study democratic institution build-
ing, civil-military relations reentered the academic stage. Institutionalist
Introduction 7

approaches and the framework of neopatrimonialism and patron-client rela-

tionships, often in combination with the concept of rent economies or strate-
gies for security sector reforms, came to the fore.39 However, Middle Eastern
studies rarely looked into the security sector, and among the growing body
of literature about the security sector, hardly any concentrated on the MENA
region. Country case studies on the security sector focused on the regional
hegemons of Turkey, Iran, and Israel, and international aspects prevailed over
domestic ones. Barak and David40 identified research gaps in the role of the
security agencies in state formation and what it implies for the legitimacy
of the security sector, informal relations, and interactions between security
and political incumbents, and how the relations between social groups are
reflected or reinforced in the security forces.
The events of the “Arab Spring” triggered renewed studies about regimes
and their transformation, the disparate outcomes of the protest movements,
and the power of the military. New research has attempted to understand
under which conditions armed forces may intervene in politics, defend
authoritarian regimes against mass protest movements, or are willing to
return to the barracks.41 However, these studies do not mention the economic
role of the military.
What the above studies have in common is a state-centered perspective
on perceived processes of transformation. Like modernization theories, they
imply a normative approach with the aim of getting institutions right to fit
into Western models of political order, with democracy and a liberal market
economy at the core. By contrast, most of the authors of this book avoid this
normativity, but instead, study changes in social relations and their outcomes
with a focus on the role, behavior, and position of the military and NSAGs
in the larger society, thus shedding light on previously omitted dimensions of
transformation research.

Political Economy and Sociological

Approaches to Armies and NSAGs

As an alternative to political scientists focusing on state-centered analysis,

studies of sociologists and political economists looked into social classes and
examined how their actions shaped institutions including the military. From
this angle, they analyzed processes of transformation. In this field, a pioneer-
ing sociological study using a structuralist approach in order to understand
the emergence of totalitarian political systems in Europe and Asia came from
Moore.42 Diverting from structuralism, Evers and Schiel developed the con-
cept of “strategic groups,” with which they investigated the resource bases
for power.43 Schubert et al. built on this approach from a political economy
8 Elke Grawert

perspective, developing the concept of “strategic groups and oppositional

groups capable to hold political conflict,” which explicitly considered the role
of the armed forces in political systems and their economic resource base.44
Although the authors did not include any MENA countries, their findings are
useful to understand different trajectories of regime change under the condi-
tion of strong economic power of the military.
Schubert et al. stated that in a number of non-Western countries, besides
their physical power, the higher ranks of the armed forces consolidated eco-
nomic power by systematically enjoying private business profits under state
protection and by occupying management positions in state bureaucracies and
companies.45 As a precondition for this, the authors identified the existence of
a strong, self-confident military with a historically formed identity as a corpo-
rate institution and close connections to the executive. This pertained to Latin
America (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Venezuela, among others), where the
military as a semiautonomous actor established close links with US corpora-
tions and owners of large agrarian estates in order to open up the economies
toward the world market. The shift to business of the military was accompa-
nied by national security doctrines used to suppress the national opposition.
Schubert et al. pointed out that this type of socially unbalanced economic
opening caused high indebtedness and subsequent long-term dependence on
foreign bank loans and development assistance in Latin America during the
1980s and early 1990s. Conversely, in Southeast Asia (South Korea, Taiwan,
Indonesia, Thailand), elite alliances were broader and included other strategic
groups within the state bureaucracies so that the military had to make more
compromises and had less autonomy to act purely in their own economic
interest. The outcome was a more balanced economic integration in the world
market, while the political regimes were liberalized to a limited extent.46
A further topic was the patterns of integration of the military into civilian
regimes after a transition from authoritarian rule to democracy. Differentiat-
ing between leaders and the rank-and-file for Latin American countries such
as Argentina and Brazil, the scholars showed that civilian rulers following
military regimes frequently pacified the generals with highly paid adminis-
trative positions, generous pensions, or cooptation into the new government
as advisors or other backstage functions. The lower military ranks, however,
were usually excluded, and among the first whose salaries were cut after
transition to civilian rule, which sometimes led to coup d’états (Argentina
after 1983, Venezuela 1991). Schubert et al. warned that factionalism in the
military along ethnic, religious, or regional divides, as in India or Iraq, might
lead to radicalization and militant opposition movements. On the other hand,
they observed that tensions between generations, ranks, and sociopolitically
different factions in the armed forces led to the formation of a strong develop-
mentalist military faction, which closed ranks by providing the armed forces
Introduction 9

with access to privileges within patronage frameworks, such as in Thailand

in the 1980s.47
In general, studies about the economic role of the military in the course of
market liberalization policies during and after the 1980s were rare and did not
specifically cover countries in the MENA region. However, Brömmelhörster
and Paes provided some relevant characteristics of the military’s involvement
in modern businesses.48 They defined military business as “economic activi-
ties falling under the influence of the armed forces, regardless of whether they
are controlled by defense ministries, the various branches of the armed forces,
specific units or individual officers.”49 These activities typically occur both in
times of peace and war.
Scholars observed the increase and extension of the armed forces’ engage-
ment in commercial activities in the context of structural adjustment policies
and economic liberalization, however, without examining in detail why and
how this happened.50 These military activities included running national air-
lines in Latin America and China, agribusiness using conscript labor in Asia,
military officers managing strategic companies in communication, and real
estate and construction in Russia and Indonesia. This created an increasingly
autonomous position for the armed forces and added economic power to
military control over the means of state violence. The commercial revenues
of the armed forces usually fed into the defense budget, up to an extent of 75
percent, for instance, in the case of Indonesia. The military rarely used these
extra funds for military operations or procurement but largely for the welfare
of soldiers and their families, especially after retirement. The framework
within which a process of consolidating the combined economic, social,
political, and military power of the armed forces occurred were patronage
networks structuring informal relations.51 Paes held that without the politi-
cal privileges provided by the patronage framework, companies controlled
by the armed forces would hardly have been able to compete in globalized
The result of the earlier political economy research on military business
was a typology indicating the following types of economic activities of the

• Military enterprise contributing directly to the “operational and procure-

ment budget of the respective armed force” (“budgetary assistance”).53
• Military business providing employment, social services, subsidized
housing, and cultural facilities to members of the armed forces and their
dependents (“welfare”), typical for previously socialist countries,54 which
could also pertain to Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, and
Yemen, in the MENA region. In countries without a socialist history, indi-
rect benefits through the establishment of complex holding structures tend
10 Elke Grawert

to benefit only small numbers of beneficiaries55 who are connected through

patronage networks. This could be the case in the Gulf States, Morocco,
and Jordan.
• Using the armed forces for development activities in order to bring other-
wise idle manpower to productive operations. This might extend to employ
the technical skills and labor of military personnel for industrialization,
including mining and arms production in the context of import substitution
policies (mostly during the 1970s and 1980s).
• “Commercializing” existing military-owned facilities in the context of
economic liberalization policies, making use of the military’s privileged
access to manpower and infrastructure under political protection by the
government. This usually led to the establishment of military monopolies
in certain economic sectors and created opportunities to drain off funds for
private enrichment.56

Whereas Brömmelhörster and Paes focused their comparative analysis on

the adverse effects of military business for security sector reforms and the
obstacles for disconnecting the military from economic activities, the authors
of this book trace in more detail the adjustments of military business to the
neoliberal context, investigate the relations of military officers with crony
capitalism, and look into changes in civil-military relations based on different
economic interests.

Military and NSAGs in the Economy:

What’s the Difference?

In the context of economic liberalization, components of the military appar-

ently increasingly sustained themselves and their relatives by reaping benefits
from running their own businesses, supported by patronage networks link-
ing them with state officials, politicians, or other patrons. Similarly, in war
economies, NSAGs were funded by the profits of their own businesses, which
enabled them to compete with the military. Accordingly, the behavior of
NSAGs, their social relations and resulting institutions during “new wars,”57
became a growing topic of research in the late 1990s. “New wars” were
defined as fought between varying combinations of state and nonstate actors,
which systematically used identity politics to create enemies, applied means
of fear and terror, and pursued various predatory means, as well as linked up
with globalized markets to fund themselves. Accordingly, war economies
were considered as favoring private, often clandestine, trade such as traf-
ficking weapons, people, drugs, and smuggling. Economic actors tended to
be connected through personal networks. In areas under their control, major
Introduction 11

resources of NSAGs stemmed from protection rackets, extortion, ransom,

and other predatory means,58 whereas the military might engage in similar
activities and even fuel insurgent attacks, for example on company installa-
tions,59 in order to gain more international assistance. Taking the perspective
of the emergence of “security markets,” where several armed actors were
competing, Mehler60 developed the concept of “oligopolies of violence” and
studied the structure of such markets, types of interaction of armed groups,
and mode of differentiation or division of the security market between the
actors.61 Other scholars focused research solely on NSAGs62 or on private
security providers.63
Schlichte64 attempted to bring the military and NSAGs together in a study
about the ways in which armed groups convert military power into domina-
tion. He investigated the relations and interdependencies between the mem-
bers of such groups in light of the concept of “figuration.” As proposed by
Elias,65 a figuration consists of a pattern of interdependencies with particular
power relations, socializing institutions, a symbolic world, an economic basis,
and an ethos of status and ceremonies. Hence, with this approach, it is pos-
sible to analytically connect the economic resources and the social elements
leading to cohesion or dissolution of cohesion in the military or in NSAGs.
Moreover, taking into account that power is “always limited in space and time
and also in its social reach,”66 the issue of changing power relations comes
into focus. Schlichte found that power relations changed when new resources
were available or an actor gained or lost capacity, with the consequence that
the figuration would grow, erode, or dissolve.67 This pertains to NSAGs as
well as to the military, and can explain outcomes in cases where the military
splits into factions—such as in Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. It also helps to
examine cases where the government reduces the power of the military as
a main pillar of domination within the state by strengthening other armed
forces—such as republican guards in Iran and Syria—or armed forces of the
state security service, as in Sudan and Pakistan. Hence, to understand the
behavior of the armed organizations, the means by which each armed group
converts military power into domination, and how they use economic means
and resources to establish or consolidate domination, should be considered.
Related to the issue of shifting power relations, legitimacy is an important
category that has to be considered in processes of transformation as they
are unfolding in the MENA region. On the one hand, the aftermath of the
“Arab Spring” will require renewed legitimacy for the military, in particu-
lar, if it forms the regime such as in Egypt and Sudan. On the other hand,
NSAGs strive to gain the legitimacy of larger social groups, as in Libya and
Yemen. To study the approaches of different armed organizations to acquire
support and increase legitimacy, Migdal suggested using a perspective that
considers the state and its institutions, including the military, as consisting
12 Elke Grawert

of components that do not necessarily operate in line with one another but
may even cause contradictory outcomes.68 According to this approach, state
components may refer to executive bodies such as administration, judiciary,
armed forces, decentralized units, or subsections of these bodies. The various
components of the state encounter “pushes, pulls, blurring of boundaries and
domination by others . . . (in) numerous junctures between . . . (the) state’s
diffuse parts and other social organizations.”69 The respective interactions
may create more power for the state components and the social groups
involved, they may weaken both, or state actors may ally with select social
groups against other groups. This differs in society’s fields of action, which
Migdal characterized as “multiple arenas of domination and opposition.”70
The outcome may be “dispersed or integrated domination,”71 depending on
the coherence and territorial completeness of domination of any major social
force, be it the state or a dominant social group outside the state, and even
an NSAG. Applying this concept to the military, it may form such a state
component—a rather autonomous political and economic unit—as a whole,
or sections and factions of the military may collude with other social groups
in times of mass protest and transformation, as happened in Egypt and Yemen
in 2011. Such alliances can also involve groups outside the state territory,
governments or the military of allied countries, and foreign business compa-
nies or neighboring states, as, for example, in Syria.

Non-State-Centered Approaches to Studying

Armed Groups and the Economy

For the study of behavior and motivations of the military and NSAGs in the
process of transformation after the uprisings of the “Arab Spring,” an analyti-
cal approach that focuses on society and social order instead of taking a state-
centered perspective will be useful. Emerging from social theory, which put
social action and the resulting formation of structures and institutions at the
center of analysis,72 a discourse among scholars developed around “compet-
ing orders.”73 According to this approach, “order” denotes a set of social rela-
tions, which are subject to different forms of domination over subsocieties,
territories, and resources in areas within the territory of a state, or extending
beyond state borders. For example, the order of the state may regulate certain
parts of a society, but in remote areas, local orders of communities or larger
entities regulate the societies in these areas. Sometimes there are enclaves,
for example, schemes run by multinational companies, on whose territory
particular regulations prevail and create a distinct order for those groups liv-
ing in this area. A particular order that uses “violence as regulation”74 occurs
in societies where armed groups, a warlord, or a mafia control a quarter of
Introduction 13

a city, a conquered territory during civil war, a community around an area

where mines are exploited, and others.75
From this perspective, internal dynamics, interdependencies of powerful
actors, power relations, and local patterns of control over economic resources
shape a social order. Regional dynamics and interdependencies between
internal and external actors also have an influence on it. Concepts of order
have been used by scholars from social anthropology,76 political science,77
and, in a different meaning, denote stable patterns of social organization
in human geography.78 These approaches have the attempt to overcome the
limitations of the “fragile” or “failed state” perspective in common.79 The
fragile state approach sets the state as the main form of social organization
in a society and perceives it as being incomplete or dysfunctional in societies
involved in long-term violent conflict. Field research in such societies, how-
ever, has revealed over and over again that civil wars and entrenched violence
hardly led to chaos and anarchy within societies, as assumed by those who
solely apply the state lens. Rather, there were “surprisingly stable organizing
principles at different levels of . . . society.”80
Empirically, there are powerful actors generating orders, as for example,
a neopatrimonial state, the United Nations, and other international agencies
functioning according to their own norms and principles while striving to
implement a civil society, democracy, and a market economy, or orders of
violence implemented by NSAGs. Local communities with long-standing
practices of self-organization that survived through civil war and changes
of rule may also establish a particular order with its own regulation of legal
issues, local conflict resolution, self-organized protection, and even its own
economic resources.81 Whereas each of these orders features a particular orga-
nizing structure that separates it from the other orders, they also have specific
connections through transfers of money or goods, infrastructure, supply of
services or employment, agreements, policies, action by force such as dis-
placement, conflict, or fighting. Individuals may move between the different
orders for various reasons and at different times.82 Hence, formal and infor-
mal links between these orders occur due to the interaction of social actors
from each order, and can be more or less fluid or established. However, they
are not tight enough to consider the setting as a single, unified, integrated, or
consistent overarching order. The connections between different orders are
entry points for key actors to wield power and to exploit larger social settings
and their revenues for their own purposes, and this is apparently most lucra-
tive if patronage networks can be extended across orders.
In civil war cases such as Libya, Yemen, and Syria, this approach can help
locate the practices of sections or factions of the military in possibly compet-
ing sociopolitical and economic orders, which might include certain groups
and networks and exclude others within and beyond state boundaries. It also
14 Elke Grawert

might provide a suitable model to look into the connections between the mili-
tary or NSAGs and other economic actors in the MENA region.

Approach of this Book

The topic of this book is traditional in the sense that it follows the course of
earlier elite-centered studies of political transition, examining the military
as one of the most powerful groups in society. However, different from this
literature, in this book the resource base of the military, its sections and fac-
tions, is neither taken as determining their social action, as in structuralist
theory, nor is it neglected, as in institutionalist approaches. This book studies
processes of transformation in the sense of deep socioeconomic and political
change, extending to the socioeconomic order and social redistribution.83 This
is distinct from “transition,” which has become the term for a phase in politi-
cal change from authoritarian to democratic rule, focuses on modifications
at the levels of state and civil society, and is mostly applied in a normative
way in democratization research. Transformation in the sense used in this
book may lead to changed power relations, however, not necessarily within
democracy, but also again within the framework of authoritarianism.
The authors of this book combine two theoretical approaches:

1. Political economy for the analysis of the resource base of social actors, the
related formal and informal structure of the political order, corresponding
behavior rationalities, and impact on the ruling bargain
2. Social theory, that is, considering social action and interaction as consti-
tuting structures and institutions while at the same time, actors are influ-
enced by internalized structures and symbolic guidelines. This approach
reveals how the military creates legitimacy as an institution, taking over a
role of protecting the nation not only in terms of defense against external
enemies but also proactively as an institution engaging in economic devel-
opment. Hence, institutions are considered as resulting from processes
of action. Social action may thus have the intended or unintended effect
of reconfirming or restructuring existing institutions or establishing new
ones. Examining the strategies the military and NSAGs use to legitimize
their actions through the official security discourse, or through practices
of redistribution among the poor and setting up welfare organizations,
may point to a restructured “security doctrine,”84 to a set of regulations for
access to assistance or other institutions.

In this sense, this book examines the practices and social relations of the
military, its subdivisions or components, and those of NSAGs. It investigates
Introduction 15

how they are shaping formal and informal institutions, such as constitutions
or procedures of acquiring access to resources in interaction with other social
groups and organizations, and in some cases, taking part in establishing
particular orders with their own structures of rule and redistribution. Where
this is the case, the chapters look into the means and interactions intercon-
necting different social orders. They address the legitimizing practices for
exerting rule over population groups, territories, and resources, practices to
maintain the established or emerging order and (local) rule economically,
and examine how this is connected with aims to change the ruling bargain.
This open approach with regard to identifying fields of action of the military
and NSAGs makes it possible to reflect the outcome, not just from a state-
centered, but also a societal, perspective.
The chapters of this book thus consider the military, its subdivisions or
factions, as state components and scrutinize their economic and development
activities in a historical perspective. They investigate the links and interac-
tions of the military with other state components and with other groups in
society and politics, and examine the ideologies or “security doctrines” set
up to safeguard a sociopolitical and economic order that benefits the military.
The authors examine the adjustments of the military to a changing social and
political environment following the uprisings of the “Arab Spring” and, even-
tually, the formation of other armed groups in this context. Where NSAGs
have emerged, the authors trace the origin and development of these groups,
carefully considering the resources they use, how they get access or control
over them, and to what extent they are involved in establishing a particular
order in the territories under their control.
Chapters 1 to 6 contain studies of the economic activities of the military in
Egypt, Pakistan, Iran, Jordan, Turkey, and Sudan. Chapter 7 shows how the
military and NSAGs compete for similar economic resources in the case of
Yemen, and chapters 8 and 9 focus on funding and economic engagement of
NSAGs in Libya and Syria.
Zeinab Abul-Magd unearths, with historical and political economy per-
spectives, how the Egyptian military became a powerful economic player
as an institution running its own productive organizations. She points to a
turning point in the early 1980s when pressure to liberalize the economy
created the opportunity for military officers to become managers of priva-
tized state companies and governors with privileged access to economic
resources. Accordingly, the uprisings of the “Arab Spring” in Egypt chal-
lenged not only the government but also the whole economic apparatus
established by the military. On this backdrop, Abul-Magd thoroughly traces
the behavior of the military in the aftermath of the “Arab Spring,” bringing
to light the concealed aspects of the rollback and renewed military rule in
16 Elke Grawert

Ayesha Siddiqa, whose famous book on “milbus” in Pakistan appeared

in 2007, contributes an analysis of the deep entrenchment of the military in
all economic sectors—manufacturing industry, services, and agriculture—
as well as in the formal, informal, and illegal layers of the economy. She
points out that the distribution of land as a perk for military personnel has
roots in the former feudal structure of Pakistan’s economy. Economic con-
trol provides the military with ample means to channel funds to the officer
cadre and cronies, supported by a patronage system through which the top
echelons of the armed forces remain the main beneficiaries of milbus. The
generals justify this as welfare provided to the military for the services
rendered to the state. Siddiqa examines how economic power feeds into
the military’s political power, provides it with an autonomy that prevents
checks and balances from civilians, and maintains its hegemony through
periods of civilian rule.
İsmet Akça focuses on the large pension fund of OYAK run by the Turk-
ish military. Tracing the history of the fund, he reveals how the military
developed from a national to an international economic actor on the global
financial market. Hence, the case study of Turkey provides insights into
the potential of military entrepreneurship, if it adapts itself continuously to
changing economic contexts. Akça shows how the military, allied with a
faction of the capitalist social class in order to establish import-substituting
centralized enterprises during the 1970s and in the 1980s, was crucial to
implement liberalization policies. After severe power struggles during the
1990s, an Islamic regime took over power, curbed the political and economic
influence of the military, and introduced neoliberalism at large, backed by
a strong class coalition, forged through social policy programs. OYAK
remained one of the biggest corporations in the country, and the arms industry
continued to be a privileged area of capital accumulation.
Kevan Harris concentrates his analysis on the Iran Revolutionary Guard
Corps (IRGC), established as protector of the Islamic Revolution of 1979
independent from the military. Personnel and technical equipment of both the
military and the IRGC went into relief operations, education, and production,
as well as arms industries. In the late 1980s, divestment of state companies
created a large parastatal sector, with military investment in urban infrastruc-
ture and housing projects, funds, foundations, banks, and holding companies.
Harris points out that firms and investment conglomerates affiliated with the
IRGC and other military-linked parastatals have to be regarded as but one
element of a larger mode of capital accumulation in Iran. Smaller private
contractors are linked to the economic clusters, entailing fragmentation of
economic activities through subcontracting and patronage networks. Western
sanctions were an opportunity for military-linked firms to fill the economic
vacuum and very likely also to engage in smuggling. The election of a
Introduction 17

technocratic center-left government in 2013 revealed cleavages in society,

politics, and the armed forces, including the IRGC.
Shana Marshall presents economic liberalization with subsequent cuts in
social services and subsidies in Jordan in the early 1990s as the entry point for
enhanced protectionism toward military business. The rank-and-file benefited
from increased subsidies, and military enterprises opened up a new source
of revenue for the military disguised under neoliberal rhetoric. Marshall
describes in detail how joint ventures between international arms produc-
ers and the military-run King Abdullah II Design and Development Bureau
(KADDB) established a high-tech industry for military needs, provided inter-
national military training, and entered the globalized economy, setting up the
largest arms trade fair in the region. She portrays the Jordanian military as
profiting from the high militarization of the region as an exporter of armored
vehicles and devices for riot control and surveillance, while military invest-
ment is officially legitimized by providing development and employment.
Atta El-Battahani shows that corporate military business founded in the
early 1980s has expanded under military Islamist rule since 1989. The Sudan
Armed Forces (SAF) acquired a strong ideological orientation and business
interests. With a new military doctrine of defending the Islamic state, the
regime justified jihad against the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army
(SPLM/A) in southern Sudan and the establishment of a range of paramilitary
groups and government militias. The oil decade of 2000 to 2011 boosted
SAF economic engagement, albeit in a mercantilist and rentier mode. After
the conclusion of a peace agreement with the SPLM/A in 2005, both the rul-
ing party of Sudan and the SPLM, as well as state officials and retired army
officers, made a fortune and channeled oil-generated rents to their clients and
constituencies. In 2011, after the separation of South Sudan, marginalized
areas and new NSAGs took up arms against Sudan’s regime. El-Battahani
provides scenarios for the future role of the military.
Adam C. Seitz shows that in Yemen, a tribal military-commercial com-
plex established in the 1980s became an important resource base for military
patrons. Strategic rents drawn from the alliance with the United States in the
“war on terror” against al-Qaeda on the Arab Peninsula topped up this source
of income in the 2000s. The long-standing president’s narrowing of the
patronage network as a response to increased rivalry threatened the economic
and political interests of the officer corps and divided the military between
supporters of protesters calling for the ouster of the president and factions
siding with him in 2011 to 2012. According to Seitz, the “Arab Spring”
challenged the ruling bargain, but did not dissolve the patronage system in
Yemen, which provides the framework for the civil war that started in 2014.
Intervention by Saudi Arabia in the domestic war has added a dimension of
proxy war to the Yemeni internal conflict.
18 Elke Grawert

Philippe Droz-Vincent points out that the military had been a weak compo-
nent of the security forces in Libya for decades. After uprisings and a Western
military intervention ousted the regime in 2011, a range of militias, legiti-
mized by the “revolutionary struggle,” assumed political and economic roles.
They are competing with rudimentary state forces over control over Libya’s
economic resources—oil, gas, airports, ports—and this struggle shapes the
(re)construction of state institutions in a way to preserve the militias’ privi-
leges. Militias established local rule and a “moral economy” derived from
previous patterns of partially autonomous orders in many parts of the coun-
try. Droz-Vincent thoroughly traces the multitude of militia funding sources.
Since 2014, in the context of a political stalemate that brought state building
to a halt, rival militias have been fighting each other in an escalating civil war.
Sherifa Zuhur describes the emergence of Syrian fighting groups after
the “Arab Spring” in terms of their ideological underpinnings, local sites
of control, local and foreign membership, economic activities, and regional
webs of funding. She thoroughly traces the connections between groups and
their divisions and factions. In her chapter, she argues that the Syrian conflict
is primarily ideologically driven, while increasingly, “markets of violence”
have evolved around armed groups’ robbery, smuggling, trafficking, occupa-
tion of oil and gas facilities, and economic activities. Zuhur shows that the
boundaries between Syrian military and nonstate armed groups are blurred,
not only due to the range of paramilitary groups the regime has created for its
self-protection but also due to the history of involvement of military officers
in illegal business. The “shifting landscape” of armed groups in Syria and
their diversified economic resources are signs indicating the perpetuation of
the conflict.


1. The definition of “regime” follows that of Wolfgang Merkel in his book

Systemtransformation, 7, as the formal or informal institutionalization of relations
of power, basic acceptance or legitimacy of domination, and, on the other hand, the
regimentation of the behavior of the governing elite.
2. Harders, “Revolution I und II—Ägypten zwischen Transformation und Restau-
ration,” 24–25.
3. “Arab Spring” is a label that excludes non-Arab actors in North Africa and is,
therefore, put in inverted commas.
4. Bonn International Center for Conversion, “Global Militarisation Index,”
5. Amar, “Why Mubarak Is Out.”
6. Brömmelhörster and Paes, eds., The Military as an Economic Actor.
7. Siddiqa, Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy.
Introduction 19

8. Kaldor, New and Old Wars: Organized Violence in a Global Era.

9. Elwert, “Interventions in Markets of Violence,” 219–42.
10. Lock, “Gewalt als Regulation: Zur Logik der Schattenglobalisierung,” 40–61.
11. Abul-Magd, “The Generals’ Secret: Egypt’s Ambivalent Market.”
12. King Abdullah II Design and Development Bureau, “Introduction.”
13. Marshall, “The Arms Trade and Clientelism in the Arab World.”
14. Elumami and Laessing, “Libyan Port Rebel Leader Refuses to Hand Over Oil
Ports to Rival Group”; Haidar, “Syrian Oil Plundered by Armed Groups.”
15. Oxford Analytica, “Islamic State Will Use Water as Weapon in Iraq, Syria.”
16. Schlichte, In the Shadow of Violence, 28.
17. Droz-Vincent, “From Political to Economic Actors: The Transforming Role of
Middle Eastern Armies,” 195–211.
18. Ben-Dor, “Civilianization of Military Regimes in the Arab World,” 317–27;
Perlmutter, “The Praetorian State and the Praetorian Army,” 382–404.
19. Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies, 3–5. For Africa including
North Africa, see Grawert, Departures from Post-Colonial Authoritarianism: Analysis
of System Change with a Focus on Tanzania, 113–21.
20. Halpern, “Middle Eastern Armies and the New Middle Class,” 277–316;
Richards and Waterbury, A Political Economy of the Middle East, 12.
21. Apter, The Politics of Modernization, 405–7; Huntington, Political Order in
Changing Societies, 74.
22. Sen, The Military Origins of Industrialization and International Trade Rivalry,
23. Ben-Dor, “Civilianization of Military Regimes in the Arab World,” 317–30.
24. Przeworski, “Spiel mit Einsatz,” 195–97.
25. Ben-Dor, “Civilianization of Military Regimes in the Arab World,” 319–21.
26. Ibid., 321.
27. O’Donnell, Schmitter, and Whitehead, Transitions from Authoritarian Rule.
28. Fähndrich, Vererbte Macht; Schlumberger, Autoritarismus in der arabischen
Welt; Beck, Harders, Jünemann, and Stetter, Der Nahe Osten im Umbruch. Zwischen
Transformation und Autoritarismus.
29. Elbadawi, Makdisi, and Milante, “Explaining the Arab Democracy Deficit:
The Role of Oil and Conflicts.”
30. Lipset, “Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and
Political Legitimacy,” 69–105.
31. Pawelka, Der Vordere Orient und die Internationale Politik; Luciani, “Oil and
Political Economy in the International Relations of the Middle East,” 90–96.
32. Erdmann, “Transition from Democracy”; Chambers and Croissant, Democracy
under Stress: Civil-Military Relations in South and Southeast Asia.
33. Carothers, “The End of the Transition Paradigm,” 5–21.
34. Richards and Waterbury, A Political Economy of the Middle East; Perthes,
Geheime Gärten.
35. World Bank, World Development Report 1989; Richards and Waterbury,
A Political Economy of the Middle East.
36. Fawcett, International Relations of the Middle East.
20 Elke Grawert

37. Mitchell, Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity, 209–71; Bush,

Poverty and Neoliberalism: Persistence and Reproduction in the Global South.
38. Henry, “The Clash of Globalisations in the Middle East,” 112–21; Haddad,
Business Networks in Syria, 2–3, 68, for Syria.
39. For Algeria see Pawelka, Der Vordere Orient und die Internationale Politik,
119–25; in general, see Brzoska and Heinemann-Grüder, “Security Sector Reform
and Post-Conflict Reconstruction under International Auspices,” 121–42. For South-
East Asia see Chambers and Croissant, Democracy under Stress.
40. Barak and David, “The Arab Security Sector,” 811–15.
41. For a compilation, see Kårtveit and Gabrielsen Jumbert, Civil-Military Rela-
tions in the Middle East: A Literature Review.
42. Moore, Soziale Ursprünge von Diktatur und Demokratie.
43. Evers and Schiel, Strategische Gruppen.
44. Schubert, Tetzlaff, and Vennewald, Demokratisierung und politischer Wandel.
45. Ibid.
46. Ibid., 80–81.
47. Ibid., 82–83.
48. Brömmelhörster and Paes, The Military as an Economic Actor.
49. Ibid., 4.
50. Paes, “Towards a Political Economy of Soldiers in Business,” 75–90; Bröm-
melhörster and Paes, The Military as an Economic Actor.
51. For Central Asia see Heinemann-Grüder, “Patron-Client Relations,” 58–69.
52. Paes, “Towards a Political Economy of Soldiers in Business,” 89.
53. Brömmelhörster and Paes, The Military as an Economic Actor, 188.
54. Ibid., 188.
55. Ibid.
56. Ibid., 190.
57. Kaldor, New and Old Wars.
58. Ibid.
59. Brömmelhörster and Paes, The Military as an Economic Actor, 194.
60. Mehler, “Oligopolies of Violence in Africa South of the Sahara,” 539–48.
61. Mehler, Lambach, and Smith-Höhn, “Legitimate Oligopolies of Violence with
Particular Focus on Liberia and Sierra Leone,” 7–8.
62. Bakony, Hensell and Siegelberg, Ökonomie und Herrschaft nichtstaatlicher
Akteure in den Kriegen der Gegenwart.
63. von Boemcken, Between Security Markets and Protection Rackets: Formations
of Political Order.
64. Schlichte, In the Shadow of Violence.
65. Elias, The Process of Civilization; Elias, “Figuration,” 88–91.
66. Schlichte, In the Shadow of Violence, 18–19.
67. Ibid., 19.
68. Migdal, State in Society.
69. Migdal, Kohli, and Shue, “Introduction: Developing a State-in-Society
Perspective,” 3.
70. Migdal, “The State in Society: An Approach to Struggles for Domination,” 9.
Introduction 21

71. Ibid.
72. Bourdieu, The Logic of Practice; Giddens, Die Konstitution der Gesellschaft.
73. Neubert, “Competing Orders and the Limits of Local Forms of Socio-Political
Organisation,” 49–68.
74. Lock, “Gewalt als Regulation.”
75. Grawert, “Auf schmalem Grat: Good Governance zwischen Globalisierung
und Schattenglobalisierung,” 42–44.
76. Bellagamba and Klute, Beside the State: Emergent Powers in Contemporary
Africa; Hüsken, “Die neotribale Wettbewerbsordnung im Grenzgebiet von Ägypten
und Libyen,” 117–43.
77. Grawert and Andrä, Oil Investment and Conflict in Upper Nile State, South
78. Schetter and Glassner, “Neither Functioning nor Failing of the State! Seeing
Violence in Afghanistan from Local Perspectives,” 141–60.
79. Cf. among many others Schneckener, “Fragile Staatlichkeit und State-Build-
ing,” 98–120; Mair, “Intervention und ‘State Failure,’” 82–98.
80. Mielke, Schetter, and Wilde, Dimensions of Social Order, 4.
81. For South Sudan see Grawert and Andrä, Oil Investment and Conflict in Upper
Nile State, South Sudan, 85–95.
82. Ibid., 10–11.
83. Zinecker, “Einleitung,” 16; Polanyi, The Great Transformation.
84. In this book, “security doctrine” signifies the official discourse, statements,
and documents about threats and requirements for defense and protection from the
perspective of state bodies and armed forces.
Chapter 1

Egypt’s Adaptable Officers

Business, Nationalism, and Discontent
Zeinab Abul-Magd

On a hot Ramadan day in the summer of 2014, the Egyptian lower and middle
classes woke up to dreadful news: their newly elected president significantly
reduced food and gas subsidies. Amid continuous power cuts, the govern-
ment also announced the raising of electricity bills. President Abdul Fattah
al-Sisi, former minister of defense who swept elections last summer, called
on the nation several times to adopt austerity measures in order to face the
ongoing economic crisis, escalated after the 2011 uprisings, and to reduce
the national budget deficit. He asked the patriotic citizens to donate to the
state in a fund that he had created and called “Long Live Egypt.” Meanwhile,
al-Sisi approved an increase of EGP 8.3 billion (about US $1.2 billion) in
the military’s budget, which totaled EGP 38 billion (US $5.45 billion) in
2014. Furthermore, military contractors have established a near monopoly
over public construction projects, and a gigantic military fuel company has
obtained vast tracts of land to build new lucrative gas stations. Charitably,
army soldiers occasionally distribute free boxes of food to impoverished citi-
zens who desperately fight over their shares of this food that comes from the
expansive military farms.1
In Egyptian postcolonial history, al-Sisi is the fourth officer to take off
his uniform and govern the country since 1952. Before him, Nasser, Sadat,
and Mubarak all formed authoritarian regimes where fellow officers enjoyed
superior political and economic privileges entrenched within the state appa-
ratus. This chapter argues that while Egypt has weathered many fundamen-
tal moments of political and economic transformation during the last few
decades, including a “revolution” in 2011, the country’s semiautonomous
military institution has managed to adapt to these changes and survive
them. At crucial moments of socialist, neoliberal, or revolutionary transi-
tion in Egypt, the military managed to maintain a hegemonic position within

24 Zeinab Abul-Magd

the state structure and maximize its economic profits—while employing

nationalistic rhetoric and constantly forging new socioeconomic alliances.
Evidently, the officers have successfully survived the last sweeping wave of
change and have come out of it fully retaining their dominance by winning
back the presidency after briefly losing it to an Islamist group. Neverthe-
less, this chapter poses questions about the ability of al-Sisi’s new regime
to adapt to simmering discontent in such difficult postrevolutionary times,
while applying ambiguous economic policies unfavorable to the very socio-
economic groups that elected him.
Focusing on their economic activities, this chapter investigates the recent
history and contemporary realities of Egypt’s “adaptable officers”2 as they
adjusted to moments of fundamental transition. It first looks at Nasser’s
1950s to 1960s socialist era, when the ruling officers acted as the “vanguards”
of the nation’s progress and allied themselves with the lower and middle
classes to create a state-led economy. In the 1970s, Sadat attempted to demili-
tarize Egyptian politics and the economy—while fighting a war, signing a
peace treaty, and liberalizing the market. But the officers managed to return
to prominence after Sadat’s abruptly terminated reign. Between the 1980s
and 2000s, as Mubarak fully switched the country’s economy from socialism
to neoliberalism, the officers quickly took advantage of the market economy
by expanding their vast business empire. Furthermore, ex-generals occupied
a large number of key government positions ushering in the liberalization of
the economy—as part of Mubarak’s coup-proofing strategy. While the previ-
ous “war heroes” claimed to contribute to “national economic development,”
military entrepreneurs formed ties with local and foreign capital.
This chapter then explores the days of the uprisings from 2011 until the
summer of 2013, examining how the Supreme Council of Armed Forces
(SCAF) adapted to revolutionary realities that deposed a fellow military
president and profited from them by reviving Nasser’s discourse and songs
about the army as the guardian of the nation, and switching allies to the
wealthy Islamists. During this short period, the military expanded its business
empire, appointed an unprecedented number of ex-generals to vital govern-
ment positions, and constitutionally maintained a superior status within the
state after delivering power to the Muslim Brotherhood. Finally, the chapter
delves into al-Sisi’s current regime, focusing on his ultranationalistic rhetoric,
the socioeconomic alliances that he forged for electoral and populist support,
increasing military business profits, and his ambiguous economic policies
that could potentially generate unrest on the side of the same social groups
that voted for him.
It is important here to place the Egyptian Armed Forces within its global
and regional context, among a large group of Third World military institu-
tions that similarly adjusted, or failed to adjust, to transitional realities.
Egypt’s Adaptable Officers 25

Within the global Cold War context, Third World armies at large believed
themselves to be vanguards of modernization and vehicles of progress in
their respective postcolonial or developing states. In the Latin American
and Turkish experiences, for instance, armies created military dictators
that perceived themselves as “guardians” of their nations and protectors
of national values and unity.3 During this period, many military regimes
adopted socialism. Nazih Ayubi explains that in the 1950s and 1960s,
global and Middle Eastern military institutions introduced themselves as
more organized, educated, technologically advanced, and able to modernize
their societies. Ayubi uses Gramsci’s concept of “revolution from above”
to describe the actions of many Arab militaries that appropriated politics in
the name of “development” and applied “radical socio-economic reforms.”4
He adds that militaries “tended to justify their intervention either by citing
nationalistic reasons (fighting colonialism or confronting a foreign threat);
the need for national unity above ethnic and tribal lines; the need for
order, discipline, and organization; or the need for prompt socioeconomic
By the end of the Cold War, many military regimes that had previously
adopted socialism came under pressure to enter a transformation process
toward a market economy, and many had to transition to civilian democra-
cies. Forced to adjust to substantial budget cuts due to neoliberal reform
schemes, armies in transforming states engaged in civilian production to
compensate for their financial and political losses. Frank Mora and Quintan
Wiktorowicz indicate that the failure of import-substituting industries in the
Soviet Union and the Third World and subsequent economic crises led former
socialist states to apply economic reforms. They assert that from the 1990s
onward, the priority of security matters declined on Third World states’ agen-
das and more urgent socioeconomic challenges replaced them. Armed forces
that faced severe budgetary cuts started to invest in self-sustaining economic
activities, and autocratic governments allowed such investments as a neces-
sary strategic step to maintain the loyalty of their officers and avoid mutinies.
The authors indicate,

In the aftermath of the Cold War . . . , the military’s participation in com-
mercial activities became part of the regime’s survival strategy to “purchase”
military support as it sought to either overcome a crisis or implement a series
of politically dangerous economic reforms. A number of these armies have
built up deeply entrenched commercial interests in key sectors of the economy
such as tourism, telecommunications, banking, and transportation, making them
influential economic actors.6

The Egyptian regime and military in the 1990s and 2000s functioned
within this rapidly changing global milieu.
26 Zeinab Abul-Magd

Most recently, Middle Eastern armies have had to respond to the sweep-
ing realities of the “Arab Spring.” They did this in different ways that led
to mixed outcomes, ranging from success to failure (as some of this book’s
chapters indicate). Within its regional context, the Egyptian military has so
far been the most triumphant in adapting to change during the last few years,
emerging from it with ever-greater gains. This chapter poses questions about
whether its victory will last.

From Socialism to Neoliberalism, 1950s–2000s

On July 23, 1952, a group of young officers launched a coup that deposed
the monarch and kicked out the British colonizer. A few weeks later on
September 9, in response to the long-standing demands of the lower classes,
the new military regime issued the Land Reform Law, Law No. 178, which
resulted in the confiscation of thousands of acres from the landed aristocracy
and distribution of them to impoverished peasants. This was soon followed
by other measures regarding the industrial properties of national and foreign
capitalists in the country, gradually nationalizing many of them. In 1956,
Colonel Nasser became the country’s first military president through a public
In his book The Philosophy of the Revolution, Nasser spoke about the duty
of the army to liberate the country and give her freedom and dignity, and its
responsibility to lead a “social revolution” for social justice. The leaders of
the Egyptian army’s top-down revolution came from middle- to lower-class
social backgrounds. From the late 1950s onward, officers and “military
technocrats”—officers who studied civilian subjects such as economics, law,
journalism, engineering, political science, and more—occupied most leading
government positions.7 In 1962, Nasser issued a new constitution stipulating
that socialism was now the official state ideology. The state came to own
all economic assets through nationalization and then built numerous public
enterprises, aiming for an ambitious plan of import substitution industrial-
ization. In 1964, Nasser issued a new socialist constitution that stated that
“the people control all means of production,” and army officers were the
self-appointed deputies of the people in controlling these means. Corruption
and mismanagement proliferated throughout the public sector, and Nasser’s
project ultimately failed to deliver the promise of economic prosperity. As
a result of having neglected their main task of defending national security,
Egypt suffered a defeat in the 1967 war.8
After humiliating military and economic failures, the army fell from
grace politically. Anwar Sadat—the second military president of the country
(1970–1981)—took radical steps to demilitarize the state. Sadat marginalized
Egypt’s Adaptable Officers 27

the officers in politics, reduced their economic influence, and had them focus
on war efforts to rebuild following the defeat. Every time an officer retired
from civil service, Sadat appointed a civilian. Cooper states that in the 1972
cabinet, “the military declined to a level below any other cabinet since 1952
and it continued to decline. Under Sadat, of 127 ministers, 7.5 percent were
officers and 7.5 percent were officer technocrats.”9 He also radically reduced
the number of military governors; in 1980, only five of twenty-six governors
were military.10 Moreover, the army’s economic control over the public sec-
tor declined with Sadat’s “open door” (infitah) policy, as he privatized parts
of the state-owned enterprises that socialist officers had managed. The army
now had to share influence with a rising community of crony capitalists.
Nonetheless, the military institution adjusted to these hard times and
quickly managed to return to a hegemonic place within the state under
Mubarak—the third military president of the country (1981–2011). After
the end of the last war between Egypt and Israel in 1973 and as part of the
1979 peace agreement, the Ministry of Defense created the National Service
Products Organization (NSPO), whose goal was to assimilate the energy of
the officers who were no longer needed to fight into economic development
efforts. Field Marshall Abd al-Halim Abu Ghazala, Mubarak’s first defense
minister and also a member of his ruling National Democratic Party, turned
NSPO into a business empire for civilian production and services. Abu
Ghazala strongly believed that the liberalizing policies of infitah should be
applied not only to the Egyptian economy but the military as well.11 Thus, he
decided to enter the domestic consumerist market and sell civilian products
for profit, while enjoying a superior status within this market. Throughout
the 1980s, NSPO and other military corps established factories of frozen
vegetables, mechanized slaughterhouses, chicken farms, fish farms, pasta fac-
tories, textile factories, bakeries of subsidized bread, and much more. They
constructed thousands of apartment buildings, bridges, roads, schools, and
hospitals for the government.12
Consequently, officers disappeared from movies and songs that celebrated
their war heroism, and they forged a new discourse about their contribution
to “economic development” in the postwar country. In order to justify their
penetration into nonmilitary economic realms, the army asserted that its civil-
ian products and services were mainly for its own self-sufficiency, national
price control, and the welfare of the lower classes. Abu Ghazal claimed to
help the government with its five-year economic plan by using illiterate,
low-class conscripts who were not “medically, culturally, technically, or
psychologically fit” for military service, pressing them into civilian service
instead—as free labor.13 Abu Ghazal started the army’s profitable activities
through humble projects building subsidized apartments for officers.14 But
later he ventured deeply into the field of construction, as the army assumed
28 Zeinab Abul-Magd

the role of a major contractor for government infrastructure projects, and

widely invested in food production. While the Engineering Authority of the
Armed Forces busied itself with public works, NSPO occupied itself exten-
sively with the field of “food security.”15
When the age of accelerated neoliberalism arrived in Egypt in the 1990s
and 2000s, the adaptable officers again made new adjustments and took great
advantage of it. They expanded their vast empire of business enterprises and
managed to restore a considerable share to state authority to compensate
for their losses during the Sadat period. Meanwhile, they maintained their
public rhetoric on their patriotic contribution to economic development,16
and switched their old socialist alliances with the lower classes to the rising
business elite and foreign capital in the market economy. During this period,
the military companies formed business ties with local economic tycoons and
investors from the Arab Gulf states.
Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, minister of defense from 1991 to 2013,
continued what his ambitious predecessor started. The army reclaimed thou-
sands of acres of desert land for commercial agriculture, such as the Sharq
al-‘Uwaynat and Nubariyya farms. Still enjoying a superior status over public
and private companies in taking charge of public construction projects, the
army also built more public schools, stadiums, affordable housing, roads,
water and electricity plants, and sewerage, and they erected sawmills and
brick factories. In addition, Tantawi ventured into new fields, producing
chemicals, optics, plastics, and mineral water and created companies for
mining, petroleum, cleaning, and maintenance, and much more. The Arab
Organization for Industrialization (AOI), originally created in the 1970s for
military manufacturing, appeared on the scene during this period as a grow-
ing manufacturer of civilian goods, such as luxury jeeps, polyethylene pipes
for water and sewer, gas pipes, and fertilizers. AOI conducted water treat-
ment and drainage/sewer projects, produced computers, and assembled fire
Furthermore, Mubarak reversed Sadat’s administrative demilitarization,
as he appointed retired army generals and colonels to numerous bureaucratic
positions in control of the country’s liberalized economy. While former army
officers occupied high positions in every part of the country, they preferred
certain locations where influence and wealth were concentrated. For example,
the majority of governors of provinces were retired army generals, and if they
did not make it to governor, they served as governors’ chiefs of staff, or as
directors of small towns, or heads of both the wealthy and the poor but highly
populated districts in Cairo. They ran administrations in key places such
as the tourist regions of Upper Egypt, all of the Suez Canal provinces, the
two Sinai provinces, the major Nile Delta areas, and Alexandria. The state-
owned oil sector also became highly militarized, as retired generals were
Egypt’s Adaptable Officers 29

put in charge of many natural gas and oil companies. They also controlled
part of commercial transportation. The head of the Suez Canal was always
a former military chief of staff. The heads of the Red Sea ports were retired
generals, as was the manager of the maritime and land transport company.18
These appointments of ex-generals in the bureaucratic apparatus fostered the
power of the state over the market, while that very influence was supposed to
be reduced after applying economic liberalization policies. Thus, the remili-
tarization of the state worked against the economic liberalization policies that
Mubarak claimed to apply.
Military entrepreneurs expanded much further in the 2000s, taking advan-
tage of the rapidly accelerated pace of applying market reforms. This was
also part of Mubarak’s strategy to coup-proof his regime and his son’s suc-
cession scheme. Mubarak’s oldest son, Gamal, assumed the leadership of the
ruling National Democratic Party with conscious plans to succeed his aging
father in ruling the country, and the military’s consent was fundamentally
required. In 2004, Gamal installed a cabinet from his close clientelist circle
of neoliberal business tycoons, called the “government of businessmen.” The
cabinet hastened the pace of privatization, eliminating subsidies and opening
the market to international investments. Gamal’s clients collaborated with the
military and mostly submitted themselves to its superiority in the domestic
market. The army then started to invest in projects with a capitalist and global
orientation, such as in heavy industries, export-oriented agriculture, and the
construction of toll roads. Their new ventures enjoyed legal privileges in
the form of free land, tax breaks, and exemptions from paying customs and
duties. For instance, in 2004, AOI purchased Simaf, the railway car factory
located on the outskirts of Cairo from the state; in 2005, the Ministry of Mili-
tary Production opened a steel factory in Qaliubiyya; in 2010, NSPO started
building a cement factory in North Sinai; in 2011, the same organization fin-
ished building a complex for chemicals—including fertilizers—in Fayyum.
NSPO invested in Tushka export-oriented farms neighboring other local and
Arabian Gulf capitalists and created a Nile transportation company in Aswan
to ship Tushka’s farms’ commercial produce. Furthermore, military contrac-
tors developed many regular roads into toll highways, and military companies
collected their daily fees in a semimonopolistic manner that deprived most
public and private sector companies from engaging in such large projects and
distorted the theoretically liberalized market. When other private and public
companies were listed in the newly reopened stock market, military busi-
nesses were not required to do the same and none of them accepted civilian
shareholders—they were only the property of the military institution, and no
public information was made available on them.
As Tantawi was a member of the public sector privatization committee,19
military entrepreneurs formed lucrative ties with local and international
30 Zeinab Abul-Magd

capital—especially Arabian Gulf partners. For instance, as Shana Marshall

and Joshua Stacher explain,

The Kuwaiti group M. A. Kharafi and Sons . . . has joined the Egyptian military
in a number of ventures, including the Arab Company for Computer Manu-
facturing, Egypt’s only producer of computer hardware and laptops in which
Kharafi owns 71 percent of shares, and the AOI and a Ministry of Military
Production subsidiary each own 5 percent. The military and Kharafi also run
an operation called Maxalto, which relies on technology from the German firm
Schlumberger to manufacture smart cards.20

At the event of the opening of every new economic enterprise, official

statements of the enterprises’ military managers filled national newspapers
about how the project would work toward self-sufficiency and make the mili-
tary less of a burden on the state budget, help the state with its developmental
plans, serve the welfare of the masses by providing them with cheap goods,
and contribute to price control. However, the reality was different: they were
competitors in the neoliberal market, yet with exceptional privileges. The
army’s untaxed, unaudited enterprises distorted the free market for their own
interests rather than correcting it for the interests of the masses. For instance,
the cement factory of ‘Arish—built on free state land in the Sinai in col-
laboration with a Chinese company and using German technology—claims to
help control prices, but the price of the military cement is almost the same as
that of other public and private factories, or sometimes higher. In fact, cement
prices skyrocketed after the military factory was opened in April 2012. News-
papers celebrate the cheap prices of the military cement, but the reality is
different.21 Similarly, the Simaf railway car factory does not sell its products
to the masses at affordable prices—to the government for the interests of the
working masses who use railways—otherwise the Ministry of Transportation
would have refurbished the entire railroad system at reduced prices and saved
the lives of thousands who die in train accidents annually.
Another example is related to the work of military engineers in the Engi-
neering Authority of the Armed Forces in the construction of affordable
houses. The military engineers’ authority presents itself as the most efficient
and disciplined contractor in the country and has always won government
contracts without entering into free and fair tenders where other private con-
tractors could compete. This kind of direct agreement with the government
is called bil-ʾittifāq or bil-ʾisnād al-mubāshir, and the military engineers
constantly exploit the public tenders law that permits this as an exceptional
means to hire contractors. After obtaining a government contract, the author-
ity uses subcontractors from the private sector to execute the project, and in
the end, the state foots the bill. More importantly, the authority charges the
Egypt’s Adaptable Officers 31

government far above market price. Although the government pays the bill,
the military propaganda in the media brags about how the army benevolently
builds projects for the people. Every year, the army holds an “Engineers
Authority Day” to celebrate its excellence, “youm tafawwuq al-hay’a al-
handasiyya.” On this day, Tantawi used to praise the organization’s contribu-
tion to economic development and the welfare of the lower classes, and he
also watched a documentary on the fundamental role of the organization in
designing a historic bridge to cross the Suez Canal in the 1973 war.
The field of building affordable public housing (or subsidized social hous-
ing) for middle- and low-income classes—masākin al-shabāb, for example—
was in the hands of the military engineers’ authority, in collaboration with
the Ministry of Housing and its “Organization of New Urban Communities.”
Retired army generals and colonels dominate high administrative positions
in the Ministry of Housing and its new urban communities organization.
Without public tenders, the Ministry of Housing and its urban communities
organization directly grant the authority contracts to build middle-to-low-
income suburbs on the outskirts of Cairo. Evidently, the work of the authority
is not the most efficient: the public complains about extensive delays and cor-
ruption, and private sector contractors accuse the authority of stealing their
designs.22 Such practices further distorted the theoretically liberalized market
of the Mubarak regime. Employees inside the ministry and the organization
have called for the firing of the corrupt retired officers there.23

Winning a Revolution, 2011–2013

In February 2011, after a long sit-in of eighteen days, the protesters in Tahrir
Square celebrated deposing Mubarak and aborting his son’s succession plan.
They carried banners calling for social justice against Mubarak’s destruc-
tive market transition. Led by Field Marshall Tantawi, the Supreme Council
of Armed Forces (SCAF) immediately offered its help to run the country
for a short transitional period of six months. Grateful for such support, the
Egyptian masses chanted, “the army and the people are one hand,” and state-
owned media played the 1960s national songs of Nasser’s era. SCAF stayed
in power for a full year and a half until they delivered power to an elected
president from the Muslim Brotherhood in June 2012. When the January
2011 uprisings targeted the neoliberal regime of Mubarak, his son, and their
crony capitalists, and the protesters demanded to replace the failed market
economy with policies emphasizing social justice, the officers again quickly
adapted to the new situation. After serving as Mubarak’s minister of defense
for two decades, Tantawi abandoned Mubarak’s regime of business tycoons,
and the retired officers who enjoyed market and political influence under the
32 Zeinab Abul-Magd

deposed president followed suit to overthrow the aging autocrat. Moreover,

the military switched alliances to the rising Islamists, succeeding in collect-
ing more advantages in business and politics—amid prolonged protests and
Upon assuming power, SCAF hired two weak prime ministers who
signed letters of appointment for a large number of retired army generals
and colonels in the state bureaucracy and the public sector. SCAF also
passed a law giving allegedly corrupt army officers, including those who
retired and occupied civilian offices, immunity from prosecution in civilian
courts—Decree of Law No. 45 of 2011. In addition, SCAF opened an indus-
trial chemicals complex south of Cairo producing fertilizers, and a cement
factory in North Sinai. It also constructed new toll highways in Upper Egypt
for a profit.24
More importantly, SCAF had a conspicuous marriage of convenience with
the Muslim Brotherhood based on power sharing. After assuming power,
SCAF voluntarily adopted democratic discourse and oversaw many elections.
The Egyptian people went to the ballot boxes to vote four times under SCAF:
in a referendum on a constitutional declaration drafted by a committee chosen
by SCAF to include Muslim Brotherhood leaders and to be headed by an
Islamist judge, two parliamentary elections, and one presidential election. On
the occasion of every election, the ballot boxes favored the Islamists—partic-
ularly the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis. In March 2011, the Islamists
were very helpful in using religious slogans to mobilize the masses to vote in
favor of SCAF’s constitutional declaration, and SCAF returned the favor. The
soldiers of the armed forces protected the polling stations, but they allowed
the Islamists to violate electoral rules by using religious slogans heavily
and distributing publications with religious signs inside and at the doors of
election commissions. In addition, civil society organizations that monitored
elections recorded cases of buying votes from rural and urban lower-class
citizens through the distribution of food items.25 In the presidential elections,
the electoral violations of the Muslim Brotherhood to support Morsi were
clear, but the army turned a blind eye to them.26
The Muslim Brotherhood returned the favor. In June 2012, when Moham-
med Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood won presidential elections, he began
his first national address by deeply thanking the armed forces. He saluted
the Egyptian military and added, “Only God knows how much love I have
in my heart [for it].”27 Morsi maintained the privileged status of the army in
the bureaucracy by hiring ministers, governors, and other top administrators
from army officers. In August 2012, he sacked Tantawi and replaced him
with General al-Sisi after a grave incident in the Sinai where terrorist groups
killed a number of conscripts. As rumors spread that al-Sisi was a closeted
Muslim Brother, he cooperated fully with Morsi’s government.
Egypt’s Adaptable Officers 33

The Muslim Brotherhood granted the military a semiautonomous status in

the constitution through a public referendum in December 2012. Article No.
197 of this constitution kept the military budget—even pertaining to revenue
from civilian businesses—above state oversight and public scrutiny. It placed
the authority to oversee the military budget in the hands of the National
Defense Council, a governmental body consisting mainly of internally nomi-
nated military officers. Parliament was obliged to consult the same council
about any future laws relevant to the armed forces before they were issued.
Furthermore, Article No. 195 of the same constitution stipulated that the
minister of defense should always be chosen from ranking officers; that is, no
civilian could be appointed as the minister of defense.28
SCAF expanded its business empire during this period, and Morsi and the
Brotherhood’s government granted the military extensive advantages that
overstepped sound civil-military relations.29 The Shura Council, the parlia-
mentary upper house under Muslim Brotherhood control, helped the military
expand its business empire in collaboration with Morsi’s cabinet. This coun-
cil’s “Committee of Human Development” transferred the property rights of
a state-owned car factory to the Ministry of Military Production.30 The same
ministry invested in tablet assembly facilities, and different other ministries
in the Brotherhood’s cabinet placed orders to buy thousands of these items
outside competitive public tenders.31 In addition, the military was allowed
to acquire more land to build new malls,32 and received a state permit to
establish a medical school to train staff for its for-profit hospitals that admit
civilians.33 As the budget of the army’s civilian enterprises remained secret,
the head of the state’s Central Auditing Organization complained that he had
no access to the accounts of military-owned businesses.34
Furthermore, Morsi hired a large number of retired officers in top bureau-
cratic positions, including seven province governors. He directly granted the
Military Engineers Authority contracts for many public construction projects
outside of competitive public tenders. The Brotherhood’s minister of trans-
portation granted the military the right to turn the Cairo-Alexandria desert
road into a toll highway and administer it for profit. In November 2012, the
head of the state’s Central Auditing Organization confirmed that he had no
access to the accounts of military-owned businesses.35
Although the new SCAF of al-Sisi secured enormous advantages from
Morsi, it decided to side with the protesting masses and depose him a year
after his inauguration. For many long months, al-Sisi was content with these
advantages, and he invited Morsi to many military ceremonies where the
deposed president watched the graduation of new officers and the opening
of new military projects.36 However, the military apparently perceived the
Brotherhood—a wealthy, widely spread-out international organization—as
a threat to national security, and Gulf States who feared the ideological
34 Zeinab Abul-Magd

expansion of the Brotherhood supported this vision—and later funded its

political outcomes. Besides suffering from severe economic failure and oppo-
sition protests crushed by police brutality, the Brotherhood publicly sup-
ported jihadist groups in and outside the country. Two weeks before his
ousting, in a horrifying scene to the Egyptian people, Morsi gathered tens of
thousands of Islamists from different factions in Cairo Stadium in order to
declare international jihad in Syria.37 Within this large meeting, many extrem-
ist Sunni clerics made heavily sectarian statements with Morsi’s consent, and
this was followed a few days later by the massacre of eight Shiites in a village
near Cairo.38
In response to tens of millions who took to the street calling on Morsi to
step down on the anniversary of his inauguration, al-Sisi announced his ouster
and the formation of an interim coalition government led by the head of the
Constitutional Court on July 3, 2013. Cheerfully expressing their apprecia-
tion of this military action, the celebrating masses filled Tahrir Square with
posters of Nasser next to those of al-Sisi. The army’s public relations depart-
ment funded the production of a song, titled “Tislam al-ʾAyādiy,” greeting
the soldiers’ hands that saved the nation and invoking the 1973 war victory.
The song quickly became so popular among Egyptians of all social classes
that they still play it at weddings. This marked a new phase for the adaptable
officers to once more switch alliances and deploy old nationalistic rhetoric to
reach their ultimate goals.

Al-Sisi versus Discontents

On the path to sweeping presidential elections in the summer of 2014, General

al-Sisi sought the support of various social groups, mainly the business elite,
workers in the public and private sectors, and middle-class women. Patriotic,
popular songs celebrating al-Sisi’s candidacy for and winning elections have
become basic wedding and dance music across all social classes. However,
al-Sisi has so far adopted economic policies that have displeased the very
social groups that voted for him. They are ambiguous policies lacking clear
planning and do not make distinct choices about which economic model to
follow. On the one hand, he imposes a state and military upper hand in run-
ning the economy and extends government support to the middle and lower
classes, a la Nasser’s model. On the other hand, he pursues market reforms
by eliminating subsidies and stimulating the investments of the business elite,
following in Mubarak’s footsteps. Wrapped in ultranationalistic discourse, al-
Sisi aspires to revive Nasser’s socialist state under military control, and yet he
is in dire need of local and foreign capital that is only attracted to and thrives
in a liberalized market. His confused economic policies have thus far not
Egypt’s Adaptable Officers 35

assuaged postrevolutionary discontent on the side of the very social groups

that voted for him; on the contrary, unrest persists.
Shortly after removing the Islamists, the al-Sisi-led interim regime opted
to ally itself with the country’s leftist groups, especially Social Democrats
and Nasserites. Apparently, this alliance was intended to appease the working
classes and reduce their protests that mainly demanded a minimum wage. For
instance, the interim president (the head of the constitutional court) appointed
a Social Democratic prime minister, Hazim al-Biblawi, who appointed a
number of ministers with the same political stance. More importantly, the
Minister of Labor, Kamal Abu ‘Ita, was a Nassri leader of independent
labor unions. The Minister of Social Solidarity, Ahmad Al-Bura‘i, was also
a strong supporter of independent labor unions. However, this left-oriented
cabinet failed noticeably in calming workers’ strikes, and had to partially
resign due to this failure—especially after its inability to effectively resolve
the longstanding, massive demands for a minimum wage.39 The al-Sisi-led
system then quickly switched alliances again, as the succeeding cabinet of
Ibrahim Mihlib replaced leftist officials with either technocrats or liberals.
This cabinet was not successful in assuaging labor protests either.
Before presidential elections, the al-Sisi-led interim government appointed a
committee of fifty public figures, many of them leftists, to draft a new constitu-
tion, which passed in a public referendum in January 2014. Although its text
introduced many progressive rights for workers, women, youth, and others, it
maintained the exact same privileges that the military obtained in the Brother-
hood’s constitution. Article No. 203 of the new constitution states that the mili-
tary budget should be listed as only one number in the state budget, and should
be discussed only by the “National Defense Council”—the majority of whose
members are officers. The same council should be consulted on any draft laws
related to the armed forces. Article No. 201 states that the minister of defense
must be an officer; that is, no civilians can occupy this position. Article No.
204 imbeds that civilians who attack military business enterprises should be
tried in military courts. In one incident when this article of the constitution was
applied after al-Sisi’s election, one young citizen had a fight with a colonel
running a military gas station, and the army sent him to a military court.
The interim government carried on the tradition of hiring a large number
of retired officers for top government positions, and it kept these offices after
al-Sisi’s election. To mention a few, fifteen out of twenty-five provincial
governors were retired army generals. Other fellow retired officers headed
sea and Nile ports, including the Damietta, Alexandria, Port Said, and the Red
Sea Port Authorities. The governmental authority heads of industrial devel-
opment, agricultural development, and land survey were all retired generals.
The heads of many state-owned holding companies of, for instance, chemi-
cals, land and sea transportation, and grain silos were similarly ex-officers.
36 Zeinab Abul-Magd

After his election, al-Sisi appointed more fellow generals to other key posi-
tions, such as the head of the subways and tunnels authority, and the maritime
navigation safety authority.
Furthermore, different military contractors embarked on large public con-
struction projects worth billions of Egyptian pounds without having to go
through competitive and fair public tenders. In order to ease the process, the
interim president issued decree No. 48 of 2014 to amend the public bids and
tenders law, allowing the government to conclude agreements with contrac-
tors through “direct allotment” in “urgent” matters for construction projects
of EGP 10 million or less. Thus, the government hired military contractors
to build or develop hospitals, bridges, roads, tunnels, thousands of social
houses, and the Cairo-Alexandria toll road and collect its fees. Between the
two months of September and November 2013 only, different army entities
obtained public construction contracts worth around EGP 7 billion—accord-
ing to official statements.40 After al-Sisi’s election last August, the head of the
military engineers’ authority stated that his corps was engaged in 850 public
construction projects in the fields of transportation, affordable housing, educa-
tion, health, sanitation services, government buildings, and land reclamation.
In addition, after his election, the military obtained ten thousand acres for land
reclamation and commercial farming in the western desert, and another forty
thousand square meters to build four gas stations in Upper Egypt.41
Such hegemony over this field generated discontent among the business
elite. During his presidential election campaign, al-Sisi sought the support of
the business tycoons still influential from Mubarak’s era. Many of them did
back him, especially those who owned media networks, but others showed
noticeable apathy. In April 2015, the head of the Federation of Egyptian
Industries complained about the outrageous privileges of military contractors
in developing and administering toll roads, and insisted that the Cairo-Alex-
andria highway contract in particular was illegal.42 The presidential elections
witnessed such low turnout that voting time had to be extended into a third
day, and one of the reasons for the crisis was that owners of private sector
factories refused to give their workers time off to go cast their votes.43 A few
weeks after his election, al-Sisi invited a large group of businessmen for a
Ramadan breakfast meal at the presidential palace where he encouraged them
to contribute to the country’s development, and promised to revise invest-
ment laws in order to stimulate more local and foreign capital.44 Meanwhile,
his new cabinet imposed a 10 percent tax on capital gains in the stock market
in an attempt to boost state revenue, which scared off investors and led to a
drastic drop in the country’s already suffering exchange. It later had to cancel
this tax under pressure from the business community.45 In addition, business-
men were intimidated into donating to the Long Live Egypt fund set up by
al-Sisi, and his supporters made a blacklist for those who would not.46
Egypt’s Adaptable Officers 37

On the labor side, the situation does not seem much better. Workers’
protests in various sectors in the country demanding a minimum wage
and other financial rights never ended.47 During his presidential campaign,
al-Sisi appealed to workers for electoral support, and succeeded in secur-
ing the endorsement of both the old labor unions previously affiliated with
Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party, as well as many of the newly
formed independent unions.48 After becoming president, al-Sisi’s cabinet
decided to introduce a minimum wage, but only for bureaucratic govern-
ment employees, and not for workers in the public or private sector or the
state-run holding companies.49 In an after-election statement, al-Sisi strongly
affirmed that he would not respond to labor protests and their “sectorial
demands” because the government does not have the resources. In reaction,
various labor unions rose objections, and there was broad controversy about
this statement.50 Meanwhile, al-Sisi issued a new law to increase military
pensions by 10 percent after they were already raised by 15 percent under
SCAF in 2011, and another 15 percent under Morsi in 2012. He also raised
the military budget from around EGP 31 billion to 39 billion in the fiscal year
of 2015.51
As for middle-class women, whom al-Sisi always addressed in his
speeches and repeatedly appealed to for support, they are having to face
financial difficulties in their own homes. Al-Sisi intensively targets women
with ultranationalistic rhetoric about their duties as wives and mothers for the
nation, and women across social classes and ages voted for him in presiden-
tial elections and danced in front of electoral committees to show him sup-
port.52 Immediately after elections, al-Sisi opted for austerity, as the cabinet
suddenly reduced food and gas subsidies in the middle of Ramadan in 2014 in
order to reduce the budget deficit. For subsidized bread in particular, special
government smart IDs were required to buy only a few loaves daily.53 The
government has also raised electricity and natural gas fees, which will mul-
tiply the figures on the bills that these middle-class women pay monthly in
their homes. Greater Cairo and all provinces in the north and south of Egypt
have been suffering from severe power outages for hours during the day, and
for some periods on a daily basis throughout the year before and after presi-
dential elections, but poorer areas and villages have to bear the brunt, with
even longer power cuts.54


Throughout the last six decades, the Egyptian military institution weathered
many waves of fundamental transformation in the country’s politics and
economy and maintained a hegemonic status within successive authoritarian
38 Zeinab Abul-Magd

regimes. Under three consecutive military presidents in postcolonial Egypt,

the superior power of the armed forces survived the transition from socialism
to neoliberalism, and from a one-party system to pluralism. During the last
three decades in particular, it expanded a far-reaching business empire that
allows it to intervene in politics and play a supreme, decisive role in state
affairs. While doing so, it swiftly shifted socioeconomic alliances between
the lower classes, the business elite, and the Islamists and deployed national-
istic rhetoric in order to augment its political and economic superiority. Most
recently after the “Arab Spring” uprisings, the military once again succeeded
in surviving difficult moments of revolutionary change, and emerged from
them triumphantly over all other civilian actors in an unstable state and soci-
ety. By restoring memories of Nasser and narratives of war heroism in crafted
propaganda campaigns in public and private media alike, al-Sisi retained
the presidency for the army through elections with sweeping public support
across social classes. Thus, al-Sisi has become the fourth officer to take off
his uniform, put on a civilian suit, and rule the country—for an unforeseeable
number of years to come.
Nevertheless, during his first year in power, the new military president
applied ambiguous economic policies that generated growing discontent
among his socioeconomic base of supporters. While he continued to favor
military enterprises with visibly extensive business opportunities above the
public and the private sector, allowing his home institution to heavily inter-
fere in running the country’s economy, he attempted to apply some market
reforms following Western advice and sought to attract foreign investments.
Such reforms included cutting various basic subsidies, which hurt the liveli-
hood of the lower and the middle classes, but avoided touching both military
privileges and the interests of the local and foreign business elite. The regime
made promises to workers to grant them a minimum wage, peasants to alle-
viate their debts, poor youth to open job opportunities based on anticipated
inflows of foreign capital, women to improve the lives of their families, and
marginalized localities to develop new projects for them, but these promises
have gone unfulfilled. Moreover, expected foreign capital and investments
have not yet arrived in the country because of the declining security status
and increasing terrorist attacks launched by vengeful Islamists in the heart of
Cairo, let alone the bloody troubled Sinai. It is not clear whether the military
will manage to again survive this continuous, postrevolutionary unrest.


1. Abd al-Raziq, “al-Muwazana al-Jadida: Tawfir 85 Milyar Junayh min Daʿm

al-Taqa wa-l-ʾUjuwr”; “al-Jaysh Yuwaziʿ Silaʿ Ghidhaʾiyya ʿala al-Muwatiniyn
Egypt’s Adaptable Officers 39

bi-Maydan ʿAbd al-Munʿim Riyad . . . ” ONA, September 12, 2014; Prime Minister’s
Decision No. 1455 of 2014, al-Jarida al-Rasmiyya 37, September 11, 2014. See state
budget for FY 2014 to 2015 here: http://www.mof.gov.eg/Arabic/‫عناوين‬% 20 ‫رئيسيه‬/PE/
Pages/budget14-15.aspx (accessed July 2014).
2. This term is inspired by Stacker’s Adaptable Autocrats: Regime Power in
Egypt and Syria.
3. Pion-Berlin, “Turkish Civil-Military Relations: A Latin American Comparison.”
4. Ibid., 259.
5. Ayubi, Over-Stating the Arab State: Politics and Society in the Middle East,
6. Mora and Wiktorowicz, “Economic Reform and the Military: China, Cuba, and
Syria in Comparative Perspective,” 87–89.
7. Abdallah, al-Jaysh wa-l-Diymuqratiyya fi Misr, 35. For tables of names of
military officials and ministers see pp. 40–50.
8. See Abdel-Malek, “The Army and the Industrial Revolution”; Wheelock,
Nasser’s New Egypt: A Critical Analysis.
9. Cooper, “The Demilitarization of Egyptian Cabinet,” 208, 210.
10. Springborg, “al-Raʾiys wa-l-Mushiyr: al-ʿIlaqat al-Madaniyya al-ʿAskariyya fi
Misr al-Yawm,” 66.
11. Springborg, Mubarak’s Egypt: Fragmentation of the Political Order, 261.
12. See Al-Malaff al-Watha’iqilil-Mushir Muhammad ‘Abd a-Halim Abu Ghazala
(Cairo: Markaz al-Ahram lil-Tanzimwal-Microfilm, 1981–1989), Part 2 and 3.
13. Abdallah, al-Jaysh wa-l-Diymuqratiyya fi Misr, 96–99.
14. Al-Malaff al-Watha’iqi li-l-Mushir Muhammad ‘Abd a-Halim Abu Ghazala,
Part 1.
15. Abdallah, al-Jaysh wa-l-Diymuqratiyya fi Misr, 81–82; Al-Malaff
al-Watha’iqilil-Mushir Muhammad ‘Abd a-Halim Abu Ghazala, Part 1.
16. See for example: General Mazlum, al-Quwwat al-Musallaha wa-l-Tanmiya
17. For an overview of their civilian produce and services, see the official websites
of NSPO and AOI: “Civilian Produce and Services,” http://www.nspo.com.eg; http://
www.aoi.com.eg/aoiarab/index.html (last modified July 2015).
18. See Abul-Magd, “The Egyptian Republic of Retired Generals”; Abul-Magd,
“Understanding SCAF.”
19. Majdi, “Daʿwa Tutalib bi-l-Tahqiq maʿ 50 Masʾuwlan baynahum Tantawi
wa-l-Janzuri wa-Musa fi Fasad al-Khaskhasa.”
20. See Marshall and Stacher, “Egypt’s Generals and Transnational Capital.”
21. Hisham, “Al-Ihsaʾ: Irtifaʿ Asʿar al-Asmant wa-Tarajuʿ Asʿar al-Hdid Khilal
Shahr Yunyu al-Mad.”
22. Ibrahim, “Al-Mujtamaʿat al-ʿUmraniyya Tatalaʿab fi Makittat al-Iskan
23. For example: Abd al-‘Azim, “Iʾtilaf al-Mujtamaʿat al-ʿUmraniyyaYutalib
bi-Iqalat al-Qiyadat al-ʿAskariyya min al-Hayʾa.”
24. For more details see Abul-Magd, “Time for a Civilian Handover.”
25. Surur, “Taqriyr Huquqiy: Shiraʾ Aswat wa-Bitaqat Dawwara wa-Qudah Yuwa-
jjihun al-Nakhibiyn fi Awwal Ayyam al-Marhala al-Thalitha.”
40 Zeinab Abul-Magd

26. Ali Hasan and Nadi, “Hurra Naziyha: Ansar Mursi fi Qina Yuwazziʿuwn Zayt
wa-Sukkar wa-Lahma ʿala al-Nakhibin”; “HurraNaziha: MursiYatasaddarIntihakat
al-Yawm al-Awwalbi 57% . . . ,” El-Badil, May 23, 2012.
27. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzs7R3lUeUQ, accessed July 2015.
28. For a full translation of this constitution see http://www.egyptindependent.
com/news/egypt-s-draft-constitution-translated, accessed July 2015.
29. See Abul-Magd, “Chuck Hagel in Egypt’s Economic Chaos”; Abul-Magd,
“Egypt’s Politics of Hidden Business Empires: The Brotherhood versus the Army.”
30. Nawwar and Kamil, “Naʾib al-Nur Yaltaqiy Waziyr al-Intaj al-Harbiy li-Bahth
Tashghiyl al-Nasr li-l-Sayyarat”; Abd al-‘Ati, “Tafaʾul bi-Intiqal Sharikat bi-Qitaʿ
al-ʿAmal li-l-Intaj al-Harbiy wa-Tawaqquʿat bi-Najah al-Nasr li-l-Sayyarat.”
31. Hijazi, “Iftitah Waziyr al-Intaj al-Harbiy wa-l-Ittisalat wa-Muhafiz al-Qaliyu-
biyya Khutuwt Intaj Awwal Tablet Masri.”
32. ‘al-Nisr, “Bi-l-Suwar. Mall Tijariy Kabiyr li-Jihaz Khadamt al-Quwwat
al-Musallaha bi-Bilbeis.”
33. “Al-Shura Yuwafiq ‘ala Insha’ Kuliyyat Tibb Tabi‘a li-l-Quwwat al-Musal-
laha,” al-Dostor, June 27, 2013.
34. “Ra’is al-Markazi li-l-Muhasabat: Ma ‘Alaqat Qa‘at Afrah a-Quwwat
al-Musallaha bi-l-Amn al-Qawmi,” Sada El-Balad, November 4, 2012.
35. For more details see Abul-Magd, “Chuck Hagel in Egypt’s Economic Chaos”;
Abul-Magd, “Egypt’s Politics of Hidden Business Empires: The Brotherhood versus
the Army.”
36. See for example Salim, “al-Raʾiys Mursiwa-l-SisiYaftatihanMihwar al-Fariq
al-Shadhli . . . ”
37. ‘Ashur, “Mursi Yasil Istad al-Qahira li-l-Musharaka fi Muʾtamar al-Quwa
al-Islamiyya li-Nusrat Suriya.”
38. Ramadan, “Muhammad Hassan Yunashid Mursi an la Yaftah Bab Misr amam
Rafidat Iran”; Dziadosz, “Egypt Mob Yelled ‘Infidels’ at Shi‘ites Beaten to Death.”
39. Kamil and ‘Uthman, “Intifadat al-ʿUmmal Tutiyh bi-Hukuwmat al-Beblawi”;
‘Abbas, “Al-ʿUmmal Iktashafuw Anna al-Hadd al-Adna li-l-Ijuwr Wahm Siyasiy.”
40. Sulayman, “Al-Jaysh Yahsul ʿala ʿUqud Muqawalat Hukuwmiyya bi-Qiymat 7
Milyarat Junayh fi Shahr.”
41. Hasan, “Raʾis al-Hayʾa al-Handasiyya li-l-Ahram: 850 Mashruwʿan Tusharik
fiha al-Quwwat al-Musallaha li-Khidmat al-Shaʿb al-Masriy”; Abu Nur, “Mahlab
Yatafaqqad 10 Alaf Faddan bi-l-Farafira Tastaslihuhum al-Quwwat al-Musallaha.”
42. Sa’d Diyab, “Ittihad al-Sinaʿat: Isnad Istighlal al-Sahrawiy li-l-Jaysh Mukhalif
43. Muhassab, “Talabat Rijal al-Aʿmal bi-Irsal al-ʿUmmal li-l-Taswiyt, Lamis
44. Salim, “Tafasil Ijtimaʿ al-Raʾiys maʿ Rijal al-Aʿmal.”
45. Yahiya, “Baʿd Ilghaʾ al-Dariyba ʿala al-Bursa wa-Iqrar al-Fuwl. Iradat Rijal
al-Aʿmal Muntasira bi-Awamir Hukuwmiyya.”
46. ‘Isam, “Qaʾima Sawdaʾ li-Rijal al-Aʿmal al-Mumtaniʿiyn ʿan al-Tabarruʿ
li-Sinduwq Tahya Misr.”
47. For instance, see the report compiled by the South Center for Rights on Labor
in Upper Egypt: Rabi‘, “‘Ummal Sa‘id Misr: Ihtijajat wa Ra’is Jadid.”
Egypt’s Adaptable Officers 41

48. al-Shami, “Hamlat el-Sisi Taʿrid Barnamajuh al-Intikhabiy ʿala ʿUmmal

Aswan”; ‘Azzuz and Mahsub, “Khilafat ʿUmmaliyya baʿd Tawqiʿ Ruʾasaʾ Ittihadat
ʿala Wathiqat Daʿm al-Sisi.”
49. Zahir, “al-Khadamat al-Niqabiyya baʿd 4 Ashhur ʿAmal li-Tatbiq al-Hadd
50. ‘Awf et al. “Mawaqif Mutadariba min Iʿlan al-Sisi Rafd al-Matalib al-Fiʾawiyya.”
51. al-Bahnasawi, “Al-Sisi Yusdir Qararan Jumhuwriyyan bi-Ziyadat al-Maʿashat
al-ʿAskariyya bi-Nisbat 10%; al-Miani, “Mursi Yaʾmur bi-Rafʿ ʿIlawat Maʿashat
al-Quwwat al-Musallaha”; Abul-Magd, “Dawlat Qanuwn Wizarat al-Difaʿ”; ‘Id, “Fi
Awwal Muwazana li-l-Sisi Ziyadat al-Amwal al-Mukhasassa li-l-Riʾasa wa-l-Shurta
52. al-Sanusi, “Al-Sisi fi Muʾtamar al-Marʾa al-Misriyya: Ma Tiksaruwsh bi-
Khatriy ba-Zaʿalkum minniy”; “Abraz Videohat Mazahir al-Ihtifal fi al-Yawm al-
Awwal min Intikhabat al-Ri’asa,” Aswat Misriyya, May 26, 2014.
53. “Wazir al-Takhtit: Raf‘ As‘ar al-Banzin wa-l-Sular wa-l-Kahraba’ min Awwal
Yuliyu,” Amwal a-Ghadd, June 28, 2014; al-Sayfi, “Turuq al-Husuwl ʿala al-Khubz
wa-l-Awraq al-Matluwba fi al-Manzuwma al-Jadida.”
54. ‘Ata Allah, “Kharitat Inqitaʿ al-Kahrabaʾ fi Misr Khilal al-Sayf.”
Chapter 2

Businessmen in Boots
Pakistan’s Entrepreneurial Military
Ayesha Siddiqa

On July 3, 2014, Pakistani army troops struck against landless peasants in

Okara, Punjab. The troops had come to punish residents of the village of
Chak 15-4/L for trying to shut down the water supply. They fired at the
impoverished farmers, resulting in the death of two men: one in his early
twenties and another in his mid-fifties.1 These peasants had stopped an army
farm’s water supply in retaliation for the military stopping the water provi-
sions to their village. The Pakistani army does not tolerate opposition. What
is noticeable about the Okara incident is that it is a case of continued strife
between landless peasants and the army. It is also the story of how far the
military will go to protect its economic interests.
This is not the first time the army has killed people in Okara. Eight men
were shot dead in 2000 when the tenants, including other landless peasants
and agricultural laborers, stood up to protest the military’s forcible change
of contract terms between tenants who lived in the military farms area. The
Okara military farms are part of twenty-six thousand acres of land leased in
1913 by the then Punjab administration to the British army for an “oat hay”
farm for a period of twenty years. The Pakistani army inherited this farmland
with an unextended lease, which it never renewed. Since the army had started
to get involved in power politics in 1954, it did not feel obliged to fulfill legal
formalities. Subsequently, the army changed the usage of the Okara land
from oat hay to dairy, which itself was in contravention of the original lease
and the military land and cantonment act. In 2000, the army tried to evict the
land labor and tenants who had lived on the land for over a hundred years
and were promised land rights as far back as the time of the British colonial
The army tried to pressure the Okara peasants first by changing the terms of
contract of the tenants from sharecropping (batai) to rent-in-cash (mustajari).

44 Ayesha Siddiqa

The batai formula had recognized the tenants’ right of ownership over the
land. Accepting mustajari would give the army the right to eventually evict
these tenants. While for the army it was about perks and privileges and main-
taining their power, for the tenants it was a matter of survival and livelihood.
The Okara protesters chanted malki aur maut (ownership or death). The army
was equally afraid of the “blowback” effect—if it responded to pressure from
the tenants, others around the country would begin to challenge its control.
Therefore, the army has used various forms of direct and indirect coercion
to evict farmers. The army claims that their actions in this situation were
to improve efficiency and the profit-making capacity of the dairy farms. A
parliamentary committee reported inefficiencies at the military farms and
accused the officers managing the entity of misappropriation and using the
farm’s resources for soft bribes to senior military officers.2
The Okara stories in 2000 and 2014 are not random incidents. They indi-
cate the extent to which the military would go to protect its economic inter-
ests, which are tied to its political stakes. This is not only about the exercise of
power but also about protecting the military’s economic interests, perks, and
privileges that it accumulated in due course since the country’s independence
in 1947. Besides farms, Pakistan’s armed forces own a huge and multilayered
financial empire that operates in all segments of the economy.
Historically, the military acquired a sizeable portion of central government
expenditure (CGE) mainly due to its perceived threat vis-à-vis neighboring
India. The two South Asian neighbors have fought four conventional wars
and engaged in numerous border skirmishes against each other. The first war
fought soon after independence from the British in 1947 to 1948 ensured that
the government then allocated about 75 percent of the CGE for defense. Ever
since these early years, military expenditures have been rising as one of the
two key spending categories for the state—the other being debt repayment.
In the past few years, the Pakistani military has engaged in systematic
propaganda through its various clients in the media to dispel the concern that
it consumes a major part of the nation’s resources. In June 2014, the mili-
tary’s magazine, Hilal, dedicated an issue to argue about “The Reality of the
Defense Budget,” claiming that the military only consumed about 16 percent
of the CGE.3 Such assessments hide the fact that the defense budget does
not include certain major segments such as pensions, special projects that
are highly confidential, commercial ventures, and spending on the nuclear
weapons program.4
In fact, Pakistan’s military is involved in all three major economic sec-
tors—the manufacturing industry, the service industry, and agriculture. From
manufacturing cement and fertilizer to cereal, the presence of the armed
forces can be felt in the Pakistani economy and society. This is the reason
why military business attracts negative attention and thus an effort by the
Businessmen in Boots 45

armed forces to create an impression that the negative impact of its commer-
cial ventures is nothing but a myth.5
The term I use for military business is milbus. I consider this as military
capital distinctive from the defense budget, but comprised of expenditures
for the personal benefit of the military fraternity,6 especially the officer cadre,
“but is neither recorded nor is a part of the defense budget.”7 The military’s
sympathizers claim that it is private spending that poses no burden to the state
and its finances.8 They also claim that it contributes to the economy in terms
of essential infrastructural development and the welfare of military personnel.
Thus, these commercial ventures are not subject to the same accountability
measures as other expenditures of the state. In fact, the main purpose of this
capital is gratification of military personnel and their cronies. It is controlled
by the military under its implicit or explicit patronage. In most cases the
dividends are limited to the officer cadre rather than being evenly distributed
among the rank-and-file; the top echelons of the armed forces, the main ben-
eficiaries of milbus, justify the economic dividends as welfare provided to the
military for services rendered to the state.
This economic power feeds directly into the military’s political strength.
The fact that they do not have to depend on civilian leadership to provide
for the welfare of its personnel enhances the military’s sense of autonomy.
Furthermore, it increases the sense of power of the army generals who are
independent in defining which type of commercial ventures they want to
engage in. There is no economic activity that is closed to the armed forces.
It adds to the military’s sense of superiority versus the political class and
civilians in general, whom it considers as undependable and inferior. It
also increases the military’s inner confidence in its own survival, especially
where there is a trust deficit vis-à-vis the political leadership. As Peter Lock
wrote: “It is, for example, conceivable that the military elite anticipates a
profound crisis of the state and seeks its own productive resources aimed
at autonomy and institutional stability in the midst of the turmoil shatter-
ing the civil society. The adoption of such a strategy presupposes an elitist
self-image of the military.”9
This chapter attempts to answer the following questions: What is the nature
of the military’s economy in Pakistan? What does it mean for Pakistan’s poli-
tics? Is military business a burden on the economy and the state in general?
The chapter describes the military’s economic interests and the measures it
takes to secure these stakes, and traces their historical roots and chronological
evolution from the postindependence period up until the present day. It also
analyzes the cost that the Pakistani military has to pay today by keeping its
gigantic economic empire.
The chapter presents almost a decade of theoretical and empirical research.
It involved an extensive study of other states engaged in similar activities and
46 Ayesha Siddiqa

conceptualized how the military’s economic ventures were different from

normal defense budget allocations. An even more difficult task, however, was
collecting data, as most armed forces that have directly and blatantly engaged
in economic ventures are very cagy. In fact, I personally suffered threats of
being tried for treason and was hounded out of the country for the publication
of my book on the subject in 2007. It is not that everything is hidden from the
public eye, but an analysis of available information is restricted to describing
such ventures as a great contribution to national development. Furthermore,
a lot of details were gleaned from interviews with serving and retired military
personnel, civilian bureaucrats, political leadership, and journalists that were
involved in or observed these ventures closely. My personal experience of
working in the government, including in the Pakistani navy and the coun-
try’s primary accountability institution, the National Accountability Bureau,
proved fruitful.

The Layers of Military Economic Control

The Pakistani military’s business empire is very large and is spread out across
the economic spectrum. It operates in the formal, informal, and illegal seg-
ments of the economy. Operationally, it is multilayered:

• There are businesses that directly involve the military as an institution.

While there are some major companies and commercial projects run directly
by the military, the bulk of the other businesses are small- to medium-sized
cooperative-type ventures, as happened in China. The similarity with the
PLA military is also striking because it was one of the inspirations behind
the expansion of milbus in Pakistan.10
• The bulk of the major capital-intensive projects, however, are owned and
operated by the military’s subsidiaries operated under the head of welfare
foundations. As in Turkey, they use pension funds or claim to provide
welfare for pensioners.
• The third level pertains to ventures and resources that are provided to and
utilized by individual officers representing the predatory behavior of the
upper echelons—Latin American style. The armed forces adopted a British
colonial structure of granting benefits to individual members for personal
gratification. Moreover, senior officers often use their connections in the
military to maximize personal gains.

Most medium and large enterprises are concentrated at the level of the
military’s business empire, as is shown in Figure 2.1.

Businessmen in Boots

Figure 2.1  Pakistan’s Milbus.

48 Ayesha Siddiqa

As is obvious from Figure 2.1, there are five major foundations:

• Fauji Foundation managed by the Ministry of Defense

• Army Welfare Trust run by the army GHQ
• Shaheen Foundation run by the Pakistani air force
• Bahria Foundation run by the Pakistani navy
• Pakistan Ordinance Factories Foundation run by the main ordinance facto-
ries. It is under the organizational control of the Ministry of Defense but is
primarily manned by the army.

These foundations run about one hundred independent projects varying

from producers of cement, fertilizer, sugar, paint, and cereal production to
running insurance, farming, information technology, private airline, chopper
service, banking, education, private security, and real estate enterprises. The
majority of the ventures are carried out in the name of welfare. Each foun-
dation follows its own mechanism for investments and profits.11 The armed
forces piggyback on their political and social clout to justify their ventures.
For instance, most welfare foundations are engaged in real estate develop-
ment, especially housing societies catering to the upper-middle class. The
military housing schemes tend to be more popular not only because of their
relatively better infrastructure but also because the sense of security for the
consumer due to the military’s connection with such projects. The welfare
foundations use the insignia of their parent services, thus flouting their con-
nection with the armed forces. A public interest lawyer, Wahab-ul-Khairi,
challenged this in the Supreme Court in 1990,12 arguing that the foundations
were in contravention of the Companies Ordinance of 1984 and Trade Mark
Act of 1940 that forbids any private venture or party from using the name of
the state or the armed forces, or the founder of the country. He also asked the
court to ban the military’s commercial ventures, as they diverted the military’s
attention from their main task of fighting wars. The case, however, was not
entertained on technical grounds. But the reality is that the judges were cau-
tious in entertaining a case directly linked with the military’s core interests.
Beyond these enterprises, there are three other large-sized organizations
that are directly run by the military, primarily the army:

• National Logistics Cell—the largest cargo transporter in the country but also
involved in public sector building projects such as roads and toll collection
• Frontier Works Organization—for major public works such as road and
dam construction
• Special Communication Organization—for establishing the telecommu-
nications network in Azad Jammu Kashmir and in the Northern Areas.13
During the 1990s, the organization was tasked with expanding telecom-
munication facilities in difficult terrain.
Businessmen in Boots 49

Pakistan’s military consistently denies that its commercial ventures

deserve scrutiny, insisting that these are purely private sector ventures
financed by pension funds.14 Such claims are flawed for several reasons. First,
there are several businesses in which serving personnel are involved. Second,
it is active-duty officers that sanction all kinds of ventures. Third, respective
service headquarters control the governing boards of all major business con-
glomerates. Notwithstanding the fact that structurally, all services fall under
the Ministry of Defense, the government does not centrally control their
business operations. The three services of the armed forces and certain other
institutions and paramilitary forces have their independent business establish-
ments, which reflect an interservices rivalry.
Besides running the above-mentioned conglomerates, the three core ser-
vices of the armed forces—army, air force, and navy—also operate hundreds
of small and medium business operations, which include bakeries, gas sta-
tions, markets, and cinemas. In the case of the army, which is the largest
service, the field establishments like the divisional headquarters control
these ventures. This also means that the only method to this madness is that
selection of a project depends on the whim of a commanding officer. In
one particular city in South Punjab—Bahawalpur—the corps command had
imposed a road tax on a national highway on the pretext that it ran through
the military cantonment. This was removed after a few years when a civilian
court declared the venture illegal.15

Historical Roots and Evolution

of Pakistan’s Milbus

This section traces the chronological evolution of Pakistan’s milbus from

the 1940s until the 1990s. After independence from British colonialism in
1947, the Pakistani republic was ruled by many military and some civilian
presidents, witnessed military coups, and was often controlled by martial and
emergency laws. The Pakistani military’s entrepreneurial activities or acqui-
sition of assets for personal gain dates back to the early years of indepen-
dence, during which weak governments allowed the military to institutionally
consolidate its power. Assistance from the United States and the imposition
of the first martial law in 1958 helped to further the military’s power consoli-
dation. The army’s direct intervention through coup d’états meant minimum
challenges for its economic activities.
During the first two decades after the country’s independence, two mili-
tary presidents ruled it: Major General Iskander Ali Mirza (1956–1958) and
General Ayub Khan (1958–1969)—and the latter came to power through a
coup d’état. There are two significant activities that started soon after 1947,
and that later expanded under military regimes. The first pertains to land
50 Ayesha Siddiqa

granted to military personnel, which is essentially a British colonial legacy.

Currently, the military controls about 11.58 million acres, approximately
12 percent of the total 93.67 million acres of state land (see Table 2.1).
Out of the total land, approximately 6.9 million acres is agricultural land,
the bulk of which comprises land granted to military personnel;16 here, the
military seems to follow the British colonial tradition of distributing land to
its personnel according to the Alienation of Land Act of 1900. About 10 per-
cent of new land developed by the state is to be distributed among the mili-
tary. This was to encourage the allegiance of tribes to the colonial state. The
canal colonies in Sindh and Punjab, the two big provinces of Pakistan, were
historically the site for the reclamation of land distributed by the state at that
time. In Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (earlier known as the North-West
Frontier Province), land distribution was used to not only create a community
of agriculturists but also to recruit men for the Royal British Army.17
The myth of “warrior races” was constructed to help the process of buy-
ing and creating allegiance to the colonial authorities. The Pakistani mili-
tary did not discontinue the exercise. Initially, senior officers received 150
to 200 acres of agricultural land. Later, this was reduced to 50 acres for
officers and 12 1/2 for junior commissioned officers and noncommissioned
officers. According to land revenue records, the military distributed an aver-
age of about 190,000 acres to its personnel in all of the thirty-six districts
of Punjab.18 The postindependence military justified this distribution on the
basis of providing for the welfare of its personnel. It was argued that urban
and rural land distribution was meant to give confidence to military person-
nel. They would be able to attend to their job better if they have fewer wor-
ries about personal affairs such as postretirement issues.19 Now, the army has
a system whereby every retiring major receives at least a plot of urban land
in their city of choice and a constructed dwelling. Though part of the cost
of construction is deducted from their pay, the state provides a substantial
subsidy. The urban and rural land distribution follows the same formula as
the British did. The practice strengthens the bond between the postcolonial
military and its members. There is no other organization in the country that
would offer such postretirement perks.
The officer cadre, especially the upper echelons, have it better, as they also
have an opportunity to buy land at very low prices in the housing schemes

Table 2.1  Division of 11.58 Million Acres of Military-Controlled Land

Punjab Sindh NWFP/Baluchistan
Total Land 62% 27% 11%
Cities 48% 19% 4%
Agriculture 14% 8% 7%
Source: Siddiqa (2007), 316.
Businessmen in Boots 51

of their subsidiaries on which they are not liable to pay any property or land
transfer tax. The subsidiaries tend to make money on their housing schemes
through the sale of land to civilians who are liable to pay all of the taxes
that military personnel do not. Therefore, most senior officers, particularly
two star and above, have several properties—plots of land or houses. The
traditional principle of providing housing or land for building a house in the
cities had a condition that recipients had to assure that they did not have any
other urban property. The law was subsequently scrapped. Pakistan’s former
president and army chief, General Pervez Musharraf, for instance, owns about
eight expensive properties.20 Such land distribution or other perks denote a
huge and unaccounted for economic and sociopolitical cost that will be dis-
cussed later in the chapter.
Under the first two military presidents in the country, about three hundred
thousand acres of agricultural land was granted to military officers in Sindh.21
According to another report, approximately one million acres were given to
military personnel, most of which was given during Ayub’s regime.22 Under
General Khan, the military was given 10 percent of the approximately nine
million acres of land reclaimed due to the construction of the Kotri, Guddu,
and Ghulam Mohammad barrages in Sindh. The government also gave land
to some senior civil bureaucrats who were the military regime’s partners.
Such grants were reminiscent of the British colonial tradition for establish-
ing feudalism—land in return for allegiance to the colonial state. From the
military’s perspective, building a system in which the higher command was
seen as looking after personnel’s personal interests was essential, especially
in the backdrop of an attempted coup in the early 1950s popularly known
as the “Rawalpindi” conspiracy.23 General Khan extended favors to his son
Gohar, who served in the army at a junior level. Ayub junior later retired from
the military to start his business and industrial venture that used his father’s
political influence and that of the army.24
A second and even more significant move toward business ventures started
in 1954 when the first foundation, the Fauji Foundation (FF), was established.
It was set up under the Charitable Endowments Act of 1890. The startup
capital of Rs 18 million (then, approximately US $72 million)25 was inherited
from the Royal British military in 1947 as Pakistan’s share of the postwar
Services Reconstruction Fund that was set up by the British for the benefit of
war veterans.26 While India, also a recipient of such funds, opted to distrib-
ute it among military personnel, the Pakistani army decided to reinvest it in
establishing a few industrial units in the western wing of the country. This
was part of the larger perspective among senior generals that the army should
play a role as an agent of development. Since the country lacked a sizeable
private sector to enhance the country’s industrial growth, the state took upon
itself the task of establishing industries. The army spearheaded the process,
52 Ayesha Siddiqa

and the FF established numerous industrial units in areas in both western and
eastern wings of the country. In West Pakistan, it set up tobacco, sugar, tex-
tile, and cereal production units. In the eastern wing, investments were made
in electrical goods production, rice growing, and jute and flour mills.
Today, the FF is one of the largest business conglomerates in the country.
The Ministry of Defense controls it, as it was created as a triservice organiza-
tion, but the army has a dominant share. The managing board headed by the
secretary of defense currently manages and controls eighteen projects that
employ almost six thousand to seven thousand retired military personnel, and
providing employment for retired personnel was presented as one of the rea-
sons for setting up such businesses. The foundation also claims to provide for
the welfare of 8.5 million beneficiaries that comprise ex-servicemen and their
dependents.27 The list of its ventures is provided in the following Table 2.2.
In 1966, another organization was established that would later be con-
verted to a commercial venture. The Frontier Works Organization (FWO)
was initially set up to build the 805-kilometer-long Karakoram Highway
connecting Pakistan with China.28 After completion of the project, the army
decided to use the surplus engineers that had built the road to form the FWO.
Today, the company is the largest contractor for major public sector projects
and comprises serving army officers.
In the period between 1971 and 1977, milbus slowed down. This period
marked the rise of the first civilian, popularly elected president and prime
minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (president from 1971 to 1973 and prime minis-
ter from 1973 to 1977 under another civilian president), and also witnessed
the military’s low morale after losing its third war with India in 1971. In
the same year it lost the battle, the army established an independent welfare

Table 2.2  List of Fauji Foundation Projects

Fully-Owned Associated Affiliated Investment
Projects Companies Projects Board
Foundation Gas Mari Gas Company Ltd. Foundation Pakistan Maroc
University Phosphere, S. A.
Fauji Corn Complex Fauji Cement Company Ltd.
Fauji Security Services Fauji Fertilizer Company Ltd.
Fauji Sugar Mills Fauji Fertilizer Bin Qasim Ltd.
Overseas Employment Foundation Securities (PVT)
Sevices Ltd.
Fauji Foundation Fauji Kabirwala Power
Experimental & Seed Company Ltd.
Multiplication Farm
Fauji Oil Terminal &
Distribution Company Ltd.
Source: Siddiqa (2007), 207–8.
Businessmen in Boots 53

foundation, the Army Welfare Trust (AWT), arguing that it was needed as
the army had been feeling the impact of a resource crunch since the 1965
war.29 The trust was opened with an initial endowment of Rs 0.7 million
under the Societies Registration Act of 1860 for generating funds for orphans,
widows of martyrs, disabled soldiers, and providing for the rehabilitation of
ex-servicemen. The trust grew to own about forty-one independent projects,
of which about thirteen are shareholding, while the rest are completely owned
by the army (see Table 2.3).
Constructed on a Turkish pattern of investing in pension funds, AWT has
estimated assets of Rs 50 billion, it is controlled by the army GHQ, and pro-
vides employment to about five thousand ex-servicemen. The adjutant-general
of the army serves as the managing director of the committee of administration.
Soon after, the idea was replicated by the Pakistani air force in opening its
Shaheen Foundation (SF) in 1977 under the Charitable Endowment Act of
1889, with seed money of Rs 5 million. The foundation employs about two
hundred retired personnel, the bulk of whom are technicians/airmen rather
than officers. Claiming a net worth of Rs 2 billion30 with an estimated annual
turnover rate of Rs 600 million,31 SF operates about fourteen independent
projects (see Table 2.4).
The foundation is controlled by the Pakistani air force through a committee
of administration headed by the chief of the air staff.
Nevertheless, the civilian government did not encourage a lot of activi-
ties. It did allow some infrastructure expansion, but mainly that which was
required as part of the state’s objectives. This is in reference to the Special
Communication Organization (SCO) established by the army in 1976 to

Table 2.3  List of AWT Projects

Askari Stud Farms (two farms)* Army Welfare Shops (four shops)
Askari Farms (two farms) Army Welfare Commercial Project
Askari Welfare Rice Mill Askari Commercial Bank
Askari Welfare Sugar Mill Askari Leasing Limited
Askari Fish Farm Askari General Insurance Company
Askari Cement (two plants) Askari Welfare Saving Scheme
Askari Welfare Pharmaceutical Project Askari Associate Limited
Magnesite Refineries Limited Askari Information Service
Army Welfare Shoe Project Askari Guards Limited
Army Welfare Woolen Mill Askari Power Limited
Army Welfare Hosiery Unit Askari Commercial Enterprises
Travel Agencies (three different agencies) Askari Aviation
AWT Commercial Plazas (three buildings) Askari Housing Scheme (At six
different locations)
Source: Siddiqa (2007), 213.
*These farms cover sixteen thousand acres of government land, for which it receives no revenue.
54 Ayesha Siddiqa

Table 2.4  List of SF Projects

Shaheen Air International* Shaheen Complex (two projects)
Shaheen Air Cargo Shaheen Pay TV
Shaheen Airport Services FM-100 (radio channel)
Shaheen Aerotraders Shaheen System (information technology)
Shaheen Insurance Shaheen Knitwear
Shaheen Travel (three projects)  
Source: Siddiqa (2007), 216.
*SF sold SAI in 2004.

create a communications network in Azad Jammu Kashmir and the Northern

Areas—two areas considered sensitive and out of reach for the civilian pri-
vate sector. The government blocked its further expansion.
Terminating this brief period of civilian power, General Zia-ul-Haq
launched a military coup in 1977 and became the president of the country
until his death in 1988. The period of his rule witnessed a real boost and the
uninterrupted growth of milbus, an expansion in military opportunities, as
well as an increase in the organizational infrastructure with the imposition
of the third martial law the year he came to power. The army orchestrated a
murder trial against Bhutto and eventually hung him in 1979. This initiated
an element of fear, both in the political class and society in general, which
deterred the government from obstructing the military’s prime political and
economic interests. Thus, these years propped up the army as a bigger power
in the civil-military equation.
General Zia-ul-Haq rewarded the military for standing by his side with
greater personal and institutional benefits. For instance, a 10 percent quota for
civil service jobs was instituted for the armed forces. Unlike civilians, officers
do not have to take a competitive examination but are selected on the basis
of this quota. Moreover, 115 retired military officers were reemployed in the
government on a contractual basis at key positions.32 The military dictator
also gave officers perks such as importing luxury cars exempt from customs
duty. From 1977 to 1997, approximately forty-three senior officers benefit-
ted from this scheme.33 Clearly, the institutionalization of perks was mainly
concentrated in the officer cadre. The regime also granted greater benefits to
individual members of the fraternity in the form of both rural and urban real
estate. Other privileges created were less transparent than others. As a part
of power enhancement, Zia allowed his corps commanders to operate secret
“regimental” funds, financial resources at the disposal of senior commanders.
Such funds got their resources from the government, or from private small
and medium entrepreneurial operations, without any scrutiny of the funds or
the providing business ventures. Unlike larger institutions such as the FWO,
National Logistics Cell (NLC), and Special Communication Organization,
Businessmen in Boots 55

which have relatively greater transparency, the smaller ventures are above
board. They are also less visible because they involve small businesses such
as bakeries, cinemas, gas stations, commercial plazas/markets, and the sale of
contracts for dredging and fishing in inland lakes.
The military’s institutional expansion was equally noticeable during this
period. In 1977, the GHQ decided to develop its own school systems, ini-
tially started for children of military families and then opened up for civilians
who paid higher fees than the military.34 The more significant addition was
in the form of the NLC, a company used for shipping, road construction,
and toll collection. Established in 1978, the NLC is the largest cargo com-
pany that has pushed out other private sector firms from this business. It has
also negatively affected Pakistan Railways, as they continue to suffer from
a shortage of business diverted to the NLC. The company also constructs
roads, bridges, and wheat storage facilities. Legally, under the control of the
Ministry of Planning and Development, its administrative control falls under
the army.35
In 1982, the Pakistani navy decided to avail itself of the opportunity and
set up its business empire. Hence, the Bahria Foundation (BF) was estab-
lished under the Charitable Endowment Act of 1890 using pension funds
worth Rs 3 million as seed money. It currently runs nineteen projects listed
in the following table. Like the other two foundations, the naval headquarters
controls Bahria.
The existing and larger foundations like the FF and AWT also received
an opportunity to expand into significant business areas such as fertilizer
production, which is a lucrative business in Pakistan’s agrarian economy.
Economist and former head of the State Bank of Pakistan, Ishrat Hussain,
claimed that the military fertilizer companies almost have a monopoly in this
field.36 The FF also expanded in other strategic sectors like oil and gas. It set
up a subsidiary, the Mari Gas Company Limited, where the FF was the larg-
est stakeholder.
The army’s AWT decided to expand into several agro-based industries. In
1984, the foundation opened its sugar mill in Badin, Sindh; and rice, ginning,
and oil mills, a fish farm, and a bicycle manufacturing plant in Lahore; and
a hosiery factory in Rawalpindi. The investment capital was obtained from
government-run banks.37 As most ventures proved unprofitable, these were
eventually closed.38 An incursion was made into the service industry: the SF
established its advertising agency in 1977, a knitwear factory in 1981, and an
airport service company in 1982. Later, a company called Shaheen Aerotrad-
ers was opened in 1988 to supply hardware and other required stores to the
Pakistani air force.39 The basic concept was to feed demand generated by the
air force by setting up relevant businesses. Following a similar pattern, the BF
set up a company in 1982 to supply stationery and office supplies to the navy
56 Ayesha Siddiqa

Table 2.5  List of BF Projects

Falah Trading Agency Bahria University
Bahria Construction Bahria Shipping
Bahria Travel and Recruiting Agency Bahria Coastal Services
Bahria Paints Bahria Security & System Services
Bahria Deep Sea Fishing Bahria Catering and Decoration Services
Bahria Complexes Bahria Farming
Bahria Town and Housing Schemes Bahria Holding
(three projects)
Bahria Dredging Bahria Harbor Services
Bahria Ship Breaking Bahria Bakery
Bahria Diving and Salvage International
Source: Siddiqa (2007), 218.

and other government offices. The BF also entered the business of urban real
estate development in 1986.
Watching the pattern, even Pakistani Rangers—a paramilitary force for
border security—decided to use its authority for money making. In 1977 it
began selling fishing rights in lakes located in Sindh province. This was tanta-
mount to the usurpation of the rights of indigenous fishermen, but the border
force could not be desisted, as protests and political movements were harshly
curbed.40 In any case, such rights were appropriated under the excuse of pro-
viding for security; securing national interests has always been the recipe for
justifying business and industrial ventures.
The death of General Zia-ul-Haq in a mysterious military aircraft crash in
1988 brought a change in the country’s political scene. General elections were
held that again brought to power the Pakistan People’s Party of former Prime
Minister Bhutto, now headed by his daughter, Benazir Bhutto. However,
her government was allowed to function for only two years. The military’s
intelligence agency allegedly conspired to remove her, a plan executed with
funds acquired from a business tycoon.41 The army also used money to cre-
ate an anti-Bhutto coalition, whose leader, Mian Nawaz Sharif, became the
next prime minister in 1991. He too was removed on corruption charges and
replaced with Benazir Bhutto yet again in 1993. Sharif, however, returned to
power in 1997 and was removed again in 1999, this time through a military
coup in October of that year. The three earlier removals were done using
Article 58 (2)(b) of the 1973 Constitution, which empowered the president
to remove a parliament and prime minister. This also meant that the political
government remained weak and conscious of its vulnerability.
For milbus, this meant that, unlike in the 1970s, civilian rule did not scru-
tinize the economic advancements of the armed forces. In fact, as the former
Finance and later Foreign Minister Sir Taj Aziz stated, business opportuni-
ties to the military were then viewed as sweeteners given to divert attention
Businessmen in Boots 57

away from governments and discourage generals from disturbing civilian

regimes.42 However, when the military business complex expanded, it did
not stop the military from destabilizing civilian rule, which is obvious from
the fact that from 1988 to 1999 there were four governments in quick suc-
cession. It was only during Nawaz Sharif’s second tenure as prime minister
that his finance minister advised the military to rationalize its entrepreneurial
structure by merging at least two foundations. This was after the government
was asked to contribute Rs 15 billion to bail out the AWT.43
Benefits were provided for individual members of the armed forces in the
form of new housing schemes in large and medium-sized towns, especially in
Punjab where the bulk of the army comes from. While agricultural land was
also given to soldiers, though less than officers, the urban housing schemes
during this period were entirely dedicated to the officer cadre. These hous-
ing schemes were built on land carved out of military exercise grounds. This
means that the officer cadre converted government land at the disposal of
the armed forces for operational and training purposes. The army converted
land for other uses as well, such as turning campgrounds into golf courses.
This land issue came up for debate in Parliament in 2003, but the military
challenged the question with the response that they were well within their
After her first government was removed in 1990, Benazir Bhutto was
aware of the military’s interests during her second government. Even Nawaz
Sharif, who was elected in 1991 for the first time as prime minister, was
careful and tried to appease the military by giving them some political
importance and economic opportunities. For instance, Sharif gave many
construction contracts to the military companies, the NLC and FWO.45 The
two companies almost enjoy a monopoly over road construction. Other lucra-
tive deals included rewarding NLC in 1999 with the contract for collecting
tolls on national highways.46 Similarly, the second Sharif government gave
the FWO responsibility for managing two main highways. This also meant
that the company was authorized to charge private sector firms for installing
billboards along the highways.47
During this period, the four welfare foundations expanded into several
areas, such as banking, finance and insurance, real estate, travel, IT, energy,
and education. The project’s selection was a random process depending on
the whims of the managing board of the foundations, or if they were con-
vinced that an area of economic activity was particularly lucrative. In any
case, with an expanding officer cadre, the military was keen to create postre-
tirement benefits for them. It was during this period that major projects such
as Askari Commercial Bank, Askari Leasing, and Askari General Insurance
were launched by the AWT. The army chief, Aslam Beg, argued that entering
into the financial sector and opening a bank was a way to make good use of
58 Ayesha Siddiqa

officers’ and soldiers’ pension funds, and the then finance minister claimed
that the chief was personally interested in the project.48 The bank grew into
a major private sector bank until it turned less profitable after 2010 to 2011.
Since these ventures are closed to public scrutiny, there is little information
regarding reduced bank profitability. However, some people in the banking
sector and former military personnel the author discussed the matter with
thought that perhaps the bank went down because the new army management
that took over in 2008 did not consider it such a high priority. It is worth not-
ing that for top generals, the formal business empire signifies their political
power and is an expression of their autonomy vis-à-vis civilians. However,
rooted in British colonial tradition, they still do not consider military busi-
ness ventures as their primary function. Hence, a venture can get attention
for some years and then lose significance later. The AWT also invested
in expanding its industrial infrastructure, including its cement production
capacity. The investment put a huge burden on AWT, for which it asked the
government for a financial bailout it received later after the military takeover
in 1999.
The Askari Bank provided financial support to other military foundations
and businesses outside the army. The SF, the air force’s insurance venture,
received such support, and it is a case of international partnership between
SF and Hollard Insurance Ltd. of South Africa, which had a 30 percent share
in the business.49 But during this period, Shaheen entered totally uncharted
territory, especially with the media. It opened a radio channel and a pay TV
company in the late 1980s. There were rumors of SF’s partnership with Prime
Minister Benazir Bhutto’s husband, Asif Zardari.50 The project was shut
down in the mid-1990s when it began to bleed financially. However, this was
also the first instance where the military began to penetrate the media, a role
that was expanded during the 2000s and beyond. The BF, on the other hand,
invested in fishing and dredging, and setting up housing projects in partner-
ship with civilian entrepreneurs.51 All of the four major foundations also
entered a more typical field for them, the field of private security. This was
an area of activity where they had little competition. A retired army officer
runs a major private security company.52

A National Narrative for

Military Interests, 1999–2014

In October 1999, the military was back in power when the army chief Gen-
eral Pervez Musharraf overthrew the civilian, elected government of Nawaz
Sharif. Sharif and his family were shipped to Saudi Arabia under a “pardon”
deal in which the former prime minister agreed not to return to the country
Businessmen in Boots 59

for about ten years.53 Later, Musharraf became president and set about bring-
ing back democracy under the close control of the military by often replacing
prime ministers but keeping the same parliament; Pakistan saw four prime
ministers between 2002 and 2007. Moreover, Musharraf perpetuated a public
narrative about the military as the most powerful and efficient organization
in the country and sustained this narrative through structural arrangements
that ensured the primacy of the armed forces. For instance, when Musharraf’s
regime promised an end to corruption and that he wanted to create a better
system of accountability, it created anticorruption mechanisms that exempted
the military and the judiciary from public scrutiny. The new accountability
law introduced in 1999 was used selectively to gain greater power vis-à-vis
the political stakeholders.54 The military’s economic activities and the corrup-
tion of its generals went untouched during Musharraf’s years.
Musharraf had to leave power in 2008, and civilians followed him, but this
barely affected the superior status of the military in politics and the economy.
Musharraf left when friction developed between him and the Chief Justice
of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, and a subsequent
lawyers’ movement that was built around the latter against the former finally
resulted in pushing him out of all positions of authority in 2008. The elections
held that year saw Benazir Bhutto’s party return to power after her assassi-
nation in a terrorist attack in December 2007. Later in 2013, Nawaz Sharif
returned to power after securing a majority in elections.
Although this was the first time that a transfer of power from one civilian
government to another took place, it did not mean a reduction in the mili-
tary’s hegemony. Since 2013, the army managed a relationship that analysts
consider as a “soft coup,” through which it has maneuvered weak govern-
ments and created a power-sharing arrangement with them—deeply affecting
the political class and its control over society.55 Media was systematically
controlled and manipulated in the process, as military propaganda continued
fostering the public narrative and perceptions about the army as the most
powerful and efficient organization in the country. Such narratives not only
worked to help the armed forces create partnerships across the ideological
divides but also to strengthen the military’s political and economic control.
The Pakistani military has established itself as the only viable political arbi-
ter, and neither parties of the religious right nor the left of center expressed
reservations about its economic ventures.
This supporting and friendly propaganda narrative helped block any
resistance to the expansion of the economic empire from the last coup of
1999 onward. Therefore, it was unimaginable to see the implementation of
the aforementioned idea of the sacked civilian government to rationalize
the institutional structure of milbus. In fact, the military government pro-
vided a financial bailout to the AWT in 2001.56 The Musharraf regime also
60 Ayesha Siddiqa

attended to the need of providing personal benefits to senior officers, such

as providing personal staff to retired senior naval officers, a perk that was
already given to their counterparts in the army. It also continued distribut-
ing agricultural land to officers in South Punjab. Since very limited military
manpower comes from this region, the supply of land created social tensions
and gave it a flavor of colonization. Added to this was the problem of the
army’s “illegal” occupation of land in Cholistan (the desert area in South
Punjab).57 According to official records, the army illegally occupied 99,865
acres of land in Cholistan. This includes about five thousand acres of the for-
est department. The stolen land is in addition to the two hundred thousand
acres of land leased to the army by the provincial government for operational
purposes. In many cases, land is leased out in the name of senior army per-
sonnel, who then sublet it to big landowners and businessmen of the area or
others who may have interest in farming. Most of this happened in the period
from 1999 to 2008.
Such distribution of land is also accompanied by the theft of water on a
fairly large scale. The army is known for making illegal water outlets from
the canal that carries a specified amount of water for farmers. The Okara
farms issue discussed earlier in the chapter reflects a similar kind of activity.
The farms consist of 16,627 acres of land that includes two dairy farms, seven
military (oat hay) farms, and twenty-two villages, all part of a total of 35,508
acres of land given to the army prepartition in that area as oat hay farms on
a twenty-year lease that was later extended every five years.58 The Pakistani
army inherited the land from the British but never renewed its lease. More-
over, it did not even honor the conditions laid down in the agreement that the
land could not be used for anything other than growing fodder.59 There are
about seven types of land managed by the Military Lands and Cantonment
Department according to the laws laid down in the Military Land Manual,
based on the British Cantonment Land Administration Rules of 1937. The
Military Lands Manual stipulates that once a parcel is no longer needed for
the purpose it was acquired for, it may revert to the original owner.60 How-
ever, this is not a practice that Pakistan’s armed forces have adopted.
In Okara, the conflict started back in 2001 when the army tried to forcibly
change the nature of the contract for the tenants to till the farms that they
had been living on for about a century. The army unit stationed in Okara first
tried to force the tenants, mainly landless peasants, to accept a change in the
contract from crop sharing to paying rent in cash. The tenants preferred share-
cropping because it recognizes a right over the land for them equal to that of
the owner, especially in the case of land sale. The army created conditions of
pressure, making it unaffordable for these peasants to stay on the land, and
eventually evicting them. The resistance by the Anjuman-e-Muzarain Paki-
stan (Tenants Association of Pakistan) led to clashes with the army resulting
Businessmen in Boots 61

in the death of about eight peasants. The poor tenants were brutalized. The
issue temporarily subsided due to the weakening of the Musharraf regime in
2007 to 2008, but this did not change the army’s mind, which continued to
put pressure on the tenants. It did not even concern itself with the opinion of
the Provincial Board of Revenue, a department responsible for all land trans-
actions, stating that the military is in illegal possession of the Okara farm-
land.61 In June 2004, the army increased the rent to such a significant extent
that the peasants did not agree to pay, which led to clashes. However, no one
in the country, especially among the political class, seems to have the power
or the will to reclaim the land. Even the Pakistani media, which many boast as
one of the most independent segments of civil society, did not bother to report
the recent clashes—perhaps out of fear. In 2001, the army threatened a BBC
journalist reporting the Okara incident with dire consequences. The military
also gave land to its subsidiaries. The AWT, FF, and BF run agricultural and
dairy farms. The former are used to supply sugarcane to sugar mills owned
and operated by the FF.62
Land acquisition and distribution also tends to encourage corruption, as
was evident in a particular case in 2011 to 2012. A scam was unearthed in
which the Defense Housing Authority was involved in a scandal estimated
to cause a loss of Rs 62 billion (US $682 million).63 The case was initially
taken up by the National Accountability Bureau, the primary anticorruption
organization in Pakistan, but it was later dropped under pressure from the
then army chief, Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, and other generals.64 I was serving
in the Bureau at the time and closely observed the military’s manipulation
of people and facts. This was a rare occasion that a scandal of this sort was
exposed, yet without any follow-up as far as accountability or arresting the
culprits is concerned.
During the last couple of decades, all military foundations increased their
involvement in the educational sector. They opened more schools, colleges,
and even universities. In fact, the AWT set up an independent Askari Educa-
tion Board to introduce its own examination system. Furthermore, there was
a trend to appoint officers as heads of major public sector universities.65 This
emphasized their urge to become independent of civilian systems of gover-
nance and a confidence of their own organizational superiority.

The Cost of Maintaining the Economic Empire

Talk to any military officer about their business ventures and in most
instances they will deny that the military is involved in business. Even if
they do, the response is mostly that there is no cost to the government and
that such activities are carried out through resources of the armed forces.66
62 Ayesha Siddiqa

Given the military’s primary role in politics, Pakistan’s milbus has often
been criticized but never debated seriously. Milbus is considered a part of
military’s interest and an issue that civilians should not probe into. Part of
the problem is the military’s overall lack of accountability and the overall
political instability in the country. No political dispensation is ever allowed
to strengthen itself to a point where it begins to question the military’s
economic and political power. The British colonial and postcolonial legacy
and their contributions to national development were cited as explanations.
However, the initial growth of the military business complex was a result of
the political clout of the armed forces. The more powerful the military grew,
the more lavish it became in expanding into all segments of the economy—
from formal to informal, and in industry and agriculture. Consequently,
milbus grew large enough to become an incentive for generals to remain
But politicians are not the only ones who failed to question this business
empire. The private sector is equally lax in challenging the military’s entry
into business. This is because private entrepreneurs are a product of and have
grown used to a semiauthoritarian political system that is based on a patron-
age network. The private sector and military are both beneficiaries of this
crony capitalism. Economic progress is not achieved through the concentra-
tion of wealth and opportunities in the hands of a few. Hence, crony capital-
ism is one of the ramifications of milbus.
Unlike other countries where militaries engage in business, such as Indo-
nesia and China, military business is not recognized by Pakistan’s armed
forces as one of its primary roles. It is categorized as part of the cost of
security, since the milbus funds are dedicated to the welfare of personnel.
Many military officers that I interviewed during the process of writing
about these activities described milbus as benign. No one talks about its
cost. However, these perks and privileges are indirect subsidies that tend to
be expensive. Also, many of the ventures do not pay taxes to the govern-
ment despite the claim that these businesses operate in the private sector.
In terms of land grants in towns and cities, military officers do not pay any
property tax or transfer fees. This means that they earn money through
selling the allotted land at a much higher price without contributing to the
public treasury.
Moreover, an analysis of some of the financial data available on military
subsidiaries indicates that these ventures are not necessarily cost-effective.67
A glance at some of the available balance sheets of some military companies
that are registered with the stock exchange indicates that their operations are
not necessarily efficient.68 In addition, as mentioned earlier, larger military
subsidiaries like AWT sought financial bailouts on several occasions. Poor
management led to the closing down of Shaheen Airlines of the Pakistani
Businessmen in Boots 63

air force that was eventually liquidated in the mid-2000s. Financial experts
whom I talked to reported that Askari Bank is facing problems as well. The
parliamentary committee investigating Okara farms had detected grave inef-
ficiencies and graft. One of the reasons for inefficiency relates to the higher
management comprised of nonexperts and nonbusiness people. The manage-
ment of all major subsidiaries and their companies consists of serving and
retired military officers. Although officers claimed that they could manage
a business venture as well as any qualified or experienced entrepreneur,
the state of their operations does not reflect reality.69 Despite the lackluster
performance, military generals refuse to rationalize milbus, which in itself
is indicative of the power politics dimension. Numerous audit reports of the
Auditor General of Pakistan have highlighted the illegal transfer of resources
from government to military business.70
The financial cost is one aspect. The more significant cost is organizational
and political. The former pertains to the impact of milbus on military profes-
sionalism. Although there is no proven linear linkage between the two, the
entire system of military business stands on graft and nepotism. There is no
specified system of merit to select officers for postretirement jobs in one of
the military-owned companies. It largely depends on personal links within
the higher command. The fear of offending higher officers during service
means it would have an impact on the postretirement package of perks and
privileges. There are some basic perks that every officer gets starting from
the rank of a major. About twenty years of service earns an officer a plot of
land and an urban dwelling. Anything additional, which includes postretire-
ment reemployment, is a favor by higher command. Some senior officers use
organizational clout to build fortunes, as was the case with one retired chief
of intelligence that used the military’s influence for beefing up his transport
business’s potential. The transport company was above board and obtained
preferential treatment in the allocation of route permits.71 Moreover, the com-
pany and its management often flouted rules and regulations.72 Any politi-
cal activity that disturbed its business was reportedly curbed by the police,
despite the company being registered as a private entity.73 The military as a
group has visibly graduated to become a class, and its serving and retired
members are benefiting from the organization’s immense power vis-à-vis
other domestic players.
The more serious cost is sociopolitical. As mentioned earlier, the military
economy gives the officer cadre greater confidence vis-à-vis civilians. It may
not be the initial cause for the military’s intrusion into politics, but it is cer-
tainly a reason that the generals like to maintain their influence. Furthermore,
by undertaking various economic activities, the military increases its social
presence and is not limited just to the cantonments. The military’s educa-
tional institutions, manufacturing units, real estate projects, and many other
64 Ayesha Siddiqa

ventures are a constant reminder of the armed forces being strong and central
to the political and public sphere.
A less talked-about notion is the social imbalance this creates. For instance,
the system of land grants tends to strengthen the clout of agricultural land-
owners in general, which are a reminder of feudalism in the country. This
concept refers to the historic system of patronage built around land owner-
ship. The large landowners are politically and socially influential and have a
network of clients that depend on them in return for subservience. The issue
here is not just of the large farm size alone, but these sizes ought to be viewed
in the context of Pakistan’s historical sociopolitical power structure and the
distribution of state resources and justice. The landed aristocracy was one of
the elite groups at the time of the country’s independence in 1947. Later on,
during the 1960s and the 1970s, land reforms were half-heartedly introduced
in a way that did not have the desired effect in changing the sociopolitical
power structure.
The distribution of land as a perk to military personnel resembles the for-
mer feudal structure, which has survived as a cultural value linked with land
as capital. However, military personnel tend to sell their land to the highest
bidder. In South Punjab and Sindh, which are known for large land holdings
but with a smaller share in the military’s human resources, armed forces
personnel who were allocated land in these areas often cash in their property
and move back to their home base. This is certainly the case with officials
who find it difficult to adopt agriculture as a profession due to limited access
to water resources and the inability to profit from small parcels. While large
landowners and senior officers use their influence that guarantees them a bet-
ter share of water for their land, the officials enjoy little clout in managing
a similar situation. As a result, they sell the land to large local landowners.
Furthermore, the military and the landowners tend to strengthen each other:
they forcibly repress any protests or action by the Water Irrigation Depart-
ment of the provincial government.74 Those who lease the land are local
political bigwigs or significant landowners who personally benefit from their
relationship with the military.75


Military officers in Pakistan claim that milbus is a system to provide welfare

for military personnel and assert that it is the defense sector’s contribution to
national development. However, the military business complex in Pakistan is
much more than that. It is a system created by the military for the personal
benefit of its personnel, especially the officer cadre. Since the series of mili-
tary perks and privileges is given the appearance of private sector activities
Businessmen in Boots 65

with no burden on the state, the government’s auditing system and standards
do not apply to these business operations, many of which depend on public
sector resources. The lack of accountability of such activities has resulted in
the expansion of the military business empire, which has also grown due to
the interservices rivalry in the armed forces. Besides the first welfare founda-
tion created in the early 1950s and controlled by the Ministry of Defense,
every service established its own independent organization. These welfare
foundations provide the legal umbrella for entrepreneurial ventures, espe-
cially the large ones. Currently, Pakistan’s military is involved in the heavy
manufacturing of commodities such as fertilizer, cement, and cereal, as
well as in the service industry in areas such as education, housing develop-
ment, and banking. There are over one hundred projects controlled by these
But these companies present just one segment of the private financial
empire. There are other facets as well, such as small and medium business
ventures carried out directly by the armed forces. The Pakistani military’s
business model is actually a crossbreed between the Turkish and the Chinese
model, linking the Turkish way of military investment in pension funds with
the Chinese way of military enterprises using active-duty military personnel
in business. The second method of economic predation is through providing
privileges to serving and retired personnel that can be traded for financial
resources. The system of land distribution is a case in point, as military
personnel can obtain benefits by selling the property obtained at very low
rates at very high prices. At least this is a visible perk. The help provided
to retired officers for the growth of their personal ventures cannot even be
The military’s economic empire, in fact, represents its institutional hege-
mony over political realms. The officers justify their economic activities by
claiming that they are part of the larger cost of providing national security.
The political stakeholders have accepted this cost because of the overbearing
burden of the military’s role in providing security against India, but also as
a possible sweetener to win the goodwill of generals so they do not destabi-
lize governments. Nonetheless, government after government was sacked,
directly or indirectly, to maintain the military’s position as the primary power
player. Intriguingly, the political class has not learned any lessons. This is
because the military economy is part of the larger system of patronage preva-
lent in Pakistan’s politics. Milbus represents crony capitalism that is used
by major political stakeholders to create and strengthen their independent
patronage networks. This makes military business part of the predatory elite
economy. It has sustained the sociopolitical power imbalance within the state
and society. It also means that political governments will never strengthen
unless they develop a consensus to dismantle the military’s business empire.
66 Ayesha Siddiqa


1. Jamal, “Footprints: Violence Returns to Okara Farms.”

2. Kariapper, “The Tenants’ Movement on the Okara Military Farm,” 9–25.
Kariapper quotes member colonies, Board of Revenue, Punjab, Javed Aslam.
3. Raja, “From Misperceptions to Reality—The Defence Budget,” 5.
4. Rehman, “Enigma of the Defence Budget.”
5. Saleem, “5 Quotes, 6 Facts and 7 Myths.”
6. This concept comprises both serving and retired military personnel and a
limited number of civilians directly dependent upon the military business complex.
7. Siddiqa, Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy, 1.
8. Saleem, “Military.”
9. Lock, “Exploring the Changing Role of the Military in the Economy,” 9.
Besides its annual share of the government’s financial resources in the form of the
defense budget, the military takes a large share of the overall national resources.
There is a constant flow of resources from the civilian sector to the military. The
example of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government being forced to pay the army Rs
20 million out of the flood relief fund for the use of the service’s helicopters is a case
in point. Despite the fact that the government pays for the equipment, personnel, and
maintenance of the defense infrastructure, the provincial government was told to
divert resources from flood relief.
10. Siddiqa, Military Inc.
11. Ibid., 112–28.
12. Ref: Supreme Court of Pakistan. Case No. CP1593/98.
13. Cf. Special Communications Organization homepage: http://www.sco.gov.pk.
14. Saleem, “5 Quotes, 6 Facts and 7 Myths.”
15. Siddiqa, “Soldiers of Fortune,” December 2006, https://docs.google.com/
16. Ibid.
17. Ali, Punjab under Imperialism, 1885–1947.
18. Siddiqa, Military Inc., 315.
19. Ibid., 360.
20. Ibid., 185.
21. Rizvi, Military, State and Society in Pakistan, 104–5.
22. Memon, “Genesis of Separatist Sentiment in Sindh.”
23. Zaheer, The Times and Trials of the Rawalpindi Conspiracy, 1951: The First
Coup Attempt in Pakistan.
24. Feldman, From Crisis to Crisis, Pakistan 1962–69, 305–6.
25. Approx. US $72 million (as the Rupee was pegged to the British pound at that
26. Moore, Nation Building & The Pakistan Army, 1947–1969, 210.
27. Cf Fauji Foundation homepage: http://fauji.org.pk/.
28. Cf. Frontier Works Organization homepage: http://www.fwo.com.pk/intro.
29. E-mail interview with Dr. Mubashir Hassan, October 18, 2004. Dr. Hassan was
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s finance minister.
Businessmen in Boots 67

30. Cf. Shaheen Foundation homepage, http://shaheenfoundation.com/.

31. Siddiqa, “Military’s Economic Activities in Pakistan,” 127.
32. Ibid., 182.
33. Rizvi, Military, State and Society in Pakistan, 236.
34. The National Assembly of Pakistan Debates, Monday, December 29, 2003.
(Official Report: 11th Session, Vol. XI contains No. 1–4), 664.
35. Siddiqa, Military Inc., 114–15.
36. Interview with Ishrat Hussain, Washington, DC, October 6, 2004.
37. Interview with Maj. General (retired) Fahim Haider Rizvi, Rawalpindi,
November 9, 2003.
38. Interview with Brig. Ali Jawahar, Rawalpindi, November 10, 2003. He was
one of the first officers to work at the AWT.
39. Cf. Shaheen aerotraders homepage: http://www.shaheenfoundation.com/SAT_
40. See Dawn, October 10, 2004.
41. Raza, “Who Will Bell the Cat?”
42. Interview with Sir Taj Aziz, Islamabad, August 10, 2003.
43. Interview with Ishaq Dar, New York, February 2004.
44. NAP-XI (4)/2003, Monday, December 29, 2003.
45. Interview with Ishaq Dar, New York, February 2004.
46. Basar, “Army Subsidiaries to Collect Toll on GT Road.”
47. Ibid.
48. Interview with Sirtaj Aziz, Islamabad, August 10, 2003.
49. Siddiqa, Military Inc., 272.
50. Cf. http://fedworld.gov/cgi-bin/re...5c36&CID=C2316894531250001434
51. Qureshi, “Malik Riaz Talks Tough,” 21–22.
52. Ahmed, “Ikram Sehgal’s Great Escape.”
53. Mir, “The Truth about Nawaz Shari’f Exile Deal.”
54. Samad, “Combating Corruption: The Case of the National Accountability
Bureau, Pakistan.”
55. Shah, “Pakistani Leader Sharif Nears Pact with Military.”
56. Murad, “Army Welfare Trust. ‘Vest Khaki Interests and Double Standards of
Business Accountability.’”
57. Siddiqa, “The Real Culprits.”
58. Siddiqa, Military Inc., 171–85.
59. Kariapper, “The Tenants’ Movement on the Okara Military Farm,” 9. Kariap-
per quotes member colonies, Board of Revenue, Punjab, Javed Aslam.
60. Mehmood and Shaukat, Land Acquisition Laws, 123.
61. Akhtar, “The State as Landlord in Pakistani Punjab: Peasant Struggles on the
Okara Military Farms,” 491.
62. Siddiqa, Military Inc., 180.
63. Teepu, “Three Troubles for Nahria Chief Malik Riaz.”
64. The general and his brothers were involved in a major housing scam in Rawal-
pindi in which millions of rupees worth of land was wrongly appropriated and sold. I
observed the case from very close while working as an advisor to the chairman of the
68 Ayesha Siddiqa

National Accountability Bureau. I personally witnessed how the general manipulated

information and the workings of the accountability agency to stop the investigation in
this case and many others that involved military generals.
65. Iqbal, “1,027 Civilian Posts Occupied by Servicemen.”
66. This is based on several interviews conducted over a period of five years.
67. Siddiqa, Military Inc., 219–42.
68. Ibid., 382–407.
69. Interview with Lt. General Mohammad Amjad in Rawalpindi. His perspective
echoes the opinion of many others.
70. Siddiqa, Military Inc., 382–405.
71. Discussion with senior police officer, Rawalpindi, December 2007.
72. “Is Varan a Legal Authority?” The News, October 5, 2004.
73. “Hamid Gul, Uzma Gul, Varan Bus Service and the Transport Jihad,” New-
AgeIslam.com blog, April 30, 2010, http://rethinkingislam-sultanshahin.blogspot.
74. Siddiqa, “The Real Culprits.”
75. Ibid.
Chapter 3

The Conglomerate of the Turkish

Military (OYAK) and the Dynamics
of Turkish Capitalism
İsmet Akça

In 2001, while Turkey was in its most severe economic crisis, the Conglom-
erate of the Turkish Military, the Turkish Armed Forces Assistance (and
Pension) Fund—OYAK, announced its annual report to the public and under-
lined its tremendous growth and profits for the year. The general manager of
OYAK, Coşkun Ulusoy, a civilian, explained this “miracle success story”
with the following militaristic words: “As a matter of fact, the business life
is a war. To the extent that military principles that have been tested by blood
for thousands of years are implemented, the possibility of making a mistake
is zero.”1 Many daily newspapers’ headlines praised OYAK.2 The fact that
the military owns one of the largest holding companies has become normal
as much as the other faces of militarism in this country.
The Turkish military has long operated in an expansive area where it
performs both the primary roles of all modern militaries to provide external
security and to fulfill additional political, economic, cultural, and ideologi-
cal roles. Therefore, Turkey has long been a case where the military enjoys
relatively autonomous power through its political, legal, administrative, and
economic power sources. The Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve
Kalkınma Partisi, AKP) period (from 2002 onward) witnessed important
civilianization efforts, albeit problematic in their capacity to relate themselves
to a democratization process. Yet the power of the Turkish military within the
economic sphere has not been problematized much during this process.
The capitalist-militarist structure in Turkey, in other words the Turk-
ish military-industrial complex, stands on three pillars. The first pillar is
the “holding company” of the Turkish military, the Turkish Armed Forces
Assistance (and Pension) Fund, or OYAK (the Turkish acronym of Ordu
Yardımlaşma Kurumu), which affirms the military’s presence as an economic
actor. The second pillar is military spending, which reaches extremely high

70 İsmet Akça

levels and is controlled almost absolutely by the military. The third pillar
is the military industry, where fast-paced development is encouraged in
the post-1980 period after the military intervention of September 12, 1980,
and the presence of the military through another institutional actor, namely
TSKGV (the Turkish acronym of Türk Silahlı Kuvvetlerini Güçlendirme
Vakfı—Foundation for Strengthening Turkish Armed Forces), which is still
very dominant in the sector.3
This chapter focuses solely on the first pillar and analyzes the Turkish
military’s economic role through OYAK within the framework of the social,
economic, and political dynamics of Turkish capitalism. By doing this, it also
analyzes the economic and political roles of the Turkish military in a relational
way, since the Turkish military’s political practices have been very influential in
regulating and governing capitalist development and class relations in Turkey.

Legal-Administrative Structure
and Activities of OYAK

Turkey represents one of the earliest and no doubt the most developed
examples of the military becoming a direct actor in the economic sphere.
The military’s entrance into the economy started as early as 1961 through
the establishment of OYAK just after the 1960 military coup and under the
military regime. OYAK was founded by a special law (no. 205)4 on Janu-
ary 3, 1961, which defines the legal status, the administrative structure, the
members, the financial sources, the activities of social security and social
assistance, the range of economic investments, and the legal exemptions of
OYAK. The main legal and administrative characteristics of OYAK can be
summarized as follows. Firstly, it has a legal status that allows it to benefit
from the privileges of both private (to be able to engage in economic activi-
ties) and public law (unseizability of its goods, exemption from taxes, etc.).
Secondly, even though there are both civilians and army officers in the deci-
sion-making organs such as the General Assembly and the Board of Directors,
the military members, either retired or on active duty, have always dominated
these decision-making organs. As for the affiliated companies, civilian pro-
fessionals mainly run them. Thirdly, the membership of military officers is
compulsory, and the members of OYAK, which now exceed 280,000, are
mainly commissioned and noncommissioned officers. The members enjoy
an additional retirement benefit and cheap credit. Fourthly, OYAK runs three
types of activities: it is at the same time an institution of compulsory savings,
an additional institution of social security, and a “holding company.”5
What makes OYAK sui generis is no doubt its profit-oriented investments
as a holding company. In that sense, OYAK functions as a collective capital
The Conglomerate of the Turkish Military (OYAK) 71

group running productive, commercial, and financial economic activities

more than being an additional social security organization.6 OYAK’s invest-
ments display both horizontal and vertical integration, and though currently
concentrated in the automotive, cement, and iron and steel sectors, they have
expanded to several additional sectors such as energy, chemicals, construc-
tion, finance, transportation and logistics, food, external trade, tourism, secu-
rity, and agrochemicals (see Table 3.1).
In the course of history, it also invested in some other sectors such as
banking, insurance, tire manufacturing, and others. Currently, OYAK has
more than sixty companies, including twenty-three main subsidiaries with
forty-two subsubsidiaries. In the course of its history, OYAK has established
organic links through partnerships and joint ventures with worldwide foreign
capital groups such as Renault, Axa, Elf, Goodyear, STEAG AG, and others;
with the biggest holding groups in Turkey such as Koç, Sabancı, Alarko, Eti,
Yaşar, Gama, Nuh, Kutlutaş, Alarko, and Cerrahoğulları; and also with big
state-owned enterprises, banks, and institutions such as Halk Bankası, Ziraat
Bankası, and the Institution of Social Securities. OYAK is among the biggest
holding companies in Turkey, not only in terms of its total assets but also of
total sales and profitability. By 2013, its total assets reached TRY 42.3 billion
(about US $19.6 billion), its total sales TRY 17.6 billion (about US $8.2 bil-
lion), and its exports US $4.4 million. Most of its affiliated companies have
always been in the highest ranks of the biggest and most profitable industrial
corporations in Turkey. By 2013, in the Istanbul Chamber of Industry’s Tur-
key’s Top 500 Industrial Corporations listing, ten companies from OYAK
were included on the basis of their sales from production, and four OYAK
companies were listed in the Chamber’s Second Top 500 Industrial Corpora-
tions.7 Even though we do not have systematic and accurate data on the basis
of holding companies, figures obtained from different years show that OYAK
is one of the five biggest conglomerates in Turkey. For instance, by 2010,
concerning total sales, OYAK was the second, and concerning profitability,
it was the fifth largest holding company in Turkey.8
So, how can we explain the tremendous economic growth of OYAK over
the years? I think that it can be explained in terms of two different causal
factors. One is related to the privileges stemming from the peculiar legal-
institutional structure of OYAK. The other is related to the capital accumula-
tion processes and the related class structure in Turkey.
There is no doubt that several factors such as legal privileges like tax
exemptions,9 compulsory members’ dues as a cheap source of financial
liquidity, and the use of the autonomous political power of the military
have been influential in the tremendous economic growth of OYAK. For
instance, the compulsory membership dues are a regular and cheap financial
source. Until the mid-1990s, the interest rate paid to these contributions has
72 İsmet Akça

Table 3.1  OYAK’s Subsidiaries (2014)

Other Their
Company Sector OYAK’s Share Partners Shares
Oyak-Renault Automotive 49 Renault 51
Mais Automotive 51 Renault 49
ORF Kiralama Automotive Leasing 50
OMSAN Transportation and 82.53 (100)
ATAER HOLDİNG- Iron and steel 52.8
Adana Çimento Cement 57.77 İMKB (Istanbul 42
Bolu Çimento Cement 49.99 İMKB
Mardin Çimento Cement 54.86 İMKB
Ünye Çimento Cement 51.33 NUH Holding 41
Aslan Çimento Cement 96.67
OYAK Beton Cement and 63.70 (100)
OYKA Kağıt Ambalaj Prod. of Industry 75 (100)
Type Sack
OYAK Birleşik Enerji Energy 100
HEKTAŞ Agro-Chemical 53.81 İMKB 43
Akdeniz Kimya San. Chemical Marketing 100
Akdeniz Kimyasal Chemical 100
Ürünler Pazarlama
OYAK İnşaat Construction 75 SSK (Institution 25
of Social
ORFİN Finansman Finance 50 Renault 50
OYAK Anker Bank Finance-Banking 100 OYAK Bank 100
OYAK Yatırım Finance-Securities 99.44 Others 0.56
Menkul Değerler
OYAK Girişim Food 100 İMKB 28
OYAK Paz.Hizm. Tourism, Information 100
Turizm Technologies
OYAK Savunma ve Security Services 100
Source: Data compiled from OYAK’s website, OYAK 2013 Annual Report, the websites of OYAK’s affiliated
The Conglomerate of the Turkish Military (OYAK) 73

been under the rate of inflation every year without exception.10 On the other
hand, the transfer of bankrupt companies to public economic enterprises,
or making them shareholders in these bankrupt companies, establishing
partnerships with public enterprises in order to secure public procurement
contracts, the rescue of OYAK’s bank during the big economic crisis in
2001, and the sale of a public bank to OYAK for a very ridiculous amount
can be cited among the mechanisms for converting political power into
economic profit.11
Yet the most decisive factor behind OYAK’s economic development has
been the fact that OYAK’s investments followed hegemonic capital accumu-
lation strategies. OYAK enjoyed all of the advantages of being a part of the
hegemonic fraction of the Turkish capitalist class. This hegemonic fraction
consists of Istanbul-based large holding companies that run their investment
activities in all sectors of the capitalist economy, from finance and industry
to trade and services, and that have established close relations with the state.

The Emergence of OYAK and the Military’s

Entrance into the Capitalist Economy

The historical and sociological background of the military coup in 1960

creates the context for the establishment of OYAK. The military interven-
tion of May 27, 1960, was an outcome of a historical condition of political
and economic crises in which the alternative hegemonic projects of two
social blocs reached a balance of force. It was a response to the crisis of
the center-right Democrat Party’s populist, developmentalist, authoritar-
ian, and conservative modernist hegemonic project based on a social bloc
mainly composed of large landholders, commercial bourgeoisie, and small
and medium peasantry. The coup was based, on the other hand, on a mainly
urban social bloc consisting of rising industrial bourgeoisie, the working
class, and urban middle classes (intelligentsia, university students, economic
and bureaucratic middle classes) brought together under a new hegemonic
project articulating planned capitalist economic development through import-
substituting industrialization, social justice and the social state, and political
“democracy.” The practices of the military regime have been to change the
relation of forces among social and political actors in a way to institutional-
ize this new hegemonic capitalist project. The modernist-optimist political
rationality of this hegemonic project was based on the idea that planned
capitalist economic development and import-substituting industrialization,
together with the principle of social justice and the social state, would prevent
class struggles, in which case the recognition of basic and political rights and
freedoms would be acceptable. The two hegemonic apparatuses in the end
74 İsmet Akça

were the State Planning Organization and the 1961 Constitution, which para-
doxically included both democratic rights and the further militarization of the
state through the establishment of the National Security Council. The military
anticipated that the Social/National Security State form would be effective
in solving the social and political struggles. Yet the Turkish bourgeoisie was
not willing to accept two pillars of this hegemonic project, namely social jus-
tice–social state and political rights and freedoms, since it was unwilling to
sacrifice its short-term economic-corporate interests in the name of its long-
term political-hegemonic interests.12
The coalition of social forces behind the coup of May 27, 1960, was also
reflected in the administrative structure of OYAK. To use the words of Taha
Parla, “It is a legal-institutional and decision-making structure that brings into
an organic whole (1) the armed forces, (2) the upper civilian bureaucracy,
(3) the peak organizations of big business, commanding/commanded by, we
may add, a collective capital consisting of army capital, state capital, and
private capital—both national and transnational.”13 Members of the military,
bureaucracy, intelligentsia, and the bourgeoisie supported OYAK’s establish-
ment for different reasons and joined its administrative commissions within
the first years of its founding. The military’s motive was to ameliorate their
socioeconomic conditions that had deteriorated during the 1950s in order to
be “able to live a life appropriate to their social status” and to constitute “a
big company of national dimensions.”14 The bureaucracy of economy and the
intelligentsia of the period praised OYAK as a remedy to the problem of the
lack of capital, and later on as “the third sector” besides the private and pub-
lic. The idea that OYAK could become a transitional model for a collectivist-
statist economy was disturbing to the big businessmen of the period who
had in mind a different kind of partnership with the military through OYAK.
They would have preferred to use OYAK’s financial sources for their own
investments. However, future developments and the form OYAK took would
erase this fear in a short time. To the extent that OYAK soon showed itself
to be a holding-like institution within the parameters of capitalist regimes of
accumulation and started to share the same structural interests with the big
capitalist groups, it became obvious that OYAK would not challenge the
power strategy of the bourgeoisie in the medium and long term, but rather
that it was a solid form of alliance.15

OYAK during the Import-Substituting

Industrialization Period (1960–1980)

OYAK’s first leap in economic growth and remarkable increase in its total
net assets corresponds to the period between 1961 and 197816 in which a
The Conglomerate of the Turkish Military (OYAK) 75

relatively successful strategy of import-substituting industrialization (ISI)

was implemented in Turkey. In addition, the military was very influential
in politics during this period, which started and ended with two military
interventions, and also an interim regime following another military inter-
vention in the middle of the period. In other words, the military was not only
an economic actor within the capitalist economy but also one of the main
political actors for governing and disciplining the class dynamics of Turkish
ISI protects the local industrial bourgeoisie from international competition
by replacing previously imported consumer goods with domestic manufactur-
ing. The suppression of foreign competition and the creation of oligopolistic,
if not monopolistic, economic sectors convenient to realizing high profit
margins were among its essential features. The state protected local industrial
bourgeoisie through an intermingled mechanism of protection (high quotas
and tariffs, overvalued Turkish lira, etc.) and inducement (cheap credit, tax
rebates, and subsidized prices for inputs, etc.).17 It was also in this period that
the concentration and centralization of capital gained its real momentum,
resulting in the emergence of big capitalist groups, generally organized as
holding companies. The increasing monopolization process, which resulted
in a noticeable ability to control the economy, caused one of the main intra-
class cleavages in Turkish capitalism, namely the contradiction between
Istanbul-based big capitalist groups and small and medium capitalists of
mainly the Anatolian province.18
OYAK, just after its establishment, started to invest its huge funds in the
sectors only big capital groups could enter. In consonance with the dominant
accumulation strategy of the time, OYAK’s investments were concentrated
mainly in the automotive and cement sectors, the two dynamic sectors of
ISI. Besides these two locomotive sectors, sectors such as agrochemicals
(Hektaş–1963), insurance (Oyak Sigorta–1967), and food (Tukaş–1968), too,
were among the earliest sectors OYAK invested in. They were the sectors
protected by the state in which the profit margins were highest due to high
customs barriers, tax exemptions, credit facilities, and other inducement
policies.19 During the import-substituting industrialization period, OYAK’s
discourse emphasized that “its industrial and economic activities had always
been consistent with the 5-year development plan and the sectors defined in
these plans.”20 It was a perfect case of articulating the particular interests to
an allegedly universalistic hegemonic project of the time, which was based on
planned national developmentalism.
By the beginning of the 1970s, Turkey entered into the first crisis of the
ISI-based capitalist development model, which was followed by another
military intervention in 1971. The process of the March 12, 1971, military
intervention21 is interesting in order to understand the relationship between
76 İsmet Akça

the economic-corporate and political-hegemonic moments of the Turkish

military’s embeddedness into capitalist class relations in Turkey.
This crisis of the ISI strategy appeared in the form of a balance of payments
crisis, a foreign exchange deficit, growing foreign debt, and high inflation. In
1970, the center-right Justice Party (Adalet Partisi, AP) government adopted
an International Monetary Fund’s stabilization program, which consisted of a
drastic devaluation (66 percent) of the Turkish lira, new taxes on agriculture,
and the disciplining of the industrial sector toward an export orientation.22
This economic reform package resulted in the opposition of the agricultural
bourgeoisie (the big landowners), the small and medium bourgeoisie of the
Anatolian provinces who were already critical of AP’s pro–big industrialists’
stance, but also of the big bourgeoisie who had just recently invested in the
ISI-based sectors.
The case of the automotive sector during the crisis is interesting in order
to understand the stance of the big bourgeoisie of which OYAK was a part.
The effects of the economic crisis and of the devaluation on the automotive
industry were disastrous, since it increased the cost of imported parts. In
addition, the government issued a new purchase tax on car buyers as well
as an additional sales tax. As a result, sales dropped significantly in 1970
and 1971, and production volumes were far from sufficient for efficient and
scaled production. The AP’s motive behind this policy was to discipline
the automotive sector by decreasing protectionism and inducing the
automotive industry to export-oriented production. However, this caused
major opposition on the part of industrialists dependent on ISI policies.
The two big capitalist groups, Koç and OYAK, had just very recently
(in 1968 and 1969) invested in this sector. The financing law and the
devaluation package were interpreted by the Union of Chambers of Trade,
Commerce, Industry and Commercial Exchanges of Turkey as a blow
to the assembly industries’ essence and, in particular, to the automotive
sector.23 The negative impact of government decisions on the automotive
industry and OYAK’s profits was also critically mentioned in OYAK’s
general assembly.24 In other words, the military’s economic interests were
being challenged because of the crisis of ISI and the economic reform
The March 12 intervention and the subsequent regulations under the mil-
itary-controlled interim regime regenerated the ISI-based capital accumula-
tion strategy through cutting workers’ wages and using the foreign exchange
of Turkish workers in Europe. “The aftermath of March 12, 1971 . . . signaled
the triumph of the import substitution industrialists and most importantly of
the automotive firms.”25 As Barkey notes, “In the final analysis, this indus-
try’s long-term stability and success was assured with the direct involvement
of the armed forces.”26
The Conglomerate of the Turkish Military (OYAK) 77

This does not mean that it was merely the economic interests of the mili-
tary that pushed it to intervene. It was rather the political class dynamics of
Turkish capitalism that were central for an understanding of the military’s
intervention. For the politicization of the workers, university students, intel-
ligentsia, teachers, and others, the rise of radical trade unionism and left-wing
politics posed a threat to the capitalist order and a challenge to the bourgeoisie
and its political and bureaucratic representatives during the 1960s. In Politi-
cal Order in Changing Societies, S. P. Huntington explains and legitimizes
the military interventions of the period as the result of the rising politicization
of diverse social groups, which, in the case of inadequate institutionalization,
result in “mass praetorianism” overloaded government, ungovernability, and
political instability. Then, the military interventions are praised as the factor
reestablishing the political order.27 The perceptions of the then governmental
party (AP) and of the different interventionist fractions within the military
were almost the same as this Huntingtonian conservative political reasoning.
Even though the governmental party defended “[the restructuring of] the state
in an authoritarian way” under the civilian parliamentary regime, different
interventionist currents within the military were arguing that the governmen-
tal party itself was unable to govern the social and political dynamics.28 At
the end of a process, an interim regime under the guidance of the military
restructured the state in a more authoritarian way through constitutional
changes and through the repression of the social and political movement of
the working class.29 If the coup in 1960 was an attempt to govern the ISI-
based capitalist development through a social/national security state form,
the military intervention on March 12, 1971, corresponded to the transition
to govern the class dynamics of Turkish capitalism through a “bureaucratic-
authoritarian state form.”30
The 1970s were marked by an organic crisis that itself combined crises of
capital accumulation and hegemony that had been gradually deepening from
the second half of the 1970s onward. The worldwide accumulation crisis of
capitalism was manifested in Turkey as the crisis of ISI policies. The accu-
mulation crisis was organically related to declining profit rates, and their
symptomatic manifestation was the lack of foreign currency.31 After 1977, all
fractions of the bourgeoisie agreed to contextualize the crisis in terms of class
struggle, specifically by complaining about high wage levels, trade union
rights, collective bargaining, and the other rights of the working class.32 The
working-class organizations responded by radicalizing their struggle in order
to resist such attacks. In short, the second half of the 1970s was “a period of
protracted and heightened class struggle.”33
The full dimension of the crisis of accumulation was felt by OYAK. The
general assembly records indicate that after the mid-1970s, but especially in
the post-1978 period, the speeches of the president of the board of directors
78 İsmet Akça

(a retired high-ranking general) focused on the sources and dimensions of the

economic bottleneck. It was noted that the planned structural transformation
of the industry to deepen the ISI by initiating the production of capital goods
could not be realized because of the foreign exchange crisis, the shortages
of energy and raw materials, inflation, and the high wage levels.34 What was
proposed was to initiate the production of capital goods and to induce the
export-orientation in order to decrease financial dependency and to estab-
lish peace and order in capital-labor relations.35 The rise of wages because
of union activities as the reason for decreasing profitability was especially
emphasized for the automotive sector.36
The accumulation crisis was also combined with a crisis of hegemony.
Neither the left-wing populist strategy of the center-left Republican People’s
Party37 nor the authoritarian populist strategy of the center-right AP38 could
develop a hegemonic project to establish the unity of the dominant classes
and gain the consent of the dominated classes. Outside parliamentary poli-
tics, revolutionary leftist politics, albeit dramatically fragmented and in an
ideological and organizational crisis, were very influential yet incapable of
developing a counter-hegemonic project. The political crisis was deepened
further by the violent response to the revolutionary left and the working-class
movement by state security actors and the fascist movement.
The economic decisions of January 24, 1980, which anticipated both the
stability measures and structural adjustment policies of the IMF and World
Bank,39 could not be realized under the existence of a strong working-class
movement and radical left-wing politics or by the minority government of the
center-right AP. It was the military regime that would be able to implement
them. The military intervention of September 12, 1980, was both a conse-
quence of, and a response to, this organic crisis that itself combined crises of
capital accumulation and hegemony.40
Hector Schamis’s arguments concerning the Latin American military
interventions in the 1970s (Chile and Uruguay in 1973, Argentina in 1976)
also apply to Turkey in 1980. That is, these military interventions were quali-
tatively different from previous bureaucratic authoritarian interventions and
military regimes, since they totally broke with the previous hegemonic proj-
ect and accumulation strategy to engage in a total restructuring. Their practice
was not a deepening of ISI through the political and economic exclusion of
popular masses, as was the case with bureaucratic authoritarianism. Rather,
they restructured the economy, society, and politics through “a combination
of market economics and repressive tactics.”41
That is why in 1983, the president of OYAK’s board of directors, retired
Major General Hasan Görmüş, said, “In the post-September 12, 1980 period,
our country entered into an era of social peace thanks to the Turkish Armed
Forces, and our economy is in a process of recovering a healthy structure.”42
The Conglomerate of the Turkish Military (OYAK) 79

OYAK during the Neoliberal Capitalist Period

Since the social and political struggle of the working class was seen as
responsible for the crisis in question, the main concern of the Turkish mili-
tary regime was “putting an end to class-based politics.”43 This was also the
main prerequisite for the transition to the new accumulation strategy, mate-
rialized in the decisions of January 24, 1980. Ending class-based politics no
doubt meant the disciplining of the working-class movement, the radical left,
and the democratic social opposition in order to solidify the political power
of the bourgeoisie. In this context, the violence and coercion against these
societal powers constituted a strategy of discipline in the short run. The long-
term strategy of the military regime included restructuring the institutional
architecture of the state, narrowing the political sphere for dominated social
classes and groups, limiting the possibilities of political democracy, and the
securitization of the political to inscribe and establish a new balance of forces
between classes.44
The military regime started to implement neoliberal economic policies that
would also be followed and deepened by successive governments. The post-
1980 period witnessed the domination of three main neoliberal strategies of
capital accumulation: export-oriented industrialization, privatizations, and
financial accumulation. All of the neoliberal strategies worsened the income
distribution at the expense of the working class, the peasantry, and the urban
and rural poor.45 The economically exclusivist nature of the neoliberal period
and its class relations has been governed by the changing forms of authori-
tarianism. After the end of direct military rule in 1983, the government run by
the Turkish new right Motherland Party ANAP kept the authoritarian struc-
ture established by the military regime. The 1990s were marked by a crisis
of political hegemony and the domination of the neoliberal national security
state form, and the post-2002 period was marked by the neoliberal authoritar-
ian populism of the Justice and Development Party.46
The most important period of accelerated capital accumulation by OYAK
was also the post-1980 neoliberal period.47 The conglomerate of the Turkish
military, which itself suffered from the accumulation crisis of late 1970s,
also adopted the above-mentioned three neoliberal accumulation strategies
in the post-1980 period. Together with this change of accumulation strategy,
OYAK’s discourse also changed. In concordance with the hegemonic strat-
egy of the time based on the idea of the market,48 OYAK started to emphasize
the importance of privatization and globalization instead of the nationalist
developmentalism of the 1960 to 1980 period.49
The first dominant accumulation strategy of the post-1980 period was
export-oriented capital accumulation. Besides the support policies, such
as exchange rate depreciation, preferential credit rates, tax rebates, labor
80 İsmet Akça

cost-reductions by suppressing labor wages through the deregulation of labor

markets, and repressing labor organizations were the key to export-originated
profits. The industrial bourgeoisie, whatever its scale was (be it small,
medium, or large), based its viability on the repression of wages. The latter
was realized through a flexible production system, the subcontracting system,
and repressive juridical and political regulation of labor.50
In the post-1980 period, OYAK deepened its vertical and horizontal inte-
gration by entering new sectors such as food, construction, transportation,
and tourism, which were subsidized by government policies. Nevertheless,
the above-mentioned sectors had had little impact on OYAK’s overall invest-
ment portfolio. In fact, in the post-1980 period too, OYAK’s real sector
investment portfolio was dominated by the automotive and cement industries.
In 1989, over all of the profits of the foundation, the share of the automotive
sector was 66.1 percent and that of cement was 16.8 percent.51 The 1990s
were years of crisis for the Turkish automotive sector. In the mid-1990s, the
sector and OYAK restructured their industrial infrastructure and the structure
of partnership with foreign companies (1993 to 1994). As a result, OYAK-
Renault became an export base for Renault and ranked among the three most
exporting and the most profitable four industrial firms according to Istanbul
Chamber of Commerce data. For this performance, flexible production and
flexible labor relations in order to diminish labor costs was central.
The second important accumulation strategy was the privatization of public
assets in order to finance the public fiscal deficit and to accelerate the capital
accumulation of the Turkish bourgeoisie.52 Neoliberal privatization policies
were also an important strategy for the economic growth of OYAK in this
period. Three examples from different sectors are revealing in that sense.
Firstly, in the process of privatizations, OYAK increased its market share in
the highly oligopolistic cement sector. In 1992, the OYAK–Sabancı partner-
ship bought two cement factories, which later became OYSA. In 1996, this
time in partnership with another big group in the sector (GAMA), OYAK
bought another cement factory. OYAK’s market share was 20 percent in
1997 and 23.8 percent in 1999. By the end of 2005, after the last privatization
launch, the market shares in the cement sector, which is a highly oligopolistic
sector, were as follows: Sabancı 18 percent, OYAK 14.2 percent, and OYSA
(OYAK–Sabancı) 2.8 percent.53 Secondly, after the big economic crisis of
2001, not only was OYAK Bank, which was small and weak, subsidized and
saved by the state thanks to the political power of the military, but OYAK
also bought one of the biggest public banks (Sümerbank) in Turkey for a
symbolic amount.54 According to the president of the board of directors
of OYAK, Selçuk Saka (a retired general), “OYAK paid only a symbolic
amount for Sümerbank (TRY 50 billion), and after 4.5 months of activities,
the profit that would come from the bank would be equal to or more than the
The Conglomerate of the Turkish Military (OYAK) 81

profit coming from all other affiliated companies.”55 The third example is
from the iron and steel sector. OYAK had already announced its interest in
the two biggest privatizations in 2005: Tüpraş (petroleum) and Erdemir (iron-
steel), the second and third most profitable industrial companies.56 After Koç
holding bought Tüpraş, OYAK bought 46 percent of the third most profitable
industrial company in Turkey, Erdemir (the public giant of iron and steel
production), for a price of US $2.77 billion. With this new company, OYAK
grew by 50 percent: its total net assets increased from US $10.7 billion to US
$15.4 billion. Erdemir’s profit in 2003 was US $610 million, which was equal
to OYAK’s net profit from forty affiliated companies.57 Hence, these privati-
zation policies were another wealth transfer from the public to the military.58
The third strategy was the financial accumulation model of the period
following the financial liberalization decision in 1989. This accumulation
strategy was based on lending money with very high interest rates to the debt-
ridden state. The model was marked by short periods of economic booms
based on short-term financial flows and succeeding financial crises whose
severity increased each time, culminating in the most severe economic crisis
in Republican history in 2001.59 The result of this financial crisis was further
deteriorating income distribution, increasing unemployment, and worsening
macroeconomic performance. In a brief formula, “the management of fiscal
debt may be viewed as an income transfer mechanism, transferring income
away from wage-labor and the peasantry to domestic rentiers.”60
The 1990s were also important years in the development and increase
of OYAK’s total net assets.61 OYAK started to profit from the financial
accumulation model before becoming strong in the banking sector. OYAK
used its high liquidity sources in financial investments and profited from the
arbitrage between the US dollar and the Turkish lira. Especially in the years
of big economic crises, OYAK’s profit reached peaks. According to Demir,
the average profitability (balance sheet profits remained constant in 1995 US
dollars) jumped from about US $15.75 million for the period 1961 to 1980
to around US $99 million for 1981 to 2001. More interestingly, the average
profitability is more striking for the period following financial liberalization:
US $165.74 million for the period 1990 to 2001.62 These were the years in
which OYAK’s financial investments surpassed those of real sector invest-
ments. According to the data announced by the president of OYAK, in 1980,
the shares of financial investments and affiliated companies out of total
profit-oriented investments were 4 to 5 percent and 40 percent, respectively.
They climbed to 17 percent and 40 percent in 1990, and to 67 percent and
40 percent in 2000.63 For instance, in 1994, which was the year of the first
big financial crisis of the 1990s, 42.6 percent of the total profit of the founda-
tion was from financial investments, and financial investments had increased
by 315 percent compared to the previous year.64 Again in 2001, the year of
82 İsmet Akça

the last and biggest financial crisis, 40.7 percent of the total profit was from
financial investments.65 Finally, in 2003, this share increased to 51.7 percent.
A comparison between the financial profits from nonoperational activities of
OYAK-owned real sector companies on the Istanbul Stock Exchange with
other nonfinancial sector companies reveals that “between 1993 and 2003, the
median net financial profit to net sales ratio of the seven OYAK firms was on
average 300 percent higher than the median in the stock market among 152
As a consequence, OYAK followed and profited from the main neoliberal
economic policies and accumulation strategies of the post-1980 period. The
fact that OYAK was one of the winners of the neoliberal period has had
several effects. Concerning relations within the military, it has had para-
doxical effects. On the one hand, OYAK, since it was founded, has always
been an important vehicle for the upward economic mobility of the officers,
which was seen as critical for securing the internal coherence of the military.
Through cheap loans for consumption and additional retirement benefits,
OYAK resulted in a kind of “embourgeoisement” for the military officers.
Not only the high-ranking but especially the lower- and middle-ranking
military officers were steadily drawn into the typical daily life of the middle
and upper-middle classes. This was especially critical in the neoliberal period
because of the enormous deterioration of income distribution to the disadvan-
tage of the salaried and fixed-income groups.67 Yet the enormous economic
sources OYAK controlled also triggered new axes of conflict within the
military, since the control and the allocation of resources were hierarchical.
Lower- and middle-ranking officers criticized the disequilibrium between the
legal benefits and social services on the one hand and the economic invest-
ments on the other. They also criticized the control of the decision-making
organs by high-ranking officers. Such criticism reached a climax after the
OYAK economic empire became publicly visible and reached a point where
the association of noncommissioned officers organized public protests in
2004 and 2005 and opened a case against OYAK at the first national courts
and then at the European Court of Human Rights.68
OYAK has also had repercussions on the broader class-based power rela-
tions at the economic and the political level. As already assessed, OYAK has
always played a “transmission belt role” to make the military more sensi-
tive to the capital accumulation process and the related intra- and interclass
conflicts. One of the most important dynamics of neoliberal capitalism in
Turkey has been the rise of the small- and medium-scale industrial bour-
geoisie and its clash with the big bourgeoisie. One section of the former had
also been ideologically and politically Islamist oriented since the beginning
of the 1990s.69 To the extent that OYAK has shared similar organic interests
with the big bourgeoisie, OYAK has been one of the mechanisms for getting
The Conglomerate of the Turkish Military (OYAK) 83

the explicit or implicit support of the military for the dominant accumula-
tion strategies discussed above. That said, this intraclass conflict within the
Turkish bourgeoisie has also been very central in understanding the political
developments in Turkey since the 1990s, especially the rise and the trans-
formation of political Islam and the place of the military within the power
structure of Turkey.

The Continuum of the Economic and the Political:

Intraclass Conflicts, the Rise of Political
Islam, and the Military Intervention of 1997

The 1990s were marked by a protracted crisis of political hegemony and the
domination of the military over the political sphere in the form of a neoliberal
national security state. The causes of this crisis were twofold: the exclusivist
nature of the neoliberal economic and social policies, and the militarization
and securitization of questions of identity politics, such as the Kurdish ques-
tion and the rise of political Islam.70
In a period where class-based politics were repressed, identity politics also
voiced both the intraclass- and interclass-based social unrest of the 1990s.
The rise of the political Islamist Welfare Party (Refah Partisi, RP) to power,
first in the municipal elections of 1994, especially in Istanbul and Ankara,
and then in the general elections of 1995, was an outcome of the crisis of
political hegemony and an alternative response to this crisis forged in terms
of identity politics. The RP formed a multiclass political movement bringing
together the small and medium scale, mostly the provincial and pious capi-
talist class, the peripheral segment of the working class engaged in marginal
activities and unable to find secure employment, and the upwardly mobile
and religious-conservative professional middle classes.71 Political Islamism
succeeded in representing both some of the winners and losers of neoliberal
global capitalism through a discourse based on the justice of an Islamic social
and political order pitted against the Westernized, culturally estranged, laic,
and state-monopolist segments of the population. The Welfare Party’s project
of a “just economic order” corresponded to a “utopian picture of an egalitar-
ian petit-bourgeois society composed of individual entrepreneurs.” It was
also anti-US American and anti-European Union in terms of its international
The pious segments of the export-oriented Anatolian-based small- and
medium-sized industrialists of the post-1980 period that grew in labor-inten-
sive low-wage manufacturing industries were organized under MÜSİAD
(Association of Independent Industrialists and Businessmen, founded in
1990) and had a hegemonic position within the political Islamist social
84 İsmet Akça

bloc. The antimonopolist, anti–rent seeking, antistatist elements of RP’s

“just economic discourse” was appealing to this fraction of the bourgeoisie,
which were very critical of mainly Istanbul-based big capital groups (holding
companies) which were organized under the Turkish Industry and Business
Association. The latter fraction of the bourgeoisie had been integrated with
global neoliberal capitalism, profited from the financial accumulation model
due to their control of money capital, and historically developed preferential
access to state sources and protection. The RP’s rise to municipal and then
governmental power created an opportunity for the pious fraction of the capi-
talist class to enjoy the sources of governmental power and the protection of
the state more directly.
The challenging move by this fraction of the capitalist class became appar-
ent in its ambitions to profit from the privatization process; in its favoring an
alternative form of integration with the world capitalist economy using the
discourse of “Islamic common market” other than the integration with Euro-
pean Union project; in its attempt to enter into the sectors previously con-
trolled by big holding companies such as finance, automotive, and military
industry; in its opposition to the IMF-backed financial accumulation model,
which favored a small number of big capital groups with the capability of
controlling the money capital at the expense of small- and medium-scale real
sector capital groups. In brief, this new fraction of capital started to be a threat
to big capital, of which OYAK was a part.73
The RP’s rise to power, and some of its governmental practices, such as
its symbolic and practical attempts at increasing Islamic visibility in the pub-
lic sphere, its organic relationship with MÜSIAD members, its attempts to
develop international economic and political cooperation with some Middle
Eastern states, and its economic and political voicing of international Islamic
alternatives in the face of the hegemony of the United States and the Euro-
pean Union,74 all caused a reaction among the most globalized fractions of
the Turkish bourgeoisie, the organized fractions of the working class, the
urban and secular middle classes, and the political and military elites, who all
felt threatened by a Turkish Islamist project. The RP’s rise to governmental
power challenged both economic-corporative and political-ideological inter-
ests of these sections of the population. Domestically, it was this social base
that the military intervention of 1997 was able to draw on, and internation-
ally, the United States supported the intervention while the European Union
failed to voice any significant reaction to it.75
Emboldened by this support, the military intervened through the National
Security Council (Milli Güvenlik Kurulu, MGK) decisions of February
28, 1997, criticizing what it claimed were the RP-led government’s “anti-
secular” policies. These decisions declared irtica, or Islamic fundamental-
ism, to be the main threat to the foundations of the Turkish republic (along
The Conglomerate of the Turkish Military (OYAK) 85

with Kurdish separatism), and urged the government to take prosecular

policy measures against antisecular activities.76 The so-called February 28
process aimed at eradicating the power of political Islam in the political,
educational, economic-financial, media, and public spheres, and redesign-
ing Turkish politics in line with the ideologies of Turkey’s center parties.77
Soon after the MGK decisions, some of the organizations of the capitalist
class and the working class, namely the Union of Chambers and Commod-
ity Exchanges of Turkey, the Confederation of Employer Associations,
the Confederation of Turkish Trade Unions, the Confederation of Progres-
sive Trade Unions of Turkey, and the Confederation of Tradesmen and
Handicrafts formed an initiative called the “Five Civilian Initiative,” which
actively campaigned against the RP-led government. This cleavage based
on identity politics, which has its own dynamics, also overlapped with a
separate intraclass cleavage. This explains why, for instance, the Turkish
Industry and Business Association, which had started to develop a more
liberal democratic orientation under the hegemonic project of European
Union membership, did not hesitate to support the military’s intervention
and subsequent policies designed to discipline the so-called Islamist capital.
In January 1996, the Turkish Industry and Business Association added to
its internal regulations that it was committed to secularism. In the February
28 process, a court case opened against MÜSİAD for having violated the
laicity. The Chief of Staff released a list of Islamist companies to be boycot-
ted.78 The policy preferences of the social and political bloc supporting the
February 28 intervention, such as entering the European Union, accelerating
privatization, and integration with the world economy were openly stated
in the military’s then secret Document of National Security Policy, updated
in 1997.79
Subsequent pressures from the military pushed the RP-led coalition
government to resign in May 1997. Shortly after that, in January 1998, the
Constitutional Court decided to close RP for antisecular activities. Then,
its successor, the Virtue Party (Fazilet Partisi, FP), was also closed by the
Constitutional Court in June 2001. Another court case was opened against
MÜSİAD for antisecular activities. The military intervention disciplined
Islamic parties and business organizations in the short term in the name of
the economic and political interests of the social bloc of which the military
was a part, both as a political and economic actor. Yet it actually deepened
the existing crisis of political hegemony, which could not be overcome by
the triple coalition government that formed after the 1999 elections. In addi-
tion, the continuation of neoliberal economic policies, especially the financial
liberalization, caused the worst economic crisis in the country’s history in
2001. This almost totally discredited all political parties in the eyes of the
86 İsmet Akça

The AKP Period: Civilianization without

Democratization; Civilianization Stopping at the
Gate of the Turkish Military’s Economic Power

The AKP, which was founded in 2001, claimed to break with its political
Islamist past and defined its political position as “conservative democrat,”
dominating the political scene thereafter by winning all successive elections
and establishing a single party government in 2002. Besides many other
things, the AKP period was exceptional in Turkish history, for it curbed the
political power of the military and changed civil-military relations.
The AKP revitalized the neoliberal hegemony by “the absorption of
Islamism into secular neoliberalism more or less successfully at all levels of
the hegemonic formation.”80 AKP’s neoliberal, conservative, and authoritar-
ian populist hegemonic project articulated neoliberal economic policies, a
new neoliberal social policy program, a claim to political reformism and
democratization, a gradual normalization of Islamic conservatism in all
spheres of life, a pro-United States and pro-European Union foreign policy,
and a neo-Ottomanist imperial strategy in the Middle East. As such, the
AKP’s hegemonic project successfully united the dominant class fractions,
gained the consent of the dominated classes, and appealed to important
identity groups who had previously felt excluded.81 This political strategy
of expansive hegemony could unite the various fractions of the bourgeoisie,
including the Istanbul-based big bourgeoisie and small- and medium-scale
bourgeoisie, especially the Islamist sections of the latter. In fact, the transfor-
mation of political Islam was also consonant with the transformation of the
Islamist bourgeoisie, and the latter was very active in the foundation of the
AKP.82 Neoliberal economic policies, based on financial capital inflows and
a financial accumulation strategy, privatization, the reduction of real wages,
and the legalization and extensive use of subcontracting, structural reforms
of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, and the technocratiza-
tion of economic decision making were prominent in unifying the different
fractions of the bourgeoisie.83 In addition, the AKP was also successful in
gaining the consent of the mostly unorganized and informal sections of the
working class, the rural and urban poor, mainly on the basis of a new social
policy program.84
Those social and political conditions under the AKP’s expansive hege-
mony are important in order to understand the dynamics of change concern-
ing the military’s position within the power structure. Since the military
and the secular state establishment has had strong suspicions about, if not
belief in, the party’s alleged hidden Islamic intentions, the AKP’s political
Islamist legacy has paradoxically forced it to engage in a more reformist
stance than its right-wing predecessors. AKP’s claim to political reformism
The Conglomerate of the Turkish Military (OYAK) 87

and democratization has been most clearly evidenced in its struggle against
the military and its civilianization reforms.85 The AKP’s understanding of
democracy has been based on the idea of representing “the national will,”
understood as the will of the electoral majority, against the state elite’s
tutelage, against the status quo that materialized in the apparatuses of the
so-called tutelary regime.
Hence, between 2002 and 2005, AKP engaged in a “war of position”
against the military, to use Gramsci’s term, especially by using Turkey’s
EU candidacy for leverage. This legitimated its curbs on the power of the
MGK and the Secretariat General. For example, the Seventh EU Harmoniza-
tion Package, passed on August 7, 2003, made significant amendments to
the composition, role, and functions of both the MGK and the Secretariat
General.86 During this period, in order to weaken the AKP government, the
military elites took several actions, ranging from coup attempts to the promo-
tion of anti-AKP public campaigns. Although there were signs that the AKP’s
leaders were aware of these attempted coups against their government back
in 2003 and 2004, given its limited capacity to penetrate some critical state
institutions, AKP did not feel strong enough to wage a war of maneuver, so
did not struggle against these attempts. In any event, the attempts of the hard-
liners within the military to unseat the government failed anyway because
they had a narrow social base and hardly any international support, of which
the coup planners were well aware.87

Unlike the previous military coups in Turkish history, these coup attempts
had neither the support of the Istanbul-based big bourgeoisie nor the market-
dependent new middle classes, who were very sensitive to economic stability.
Finally, again unlike the previous coups in Turkey, there was no external sup-
port, especially from the United States, for a coup. In sum, the potential social
basis of a possible coup was so narrow that it would have just mobilized the old
urban middle classes and small parts of the new middle classes, whose main
concern was their secularist, western lifestyles.88

The military’s veto of Abdullah Gül’s candidacy for the presidency of

the republic and the e-memorandum by the General Staff on April 27, 2007,
pushed AKP to shift its strategy toward open struggle against the military.
Already, between 2002 and 2007, the AKP government had been able to
penetrate—albeit to a limited extent—the judiciary and began to exert more
extensive influence over the police. During the new period, however, its
increasing control over the police and judiciary would become crucial, as the
government launched an offensive against the military based on allegations of
military-inspired plots to overthrow the government. Through the Ergenekon
and Balyoz or “Sledgehammer” trials of 2014, the Turkish Constitutional
88 İsmet Akça

Court ordered a retrial in a case in which 237 serving and retired military
personnel were convicted of plotting to stage a coup to overthrow the govern-
ment of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). With this, AKP had won
its political battle against the military for the moment.89
Yet civilianization still remains incomplete because there are still functions
that should fall under the purview of the civilian authorities but have not yet
achieved this, such as the military budget, internal security, and intelligence
gathering. In addition, the subject areas of National Security Council meet-
ings are still too broad, while the military retains an important role in internal
security through specific institutions, the Chief of General Staff still has
authority and prerogatives in areas other than strictly external security issues,
and parliamentary control over the military does not work effectively.90
During this period, the economic power of the military, which so far had
been neglected, entered the agenda of the European Union. In a report titled
“EUTurkey Relations with a View to the European Council of December
2004 Draft Opinion,” the Economic and Social Committee, which is com-
posed of 222 members representing different social groups (businessmen,
workers, farmers, cooperatives, etc.), problematicized and criticized the eco-
nomic power of the military through OYAK and military expenditures (its
actual preparation and its off-budget resources), and defined this economic
power as an area of reform for EU membership. However, following the
lobby pressures of OYAK and the head of the Istanbul Chamber of Industry
(Hüsamettin Kavi), who is also the copresident representing the Turkish part
of the Turkey–EU Economic and Social Committee (composed of eighteen
members from each part), the last draft left out the OYAK phenomenon by
deciding that “OYAK is a secondary social security institution similar to
those in the European Union; and besides forming its member base, OYAK
has no business relationship or financial transfer with the state or the military,
and it has no organic relationship with the military.”91
Later on, OYAK and the role of the military within the economy have also
been subject to an investigation by the parliamentary commission publicly
known as the Commission for Investigating the Military Interventions. The
report of the commission, published in 2012, has a special section titled “The
Economy and the Coups,” and OYAK is also covered.92 Yet no political or
legal action has been undertaken by the government in this aspect. It seems
that the function of the commission and the report were rather instrumental in
the political battle of the AKP against the military. Today, the military, which
lost its political power vis-à-vis the civilian government, still keeps important
prerogatives, the most important of which are related to the capitalist-mili-
tarist structure. The conglomerate of the military, OYAK, is still one of the
biggest corporations in the country; military expenditures have not yet been
brought under civilian scrutiny and competence but rather are controlled by
The Conglomerate of the Turkish Military (OYAK) 89

the military; and the war industry still continues to develop as a privileged
area of capital accumulation.93
There is no doubt that civilianization by itself is a necessary but insuffi-
cient condition for democratization. The AKP government, having begun the
process, did not go further to establish a democratic form of state, but instead
manufactured a civilian authoritarian state. The AKP’s main concern was
conquering the state apparatuses by a new conservative-neoliberal elite group
rather than reforming the authoritarian state. A new form of state emerged
during the AKP period, at the center of which the police and the judiciary
now stand in place of the military. After a subsequent series of social and
political developments in the last few years, this new authoritarian state form
has been strongly established and developed. Concerning these critical devel-
opments, we may cite the dividing effects of the economic crisis of 2008 on
the capitalist class and the deepening of particularistic relations between the
AKP and its organic bourgeoisie; the AKP’s Sunni-Islamist foreign policy in
the Middle East, especially in Egypt and Syria; the AKP’s Islamist-neoliberal
policies toward daily life, the women’s body, and the educational system,
which accelerated in the aftermath of the 2010 referendum of constitutional
changes through which the AKP secured its hegemony over the state; and the
rise of the Gezi Park movement as a mass popular protest movement against
the AKP’s neoliberal, Islamist, and authoritarian policies. In this process, the
AKP’s capacity for hegemony has been reduced, especially concerning the
mostly West-oriented big bourgeoisie, the international actors such as the
United States and the European Union, and the social base of the Gezi revolt.
The AKP has shifted its political strategy from an expansive to a limited strat-
egy of hegemony, and from a conservative to an Islamist neoliberal strategy
that aims to consolidate and mobilize its own mass of voters through Islamist
political discourse.94 All of these developments raise new research questions
concerning the political power structure of Turkey and the place of different
political actors within it, including the military.

Conclusion: Some Theoretical Assessments

Theoretical approaches based on binary opposition, such as state-civil soci-

ety, state-market/economy, center-periphery, and civil-military have been
hegemonic in the post-1980 period in analyzing the historical and political
sociology of Turkey. The historical narrative produced by scholars from
different theoretical backgrounds on the basis of a state-centric analysis
underlined a peculiar historical continuity incarnated in a “strong state–weak
society tradition,” commonly known as the “strong state tradition.” It centers
around the claim about the weakness of the bourgeoisie and its dependence
90 İsmet Akça

on the state, a state tradition impeding the development of capitalism, mar-

ket, and economy as autonomous spheres, the presentation of the cleavage
between the bourgeoisie and the civilian and military bureaucratic elites as
the main dynamic of power relations and social change. Accordingly, autono-
mous state elites (civil and military bureaucracy) act as an independent actor
against and regardless of the will of social actors within civil society, includ-
ing dominant social groups and classes such as the bourgeoisie.95
Such a theoretical analysis has also been dominant in analyzing the role
of the military in Turkish politics. The ongoing presence of militarist inter-
ventions and practices have also been explained as revanchist attacks by
the praetorian forces of the strong state who want to restore, solidify, and
increase their own autonomy and power sources vis-à-vis and at the expense
of all social forces and interests, including the bourgeoisie. Accordingly, the
political regime in Turkey has always been a tutelary regime in which the
praetorian force, that is mainly the military, is the dominant power group. As
a praetorian force, the military intervenes in order to consolidate, reinstitute,
or increase its own power and interests.96 We observe similar argumentation
concerning OYAK; that is, the presence of the military as an economic actor,
too. For instance, according to Heper, OYAK should be seen as “part of a
continuing effort on the part of the military to decrease its dependence on
civil society, rather than as evidence of ‘organic ties between the military and
the bourgeoisie.’”97 Similarly, the (neo)liberal critique of OYAK underlines
the distorting effect of the military for the liberal market economy because of
the special privileges of OYAK and of the privileged political power of the
military, and assumes a relation-of-interest conflict between the military and
the bourgeoisie.98 In the analysis of praetorianism, OYAK is interpreted as
a moment in the formation of the military as “a kind of class for itself, as a
closed/introversive social stratum capable of reproducing itself.”99 This also
resonates with the arguments about the state bourgeoisie.100
Those theoretical perspectives on the Turkish state, military, and OYAK
are marked by a mythical thought about the capitalist development, eco-
nomic, and political modernization, and the state and the bourgeoisie, which
results from an occidentalist reading of European history to the extent that
the specificity of the Ottoman-Turkish social change is compared to a highly
abstracted and idealized model of European capitalist development. Instead
of focusing on the actual historical processes, they interpret the role of the
military in political and economic spheres as an autonomous factor distorting
an ideal historical path of capitalist development. That is also why they over-
look the intricate relationship between the military and the class dynamics of
Turkish capitalism.
It is certainly true that the military in Turkey has been an important actor
having its own political and economic interests. Its practices cannot be
The Conglomerate of the Turkish Military (OYAK) 91

reduced to a mere reflective or reactive role. Nevertheless, its very constitu-

tive role has drawn it into specific social relations of power, which has in
turn defined the limits of its power. It is neither a mere instrument nor an
omnipotent actor. The actual practices of the military have both shaped and
have been shaped by the class power relations and the dynamics of Turkish
The existence of the military as a collective capitalist group through
OYAK is one of the faces of the military in Turkey. One can neither explain
all practices of the military or the relationship between the military and the
class dynamics of capitalism in Turkey solely with reference to this face
nor totally ignore it. OYAK does not make the military a class or a state
bourgeoisie in the proper use of the term. What the existence of OYAK led
us to assess is rather that the military has more directly taken part in class
relations. The fact that the military, through one of its institutional organi-
zations, has certain interests in common with the dominant fraction of the
bourgeoisie has some effects. Through OYAK, the military has become
totally embedded within the accumulation processes and the related inter-
and intraclass conflicts under different regimes of accumulation. It would not
be right to argue that because a holding company is owned by the military
that it has omnipotent power over every aspect of class relations. Therefore,
this chapter analyzed the economic role of the military, hence of OYAK,
within a noninstrumentalist and nonfunctionalist, but strategic-relational
political sociological framework focusing specifically on the class power
relations at economic and political moments of the capitalist development
of Turkey.


1. “OYAK Kanla Sınanmış Askeri Prensiple İlerliyor,” Sabah, November 23,

2. See, for example, “The Most Interesting Holding of the World . . . OYAK’s
Total Assets Exceeded Nine Quadrillion,” Hürriyet, November 23, 2001; “Turkey Is
Too Narrow for OYAK,” Akşam, November 23, 2001; “Turkey Will Relax if It Takes
This Model as a Guiding Model,” Star, November 23, 2001.
3. For an overall analysis of the three pillars of the Turkish capitalist-militarist
structure, see Akça, Military-Economic Structure in Turkey; Akça, Militarism Capi-
talism and the State in Turkey.
4. See Resmi Gazete, January 9, 1961, no. 10702. For the full text see also
brief/lawofoyak.pdf, accessed on November 20, 2013.
5. For a detailed evaluation of the legal status, administrative structure, and
activities of OYAK, see Akça, Militarism Capitalism and the State in Turkey, 319–32.
92 İsmet Akça

By saying “holding company” I am not referring to its legal form, but rather to the
range and type of its economic ventures.
6. It should be underlined that these economic activities are totally profit ori-
ented, and also that OYAK’s assets are not invested in war industries.
7. OYAK, 2013 Annual Report, 27.
8. http://www.capital.com.tr/liderlik/buyumede-cift-haneli-hesaplar-haberde-
tay-7520, accessed on February 17, 2015. For some previous years see also Akça,
Military-Economic Structure in Turkey, 10.
9. OYAK is exempt from corporate tax, all of the revenues of the fund are
exempt from turnover tax (gider vergisi), the collection of the members’ fees is
exempt from income tax, all of the transactions of the fund are exempt from the state
stamp tax, all of the donations for the fund are exempt from income tax and from
inheritance and transition taxes, and disbursements to members are not taxed (article
35). It should be noted that all of OYAK’s affiliated companies pay their regular taxes,
whereas OYAK as “a holding company” is exempt from taxes.
10. See the table in Akça, Militarism Capitalism and the State in Turkey, 327. If
one remembers that in a dependent capitalist social structure, the lack of capital is
generally considered one of the most important characteristics, this financial source
from a big fund made possible a very high rate of liquidity. Such a cheap liquidity
becomes more important in economic crisis years in terms of both more easily over-
coming the crisis and making high profits by investing in financial markets.
11. For empirical evidences about all these privileges see Akça, Militarism Capi-
talism and the State in Turkey, 337–40; Akça, Military-Economic Structure in Turkey,
12. For a more detailed analysis of this military intervention see Akça, “Ordu,
Devlet ve Sınıflar: 27 Mayıs 1960 Darbesi Örneği Üzerinden Alternatif Bir Okuma
Denemesi”; Akça, Militarism Capitalism and the State in Turkey, 259–314.
13. Parla, “Mercantile Militarism in Turkey, 1960–1998,” 37.
14. Milli Birlik Komitesi Genel Kurul Toplantısı (The National Unity Committee
General Assembly Records), Vol. 5 (B: 67–71).
15. Akça, Militarism Capitalism and the State in Turkey, 341–46.
16. See the figures in ibid., 336.
17. On import-substituting industrialization strategy see Keyder, State and Class
in Turkey, 141–96; Barkey, The State and the Industrialization Crisis in Turkey.
18. On the monopolization process and the emergence of big capitalist groups see
Buğra, State and Business in Modern Turkey, 171–224; Şen, “Türkiye Büyük Burju-
vazisinin Anatomisi,” 46–65; Tekeli, “Türkiye’deki Şirketlerin Gelişimi ve Kapitalin
Yoğunlaşma Süreci.”
19. See Akça, Militarism, Capitalism and the State in Turkey, 347–55.
20. OYAK, OYAK 15th Year (Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu Basımevi, 1976), 1;
OYAK, OYAK Dergisi (OYAK Journal), 1971, 8.
21. On March 12, the military gave a memorandum to the government as a result
of which the prime minister had to resign. During the following two years, the parlia-
ment was open, but four technocratic governments were established. It was an interim
regime under the supervision and control of the military.
The Conglomerate of the Turkish Military (OYAK) 93

22. Tekin, “Turkey’s Aborted Attempt at Export-Led Growth Strategy.”

23. Eder, “Crises of Late Industrialization,” 150; Barkey, The State and the Indus-
trialization Crisis in Turkey, 115, 154.
24. OYAK, OYAK Dergisi, 1971, 8.
25. Eder, “Crises of Late Industrialization,” 291.
26. Barkey, The State and the Industrialization Crisis in Turkey, 115.
27. Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies.
28. We can define three different interventionist currents within the military at
that time. The first is the Baathist antiparliamentarist line, whose coup attempt on
March 9 was prevented by the March 12 interventionists. The second is the reformist
line, which argues for reviving the reforms anticipated by the coup of May 27, 1960.
The third one is the conservatist-authoritarianist line, which argued for the establish-
ment of law and order through authoritarian constitutional changes and political
29. For a more detailed analysis of the March 12, 1971, intervention, see Akça,
“Türkiye’de Darbeler, Kapitalizm ve Demokrasi(sizlik),” 56–58; Cizre-Sakallıoğlu,
AP-Ordu İlişkileri. Bir İkilemin Anatomisi.
30. See O’Donnell, Bureaucratic Authoritarianism. Argentina, 1966–1973.
31. See Barkey, The State and the Industrialization Crisis in Turkey; Keyder,
State and Class in Turkey, 165–96; Yalman, Transition to Neoliberalism, 235–50.
32. Ozan, Gülme Sırası Bizde. 12 Eylül’e Giderken Sermaye Sınıfı, Kriz ve
33. Yalman, “The Turkish State and Bourgeoisie in Historical Perspective,” 40.
34. OYAK, OYAK 1977 Yılı Yapılan İşler Raporu, 15, 17.
35. Ibid., 18; OYAK, OYAK Dergisi, 15–16.
36. OYAK, OYAK 1974 Yılı Yapılan İşler Raporu, 48–49.
37. See Ataay, 12 Mart’tan 12 Eylül’e Kriz Kıskacındaki Türk Siyaseti ve
1978–1979 CHP Hükümeti.
38. Demirel, Adalet Partisi. İdeoloji ve Politika.
39. Yalman, Transition to Neoliberalism, 237–51.
40. Akça, “Hegemonic Projects in Post-1980 Turkey and the Changing Forms of
Authoritarianism,” 14–18.
41. Schamis, “Reconceptualizing Latin American Authoritarianism in the
1970s,” 207.
42. OYAK, OYAK Dergisi, 1983, 7.
43. Yalman, “The Turkish State and Bourgeoisie in Historical Perspective,” 38.
44. Akça, “Hegemonic Projects in Post-1980 Turkey and the Changing Forms of
Authoritarianism,” 16–18.
45. Yeldan, Küreselleşme Sürecinde Türkiye Ekonomisi.
46. Akça, “Hegemonic Projects in Post-1980 Turkey and the Changing Forms of
Authoritarianism,” 23–44.
47. See the figures in Akça, Militarism Capitalism and the State in Turkey, 336.
48. Yalman, “The Turkish State and Bourgeoisie in Historical Perspective.”
49. See http://www.oyak.com.tr/oyak-misyon.html, accessed on February 10,
2005. The general manager, in his message to the members, is now saying that “to
94 İsmet Akça

transform OYAK into a globalized and internationally-reputed institution is among

our purposes.” http://www.oyak.com.tr/oyak-mesaj.html, accessed on February 10,
50. Çam, “Neo-Liberalism and Labor within the Context of an ‘Emerging
Market’ Economy—Turkey.”
51. Çakıcı, “Ordu Yardımlaşma Kurumu’nun Türk Ekonomisine Katkıları,”
52. See Atiyas, “Recent Privatization Experience of Turkey.”
53. The oligopolistic structure of the sector is commonly acknowledged. For such
assertions on the daily newspapers see Güneş, “Uzanların Çimento Fabrikalarının
Satışına Dikkat”; Ayaydın, “Çimentoların Satışı Tekelleşme Yaratmamalı” and
Ayaydın, “Çimento Satışları Tam Gaz Peki Rekabeti Ne Olacak?”
54. For a detailed account of this privatization process see Akça, Militarism
Capitalism and the State in Turkey, 361–62.
55. Saka, “Üyelerle Sohbet” (Conversation with Members), October 2001 and
January 2002, http://www.oyak.com.tr/uyelerle_sohbet200110.html, accessed on
March 18, 2003. In the general assembly of 2003, the general manager of OYAK also
underlined how with the five months of profits, all of the losses of ex-OYAK Bank
have been compensated. See OYAK, OYAK Dergisi, 2004, 77.
56. İstanbul Sanayi Odası, Türkiye’nin 500 Büyük Sanayi Kuruluşu (İstanbul:
İstanbul Sanayi Odası Dergisi Özel Sayı, 2004 and 2005).
57. Sabah, October 5 and 6, 2005.
58. For more details see Akça, Militarism Capitalism and the State in Turkey,
360–62; 365–68.
59. Yeldan, Küreselleşme Sürecinde Türkiye Ekonomisi, 127–57.
60. Cizre-Sakallıoğlu and Yeldan, “Politics, Society and Financial Liberaliza-
tion,” 489.
61. The growth rates of OYAK’s total net assets in TRY between 1989 and 2001
were 123, 88, 98, 315, 155, 102, 87, 330, 213, and 75 percent in the successive years.
See the figures in Akça, Militarism Capitalism and the State in Turkey, 336.
62. Demir, “Militarization of the Market and Rent-Seeking Coalitions in Turkey,”
63. Please note that the figure of 67 percent also includes the financial invest-
ments of affiliated companies. See the speech of the president of the board of direc-
tors, retired Lieutenant-General Yıldırım Türker, in “Oyak İş Ortakları Toplantısı,
September 7, 2005, Antalya” as published at http://www.oyak.com.tr, accessed on
September 10, 2005.
64. OYAK, OYAK Dergisi, 1995, 39.
65. Radikal, April 26, 2002.
66. Demir, “Militarization of the Market and Rent-Seeking Coalitions in Turkey,”
67. Akça, “Kollektif Bir Sermayedar Olarak Türk Silahlı Kuvvetleri,” 263–64;
Akyaz, Askerî Müdahalelerin Orduya Etkisi, 377–88.
68. Akça, Militarism Capitalism and the State in Turkey, 371–77.
69. Buğra and Savaşkan, New Capitalism in Turkey: The Relationship between
Politics, Religion and Business; Buğra, “Class, Culture, and the State: An Analysis of
The Conglomerate of the Turkish Military (OYAK) 95

Interest Representation by Two Turkish Business Associations”; Balkan, Balkan, and

Öncü, Neoliberalizm, İslamcı Sermayenin Yükselişi ve AKP.
70. Akça, “Hegemonic Projects in Post-1980 Turkey and the Changing Forms of
Authoritarianism,” 23–29.
71. Gülalp, “The Social Bases of Turkey’s Welfare Party”; Öniş, “The Politi-
cal Economy of Islamic Resurgence in Turkey: The Rise of the Welfare Party in
72. Gülalp, “Political Islam in Turkey: The Rise and Fall of the Refah Party”;
Gülalp, “The Poverty of Democracy in Turkey”; Şen, Refah Partisi’nin Teori ve
73. On this intraclass cleavage, see Ercan, “The Contradictory Continuity of
the Turkish Capital Accumulation Process”; on the class organizations of these two
fractions of capital see Buğra, “Class, Culture, and the State: An Analysis of Interest
Representation by Two Turkish Business Associations.”
74. Özcan, Onbir Aylık Saltanat. Siyaset, Ekonomi ve Dış Politikada Refahyol
75. Akça, “Hegemonic Projects in Post-1980 Turkey and the Changing Forms of
Athoritarianism,” 26–29.
76. Radikal, March 31, 1997.
77. Bayramoğlu, 28 Şubat Bir Müdahalenin Güncesi.
78. Cizre and Çınar, “Kemalism, Islamism, and Politics in the Light of the Febru-
ary 28 Process.”
79. Hürriyet, November 4, 1997.
80. Tuğal, Absorbing the Islamic Challenge to Capitalism, 51.
81. For a detailed analysis of AKP’s hegemonic project see Akça, Bekmen,
and Özden, Turkey Reframed. Constituting Neoliberal Hegemony; Akça, “Hege-
monic Projects in Post-1980 Turkey and the Changing Forms of Authoritarianism,”
30–44; Tuğal, Passive Revolution: Absorbing the Islamic Challenge to Capitalism;
Yıldırım, “AKP ve Neoliberal Popülizm”; Cizre, Secular and Islamic Politics in
82. Balkan, Balkan, and Öncü, Neoliberalizm, İslamcı Sermayenin Yükselişi ve
83. Bekmen, “State and Capital in Turkey During the Neoliberal Era”; Ataay and
Kalfa, “Neoliberalizmin Krizi ve AKP’nin Yükselişi.”
84. Özden, “The Transformation of Social Welfare and Politics in Turkey”; Buğra
and Adar, “Social Policy Change in Countries without Mature Welfare State.”
85. For a detailed analysis see Akça and Paker, “Beyond Military Tutelage? Turk-
ish Military Politics and the AKP Government”; Cizre and Çınar, “The Justice and
Development Party and the Military.”
86. Akça and Paker, “Beyond Military Tutelage? Turkish Military Politics and
the AKP Government,” 80.
87. Nokta, March 29–April 4, 2007, 22.
88. Akça and Paker, “Beyond Military Tutelage? Turkish Military Politics and
the AKP Government,” 81.
89. Ibid., 85–87.
90. Akay, Security Sector in Turkey.
96 İsmet Akça

91. See “OYAK da AB Kriteri Sayıldı,” Referans, June 19, 2004; “Avrupa
OYAK’ta İkna Oldu,” Milliyet, August 9, 2004; OYAK, OYAK Dergisi, 2004, 78.
92. Ülkemizde Demokrasiye Müdahale Eden Tüm Darbe ve Muhtıralar ile
Demokrasiyi İşlevsiz Kılan Diğer Bütün Girşim ve Süreçlerin Tüm Boyutları ile
Araştırılarak Alınması Gereken Önlemlerin Belirlenmesi Amacıyla Kurulan Meclis
Araştırması Komisyonu Raporu, 2012. http://www.tbmm.gov.tr/arastirma_komisyon-
lari/darbe_muhtira/, accessed on March 5, 2014.
93. Akça, Military-Economic Structure in Turkey.
94. Akça, “Hegemonic Projects in Post-1980 Turkey and the Changing Forms of
Athoritarianism,” 37–44; Akça and Özden, “AKP ve Türkiye’de Neoliberal Otoriter-
izmin Sınıfsal Dinamikleri.”
95. For a critical evaluation of this literature see Akça, Militarism Capitalism and
the State in Turkey, 163–216; Yalman, “The Turkish State and Bourgeoisie in Histori-
cal Perspective”; Dinler, “Türkiye’de Güçlü Devlet Geleneği Tezinin Eleştirisi.”
96. For a critical evaluation of this literature see Akça, Militarism Capitalism and
the State in Turkey, 217–49.
97. Heper, The State Tradition in Turkey, 129.
98. For example see Özkök, “Homo Ekonomikus’un Kimyası”; Cansen, “Oyak
99. İnsel, “Bir Toplumsal Sınıf Olarak Türk Silahlı Kuvvetleri.”
100. See for instance Waterbury, “Twilight of the State Bourgeoisie?” and for a
more critical approach see Dupuy and Truchil, “Problems in the Theory of State
Chapter 4

All the Sepah’s Men

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards
in Theory and Practice
Kevan Harris

On December 12, 2013, Brigadier General Abdullah Abdullahi held a Tehran

press conference to mark the twenty-fourth anniversary of the founding of
Khatam al-Anbia Construction Base, the engineering contracting arm of the
Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Abdullahi proudly announced,
“Over the past 24 years, we have conducted 1,504 development projects
and we also have another 250 big projects on hand.”1 The firm had recently
completed work on the Martyr Sadr overpass, a two-year construction project
that linked up the congested highways of northwest and northeast Tehran.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony, held a few weeks earlier, looked like a military
reunion. Fellow brigadier general Husayn Salami, the current commander of
the IRGC ground forces, joined Abdullahi. Alongside was Muhammad-Baqir
Qalibaf, the mayor of Tehran, a former IRGC air force commander, and an
ex-chief of Khatam al-Anbia himself. Ali Larijani, former IRGC assistant
deputy and current Speaker of the Parliament, attended as well, cheering,
“Many civil engineering projects have been undertaken in the country, but
they have been consistently plagued by lengthy periods of construction.
[But this project] is evidence that this can be done in the country and, with
complete prudence and sufficient effort, other projects in the country can be
finished more quickly.”2
To many, such an event symbolizes the seamless nexus of power between
the Islamic Republic’s conservative establishment and its military stewards,
the IRGC. A Khomeini-loyal auxiliary militia born in 1979 out of the revo-
lutionary struggle for state power, the IRGC played an important role in the
Iran-Iraq war (1980–88). The organization rivaled the existing armed forces,
and Article 150 of Iran’s 1979 constitution states, “The Islamic Revolution-
ary Guard Corps, established in the early days of the victory of the revolu-
tion, will remain in effect in order to continue in its role of protecting the

98 Kevan Harris

revolution and its achievements.”3 After the 1980s war, the IRGC remained
separate from the armed forces and retained a high degree of prestige and
institutional independence. As in many postwar societies, IRGC veterans
and officials soon entered into the country’s political, economic, and cultural
life. Penned in an incipient postrevolutionary order, Article 147 of the 1979
constitution arguably legitimated such roles: “In time of peace, the govern-
ment, in complete respect for the criteria of Islamic justice, must utilize the
army’s personnel and technical equipment for relief operations, educational,
and productive endeavors.”4 Though the article mentions only the army by
name, IRGC representatives subsequently claimed its economic activities
were covered.5 Cleavages within Iran’s post-1979 political elite are copious
and commonplace, but it was not until the late 1990s that stories about the
IRGC’s shadowy power began to multiply. During the presidency of Moham-
mad Khatami (1997–2005), a democratizing push by left-liberal “reformist”
movements began to encounter fierce resistance. In the 2004 parliamentary
elections, in which many left-liberal candidates were barred from competing,
IRGC veterans won at least 16 percent of the seats.6 With the 2005 presiden-
tial election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a veteran of the Iran-Iraq war who
brought IRGC allies into his ministerial cabinet, the organization’s political
and economic influence appeared to grow further. In the course of the 2009
postelection protests commonly known as the Green Movement, nearly all of
the 1990s “reformist” intelligentsia were purged from the state. During these
years one frequently heard that the IRGC ran the show in Iran—behind the
curtain, so to speak. As the 2013 presidential election approached, most Iran
analysts assumed only men deeply embedded in this power nexus would be
allowed to take office—via ballots or otherwise. So when the technocratic
center-left candidate Hassan Rouhani won the first-round ballot via a surpris-
ing coalition of oppositional elites and a mobilized electorate, a widely held
notion about Iran’s political economy came under challenge. It turned out that
the IRGC, segments of which supported three different candidates including
Rouhani, was as divided as the rest of the political elite. As a result, the orga-
nization’s place in Iran is due for a reexamination.
Let us inspect our opening scene with a different sort of lens. Khatam al-
Anbia, or “Last of the Prophets,” refers to Muhammad’s position as the final
recipient of divine prophetic knowledge. It is a strange name for a large engi-
neering contractor with a sizable revenue stream, an amalgamation of piety
and productivity. Tehran’s mayor, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, may have
IRGC credentials, but he cut the ribbon on the Martyr Sadr overpass wearing
a (tieless) suit, not fatigues or a uniform. Qalibaf ran for president in 2005
and 2013, each time presenting himself as a “jihadi manager” of state affairs
(he never won). Speaker of the parliament Ali Larijani did remark on the
project’s professional and speedy completion. Yet Larijani also energetically
All the Sepah’s Men 99

stated in 2011, “When companies that are not really private come onto the
market relying on enormous capital belonging to the government, they do
not give the private sector room to compete and we must prevent this trend.”7
Instead of Islamist zealots unhinged since 1979, these revolutionaries today
spout the pieties of management jargon. What accounts for such transforma-
tions in an organization such as the IRGC only a generation after the Iranian
There are two prevailing theories of the IRGC’s role in Iran’s postrevolu-
tionary political economy. As I discuss below, one holds that the IRGC is an
ideologically driven praetorian monolith that slowly but surely has taken over
the economy’s commanding heights in order to consolidate power against
political competitors. The other argues the IRGC is a state bourgeoisie that
is driven less by ideology and more by greed, deforming Iran’s economy in
the process. There is an element of truth to both theories, but their analytical
application tends to generate more heat than light. Part of this is due to the
highly instrumental nature of the knowledge being produced about the IRGC
inside and outside Iran, but another part is due to conceptual confusion. Both
of these theories are Cold War products imported without much reflection on
the Iranian milieu. By focusing on the military as a powerful agent that auton-
omously distorts some preconceived ideal process of economic and politi-
cal modernization, we lose sight of the changes in Iran’s postrevolutionary
society that have actually taken place. Firms and investment conglomerates
affiliated with the IRGC and other military-linked parastatals do not signify a
creeping militarization or “revolutionary” ideological subordination of Iran’s
economy so much as they characterize the commodification of bureaucratic
privilege and status held by individuals in these organizations. Below, I
discuss the pedigrees of these two theories and place the IRGC’s “economic
empire” in context as one element of a larger mode of capital accumulation in
Iran. I end by discussing what a more useful political sociology of the IRGC
reveals about Iran’s postrevolutionary era—namely, the existence of military-
economic linkages has its institutional roots in state formation as opposed to
military consolidation.

All in the Hand of the Sepah

The Social Security Organization, Iran’s main public social insurance insti-
tution, manages a set of investment funds that in turn oversee companies
that manufacture most of Iran’s pharmaceuticals and automobile tires.8 Few
Iranians are aware of the fact that their future pension earnings are bound
up with their own consumption of domestic goods. Tax-exempt endowed
foundations, many of which were created after the 1979 revolution and given
100 Kevan Harris

state assets, such as the Foundation for the Dispossessed, today operate Coca-
Cola plants, touristic resort hotels, and agro-industrial firms. The state-owned
Export Bank, which predates the 1979 revolution, runs a massive investment
conglomerate, Ghadir. In May 2014, it was the fifth largest company on Teh-
ran’s stock exchange with nearly $5 billion US dollars market capitalization
(between 1 and 2 percent of Iran’s 2013 GDP).9 The armed forces even has
its own banking and investment firms, wholly separate from the IRGC, one of
which manages Tehran’s International Expo Center, the main site for Iran’s
business fairs. In a June 2014 interview, former deputy Economic Minister
and reformist politician Mohsen Safaei Farahani stated that there are about
120 funds, foundations, and organizations in what Iranians refer to synony-
mously as the “quasi-governmental” or “pseudo-private” sector.
Safaei Farahani estimated that this sector altogether controlled around 50
percent of gross domestic product (GDP), which is as good a guess as any.10
There is no existing systematic study of this sector created in large part by the
transfer and sale of state assets. Yet by examining data for privatization of state-
owned enterprises over the past two decades, we at least know it is bigger than
ever and shot through with competing and contradictory interests. Table 4.1
shows the methods and amount of divestment of state-owned enterprises after
the end of the 1980s war over three consecutive presidential administrations.

Table 4.1  Divestment in Iran

Stock Market, Transfers in Transferred
Auctions, and Lieu of Debts % of Total (Full or
President and Negotiated Justice Owed by Transfers Partial
Years Transfers Shares Government 1991–2013 Divestment)
Rafsanjani 53.579     3.5  
1st/2nd terms
Khatami 1st 26.625     1.7 11
term 1377–80
Khatami 2nd 63.993     4.2 364
term 1381–84
Ahmadinejad 1st 325.105 400.012 109.883 54.3 374
term 1385–88
Ahmadinejad 363.114 44.110 150.450 36.3 498
2nd term
Source: Iranian Privatization Organization (www.ipo.ir).
Note: 1991–2013 (in constant billions of Rials with base year 2011; IRR 10,000 billion ≈ US
$1 billion); Persian calendar years begin on March 20; figures adjusted for inflation using the
Consumer Price Index of the Central Bank of Iran to base year 1390.
All the Sepah’s Men 101

As Table 4.1 shows, the vast majority of public sector divestment, over
90 percent of the total value of transferred shares, occurred under the Ahma-
dinejad administration. Yet the process began previous to his presidency.
From the beginning, divestment benefitted the parastatal sector far more
than the private sector. Shares of public entities were largely shifted to this
proliferating set of funds, foundations, banks, and holding companies. Many
companies were handed over to quasi-governmental organizations in lieu of
government debt, or sold in block shares to large institutional investment
companies under their management. There is no systematic data on the
recipients of company shares. The case of Iran’s auto industry, however, is
a useful example. Iran’s two largest state-linked auto manufacturers spent
more than US $3 billion at the end of the Ahmadinejad period on banking
stocks and investment assets, using various holding companies for specula-
tive activity unlinked to production of motor vehicles. As Behrouz Nemati,
a member of Parliament, griped, “An automaker should make cars instead of
becoming a banker.”11
As a result of this long-term process, the economy has not remained
under public command nor has it been transferred out of the state into the
hands of a single organization or social base.12 This is not a consolidation of
capital under a military organization. Rather, Iran’s parastatal economy is an
outcome of how mechanisms of capital accumulation and asset ownership
were structured and restructured over the past several decades. If it can be
compared to anything, patterns of corporate ownership in Iran have arguably
moved closer to the “networked” or “stakeholder models” of Germany and
Japan discussed most notably in the scholarship on “varieties of capitalism,”
in which large firms accrue extensive cross-shareholdings and heavily rely on
financing from banking capital.13
This systemic fact notwithstanding, the notion that the IRGC—often
referred to as Sepah-i Pasdaran (Guards Corps) or just Sepah—occupies
the commanding heights of the economy is commonly held in Iran. Ask an
average citizen about any major construction project over the past ten years
and one could often hear, “It’s in the hand of the Sepah.”14 In the 1990s, the
same question would have provoked alternative stories. So-called mafias run
by children of President Hashemi Rafsanjani (1989–1997) were the culprit
then, or a set of endowed revolutionary foundations (bunyadha) that plied
revolutionary rhetoric but operated as large business groups. Such stories fly
around for a good reason. As one magazine editor told me in Tehran: “The
less we know about something in Iranian politics, the more we talk about it.”
A fall 2013 issue of the business weekly Tomorrow’s Business featured a sec-
tion on the economic activities of Iranian military organizations under both
the IRGC and the armed forces. The magazine was sparse on the details, but
it included a menacing graphic listing a hundred recent projects conducted by
102 Kevan Harris

military-linked contractors and investment firms in the oil, gas, transporta-

tion, and infrastructure sectors.15 The IRGC is the topic of the day.
Such military-linked contractors are often accused of “crowding out”
private capital. Defenders of these firms counter that they only engage in
projects with economies of scale too large for private capital. To be sure,
these contractors have not necessarily been hostile to foreign capital, and
have worked with Asian and European firms in previous projects. After a new
round of sanctions imposed by Western countries in 2010, however, most
sources of foreign capital dried up. With such linkages severed via blockade,
military-linked firms further elbowed their way into the economic vacuum.
Depending on one’s perspective, they either shouldered or captured the
development priorities of the much-sanctioned Islamic Republic in the late
2000s. Infrastructure projects supervised by Khatam al-Anbiya Construction
Headquarters, Brigadier General Abdullahi claimed in December 2014, had
employed 135,000 people. Only a small percentage of this number, he added,
consisted of formal IRGC employees.16 Given the opaque links between small
private firms and large semipublic enterprises, the actual effect of military-
linked contractors on the economy is uncertain. One thing, however, is for
sure. As their presence visibly increased over the past decade, negative anec-
dotes about Iran’s military-economic linkages proliferated for use as political
fodder. Evidence of economic dominance was not necessarily required for
the idea of military dominance to resonate in Iran’s political discourse. To
understand such claims in Iran, we need to examine intraelite conflict more
as a divided field rather than a dense monolithic structure.
In one example, various segments of the Iranian elite have circuitously
accused the IRGC of smuggling goods. Former Parliament Speaker and
reformist politician Mahdi Karubi hinted at it a few times in the mid-2000s.
Former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, at a July 2011 conference on
“New Strategies on the Prevention and Combating of Commodity and Cur-
rency Smuggling,” ambiguously told the audience:

Our smuggling brothers . . . belong to such and such organization. They belong
to such and such foundation and institution. Everybody has made a hole some-
where and carries out imports and exports for his own benefit. If some goods
are for security, defense, or military purposes, there is nothing wrong with them
and they may be imported, but they should be imported through legal borders.17

The opposition press, which usually mocked Ahmadinejad’s blusterous

assertions, ran wild with the comment as verification of the IRGC’s dark deal-
ings. The story soon entered the Western press, but without the accompany-
ing warning labels on how to read Iranian news. It is difficult to parse out fact
from yellow journalism in Iran’s unruly media. After all, folk wisdom about
All the Sepah’s Men 103

close links between political elites and “speculators” and “smugglers” has
been constant in Iran ever since the 1980s war.18 Maybe Ahmadinejad knew
something; maybe he just repeated rumors that any cab driver can recount.
Less recounted was a statement made weeks later by the deputy official in the
government’s Central Anti-Smuggling Headquarters—the same organization
which hosted the 2011 conference—to the effect that there were no “illegal
docks and jetties” outside of the control of state customs. As the official
noted, the smuggling referred to by the president was due to the abuse of legal
import channels. Sailors, transit workers, and border residents in poorer areas
such as the southern province of Hurmuzgan or the northwestern province of
Kurdistan are allowed to bring in commodities under a given value, and this
system was being exploited by hundreds of smuggling operations. Provincial
governors and local MPs refused to enforce the custom laws, the deputy offi-
cial grumbled, and so a legal cover for illicit activity existed.19 There is no
reason to believe that military officials were immune from such affairs. The
overall process, however, implies the sort of fragmented informal economy
that accompanies most cross-border commerce. As Alejandro Portes has
pointed out, “The paradox of state control is that official efforts to obliterate
unregulated activities through the proliferation of rules and controls often
expand the very conditions that give rise to these activities.”20 Nevertheless,
rumors about the IRGC smuggling everything from cell phones to heroin can
be heard in any typical Tehran afternoon tea party.
Another example occurred when an investment consortium partially
owned by the IRGC Cooperative Foundation, a credit association linked to
the organization, bought a controlling share in Iran’s largest telecommunica-
tions company in 2009. As the rumor mill churned, Iranians began to joke
about their phones not just being in the Sepah’s hand, but in its ears as well.
Yet over the subsequent five years, Iran’s telecom sector became less concen-
trated, not more, as individuals bypassed their landlines for newly available
mobile phones. Once underdeveloped, Iran’s mobile cellular industry is now
a competitive sector wherein state-owned, parastatal, and private companies
vie for subscribers. This occurred because of state initiatives to open up the
telecom sector to new entrants.21 In terms of management priorities or rev-
enue streams, it is unclear what changes, if any, took place in the originally
state-owned telecom company after IRGC-linked capital entered the market.
The outcome was a whimper, not a bang; after the initial teasing of a scandal
in 2009, the story disappeared from Iran’s opposition media.
Truth be told, the more salient game of telephone with regard to the IRGC
occurs in the global circulation of opinion and analysis on Iran. European and
US-based think tanks periodically produce briefs and reports on the IRGC’s
amorphous power. Preordained for purposes of Western foreign policy, these
tend to be devoid of sober reflection on primary sources. These bombshell
104 Kevan Harris

briefs then circle back inside the Islamic Republic to become ammunition
for political claims by various elites and opposition figures.22 It is not hard to
grasp why sources originating in the West would so easily resonate within
Iran’s intellectual sphere. The gaudy agitprop emanating from Iran’s state-
supported media on the IRGC—a self-ordained pillar of the revolution—is
so bombastic that anything coming from the other side seems objective and
ideologically neutral. But given such a turbid and politicized environment
in Iran, speculative overreach by onlookers is the lazy norm. Back-of-the-
envelope estimates of the IRGC’s “economic empire” have ranged from
10 to 60 percent of Iran’s GDP, with almost no actual sourcing involved or
context provided by the overeager journalists, workaday analysts, or anony-
mous interns who produce them. Even if we did possess such a hard number,
though, what could we make of it? What does it mean when brigadier gener-
als put on business suits?
The basic theoretical implications of this assertion are rarely examined.
Does the presence of military actors in the economy signify a cohesive
organizational strategy? In China or Indonesia, militaries control numerous
businesses yet do not dictate high state policy. Does the accumulation of
capital entail an accumulation of centralized political power? Turkey’s mili-
tary owns a web of industrial conglomerates through its pension fund, yet it
was stunningly defanged by Erdogan’s AKP. Do military-linked profits fuel
the crushing of democratic movements? Pakistan’s “Military Inc.” grew in
tandem with the rocky resumption of democratic elections in the country. In
the case of Iran, the IRGC is discussed as if it were The Blob: once it touches
anything, it is in control. This is useful as political claims making—after all,
there are few defenders of the IRGC outside of Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon—but
it is not helpful as explication. To be fair, social scientific approaches have
not provided any more insight. It is thus worth briefly examining the two
main theoretical concepts used to characterize the IRGC’s role in Iran’s
political economy: praetorian monolith and state bourgeoisie.

Praetorianism and State Bourgeoisie:

Modernization Theory’s Dark Sides

In the Iranian context, praetorianism refers to a cohesive military institution

tasked with protecting the political order that eventually usurps power for
itself. Since 1979, the prediction of praetorianism has shadowed any political
change in Iran, no matter the direction. In 1985, the US State Department
cabled a memo to Middle East field offices titled “The Iranian Succession.”
It predicted a transitional period of clerical factionalism in the wake of
Ayatollah Khomeini’s expected death. Even so, the memo’s authors wrote,
All the Sepah’s Men 105

“The chances favor the emergence of a ‘man on horseback.’” Perhaps a war

hero, this figure could come from the “revolutionary guard” or the “regular
military.”23 Fast forward several decades, and the same prediction exists
today. As an article from 2010 prophesized, “The Ayatollah’s Praetorians
[the IRGC] have accelerated the decay of the old order and are the standard-
bearers of a new era that will emerge over the next few years.”24
The other prominent characterization of the IRGC is as state bourgeoisie.
The concept itself is a fuzzy one. In their widely read textbook on Middle
Eastern political economy, John Waterbury and Alan Richards argue that the
term needs to be approached with caution.25 For some, the state bourgeoisie
refers to “top-level managers and technocrats who are in direct control of the
assets owned fully or partially by the state.”26 Such an organizational stratum
in this form does not necessarily imply exorbitant corruption nor a coherent
social class that reproduces itself anew. Yet the term is also used as a loose
synonym for clientelism. Said Arjomand defines the state bourgeoisie in Iran
as “beneficiaries of government contracts and concessions . . . which owes
its economic power and social rank to its ties with the state.”27 This is a quite
different conceptualization. In the first sense, it is a managerial group. In the
second sense, it is a set of patronage networks. In all senses, though, the term
comes with an implicit definition of what a state bourgeoisie is not—a private
capitalist sector autonomous from state linkages.
Both of the above concepts are more concerned with what Iran ought to
look like, not what has occurred. The pedigrees and assumptions underlying
these two terms are therefore instructive, for three reasons. First, notions of
praetorianism and state bourgeoisie largely originated in Marxist polemics. In
the case of praetorianism, as early as 1925 the German socialist Karl Kautsky
labeled the Bolshevik experiment as “barracks socialism.”28 Soon the phrase
began to describe “premature” or “deformed” attempts at constructing
socialism in countries not at the proper historical stage of development.
Such a revolutionary misstep, the argument went, led to extreme coercion
via a militarized state apparatus. Trotsky—who before his exile promoted a
Prussian-inspired military centralization of state power—applied the concept
to castigate Stalin’s pursuit of socialism in one country. It reappeared during
the perestroika 1980s as a common referent by Eastern European and Russian
intellectuals toward the errors of previous generations.29
The historian Hugh Seton-Watson reportedly coined the term state bour-
geoisie to denote the pre-1917 Russian nomenklatura as a corollary to the
nineteenth-century British bourgeoisie’s subelite position.30 Yet the idea
entered into common currency during the 1930s to characterize Nazi and
Soviet economic planning. Western Trotskyists applied it toward Stalin-era
Soviet Union and later toward post-Mao China to depict the bureaucratic
suffocation of revolutionary promises.31 This carried over to the Middle East,
106 Kevan Harris

when the concept gained traction alongside the post-1967 disillusionment

with self-proclaimed Arab socialism.32 Both concepts, then, were born from a
“stage-ist” theory of history and used to label an observed national trajectory
that had diverted away from idealized revolutionary intentions.
Second, when the concepts resurfaced in development studies, the criterion
was no longer socialism but modernization. For optimists such as Edward
Shils and Daniel Lerner, socioeconomic modernization in the postwar era
would lead Third World countries toward an end state of industrial prosper-
ity and liberal democracy. In the late 1960s, Samuel Huntington lobbed a
Hobbesian broadside against these optimists who assumed that “all good
things go together.” Huntington distinguished between “institutionalized
societies” where the expansion of mass participation is mediated through
political institutions and “praetorian societies” where the “participation of
new groups exacerbates rather than reduces tensions.”33 In the “unmediated”
societies of the latter, socioeconomic modernization was likely to produce
political instability. Given that armies in the postcolonial world were usu-
ally the most institutionalized segment of the state apparatus, this instability
favored the development of military-led authoritarianism.34 Looking toward
Latin America in the early 1970s, Guillermo O’Donnell reformulated this
concept in mapping the origins of bureaucratic-authoritarianism in Brazil and
Argentina. His analysis resonated widely among Middle East scholars in the
1970s to 1980s. Praetorianism was argued to be rampant from Libya to Syria
to Iraq to Pakistan.35 One of the best-known theories of Iran’s 1979 revolution
comes from the same impetus: a “modernization gap” whereby the pace of
political development under the Shah did not match that of economic devel-
opment.36 As Charles Tilly argued against Huntington, however, it is difficult
to link a formless and linear modernization to specific political processes of
elite and mass mobilization—especially in the rare cases of revolutions.37
Precisely because modernization is not a singular phenomenon that
can either be collectively undertaken or deviated away from, but rather a
metaphor or story about historical change, a general praetorian theory of
explaining military involvement in the political economy became ill suited.38
Eventually, explanations of the success or failure of democratization shifted
away from functionalist theories of mass society toward political analyses
of elite conflict and compromise, pioneered again by O’Donnell among
others. Yet praetorianism lingers on as a signifier for distorted, top-heavy
The idea of state bourgeoisie also played a key role in discussions over the
“transition” from backwardness to modernity, whether in capitalist or social-
ist forms. In Whiggish versions of Western European historiography, national
bourgeoisies were private and independent of the state. The Gershenkronian
insight in the early twentieth-century about late, or catch-up, development
All the Sepah’s Men 107

was that the state had to be a major actor in the capital accumulation process.
State intervention in economic activities promised, as Huntington phrased
it, the “telescoping of modernization” for poorer nations.39 In postwar Third
World state-building, bureaucrats would do what businessmen could not. Of
course, as Immanuel Wallerstein pointed out for postcolonial Africa, newly
formed “administrative bourgeois often played these classic economic roles,
but when they did, they were not celebrated for it, but rather denounced for
‘corruption.’”40 The term’s valence, however, often spun positive. Fernando
Cardoso labeled the Brazilian managers of publicly owned enterprises as the
patriotic burguesia do estado, which could balance and transcend the pres-
sures of international capital, the domestic masses, and a comprador private
sector.41 To a degree, Peter Evans clothed this Latin American and Marxian
concept in a South Korean and Weberian regalia as “embedded autonomy,”
the theoretical standard bearer for explaining East Asian developmental suc-
cess.42 For regions with more dismal developmental outcomes, however,
the state bourgeoisie was accused of fostering rent seeking among erstwhile
entrepreneurs and fattening protected firms. The neoliberal view of state-led
development, spreading as prosperity gospel from the late 1970s onward,
appraised any government economic intervention as distortionary. Private
sectors were assumed to operate more efficiently and transparently no mat-
ter the sociopolitical or geopolitical context. Yet as with praetorianism, the
concept is largely used as a negative placeholder to describe the absence of
its opposite: state bourgeoisie implies a zero-sum relationship with a “real,”
that is, private, bourgeoisie.
Third, aside from their modernization telos, both concepts originally
attempted to account for the observed social trajectories of new political
actors. Praetorian cadres did not always have a negative connotation. Mem-
bers of a rising new middle class, the story went, entered military bureaucra-
cies, and carried out the forward-looking Middle East coups and putsches
of the 1960s. In the Egyptian case, “staffing the cabinet, ministries and state
machinery with military personnel was a constant practice for two reasons:
the military’s belief that it alone had the bureaucratic organizing skills to
run the affairs of the state and assure control over a traditionally indepen-
dent bureaucracy.”43 In this telling, the military sat at the vanguard of social
change, which it then commandeered and directed.44
The idea of state bourgeoisie was also associated with a new historical
moment. As Richard Waterbury noted, state elites in the postcolonial era
“believed firmly in the state itself, in its capacity to manage the economy bet-
ter than the private sector, and in its duty to mobilize resources in a planned,
rational, and socially responsible manner.” The task at hand was “engaging
in vast schemes of social engineering, altering the very structures of one’s
economy, and living well at the same time.”45 Yet over time, as Waterbury
108 Kevan Harris

noted, the concept of state bourgeoisie stretched to encompass multiple,

inconsistent definitions: corrupt public servants; the managerial strata of pub-
lic companies; and technically credentialed, salaried individuals employed by
the state. This is because, like praetorianism, the concept of state bourgeoisie
attempted to historicize the institutional pathways of social mobility among
new Third World actors that could not be easily classified in the schema of
European historiography.
Once promised as illuminating the agents of modernization, however, these
concepts turned into stern warnings about its dark side as disillusion with
state-building projects sunk in. As development scholarship shifted into neo-
liberal terrain, the original intellectual contexts for these terms receded into
the distance. Now they are chiefly used to chastise, losing analytical value in
the process. Rather than explaining what actually occurred, today such con-
cepts mainly allow us to understand what, in the eyes of those who brandish
them, Iran ought not to be.

A Political Sociology of Iranian Military

Organizations as Economic Actors

In August 2013, Major General Hassan Firuzabadi, Chief of Staff for Iran’s
Armed Forces and sitting member of the National Security Council, stated,
“Whenever the government feels it has no need for the activities of military
institutions in the economic sphere, the military is ready to get out of eco-
nomic activities.”46 It is not much of a secret that Iran’s military institutions
are active in the economy. Yet labels of praetorianism or state bourgeoisie
hide more than they reveal. These terms imply that Iran’s postrevolutionary
history is a distorted trajectory from an ideal-type path of modernization.
Little effort is put into elucidating the process itself. A depiction of sociopo-
litical patterns is only satisfactory if it can explain what produced them. The
existence of military-economic linkages is better understood as one element
of a larger manner of capital accumulation in Iran that has institutional roots
in broad processes of state formation, not military consolidation. Thus we
need to briefly trace the process back to the beginning.
During the 1980s, the Iran-Iraq conflict placed Iran’s economy on a war
footing. State policy encouraged the nationalization of heavy industry,
manufacturing, mining, and foreign trade. The public sector expanded in
size. Concurrently, a host of new “revolutionary institutions” that emerged
out of the post-1979 struggle for state power took shape as auxiliary organi-
zations. This included a variety of endowed foundations that became wards
of assets and firms confiscated from the old pre-1979 Pahlavi monarchy and
its domestic elite allies. As a military auxiliary, the IRGC operated alongside
All the Sepah’s Men 109

these foundation parastatals, which were essentially nonprofit conglomer-

ates defined by the state as “public nongovernmental” bodies. Partaking in
popular notions of self-reliance, the IRGC pursued reverse engineering of
military technology—missiles, tanks, and munitions—and began to engage in
their production. This contributed to the IRGC’s industrial and infrastructural
operations early in the war.47
More than the 1979 revolution itself, the Iran-Iraq war produced a climate
where revolutionary institutions competed publicly to put forth claims of
legitimate authority in the new order. Largely staffed by volunteers drawn
from the lower middle class, the IRGC developed from the outset a variety of
internal factions linked with differing segments of the clerical-revolutionary
elite. As the war entered its final months, the question arose of what to do with
all this battle-hardened mobilizational energy. How could it be redirected? A
not-so-subtle transformation occurred whereby new assertions of “expertise”
began to compete alongside existing revolutionary declarations of “commit-
ment,” both on and off the front lines. This technocratic spark provided a
possible answer to the conundrum of a hoped-for postwar peace dividend. In
December 1989, after the death of Khomeini, the new Leader and Supreme
Jurist Ali Khamenei issued an order to utilize IRGC engineering capabilities
for the purposes of national development.48 The decree came from his hand,
but the idea originated among political elites surrounding incoming president
Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. The Chinese reform model under Deng, or at
least Rafsanjani’s understanding of it, offered inspiration on how to channel
revolutionary upsurge into developmental momentum. The IRGC Coopera-
tive Foundation, founded in 1986 to provide housing loans and secondary
benefits to returning veterans, turned outward to economic activities related
to military-industrial production. Khatam al-Anbiya was similarly established
in late 1989 to contract out construction and development operations. These
activities directly competed with the public sector production of military
goods by the Defense Ministry.49 The postwar years onward thus commenced
military involvement in economic affairs, but the sociopolitical changes of
the 1980s provided an earlier initiative for increasing the military’s role in
matters of production and development.
After the war, economic reconstruction and the rationalization of state
responsibilities were twin government goals. As the institutional environment
shifted from war etatism to technocratic developmentalism, the executive
branch under Rafsanjani alerted state-owned enterprises and “public nongov-
ernmental” bodies such as state banks and foundations that they would have
to become economically self-sufficient. Rafsanjani’s administration specified
that the security and military branches of the state would, in addition, need
to obtain independent revenue sources. Some IRGC veterans left during this
time for business ventures as individuals, while others lobbied the state to
110 Kevan Harris

allow IRGC-linked organizations into peacetime economic involvement—a

continuation of “self-sufficiency activities.” Iran’s first Five-Year Develop-
ment Plan (1989–1993) stipulated that revenue from contracts for military
organizations could supplement their income from the public budget.50 Such
activities were not limited to the military, however, as pressures to rational-
ize budgets were felt across the public sector. Various ministries, state banks,
and other publicly funded entities such as the Social Security Organization
began to establish parastatal bodies as investment and holding agencies.
In 1992, IRGC commander Muhsin Riza’i penned a series of newspaper
columns arguing that economic independence in a post–Cold War world
required developing technical expertise, economic efficiency, and a culture of
entrepreneurship and innovation in Iran. The tone of Riza’i heralded a more
general shift in the conservative political elite’s discourse toward the politics
of technocracy. This meant trumpeting the claim of expertise in the media
and public sphere in order to compete with possible political adversaries who
argued against parastatal economic activities. This was no innovation on the
right, but rather a response to a new institutional environment.51
In other words, the postwar liberalizing impulse did not produce the ideal-
type private sector desired by Iranian economists and planners. Shrinking
state activities led to a layer of new firms, mostly populated by former state
managers, which took over contracts for public duties.52 Amid media scandals
about favoritism toward a new elite surrounding Rafsanjani, social and politi-
cal protest drove the Parliament to require shares of privatized companies to
benefit those who sacrificed for the revolution and war. This included utiliz-
ing a new tier of state officials and technicians who were coming out of the
conflict. By one calculation, of the 331 companies that were fully or partially
transferred under the name of privatization between 1989 and 1994, half of
the shares went to parastatal organizations.53 These organizations justified
their economic activities not in the language of revolutionary sacrifice, but by
presenting themselves as agents of economic transformation; that is, as a state
bourgeoisie (in the positive sense of the term).54 Muhsin Rafiq-Dust, head of
the endowed parastatal Foundation for the Dispossessed in the 1990s, said,
“While I was working at the Foundation, the private sector used to criticize
us. However, I would say that the foundation should limit itself to activities
that cannot be done by the private sector and vice versa.”55 Private economic
activity in Iran had remained present during the 1980s, largely through small-
and medium-sized workshops, and so representatives of these parastatal
companies developed a discourse of complementarity with the private sector.
The more these parastatals sounded like the private sector, the less criticism
they hoped to face. Yet by remaining “public,” they pursued a capitalist logic:
firms linked to military and parastatal foundations are usually exempt from
state taxation and public audit. Given these conditions, why would any firm
All the Sepah’s Men 111

declare itself transparently private? The government pushed state enterprises

off the public rolls, but then subsidized them through the back door.
The dearth of private capital not linked to parastatal firms in Iran led to
a foreseeable outcome: military and other parastatal foundations began to
invest in urban infrastructure projects including lavish apartment high-rises
and new housing complexes. Municipal governments, starved of revenue,
partly relied on these organizations as sources of organizational logistics and
available capital.56 As the state shrank, then, this period witnessed a growing
but institutionally fragmented set of actors engaged in the “primitive” accu-
mulation of capital—the commandeering of public goods for private gains.
Whether amassed by newly embourgeoisified individuals or newly formed
organizations, this form of capital accumulation was neither accountable nor
transparent to most Iranians.
The shift in capital accumulation spurred another form of military-eco-
nomic linkage. To take advantage of economies of scale, the government
reorganized the state-owned industrial sector during the 1990s through a set
of conglomerates financed by particular state banks. Two of the largest ones
are related to industry (Industrial Development & Renovation Organization
Group) and mining (Iranian Mines & Mining Industries Development &
Renovation Group). State-owned enterprises were transferred to large hold-
ing companies, which is a process rather common in the developing world.57
They were joined by large public sector pension funds, which acquired
state-owned enterprises from the government as payment for debt owed for
employee premiums. At this time, Iran’s banking sector was relatively under-
developed. State banks gave easy credit to businesses in their own holding
company orbit, but charged high interest to other clients. In order to provide
credit for their own economic projects, the IRGC, armed forces, and other
parastatals started credit unions and cooperative funds. These eventually
grew into large banks in the 2000s, with the IRGC-linked Ansar Bank grow-
ing to seven hundred branches around the country by that decade’s end and
offering a host of consumer financial products.58
In sum, a liberalization drive from the 1990s onward produced an impetus
for widespread acquisition and cultivation of economic assets by various semi-
governmental agencies. From 2003 to 2007, one study calculated, 47 percent
of the shares of privatized firms went to this quasi-governmental sector. An
additional 39 percent of the shares were directed to other state-owned enter-
prises. Less than 5 percent ended up in the hands of identifiable private firms.59
This process thus produced a fragmentation in ownership, not a consoli-
dation. As shown earlier in Table 4.1, the government of Mahmoud Ahma-
dinejad (2005–2013) did not shift this practice as much as accelerate it. In
2012, Iran’s Chamber of Commerce, Industry, and Mines issued a report on
the semigovernmental beneficiaries of so-called pseudo-privatization during
112 Kevan Harris

the Ahmadinejad period. The report groups the main beneficiaries into four

• Military institutions (IRGC, Basij, armed forces): At least ten contractor

firms, banks, cooperatives, credit associations, and investment companies
• Religious, cultural, and scientific foundations: At least eleven foundations
and associations
• Welfare and retirement funds: At least twelve funds and investment
• Revolutionary foundations: At least three foundations60

The report does not provide the relative weight of each group’s share in
acquiring state assets, but the trend is clear. This is less of a militarist con-
solidation of power than the embourgeoisement of postrevolutionary elite and
middle strata. Market activities are not absent but embedded in these over-
lapping networks. Underneath it all are layers of smaller private contractors
that link to these economic clusters. In response to accusations of military
monopolization of the economy, Khatam al-Anbiya, for example, likes to
brag that it subcontracts out 60 to 70 percent of its own projects to the private
sector.61 What this likely entails, however, is the increasing fragmentation of
economic activities through subcontracting and personalized channels, be it
family networks, old professional ties, or other patronage networks.62
As military-economic linkages multiplied in this setting, the Ahmadinejad
government added new areas of opportunity by farming out projects for hous-
ing, infrastructure, and oil and gas development to nonpublic contractors.
A decade-long commodity boom fueled a huge expansion of liquid capital
in the domestic economy, mostly through thousands of new state projects.
The policy ideas behind these initiatives were generally designed to, once
again, shrink the government and yet provide public goods for Iran’s increas-
ingly integrated national economy. Under international sanctions, however,
private sector firms could not get sufficient credit to bid on projects, pay for
insurance, compensate for damages, or acquire foreign currency in order to
undertake the new state-created opportunities for capital accumulation.63 In
an internationally hostile climate, the institutional shift provided another
avenue for military contractors to fill these niches. As the conservative MP
Ahmad Tavakuli noted, “Our militaries entered the market with peace and
blessings and it will not be easy to remove them.”64 This did not produce a
military monolith, however, but a motley crew. Ignored by Western onlook-
ers was the fact that many other institutions also took part in the process.
In 2014, under the newly formed Rouhani government, Iran’s Central Bank
(CBI) forced commercial banks to report their balance sheets and asset hold-
ings. CBI deputy governor Hamid Tehranfar stated that about six hundred
All the Sepah’s Men 113

corporations made up 50 percent of the banking sector’s total capital. He also

pointed out, “Some major manufacturing and industrial companies—the so-
called entrepreneurs—hold more corporate stocks and investments than those
of the banks.”65 What was mistakenly perceived, or intentionally hyped, in the
2000s as a military-industrial consolidation was deeper and more widespread
beyond the usual suspect of the IRGC. It was a model all state-linked bodies
and individuals tended to pursue, since that was the prevailing institutional
setup. Western-led sanctions did not trigger this process, but by sealing off
Iran’s economy, they blocked foreign capital from entering into competition
with domestic parastatal entities.
The organizational fragmentation of this accumulation process—into
many funds, firms, foundations, and financial outlets—played out in the
political sphere as differing interests competed in and around the state. This
is why there are IRGC men dressed up in business suits while waxing nostal-
gic about the war years, extolling revolutionary and technocratic credentials
in the same breath. The internal alliances through which IRGC factions
pushed and pulled against other political actors resulted in an institutional
ambivalence toward the 2013 election. Even after Hassan Rouhani assumed
office, military contractors were still being utilized to conduct “shovel-ready”
projects that remained incomplete under Ahmadinejad’s presidency. Yet
other actors are present as well. The huge process of shifting and dismantling
the public sector from the 1990s onward produced a generation of managers
and administrators who are eager to rebrand themselves as the long-awaited
“real,” that is, private, expert bourgeoisie. Given the past few decades’ expe-
rience, this does not mean the elimination of military-economic linkages in
Iran, but it could mean a shuffling of assets out of the current institutional
framework of quasi-governmental ownership into another form. This will not
be due to the culmination of a natural process of modernization, but from the
ways in which the state and those who vie to control it shape the economic
playing field.


Today in the Islamic Republic current and former IRGC men populate vari-
ous companies, holding funds, and financial organizations. But these contend
with similar entities tied to other segments of the political elite as well as
different bureaucratic agencies. There is no single trajectory for military
entry into the economy, but the larger institutional shifts in Iran’s political
economy—a liberalization drive and subsequent commodity boom—created
pathways for the commodification of bureaucratic privilege, which IRGC
and military officials had garnered in the postrevolutionary era. Notions of a
114 Kevan Harris

praetorian monolith or a state bourgeoisie are misleading for the understand-

ing of this ongoing process. They posit an ideal-type path of modernization
that defines these organizations as distortionary rather than analyze the his-
torical mechanisms that produced this outcome. Furthermore, they conceal
the irony of the outcome itself, one common to large swaths of the develop-
ing world.66 Along with a myriad of other parastatals, military organizations
are embedded in Iran’s economy because of the state’s push to privatize and
liberalize, not despite it.


1. Vatan-i Imruz, December 24, 2013, 1, http://www.magiran.com/npview.

asp?ID=2890074, accessed September 29, 2015.
2. “Naqsh-i sipah dar sakht-i buzurgtarin atuban-i tabaqati-yi kishvar,” Fars
News, December 2, 2013.
3. Papan-Matin, “The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” 194. All
excerpts quoted in this chapter are from the original language of the 1979 constitution
and remain unrevised in the amended 1989 constitution.
4. Ibid.
5. See the interview with IRGC commander Abdulriza Abid, Shargh, June 26,
2006, 1, http://www.magiran.com/npview.asp?ID=1117259, accessed September 29,
6. Roshandel, “The Armed Forces,” 260–80; Mehrzad Boroujerdi and Koroush
Rahimkhani, “Revolutionary Guards Soar in Parliament,” US Institute of Peace
Iran Primer blog, September 19, 2011, http://iranprimer.usip.org/blog/2011/sep/19/
7. Dunya-yi Iqtisad, July 23, 2011, 1, http://magiran.com/npview.asp?ID=
2321254, accessed September 29, 2015.
8. A useful primer is Schneider, “A Comparative Political Economy of Diversi-
fied Business Groups,” 178–201.
9. Turquoise Investment Newsletter, June 2014.
10. Khabar News Online, June 9, 2014, http://www.khabaronline.ir/detail/359187,
accessed September 29, 2015.
11. See the detailed parliamentary report on the auto industry in Tasnim News, July
20, 2014, http://www.tasnimnews.com/Home/Single/436381, accessed September 29,
2015; Nemati is quoted in the Financial Tribune (Iran), September 16, 2014, http://
assets-debt-payoff-or, accessed September 29, 2015.
12. My initial attempt at measuring and explaining this process is Harris, “The
Rise of the Subcontractor State,” 45–70.
13. Vitols, “Varieties of Corporate Governance: Comparing Germany and the UK,”
337–60; Jackson, “The Japanese Firm and Its Diversity,” 606–29. My thanks to Dari-
ush Bozorgmehri for this valuable insight.
All the Sepah’s Men 115

14. For instance, in the northwestern city of Tabriz, municipal authorities were
building line one of the metro. But line two, locals complained to me in 2010, was
contracted to the Sepah. In 2014, it was reported that a Chinese construction firm
assumed the lagging operation.
15. “Sazandigi bih sabk-i nizami,” Tijarat-i Farda 53 (2013), 28–29.
16. Dunya-yi Iqtisad, December 16, 2014, 6, http://magiran.com/npview.asp?ID=
3078209, accessed September 29, 2015.
17. Dunya-yi Iqtisad, August 11, 2011, 5, http://magiran.com/npview.asp?ID=
2331660, accessed September 29, 2015.
18. The weekly satirical Gul Agha, for instance, frequently featured caricatures
and mockups of hoarders and speculators during the final years of the Iran-Iraq war.
19. Dunya-yi Iqtisad, August 11, 2011, 5, http://magiran.com/npview.asp?ID=
2331660, accessed September 29, 2015.
20. Portes and Haller, “The Informal Economy,” 409.
21. On how a similar change in state regulations changed the banking sector, see
Harris, “The Rise of the Subcontractor State.”
22. Blog posts on the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute’s website,
for instance, are sometimes translated into Persian by opposition websites, dissemi-
nated by diaspora crowd-sourcing, and then end up being published in Iran’s own
newspapers under various guises. The facts and numbers conveyed are not always
incorrect, but they are hardly fair and balanced. Claims about the IRGC’s supposed
control over the economy formed a key component of the case for expanding sanc-
tions during the Bush and Obama administrations, which incentivized the labeling of
any Iranian institution as IRGC-linked for punitive purposes. See Harris, “Review of
Iran Unveiled by Ali Alfoneh,” 163–65.
23. US State Department, “The Iranian Succession.”
24. Safshekan and Sabet, “The Ayatollah’s Praetorians,” 558.
25. Richards and Waterbury, A Political Economy of the Middle East, 202–4.
26. Waterbury, “Twilight of the State Bourgeoisie?” 2.
27. Arjomand, After Khomeini: Iran Under His Successors, 121.
28. Bronner, Socialism Unbound: Principles, Practices, and Prospects, 52.
29. Davies, “Gorbachev’s Socialism in Historical Perspective,” 5–27.
30. Seton-Watson, The Revolution of Our Time.
31. Burton and Bettelheim, China since Mao; Hodges, The Bureaucratization of
32. For instance Hussein, Class Conflict in Egypt: 1945–1970.
33. Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies, 5, 198.
34. The article is specifically written about the Middle East in Perlmutter’s, “The
Praetorian State and the Praetorian Army,” 382–404. As Gareth Stanfield noted, Perl-
mutter curiously exempts Israel from the praetorian cases of the Middle East.
35. O’Donnell, Modernization and Bureaucratic-Authoritarianism; Ayubi, Politics
and Society in the Middle East, 258; Hinnebusch, The International Politics of the
Middle East, 75.
36. Abrahamian, “The Politics of Uneven Development,” 419–49.
37. Tilly, “Does Modernization Breed Revolution?” 425–47.
116 Kevan Harris

38. “According to modernization theorists, modern society was cosmopolitan,

mobile, controlling of the environment, secular, welcoming of change, and character-
ized by a complex division of labor. Traditional society, by contrast, was inward look-
ing, inert, passive toward nature, superstitious, fearful of change, and economically
simple. All of the countries of Latin America, Asia, and Africa were unified within
the single category of ‘traditional.’” Gilman, Mandarins of the Future: Modernization
Theory in Cold War America, 5; for modernity as metaphor, see Cooper, “Modernity.”
39. Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies, 74.
40. Wallerstein, “The Bourgeois(ie) as Concept and Reality,” 141.
41. Quoted in Evans, “Multinationals, State-Owned Corporations, and the Trans-
formation of Imperialism,” 59.
42. Compare Evans, Dependent Development: The Alliance of Multinational,
State, and Local Capital in Brazil with Evans, Embedded Autonomy.
43. Harb, “The Egyptian Military in Politics, 4–5.
44. Halpern, “Middle Eastern Armies and the New Middle Class,” 277–316;
Batatu, The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq.
45. Waterbury, “Twilight of the State Bourgeoisie?” 12.
46. Yusifi, “Bih ja-yi khud.”
47. I thank Arang Keshavarzian and Walter Posch for this observation.
48. Shargh, July 22, 2013, 1, http://magiran.com/npview.asp?ID=2780581,
accessed September 29, 2015.
49. Amirahmadi, Revolution and Economic Transition: The Iranian Experience,
50. Furuzandih, “Sardaran va siasatmadaran.”
51. Riza’I, “Mabaniyi ulguyi jami‘ah tawsi‘ah iqtisadi az didgah-i imam
52. Malju, “Kala’i’sazi-i niru-yi kar dar dawlat-i yazdahum.”
53. Muradi, “Ab’ad-i Khususisazi va Asar-i an bar Sarmayihguzari-yi Khususi
(Mutali’ih-yi Mawridi-yi Iran),” 180–99.
54. See the interview in Tijarat-i Farda 53 (2013), 30, with economist Hasan
Rahimi-Rushan, who explicitly argues that the IRGC is a transitional agent of
55. “Rafiqdust: The Government Should Not Indulge in Economic Activities,”
Mardum-Salari, November 4, 2010, 1.
56. See Ehsani, “Municipal Matters: The Urbanization of Consciousness and
Political Change in Tehran,” 22–27.
57. See Schneider, “Diversified Business Groups.”
58. Tijarat-i Farda 53 (2013), 33; also see Asiman Weekly 3 (October 2011) on the
origins of the IRGC’s Ansar Bank.
59. Aghdam and Fatihizadih, “Sahim-i bakhsh-i khususi va bakhsh-e ’umumi az
vaguzari-i shirkathayi dulati,” 9–48.
60. Iranian Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture, Study of
Participation of Sectors of the Economic System in the Privatization Process in Iran
from 1380–1390, 39–40.
61. Iranian State News Agency, December 13, 2011.
All the Sepah’s Men 117

62. Tayifih, “Rahkarha-i raqabat ba nihadha-yi nizami dar sanat-i barq.”

63. Khamushi, “Tavafugh-i hasil shud amaliati nashud.”
64. Interview with Ahmad Tavakuli in Khabar Online, August 3, 2013, http://
www.khabaronline.ir/detail/306468/Economy/political-economy, accessed Septem-
ber 29, 2015.
65. “CBI Deputy Defends Banks’ Commercial Ventures,” Financial Tribune
(Iran), December 14, 2014.
66. For a comparative analysis of Iran privatization politics, see Harris, “The Rise
of the Subcontractor State.”
Chapter 5

Jordan’s Military-Industrial Sector

Maintaining Institutional Prestige
in the Era of Neoliberalism
Shana Marshall

Like many developing country militaries, the Jordanian Armed Forces’ origi-
nal role was to suppress potential rivals to the regime1 and (later) to provide
a source of employment.2 In the 1950s, the Jordanian military was the second
largest employer—after the agricultural sector—and between 1961 and 1975,
the number of those employed in the military increased threefold, account-
ing for one-fourth of the domestic labor force.3 But as global development
policies forced a shift away from state-led investment and industrialization,
maintaining the prestige of the military as an institution (and the loyalty of its
officers) required direct and sustained support from the government. The mil-
itary was one of the few groups to escape the ravages of Jordan’s structural
adjustment program; the armed forces’ subsidies, pensions, and employment
programs actually increased—as did the military’s overall budget—while
budgetary allocations for social services delivered to nonmilitary populations
decreased.4 This growth was enabled by a range of specific policies under-
taken in the early 1990s—including the granting of additional months salaries
to all employees in the defense and security establishment, annual increases
in pension expenditures, an increase in retiree benefits, and substantial hous-
ing subsidies, as well as the maintenance of existing benefits—such as public
health insurance, free higher education for family members,5 and subsidized
military co-ops.6
But this support has been costly—in both political and economic terms—to
the government, which must balance the demands of an influential military
constituency against those of other social groups, including the very large
Palestinian population, which is mostly shut out of the higher echelons of the
military and its robust welfare system. One approach to this challenge has
been to steer the military into commercial business operations, hoping that
these will generate revenue to help fund the military’s costly economic and

120 Shana Marshall

social programs, or (at the very least) will appear to generate such revenues
and divert public attention away from the continued use of state funds. Since
the Jordanian Armed Forces’ budgets are secret, a handful of highly visible
commercial enterprises and key export deals might help us determine whether
these business operations are a smokescreen for continued subsidies, and help
us understand how governments are reshaping their patronage policies in
response to budgetary pressures.
Ironically, economic liberalization has taught us a great deal about the
involvement of militaries in commercial activities, due to the proliferation of
new sources of information. These include literature from trade associations
representing sectors where the military has investments and joint operations;
press releases and annual reports issued by private firms and foreign con-
glomerates doing business with military subsidiaries; business intelligence
publications; reports by regional financial institutions; literature produced by
professional public relations firms; online employment history profiles from
services like LinkedIn; and even company listings on Alibaba, where I have
seen goods for sale produced in an industrial park owned by the Jordanian
Armed Forces (JAF).
This chapter will use these resources to explore how military economies
and military entrepreneurship operates in the new era of economic liberaliza-
tion. Subsequent sections will outline the scope of military entrepreneurial
activities in Jordan, examine how technology transfer and patterns of regional
conflict influence defense production, highlight channels through which the
state subsidizes this production, as well as how influential civilian business
elites come to be involved in these activities.
According to promotional literature, JAF have entered into joint venture
partnerships with at least twenty-six foreign defense companies to produce
everything from prepackaged field rations and boots to backpack-portable
drones, armored vehicles, and modified light gunships.7 These partnerships
are operated through the King Abdullah II Design and Development Bureau
(KADDB, or “kad-bee,” as it is commonly known)—the military-industrial
arm of the JAF. Information from the bureau’s website and press releases
issued with foreign partners show at least twenty distinct product lines
operating with defense firms from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada,
Germany, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South
Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United States, and the
United Arab Emirates (UAE), as well as a commercial firm from Malaysia.
According to official promotional material, KADDB “aims to be the globally
preferred partner in designing and developing defense products and security
solutions in the region.”8
KADDB’s operations are divided into five business clusters, includ-
ing automotive and industrial (vehicle armoring and assembly, unmanned
Jordan’s Military-Industrial Sector 121

aircraft, patrol boats and robots designed to detect and dismantle bombs,
precision machining, metal fabrication); troop products (body armor, hel-
mets, tactical footwear, packaged field rations); electronics and electro optics
(night vision, thermal imaging systems, sensors, radar); arms and ammuni-
tion (antitank grenade launchers, side arms, small caliber ammunition); and
supplementary (mostly security-related service provision for the private
sector, including banks, critical infrastructure, VIP protection details).9 The
scope of KADDB’s activities has widened dramatically since it was launched
by royal decree in 1999—and increasingly resembles the sort of military-
industrial production programs present in other states in the Middle East.
KADDB operations now include a good number of exports as well; as of
2011, the KADDB subsidiary Jordan Light Vehicle Manufacturing (formed
with Britain’s Jankel Armouring) had shipped upgraded armored vehicles to
over twenty countries.
In addition to traditional military hardware, KADDB also produces
equipment designed for internal policing requirements such as riot control,
reconnaissance, and surveillance—all in particularly high demand in Jor-
dan’s neighboring states. Examples include the Stallion armored vehicle—
equipped with .50 caliber weapons stations—that KADDB advertises for use
in “peacekeeping, internal security and patrols”; SkyWatch, a drone marketed
for purposes such as dignitary protection and oversight of prisons and border
entries; as well as the “covert response unit”—a nondescript Ford F550 with
a box body mounted on the flatbed that pops open to reveal a swiveling gun
mount and complex surveillance platform.

Collaborative Production and

Technology Transfer

Advocates of KADDB link its rapid growth to Jordan’s skilled labor force,
low production costs, and proximity to the world’s largest regional arms
market. But the bureau’s apparent commercial success has less to do with
principles of neoclassical economics than with an evolving system of incen-
tives from foreign defense firms seeking to entice countries like Jordan to
sign costly arms procurement deals. In industry parlance, these incentives are
known as “defense offsets”—designed to “offset” the cost of arms by direct-
ing investment dollars from the foreign defense firm back to the procuring
country through collaborative manufacturing projects. Although nearly every
country has established guidelines for defense offsets—for instance, the
precise percentage of the overall contract value that the foreign defense firm
must reinvest; 35 percent is typical—Jordanian officials deny the existence
of any such program.
122 Shana Marshall

Because Jordan gets much of its defense budget from US military aid,
demanding offsets from US defense firms would be the commercial equiva-
lent of double dipping—getting the arms for free and asking to be paid for
accepting them. Instead, Jordanian procurement decisions depend on the
individual firms’ willingness to include some form of joint production in the
contract—anything from limited assembly of components to full-scale copro-
duction. This requirement operates as a sort of quid pro quo that uses the Jor-
danian arms procurement budget as a carrot to lure foreign partners into joint
ventures with KADDB. This inducement—combined with proximate access
to wealthy Gulf customers and an array of preferential tax policies and indus-
trial subsidies provided by the Jordanian state—makes KADDB a highly
attractive business partner. The JAF recognize this comparative advantage,
and by requiring that firms enter into joint production agreements as a con-
dition of securing a sale to the Kingdom, the JAF have ensured a continued
supply of jobs, export earnings, and prestige for its members.
This informal arrangement is visible in numerous cases where firms that
sell off-the-shelf items to Jordan are engaged in coproduction with KADDB.
In early 2009, Jordan purchased surplus F-16 fighter jets from Belgium and
the Netherlands.10 That same year a logistics firm with offices in Belgium and
the Netherlands received a contract from the Dutch Agency for Economic
Development to conduct a feasibility study for an F-16 maintenance facility
in Jordan,11 which is being built by the Dutch company Daedalus Aviation.
Likewise, three years after Jordan purchased six Russian-made KA-226
helicopters in 2003, the manufacturer Oboronprom signed an agreement
with KADDB to establish an in-country production and maintenance facility
for the helicopters.12 Since 2013, Russia has had engineers and technicians
in Jordan working jointly on the development and production of a new gen-
eration RPG-32 grenade launcher under the auspices of the Jordan Russian
Electronic Systems Company, a KADDB subsidiary.13 The consortium of
Russian companies involved in the product’s design includes KBP Instru-
ment Design Bureau, which is the manufacturer of the 9M113 Kornet-E
antitank guided weapons purchased in 2008 for mounting on the JAF’s US-
built Humvees.
These joint ventures are possible, in part, because Jordan frequently pur-
chases old decommissioned hardware, or gets it free through the US Excess
Defense Articles program. The armor, mounted weapons systems, and elec-
tronics can be quite outdated, thus Jordan can focus on deals with small and
medium-sized contractors and suppliers to produce new and modernized
components that are then integrated into the finished products marketed by
the multinational, “tier one” defense firms. Many small and midlevel defense
manufacturers are eager to pursue joint ventures that offer such plums as
guaranteed future sales to the Jordanian government (KADDB’s primary
Jordan’s Military-Industrial Sector 123

customer), enhanced access to neighboring markets, tax exemptions, and

free factory space. Paramount Group of South Africa—the largest privately
owned defense firm on the continent—has several ongoing projects with
KADDB. And although Paramount doesn’t break the top one hundred in
terms of the world’s largest defense firms, the technology and prestige it
brings to KADDB are considerable. Its joint venture with KADDB, Arabian
Defence Industries, will incorporate KADDB-built components into Para-
mount’s weapons systems, produce the Mbombe armored vehicle,14 and pro-
vide a range of modernization and upgrading services for a variety of aircraft,
including BAE Hawk fighters, Russian-built Mi 17 and Mi 24 helicopters,
and the European Airbus Super Puma.15
Like the United States and Europe, the Jordanian defense establishment
has also created links with academic and research institutions to expand
defense-related R&D capabilities; examples include the formation of the
Prince Faisal Information Technology Center (in partnership with Britain’s
Cranfield University Defence Academy), and engineering and military design
scholarship programs that are sponsored by KADDB and Jordanian govern-
ment foundations.16 These programs become platforms for exchange between
Jordanian researchers and military engineers and their foreign counterparts
and also generate prestige for KADDB, which is seen as augmenting its man-
ufacturing and assembly activities with research and development efforts, the
most advanced stage of military-industrial development.

Regional Instability and Arms Production

War has of course been a boon for KADDB’s business. A significant share
of its exports has gone to Iraq, including during the period when the US-led
Coalition Provisional Authority was in charge. Documented exports to the
authority in 2004 included one hundred “modernized” tanks and an unspeci-
fied number of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones). Several big arms firms
sought to partner with KADDB in order to exploit Jordan’s proximity to Iraq.
One clear case is a KADDB collaboration with ITT Industries to refurbish
US military vehicles for sale to the Iraqi army—a project in which the French
defense giant Thales also expressed interest.17 KADDB partnerships can also
prompt follow-on sales with other regional governments. In 2009, one year
after the maritime firm Riverhawk set up a joint venture with KADDB18 to
build offshore support vessels, the Iraqi navy issued a US $70 million sole-
source contract to Riverhawk for the same ship model, and in 2011 the US
Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, DC, awarded a noncompetitive
contract to Riverhawk for similar ships on behalf of the Lebanese navy.19 In
an interview given to an industry publication, an executive from Riverhawk
124 Shana Marshall

attributed the contract with Beirut to the company’s participation in a recent

Middle East regional defense trade show.20
KADDB subsidiaries with Iraqi shareholders are particularly well placed
to target Baghdad’s rehabilitated military as a major customer. Jordan Aero-
space Industries, which is led by the grandson of the man who established
Iraq’s first military-industrial projects in the early twentieth-century, is one
such case.21 Thus far, the Iraqi and Jordanian air forces have bought the firm’s
small trainer/reconnaissance aircraft (manufactured under license from a
Canadian company),22 and it has produced a range of drones that look poised
for export in the future. Before the 2003 war, during the sanctions regime,
KADDB acted as a local agent to facilitate the ability of Iraqi-owned firms
to do business with international partners. One such firm is the International
Engineering Group—an Amman-based firm owned by Iraqi investors that
essentially acts as an agent to establish in-country joint ventures with foreign
firms.23 According to an investor guide compiled for a conference to pro-
mote industrial investment in postwar Iraq (which was sponsored by a US
Department of Defense task force), the firm’s agency agreements “are either
acquired with joint venture Jordanian partners like KADDB or with Iraqi
partners.”24 Although the firm was implicated in bribery scandals related to
the Oil for Food program,25 it still appears to be operating in Iraq.26
There is also a burgeoning defense relationship between Jordan and the
UAE. The Emirati conglomerate Bin Jabr Group and KADDB co-own a fac-
tory in the Dulayl Industrial Park, where their joint venture Advanced Indus-
tries of Arabia (AIA) designed and manufactured the Tiger (Nimr) tactical
vehicle. AIA supplied five hundred Tigers to the UAE in 2005, 120 vehicles
to Libya in 2009, and sold units to Lebanon as well. And the UAE has
assisted Jordan’s military in other ways. The UAE’s Offset Program Bureau
used some of its considerable funds to help procure badly needed aircraft for
the state-owned Royal Jordanian Airlines, in which the JAF’s pension fund is
one of the five largest shareholders. The UAE allegedly financed the purchase
of other big-ticket items for the JAF as well, including fifty armored person-
nel carriers from the Ukrainian company Malyshev in 2000. Coordination
in equipment procurement and production has expanded recently to include
joint training exercises between Jordan and the UAE (in November 2014) and
coordinated airstrikes against ISIS targets in February 2015.
This increased coordination with regional allies and intensified collabo-
ration with small and midsized foreign defense firms is encouraged by the
decline of US influence in the region, which has driven Jordan and other
staunch US allies to solidify ties with neighboring states and collaborate
with smaller firms that are more willing to transfer production lines and
sensitive technology in the absence of high-level assurances of US military
aid and coordination. The aforementioned Paramount Group is an excellent
Jordan’s Military-Industrial Sector 125

example. Not only has the firm agreed to several substantial partnerships
with KADDB, but it also “accidentally” shipped a demonstration model of
a decommissioned South African Ratel armored vehicle to Amman without
first disabling the radios or removing its classified encryption algorithms.27

Private Profit

The involvement of private capital in Jordan’s indigenous arms industry has

been limited thus far, but trends suggest that enterprising financiers have
gained a foothold. According to KADDB chairman Shadi Ramzi al-Majali—
a twelve-year veteran of the JAF and a graduate of both the Military College
of South Carolina and George Washington University—the ultimate goal is
to use KADDB to build up the private sector:

We always envisaged KADDB as being the catalyst for the creation of an

independent, sustainable, defense industrial base. . . . Our strategy is that once
a product is commercially viable, it is passed on to our joint venture companies
for manufacturing. We offer our international partners a gateway to the Middle
East, and for our Jordanian partners we provide access to programs, markets and
international exposure that otherwise may not be available.28

Despite KADDB’s reliance on foreign sources of investment and technol-

ogy, Jordanian businessmen have entered into joint ventures with KADDB as
well. Yazan al-Mufti, owner of Jordan Radio Paging, formed a joint venture
with KADDB called Applied Defence Systems to develop defense electron-
ics. In 2002, the company was chosen to partner with the BAE-Finmeccanica
Consortium to develop a high-frequency maritime radar system.29
Other examples are Majdi al-Yaqoub, whose company Orangeville Con-
sultants received support from KADDB to build the aforementioned assem-
bly and maintenance facility for Russian helicopters, and Ziad al-Yaqoub,
whose company Gravity Integrated Solutions resells many of the items pro-
duced by KADDB, including ballistic resistant enclosures, vehicle armoring
technology, engine kits and spare parts, and other “special forces supplies.”
Another executive with Gravity Integrated Solutions, ‘Arif Samawi, spent
seven years working for KADDB, and before that, twenty years in the JAF
and the Royal Maintenance Corps.
These few cases suggest that the ownership and management patterns of
Jordan’s nascent military-industrial complex reflect those of other sectors,
with Jordanians of Palestinian origin providing investment dollars and busi-
ness connections, and Jordanians of East Bank origin serving in executive
management posts for KADDB and its parastatal subsidiaries.
126 Shana Marshall

Domestic Subsidies

In addition to direct government funding (of about US $12 million per year
as of the late 2000s),30 the Jordanian state has provided KADDB with many
of the same supplementary services and infrastructure granted to the military-
industrial complex in the United States and Europe. KADDB’s list of assets
includes a commercial investment division staffed with finance experts who
evaluate the viability of potential partnerships,31 as well as financial support
for SOFEX, a huge biannual defense exhibition held in Amman. SOFEX, or
the Special Operations Forces Exhibition and Conference, is unique in that it
focuses explicitly on equipment for commando raids and internal policing—
the same sectors in which much of KADDB’s manufacturing activity is con-
centrated. As an event space and conference center, it earns huge revenues,
including from the US military, which pays to lease space for exhibits and
classroom training.32 KADDB also displays its wares at arms shows outside
Jordan, including the 2011 Defense and Security Equipment International
Exhibition in London, where KADDB managers took pains to note that they
were the only Arab participants.33 KADDB has been active in forming stra-
tegic partnerships with trade publishers—notably IHS Global Insight, which
owns the preeminent Jane’s group of defense industry magazines,34 as well as
regional marketing companies, such as the Kuwaiti firm Al Majd, with which
KADDB signed an agreement in 2004 for marketing KADDB products both
inside Kuwait and throughout the Gulf Cooperation Council member states.35
Lastly, KADDB also benefits from the services of Jordanian defense attachés,
who promote the organization’s products and services overseas, while the
government ensures that visiting defense officials and corporate executives
get tours of the bureau’s facilities.36
In addition to these perks, KADDB enjoys a host of special economic
privileges through the KADDB Industrial Park—the first free zone in the
Middle East to specialize in military production. The bureau’s website boasts
of the park’s “reliable electricity and water” and “attractive landscaping,” as
well as its “ongoing support for issuance of documentation, invoice certifica-
tion, [and] transfer of ownership of goods and other paperwork required for
international trade.” The park’s amenities include a ballistic missile lab and
a “high-security environment.” Industrial security is probably provided by
KADDB subsidiary JoSecure, which also has contracts to provide security at
the Aqaba Special Economic Zone, Jordanian Customs, the Public Security
Directorate, the General Intelligence Directorate, Greater Amman Munici-
pality, and the Jordanian Petroleum Refinery Company.37 In 2009, JoSecure
launched a joint venture with the Swiss firm Securitas to lease armored
vehicles to private companies and provide armed protection for cash-in-
transit vehicles.
Jordan’s Military-Industrial Sector 127

Even the 1,235-acre King Abdullah Special Operations Training Center

(KASOTC), a bellwether of the burgeoning military simulation and training
market, is a profit-generating operation. Modeled on Blackwater’s compound
in North Carolina, the facility is 100 percent owned by KADDB. Foreign
governments pay US $250,000 for a weeklong training session of small
groups of elite troops they send to KASOTC, which was built with US $99
million in US aid and designed by the US Army Corps of Engineers and
prime contractor General Dynamics. In 2010, the US-led Multi-National
Security Transition Command in Iraq earmarked funds to send twenty to
thirty elite members of the Iraqi National Counterterrorism Force to the
Jordanian center,38 where they practiced urban warfare tactics amid a sprawl
of fifty-two buildings built to resemble banks, embassies, and gas stations,
complete with artificial scent canisters, including “dead body,” manufactured
by ScentAir of Charlotte, North Carolina.
KADDB executives (mostly retired officers) tout the profits generated by
the bureau and these related enterprises—a recent estimate priced export
income from the industrial park at nearly US $400 million a year—but these
operations impose significant cost burdens on the state from industrial sub-
sidies and foregone tax income. The free-zone status of KADDB’s epony-
mous industrial park exempts its operations from corporate income taxes,
import fees, and customs duties, as well as building and land taxes. Quasi
state-owned companies also provide services to KADDB, including Orange
Jordan, which signed an agreement in 2013 to provide telecommunications
infrastructure for KADDB and its affiliates. Although the contract is not pub-
lic—and it is impossible to say for sure that these services are coming at a
discount—the JAF’s pension fund is a partial shareholder in Orange Jordan,
and the military’s long history of subsidized services would suggest that this
partnership also comes with preferential terms.
The Jordanian government has been particularly adept at generating
positive spin for its military industry. One example can be viewed at www.
marcopolis.net/Jordan-industry-sector.htm. The site, which looks like a news
aggregator, with the New York Times and International Herald Tribune mast-
heads running across the top of the page, is in fact operated by Marcopolis, a
French public relations firm that produces promotional literature on behalf of
Arab governments. The particular report available at the above site labels the
KADDB one of the “greater success stories” of Jordan’s entire industrial sec-
tor, and cites “turnover of US $100 million” per year as part of the bureau’s
ability to “bring in value to the government.”
In keeping with classic liberal economic discourse, KADDB managers
emphasize the financial benefits of the bureau’s product lines over their
potential strategic advantages. Rhetoric focuses not on securing the domes-
tic supply of war material, but rather on exporting products and services to
128 Shana Marshall

neighboring states and therefore contributing to national income (or at least

lessening the military’s drain on the national budget). In one KADDB profile
that appeared in a Jordanian promotional publication, the majority of the text
deals not with military readiness or goals of self-sufficiency, but with KAD-
DB’s success at “providing vital linkages between Jordan’s public and private
sectors . . . scores of employment opportunities for Jordanian graduates . . .
[and] ongoing training schemes for Jordanian engineers and technicians.”39
At the 2010 SOFEX the bureau signed contracts for about US $100 million
worth of exports to Kenya, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen,40 and in 2014
the bureau rolled out four new weapons systems: a light gunship; an antitank
weapon (the Nash-Shab RPG-32); a multifunction robotic ground vehicle;
and a 105 mm self-propelled “shoot and scoot” gun system.41 Its Desert
Iris—an armored personnel carrier—has become a regional bestseller. In fact,
KADDB has become so successful that it is now signing its own offset agree-
ments, including a deal inked in 2011 to transfer technology to the Ministry of
Defense and Industry in Azerbaijan, which will produce KADDB’s patented
body armor in its own factories.

Fitting the Mold of Regional Military Economies

In addition to defense-related products and services, the JAF also generate

income from a range of nondefense enterprises, much like militaries else-
where in the developing world. One of the largest sources of funds comes
from real estate, specifically projects carried out by Mawared and the Devel-
opment Investment Projects fund (DIP), both of which are primarily involved
in commercial and residential development using land that was previously
reserved for military purposes but is now extremely valuable suburban real
estate. None of the revenues generated by these entities is published, and
they are not included on the list of entities subjected to government audit.
Both Mawared and DIP have been linked to numerous corruption scandals,
most notably improprieties related to the royal initiative “Decent Housing for
Decent Living,” a major affordable housing project. Two of Mawared’s exec-
utives, Akram Abu Hamdan and Ziyad Aqbani, were given three-year jail
terms with hard labor when the Anti-Corruption Commission declared that
a shell company in which they were involved—Invest Corp. Securities Ltd.,
registered in Luxembourg—had been awarded an unreasonable sum for a
water treatment feasibility study linked to the residential development plan.42
However, critics allege that Hamdan and Aqbani were scapegoats for former
minister of Housing and Public Works Sahel al-Majali, whose office was
overseeing the tender for the project, and who manipulated the bidding pro-
cess to privilege a company he owned. When government auditors uncovered
Jordan’s Military-Industrial Sector 129

the tender irregularity, Sahel quietly (and briefly) switched posts with then-
transportation minister Alaa Batayneh while the scandal died down.43
According to the NGO Committee to Protect Journalists, “A parliamentary
committee had received directives from the Royal Court to not refer [Maja-
li’s] case to trial.”44 Sahel’s father, Abdel Hadi al-Majali—who preceded
Sahel in the role of minister of Housing and Public Works—also held posts
as former Army Chief of Staff, ambassador to the United States (defense atta-
ché), and founded one of Jordan’s very first private security ventures in the
mid-1980s, the Middle East Defense & Security Agency (MEDSA).45 Sahel
himself is the head of MID Contracting—a major beneficiary of the postwar
reconstruction boom in Iraq, and his cousin Shadi Ramzi is the current head
of the KADDB Investment Group/KIG and former KADDB CEO.
The appearance of impropriety (real or not) permeates the JAF’s real estate
empire; the connections are labyrinthine in their complexity. For example,
Mawared was also linked to corruption in a large-scale development scheme
undertaken by the Abdali Investment & Development Company in which
Mawared owns a 44 percent share. The former mayor of Amman, Omar
Maani, was indicted on corruption charges related to his role in the plan; he
is married to Meisa Batayneh,46 a relative of Transportation Minister Alaa,
and Mohammed Batayneh, the head of investment at Mawared. Mohammed
is also a partner in Badr Investments, a boutique investment firm he runs with
Amin Badr al-Din, who designed the UAE’s defense offset program and for
many years served as the chairman of the UAE government agency (despite
his Jordanian nationality).47 Badr Investments and Maisam Architecture
(founded by Meisa Batayneh) were the two prime contractors on a US $425
million solar power project that was halted in 2011,48 just as the corruption
investigation began into Omar Maani and the Abdali Investment & Develop-
ment Company. The takeaway here is that the military controls enormous
financial assets across a broad range of sectors, and often uses these assets
and influence to steer contracts to family members and business associates.
This would help explain why financial support for the business operations of
the armed forces is so critical to the regime—because it represents benefits
and privileges for a vast network of civilian elites as well.
In addition to real estate management, the JAF are also involved in the
economy in other ways similar to what one would see in Egypt or Pakistan,
including as a contracting partner for projects funded through intergov-
ernmental organizations and other multilateral institutions. For example,
when Jordan signed onto the Montreal Protocol (the UN-administered treaty
phasing out ozone-depleting chemicals), various agencies of the military
were granted donor funds for the collection and disposal of ozone-depleting
chemicals. KADDB even created a company—National Halons Company
Ltd.—to collect, transport, and store unwanted CFC gases on behalf of the
130 Shana Marshall

government.49 Reclamation equipment and storage tanks were provided to

KADDB by the World Bank, and KADDB became an implementing partner
for a program to replace refrigeration equipment used by large industrial
clients as well as hotels and government offices. Although there is nothing
implicitly objectionable about public sector agencies acting as implement-
ing partners for major public works projects, given the level of corruption
present in other JAF ventures and foreign assistance projects in Jordan more
generally, there is reason to question whether this project was just another
opportunity to direct funds and resources to the JAF, or to allow military
officials to subsidize well-connected business elites by identifying them for
the program’s subsidy and rebate programs.50
KADDB is also contracting with the Jordanian government to rebuild a
number of railway carriages for the state-owned Aqaba Railway Corpora-
tion—also mirroring the historic role many developing countries’ militaries
played in the construction of their public transportation systems (including
Egypt, where the army produced passenger cars for the country’s rail and
metro system, and recently sent in conscripts to operate the system when
civilian workers went on strike). KADDB has also recently bought strug-
gling state-owned companies (Arab Industrial Engineering Company), done
deals with boutique investment firms (Black Pearl Capital), and begun pro-
duction of specialized nonmilitary vehicles such as snowplows. Again, the
similarities to the Egyptian case are striking, where the military also recently
purchased a major defunct Egyptian automaker and has for decades produced
large trucks and other heavy-duty vehicles for government agencies and the
private commercial market.


Although the Jordanian Army does not release statistics on military budgets
or military production that would substantiate or refute claims of profitabil-
ity, it is clear that military-affiliated enterprises enjoy many advantages that
nonmilitary enterprises do not, including exemption from corporate taxation
and regulation and subsidized access to inputs and intermediate goods such
as land, raw materials, and foreign imports. Nevertheless, the benefits of
KADDB’s activities to the Jordanian regime are not primarily economic—
they are political. Because military service has traditionally been an avenue
of social mobility for East Bank Jordanians, making more high-skilled tech-
nical jobs available within the military is an absolute necessity in the face of
mounting demographic pressures. Resentment over the allocation of scarce
state resources to military pensions, health care, subsidized housing, and
other perquisites is also attenuated by the perception—valid or not—that the
Jordan’s Military-Industrial Sector 131

military is “earning its keep” through partnerships with foreign firms and
lucrative export contracts.
The additional investment in military enterprises generated by defense off-
sets also helps promote the false narrative that outfits like KADDB deserve
state support because they provide an engine for economic growth, employ-
ment, industrial modernization, and export earnings. But the consensus among
economists is that public investment is more productive when it is directed
toward civilian industry rather than defense-related production—and govern-
ment support for defense projects acts like a giant economic vortex, sucking
private funds and skilled labor away from civilian enterprise. Although these
principles are almost universally accepted among contemporary development
scholars, governments continue to subsidize the manufacture of weapons and
the provision of security-related services while slashing spending on public
infrastructure and social services.
Jordan’s military economy is an excellent example of how privileged state
institutions adapt their business strategies according to the strictures of eco-
nomic liberalism, which presents both opportunities (to partner with foreign
investors and exploit new export markets) and limits (the need to demon-
strate profits to justify expenditures). Unfortunately in Jordan, as indeed in
most states, these adaptations are designed to ensure that influential political
constituencies can continue to enjoy subsidies and privileges regardless of
the cost. The granting of contracts and the formation of partnerships remain,
as they were before, fundamentally political questions. The difference is that
they have acquired a veneer of economic utility in order to convince audi-
ences—both foreign and domestic—that officers are good managers and that
investing in the commercial enterprises of the armed forces is good policy.


1. Vatikiotis, Politics and the Military in Jordan: A Study of the Arab Legion,
2. Author’s note: An earlier version of this article appeared in Middle East Report
267 (Summer 2013).
3. Baylouny, Privatizing Welfare in the Middle East, 53; Antoun, A Social Struc-
tural Transformation of a Trans-Jordanian Peasant Community.
4. Baylouny, Privatizing Welfare in the Middle East, 57–58.
5. In Privatizing Welfare in the Middle East, 57–58, Baylouny notes that this is
achieved through a quota system, meaning that even if the number of potential enroll-
ees increases and facilities remain static, the family members of army recruits are still
guaranteed a spot.
6. Ibid., 57–58.
7. Steityeh, “Out of the Dusty Labs.”
132 Shana Marshall

8. “ATK Delivers Fully Outfitted Light Gunship to Hashemite Kingdom of

Jordan,” PR Newswire, May 1, 2014, http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/atk-
9. “Jordan’s Part in the Global Security Industry,” WorldFolio, December
2014, http://www.theworldfolio.com/interviews/ahmad-al-sallakh-ceo-of-kaddb-
10. “More Belgian F-16s for Jordan?” Defense Industry Daily, January 26, 2009,
11. “Jordan’s KADDB Inks Five Major Deals,” Jordan Times, November 19, 2009.
The name of the logistics firm was Strategem.
12. As of 2015 this project is still in limbo.
13. “King Abdullah Inaugurates Jordanian-Russian RPG Factory,” Jordan Times,
May 30, 2013, http://www.jordantimes.com/news/local/king-abdullah-inaugurates-
14. Tomkins, “Jordan First Buyer of South African Armored Vehicle.”
15. Ghazal, “Joint Venture Puts Jordan on Track as ‘Leading Defence Exporter.’”
16. KADDB, along with the King Abdullah II Fund for Development (KAFD) and
Jordan’s Applied Scientific Research Fund (ASRF), sponsor contests for engineering
projects with military applications designed by students at the German Jordanian
University (GJU). The winning teams get to exhibit their projects at SOFEX (website
of the German Jordanian University: http://www.gju.edu.jo/). KADDB has similar
programs with the Hashemite University and Al Bayt University; both institutions are
typically in the top five on university-ranking platforms.
17. In the Working Paper 2006/04, “Military Industrialization and Economic
Development: Jordan’s Defense Industry,” 29, Jomana Amara cites information pro-
vided by DefenseNews.com.
18. Jordan RiverHawk Shipbuilding and Support was founded in 2007.
19. “Equipping Lebanon’s . . . Government?” Defense Industry Daily, February
27, 2015, http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/tanks-planes-and-uavs-for-lebanon-
20. Interview with Riverhawk executives conducted for the Lebanese website SD
Arabia in January 2011, cf. http://rhfsf.urnge.net/blog/uploads/2011/01/2009_SDA_
INTERVIEW.pdf, accessed May 15, 2015.
21. The firm’s owner is from the Iraqi Samarra’i family; the company workforce
of forty is primarily retirees from the Jordanian Air Force. Cf. “Alarus/Sama CH2000
Wins Iraqi Tender: Contract for 16 Surveillance Aircraft to Be Supplied by Jordanian
Licensee of AMD,” Aero News Network, November 7, 2014, http://www.aero-news.
22. The manufacturer Zenair Ltd. has a registered subsidiary in the United States
(Aircraft Manufacturing & Development Company) that sells the Alarus CH2000, on
which the JAI model is based.
23. Cf. Iraq Development Program, “Investing in Iraq’s Industrial Sectors: Public
and Mixed,” 31. These companies include Tatra, a Czech truck maker; Terex; Rapis-
can; and Sovam.
Jordan’s Military-Industrial Sector 133

24. Iraq Development Program, “Investing in Iraq’s Industrial Sectors: Public and
Mixed,” 31.
25. According to a spokesman for Volvo, one of the major international firms
implicated in the scandal, “We found out that it was the agents, a Jordanian company
called International Engineering Group (IEG), that paid them [bribes]. We ceased
to work with them already [sic] in 2002 . . . We think a handful of people [within
Volvo] should have suspected that the agent might pay kickbacks.” See also Hen-
nigan, “Global Corruption Rampant; Corporate Entertainment the New Bribery in
Developed World.”
26. LinkedIn employment profile of project director at International Engineering
Group in Baghdad lists continuing employment dates. Cf. LinkedIn. https://www.
27. Sole, “SA’s Weapons Laws Easy to Dodge.”
28. Steityeh, “Out of the Dusty Labs.”
29. “Coastal Protection Venture Tabled, Middle East/Africa,” Jane’s Defence
Weekly, October 12, 2002. The venture was cancelled when the BAE-Finmeccanica
partnership was dissolved in 2005.
30. Estimate as of 2008. Amara, “Military Industrialization and Economic Devel-
opment: Jordan’s Defense Industry,” 141.
31. This is the KADDB Investment Group/KIG.
32. Contracts for space for exhibits, conferences, and classroom training are paid
to the King Abdullah Special Operations Training Center (KASOTC), which was
built and funded by the United States. A quick web search will reveal numerous
contracts between the US Department of the Army and KASOTC, including one in
2013 for US $118,000 for the lease of “conference space and facilities.” See “Kasotc
Special Operations Training Center $118,800 Contract Issued by Department of the
Army, Procurement ID: W912D213P0024,” Government Contracts, n.d., Inside Gov,
33. King Abdullah Design and Development Bureau, “Investment Group Newslet-
ter” (Amman: KADDB, August–September 2011).
34. Ibid.
35. King Abdullah Design and Development Bureau, “KADDB Signed a Coop-
eration Agreement with Kuwait Al Majd Company,” press release, October 8,
2014, http://www.kaddb.com/ContentParts/Pages/LatestNews/wfrmViewLatestNews.
36. Steityeh, “Out of the Dusty Labs.” KADDB also recently played host to a
delegation of military representatives from Libya.
37. Collombier, “Private Security . . . Not a Business Like Any Other.”
38. Report to Congress, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” 67.
39. Steityeh, “Out of the Dusty Labs.”
40. IHS Jane’s 360, “KADDB Signs Contracts,” May 12, 2010, http://home.janes.
41. Coverage of SOFEX on army recognition.com, a defense and security industry
marketing website, May 12, 2014, http://www.armyrecognition.com/sofex_2014_
134 Shana Marshall

42. In addition to jail time, the penalty of hard labor is triggered when a violation
of duty occurs in addition to the charge of corruption. The sum was US $2 million.
43. The November 2009 switch was temporary; Batayneh resumed the post of
Minister of Transport in November 2010. US embassy officials were confused by the
switch; not only was Batayneh well respected and viewed as generally “clean,” but
both top officials and royal family members were “tight-lipped” about the move, lend-
ing credence to the idea that the switch was engineered to derail investigations into
Sahel al-Majali’s role in the affordable housing scandal. Cf. US State Department,
“Biographies for Jordan’s New Government.” Majali is estimated to have pocketed
over US $1.5 million while acting as project director for the housing program.
44. The Jordanian journalist reporting on Majali’s nontrial, Jamal al-Muhtaseb,
was ordered to pretrial detention by Jordan’s State Security Court. See: Committee
to Protect Journalists, “Jordanian Journalist Arrested over Critical Article,” April
25, 2012, http://cpj.org/2012/04/jordanian-journalist-arrested-over-critical-articl.
45. According to the company, MEDSA was formed in response to increasing
demand from private banks for armed security. But it was in fact the Jordanian police
that pressured the banks to install complicated security systems and frameworks that
would require armed personnel (thus creating “demand” for the creation of MEDSA).
Cf. Collombier, “Private Security . . . Not a Business Like Any Other.”
46. Meisa runs a large architecture firm in Jordan that was awarded the contract
to design the new terminal at Queen Alia International Airport. The US $675 million
expansion was supported by funds from the governments of Canada, France, Japan,
Kuwait, the Netherlands, and the United States, as well as the Islamic Development
Bank and USAID.
47. UAE National Media Council, “New Identity Reflects Offset’s Core Focus,”
UAEinteract, April 24, 2007 (UAE government press release).
48. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Public-Private
Partnerships in the Middle East and North Africa: A Handbook for Policy Makers,
49. “Jordan Reduces CFC Use in Chillers,” Construction Week Online, October
28, 2010, http://www.constructionweekonline.com/article-9948-jordan-reduces-cfc-
50. World Bank, “Implementation and Results Report on an Ozone Projects Trust
Fund Grant in an Amount Equivalent to US $6.0 Million to the Hashemite Kingdom
of Jordan for an Ozone-Depleting Substances Phase-Out 2 Project,” 30, 33. The halon
storage program entailed a grant of US $382,250.
Chapter 6

Civil-Military Relations in Sudan

Negotiating Political Transition
in a Turbulent Economy
Atta El-Battahani

Sudan stands as a paradigmatic case for a number of evolving trends in the

politics of the region. It had its intifada (uprising) against a military ruler
already in 1985, followed by a transitional government of military and civil-
ian leaders. The overthrow of the president General Jaafar al-Numeiri ushered
in a political process characterized by gradual ascendancy of the Islamists1
as the dominant political force in the Sudan in the late 1980s and 1990s. In
this sense, the political development in Sudan between 1985 and 1989 was a
precursor of what was to come later on the heels of the “Arab Spring” in the
Middle East and North Africa.
The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) have contributed immensely to shap-
ing the postcolonial political history of Sudan. Since independence in 1956,
periods of military rule ran from 1958 to 1964, 1969 to 1985, and from 1989
to 2015. The SAF took over power in 1958, 1969, 1985, and 1989, and
twice—in 1964 and 1985—the army took a neutral stand toward popular
uprisings against the governments of the day and tipped the balance of power.
The SAF have been involved in protracted civil war since the independence
of Sudan in 1956, except for a short period of eleven years following the
Addis Ababa Peace Agreement of 1972. Radical Islamist military officers
took over in 1989 and have been in power ever since.
The military Islamist rulers made profound changes in the Sudanese mili-
tary doctrine and the organizational structure of the SAF and greatly expanded
the economic corporate business of the military. In particular during the oil
decade from 2000 to 2011, the economic and business engagement of the
SAF became prominent. Engendered by Islamist rule, the classical character
of the SAF acquired two new elements: ideological orientation and business
interests. Yet the changes ensuing from regional political turbulences are
putting these elements under a severe test. With winds of change blowing in

136 Atta El-Battahani

the region since 2011, there is a pressing need to examine the impact of the
“Arab Spring” on the SAF.
The overwhelming role of SAF in politics and socioeconomic and eco-
nomic realities has not been matched by adequate research. Even though a
number of studies exist,2 except for Hardallo and Ali,3 none of these studies
considered the role of the military within the context of political contest
among parties or factions of ruling classes. Moreover, none considered the
SAF in relation to the extended hegemonic crisis during which alterna-
tive hegemonic projects collided more than once, although the SAF was
instrumental in these collisions. The increasingly dominant role of the army
in politics prompted some authors to depict the system as “parto-parasitic
capitalism,”4 “militarized bureaucracy,”5 and the SAF as part of the “bureau-
cratic bourgeoisie”6 or “elite of bureaucratic bourgeoisie.”7 However, no
in-depth research has been carried out into the origins of army officers in
terms of social class and political affiliation in recent years.8 Equally, the
issue of economic activities of the SAF, which began during the days of
Numeiri in the 1970s, has not attracted serious academic research.9 This
chapter attempts to fill gaps in research on the SAF’s role in politics and
the economy.
The wind of change brought by the “Arab Spring” has been felt in the rank-
and-file of the SAF. This chapter argues that siding with “change agents” at a
critical moment of transition, as the SAF had done in 1964 and 1985, is less
likely to be an option of response to recurring protest movements after 2011.
In order to protect its interests, SAF may decide to support change agents,
and some Islamist officers may be swayed to support the call for change.10
The chapter begins with tracing the history of class affiliations of army
officers and organizational changes in the SAF, placing a special emphasis
on the business activities of military officers during the decades since the
1980s. It gives a special consideration to the Sudanese oil decade 2000 to
2011, by addressing the question of what impact the oil economy has had on
the SAF, and how its rivalry with other agencies such as the National Intel-
ligence Service of Sudan (NISS) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF)11 has
shaped Sudan’s economy. Then the chapter compares the military-Islamist
regime and in particular, the SAF in Sudan, with other cases, discussing
Bellin’s thesis that the survival of autocracy would deal a blow to military
business.12 It investigates the extent to which changes in the activities of
the military have impacted on the SAF’s stance toward emerging transition
scenarios after the “Arab Spring.” Finally, the chapter attempts to explore
how the SAF might position itself vis-à-vis change agents: whether to take
the side of autocracy or side with people calling for change. The conclusion
shows scenarios of the SAF’s response to social and political demands raised
in Sudan in 2014.
Civil-Military Relations in Sudan 137

Civil-Military Relations from a Historical

and Class Analysis Perspective

Literature on Sudan features the military under different aspects. One stream
analyzes the military with a focus on the role of individuals and key actors in
their personal capacity as charismatic leaders in control of state institutions or
influencing those around them.13 Another line of analysis locates the military
as part of the state’s coercive apparatus with privileges entrenched in the state
bureaucracy and considers different layers at upper, middle, and lower levels.
These layers became polarized between upper-level conservative officers
and radical middle-ranking and young officers.14 From this perspective, the
majority of Sudanese officers belonged to educated groups with whom they
constituted a social elite identified as part of the middle class or petty bour-
geoisie. The soldiers and noncommissioned officers originated in the peas-
antry and working class and mainly came from peripheral regions of Sudan.
Once the recruits joined the service, they were bound to serve the interest
of the ruling propertied classes, regardless of social origin. A third stream
of studies analyzed the role played by the military as part of in-fighting of
ruling classes to establish a hegemonic power bloc,15 or blending class with
ethnic-national affiliation.16
This chapter attempts a synthesis of the military being seen as containing
social class differences and being entangled in the crisis of hegemony of the
ruling classes. It addresses the framework of social and political dynamics
of peripheral capitalism in conflict-ridden, underdeveloped Sudan from a
historical perspective with a focus on the military’s economic role. Peripheral
capitalism in Sudan precipitated violent conflicts, competition for resources,
population displacement, and encroachment of rural livelihoods, ideological
polarization, Islamic fundamentalist movements, and militarism. Accord-
ingly, Sudan shows features of a peripheral/dependent capitalist militarism,
which is not marked by capitalist-militarist structures.17 Notwithstanding
military involvement in military industry and business, a merchant-rentier
logic dominates over industrial, productive logic.
Drawing from Gramsci’s work on hegemony,18 this chapter sheds light
on the military involvement in the long, drawn-out struggle and contest in
and between factions/sections of the ruling class to tip the balance of power
in favor of this or that political party or political movement. In tracing the
motives behind military involvement, it does seem that political interests are
just as important as economic interests are. Moreover, from Gramsci’s work,
this chapter considers the failure of the ruling class to establish effective or
integral hegemony through military interventions in politics (for example,
series of coups d’état) and in the economy. Accordingly, in the context of
the “Arab Spring,” the army’s position toward a popular drive for change is
138 Atta El-Battahani

assumed to be most likely shaped by political more than economic interests,

mainly due to the overwhelming logic of political survival (security sur-
vival) of the heads of the Arab autocracies. This is in line with the widely
held assumption that military forces and security services19 primarily seek to
protect their own corporate interests and will be motivated to overthrow or
defend a ruling regime when these interests are threatened.
There has been a range of publications on civil-military relations with a
focus on coup-proofing strategies of authoritarian regimes that have stud-
ied the political behavior of governments and the military in the context of
the “Arab Spring.” In discussing possible positions of the military toward
people’s protest movements for change, as in the “Arab Spring,” Kårtveit and
Jumbert (2014) refer to Bellin’s distinction between the military’s will, on the
one hand, and its capacity to hold on to power, on the other. Bellin identified
the following factors shaping the behavior of the military: (1) fiscal health of
the security apparatus, (2) level of foreign support, (3) level of institutional-
ization versus extension of patrimonialism as the organizational basis for the
military/security apparatus, and (4) level of popular mobilization.20 Along
the same lines, Nordlinger highlights four types of interests that can trigger
such behavior: (1) budgetary support, (2) autonomy, (3) the absence of cred-
ible rivals, and (4) institutional survival.21 This reinforces that, when faced
with making choices, the military forces (and for that matter, the security
services, too) seek to protect their own corporate interests.22 It also reinforces
the observation that a sole focus on institutional arrangements cannot fully
explain why some regimes are more successful than others at retaining power
in contexts of communal division.
In discussing positions likely to be taken by SAF in an event of peoples’
uprising, past experience of the SAF should be referred to. Recognizing the
significance of both, institutionalism and class affiliations, this paper takes
Bellin’s identification of factors that shape intervention as a useful tool to
explore the possible position the SAF may take in the wake of a transforma-
tion process in Sudan.

Colonialism and Postcolonial Military Regimes

The Sudan was under British colonial rule and Egyptian control from 1896
to 1956. In 1925, the Sudan Defence Force was established, with British offi-
cers at the top, followed by Egyptians, then native officers from the central
and northern parts of Sudan, and middle and junior recruits from the less
developed regions of the Nuba Mountains, Darfur, and southern Sudan. With
independence of Sudan and the Sudanization of the officers’ corps, Sudan
emerged as “the one African country south of the Sahara . . . with a modern
Civil-Military Relations in Sudan 139

military establishment possessing the attributes of an independent national

army.”23 In 1958, a group of officers took over power under the leadership
of General Ibrahim Abboud and supported a civilian prime minister from the
conservative religious Umma Party. US-American aid supported this govern-
ment, which in return was expected to fight communism.24 The government
set the country on a capitalist road of development by initiating major agri-
cultural and industrial schemes. Moreover, the door was open for sons of
farmers, workers, and the lower middle classes to serve in the army, even in
the rank of officers.
This change in policy enabled a new large group of cadets with a high
school education to join the army, yet some of them also needed the media-
tion of an influential relative in the army or in public life. According to
Hardallo (1987), in the course of these developments there emerged a new
petty bourgeois-oriented group of officers who were relatively progressive.
Politically, a tradition of confrontation between the two groups developed
inside the army. Outside the army, each sided with this or that social class
or political groupings in the waging of class struggle in society as a whole.
Class stratification was paralleled by ethnic-regional stratification in the
ranks of the army. In this period, efforts to sway “politically ambitious” army
officers began by leasing them schemes in mechanized agriculture,25 but this
did not develop into a visible army-business stratum. Throughout the 1960s
and much of the 1970s, the SAF did not have a corporate economic business
The two major groups of “petty bourgeois and progressive” officers came
at loggerheads when a political crisis escalated in 1964. A confrontation
erupted between the two factions over the handling of escalating civil protests
against the military regime. Like many armies in the region, the SAF was not
immune to being affected by politics. Already the winds of Nasserism and
radical nationalism had led to the formation of a “free officers” group in the
SAF in the 1950s and 1960s.26 When the opposition to the military regime
of Abboud reached a climax in 1964, the free officers took the side of the
protest movement and abstained from firing against the masses. The success
of the October 1964 revolution in Sudan meant the defeat of upper-ranking
officers in the army as well as their social and political conservative allies in
society at large.27
Nonetheless, attempts to balance power and tactical mistakes led to the
overthrow of the radical government shortly after, and the return to power
of the alliance of conservative political parties. In an attempt to tighten their
grip on power and weaken leftist and trade union movements, conservative
political forces fell prey to the agitation of Islamists and, driven by anticom-
munist hysteria, used their parliamentary majority and issued decrees expel-
ling communist members of Parliament and then amended the constitution
140 Atta El-Battahani

so that they could dissolve the Communist Party. This led to intensified
opposition by the communists and their allies in the trade unions, professional
middle-class groups, workers, and farmers. The free officers, led by Colonel
Jaafar al-Numeiri, jumped into the fray, staging a successful coup in May
1969, putting an end to the fragile multiparty government. At the beginning,
the free officers seemed to have the support of all democratic forces of the
opposition—both inside and outside the army—for a program they had been
struggling to implement since independence. Yet soon frictions and dispute
erupted between an Arab socialist/Nasserite faction on one hand and the com-
munist faction, on the other hand, on issues pertaining to the ideology of the
emerging regime.
In July 1971, a group of procommunist army officers mounted a blood-
less coup and declared their intention to reverse the pro-Western policies
of Numeiri and to fight neocolonialism. The events that followed revealed
the connections between the capitalists and their alliance with international
capital. The procommunist regime lasted only three days and was crushed
by direct foreign intervention, in which Lonrho28 played an instrumental role
in coordination with Egypt under President Anwar al-Sadat and Libya under
Colonel Muammar Qaddafi in a countercoup. Khalil Osman, a Sudanese mil-
lionaire with close links to army officers, also played a role in toppling the
procommunist regime in 1971. After the abortive coup by communist offi-
cers, Numeiri emerged victorious. To compensate for the loss of the support
of the leftists and to enhance legitimacy of rule, Numeiri moved closer to the
southern Sudanese rebels, who had been fighting in a civil war against the
governments of Sudan since independence, and signed a peace agreement in
Addis Ababa in 1972. He also reconciled with the northern Sudanese tradi-
tional parties in 1977.
Numeiri soon changed the security doctrine. Army officers had to take an
oath of allegiance to defend the regime, and not, as before, the nation. He
adopted an open-door economic policy with Western assistance. Western coun-
tries and oil-rich Arab countries provided military aid and economic support.
In 1982, Numeiri issued a Government Decree on the Formation of Military
Economic Corporations (MEC) as an economic arm of the Sudanese Armed
Forces. According to the decree, the objectives of MEC were defined as:

• Using excess resources of the armed forces to support the national economy
• Improving living conditions (economic and social conditions) of members
of the armed forces
• Provision of all needs of the army (ammunitions, tools, weapons, etc.) and
facilitating economic activities of the SAF
• Upgrading technical administrative capacities of members of the armed
Civil-Military Relations in Sudan 141

The operation of the MEC began by assembling the waste or scrap of

imported goods, vehicles, and other items and recycling them.30 Subse-
quently, the corporation set up a number of military economic institutions.
MEC was meant to transform the army into a “new class” with vested eco-
nomic interest in defending the status quo. It provided consumption goods,
supplied cars to top army officers, and paved the way for links between the
army officers and the business class.31 This took place in the framework of a
national reconciliation effort with the northern Sudanese oppositional forces
brokered by Sudanese businessmen. However, the autocratic style of rule by
Numeiri alienated top army officers. In the early 1980s, they called upon him
to curb the growing power of the security organs on which Numeiri increas-
ingly relied to secure his rule. This took place at a time when the Islamists
were secretly infiltrating the army.

Islamism and Militarism: An Ill-Fated

Precursor to the “Arab Spring”

In the September laws of 1983, Numeiri applied Sharia law in Sudan. He

attempted to quell the growing opposition, placate sectarian religious con-
stituencies of the main parties, and outmaneuver the movement of the Muslim
Brotherhood. Yet in April 1985, Numeiri was eventually overthrown by a
broad-based civil protest movement, which the SAF supported.32 A Transi-
tional Military Council (TMC) took over and a civilian nonpartisan govern-
ment was formed to prepare for elections within one year. In retrospect, and
in the light of the “Arab Spring,”33 it is telling to see how the TMC managed
the transition to democracy in the post-Numeiri period in a way that served
military economic interests, both as a corporate body of the army and as indi-
viduals. In tandem with this, it played into the hands of the National Islamic
Front (NIF), the party of the Muslim Brotherhood in Sudan, which emerged
as the third-largest political force in the 1986 general elections.
A showdown between the trade unions and the army during the first week
of the uprising ended with a political victory of the military. The unions,
backed by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) fight-
ing in southern Sudan, demanded the dismantling of Numeiri’s security appa-
ratus, removal of Numeiri’s corrupt aides from positions of power, annulment
of Sharia law, and handing over power to the representatives of the popular
uprising. The army, backed by the Islamists, absolved itself from touching the
Sharia laws, demanded from the leadership of the SPLM/A to put down their
arms and join the political process, and issued an ultimatum for the unions to
lift their general strike or face the consequences. By giving in to the demands
of the army, the unions had sealed the fate of the April uprising of 1985.
142 Atta El-Battahani

The overthrow of the Numeiri regime paved the way for a shift in the
power balance in favor of the Islamists. Sudan thus stands as a paradigmatic
case for evolving trends in the politics of the region, which, however, has
been neglected in both Arab and African research.
In an article on military professionalism in the Middle East, Kamrava
(2000) pointed out that professionalization enhances the military’s corpo-
rate identity. Knowing that this might also enhance political aspirations of
the military and to avoid a possible military takeover, rulers tend to adopt
countermeasures to ensure the loyalty of the army. In the course of this, they
undermined the institutional autonomy and professionalism of the military. In
Sudan, measures like these took a dramatic turn with the Islamists’ takeover
in 1989.
Within the regime alliance between the military and the Muslim Brother-
hood between 1989 and 1999, Hassan al-Turabi, the founder of the Muslim
Brotherhood in Sudan, introduced an Islamist notion of modern armies,
insisting that the army was a relic of colonialism. Al-Turabi did not conceal
his distaste of the army.34 Once they had assumed power, the Islamists imple-
mented a combination of measures: (1) outright purging of opponents, (2)
pensioning with rewards for officers who moved to set up their own business,
(3) co-opting and accommodating officers in crony-capitalist networks.
The Islamist-military coup was designed, planned, and executed by forces
outside the army, though also using some army officers. Central to the success
of the Islamist military takeover of power was the role played by al-Nẓām
al-Khāṣ (Special Organization), which had its roots in the days of Hassan al-
Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. In Sudan, al-Nẓām
al-Khāṣ dates back to the period following the 1969 Numeiri-led coup d’état
and the aborted communist coup of 1971, and the idea was to protect the
Islamic movement from secular and communist counterattack.35 From 1971
up to the military takeover in 1989, al-Nẓām al-Khāṣ supervised and managed
military training of civilians among the ikhwan (Muslim Brothers) in schools,
universities, and neighborhoods. The infiltration into the army was boosted
by the NIF after the overthrow of Numeiri,36 focusing then in particular on
attracting graduates of engineering and technical departments.37
The new radical, military-Islamist rulers embarked on unprecedented
changes in the organization and military doctrine of the SAF. They subordi-
nated the mission of the SAF to defend the nation to defending the creed and
hence, the Islamic state. In addition to doing away with professional ethos,
Islamization materialized in laying off hundreds of top- and middle-ranking
officers. Attempts of counter military takeovers were ruthlessly repressed and
leaders executed in 1990.
The regime introduced a concept of al-sha‘b al-muqātil (fighting people),
and jihad became the game of the day. Paramilitary People Defense Forces
Civil-Military Relations in Sudan 143

(PDFs) were set up to join jihad campaigns and also to act as a reliable force
to provide security for the new regime since leaders at the top did not have
full trust in the SAF. Tribal forces (marahil), which later developed to janja-
weed, were fighting parallel to the SAF against rebels in western Sudan. The
mistrust of the regime against the SAF eventually led to the consolidation of
the power of the NISS, which stands rival to the SAF, and in many respects,
became more powerful than the military.38
Disregard of chains of command as well as rules and procedures of
promotion was a further structural change imposed on the SAF. The
existing rules and procedures were thought to be Western and in need
to be Islamized and hence, the benchmarks and criteria were changed
accordingly. As a result, some groups and identities were privileged at
the expense of others. Entitlements and rewards families of soldiers and
officers who had died in combat used to receive were now denied for non-
Muslim soldiers and officers, describing them not as martyrs but as just
“dead.”39 The munaẓamat al-shahiyd (Martyrs’ Organization) took care
of the families of the martyrs, and the imposed restrictions led to serious
frictions among soldiers and officers. On the other hand, the Islamist
leadership was driven by an operational-pragmatic logic. Abandoning high-
handed principles of jihad, the regime cooperated with whomever assisted
in taking sides against opponents. This happened in the civil war in southern
Sudan, in reported cases of cooperation between the Khartoum government
and the janjaweed in Darfur,40 and with the Ugandan Lord Resistance
All these changes indicate fear of the regime from the army’s reaction to
ideological indoctrination. They rendered the SAF less institutionalized, less
professional, and, ironically, starved the military of resources despite huge
budgetary allocations.42 There are indicators that members of the SAF and
other security-related agencies engaged in illicit economic activities in order
to alleviate the fiscal crisis of the state. The changes weakened the combat
readiness of the SAF and made it incapable of responding to rebel threats to
central authorities in Darfur, the Nuba Mountains, and Blue Nile regions. In
this way, the safety and security agenda of the leadership relegated the role
of the army to a toothless watchdog.43
The 1998 constitution finally brought the SAF under control of civilian
leadership of the single ruling party, the National Congress Party (NCP),
which was then chaired by al-Turabi, who was also the Speaker of the Par-
liament. This move did not go well with top-ranking military officers who
adhered to Islamism—that is, Omar al-Bashir and his associates. This group
around the president toppled al-Turabi, the iconic leader of the Muslim
Brotherhood, in 1999. The split ended civilian control of al-Nẓām al-Khāṣ,
after the military fully took power over it.
144 Atta El-Battahani

To fund the jihad hoping to eventually defeat the SPLM/A, the Inqādh
(salvation) regime overtaxed the population and embarked on privatization by
selling state-owned assets and forming joint ventures with Islamist and Asian
companies to develop the arms industry in Sudan. Parallel to this and in order
to circumvent Western economic sanctions, Sudan invited China to commer-
cially exploit oil that Chevron had explored in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
By 1999 to 2000, Sudan started to export oil, a development that increased
the stakes and aggravated the armed conflict with the SPLM/A.
The removal of al-Turabi from the regime provided the NCP, dominated
by Islamists under the leadership of President al-Bashir, with a greater margin
of manoeuver to strike a power-sharing agreement with the SPLM concluded
in 2005. As rent-seeking groups, both the NCP and SPLM had no political
and economic development vision other than channeling oil-generated rents
to their clients and constituencies.44

SAF and the Oil Decade (2000–2011)

The oil boom 2000 to 2011 had a dramatic impact on Sudan’s economy. It
increased its growth rate, boosted the value of the Sudanese currency, and
provided the government with high liquidity.45 The share of government allo-
cation for the SAF and the NISS increased considerably, and this widened
the networks of business circles (both inside and outside the country) with
whom the military was dealing. As a net result, the oil boom enhanced the
rentier nature of the economy and the SAF’s inability to initiate and develop
a military capitalist industry à la Turkey, Pakistan, or Egypt.
Neoliberal policies were aggressively adopted, and power sharing between
rent-seeking elites bent on maximizing their short-term interests promoted a
strong social bias in reaping the benefits of the oil economy. The oil wealth
fueled the appetite of crony capitalists and rebel groups and provided the
military industry with resources. However, the meager data available shows
that the military’s contribution to the industrial sector of the economy has not
been a success.46
With the radical tone of the military-Islamist regime in 1989 and the war
against the SPLA taking a religious turn with calls for jihad, fears arose that
Western countries might stop supplying the necessary arms and even lead a
boycott. These concerns gave rise to efforts that led to the establishment of a
military industry to secure the provision of military hardware and ammuni-
tion in line with market-friendly policies—and independent of the army.47
In 1993, the Military Industry Corporation (MIC) was established through a
presidential decree, with a board of directors led by a military officer and a
civilian as executive officer. Funding was secured as follows:
Civil-Military Relations in Sudan 145

1. The initial capital layout was facilitated by relations with the international
Islamic movement via al-Turabi links, Osama bin Laden, and rich Islamist
circles from Gulf countries.
2. Funds were (taxes, oil rent) from government, ministry of finance, and the
national economy.
3. Some jibayat (levies) were allocated to the MIC.

The idea of establishing the MIC was first nurtured by the NISS, whose
long-standing Islamist engineers (the graduates of the Faculty of Engineering
in the early 1980s) were the first recruits to support both security and military
industrialization with their professional training and background. The MIC’s
relationship with the army was purely commercial, and it seems that the SAF
had no direct control over the MIC.48 Different from other countries, the
military business in Sudan involved intricate and complex relations between
various networks of the Islamic regime where business was intertwined and
firmly bound together with ideological and political ties.
The MIC products are mostly reassembled military armory, including
trucks, naval boats, rocket launchers, communication and optical equip-
ment, an electronic firing range simulator, and ammunition, in addition to
light manufactured goods for civilian consumption such as cars.49 Some of
Sudan’s manufactured military weapons and ammunition has found its way to
neighboring countries. The contribution of the MIC to the national economy
was minimal. According to an official report, it contributed between 10 and
15 percent to the gross national product.50 Even though the SAF receives the
major share of the state budget (60 to 70 percent), there is no trace of added-
value activities by SAF through the MIC. In this regard, military spending is
a drain on the economy.
The MIC also owns a quarter of the government’s GIAD Industrial City,
where a number of factories produce manufactured goods, and which is
located 50 kilometers south of Khartoum. GIAD’s founding stone was laid in
March 1997, in accordance with a partnership between SMT Engineering Co.
Ltd. (76 percent) and the MIC (24 percent). After establishing civil construc-
tions, factories, and workshops, the GIAD City was officially inaugurated on
October 26, 2000. It has an industrial and a residential part. The industrial
part encompasses the GIAD Automotive Industry Holding Group with seven
subsidiary groups,51 besides smaller companies such as the GIAD Company
for Steel Manufactures and Pipes, the Copper Factory, GIAD–Elsewey
Cables Company, Electrical Wires and Cables production plant, GIAD Ser-
vices Company Ltd., and Bouruj Engineering Company—all of them being
part of GIAD’s Industrial Group. There are other military manufacturing sites
around Khartoum such as the one alleged to have been destroyed by Israeli
rockets in 2012. Safat Aviation Group is another military manufacturing
146 Atta El-Battahani

enterprise, products of which found their way to the International Fair at Abu
Construction projects and multistory buildings in urban Khartoum such
as the SAF headquarters, hospitals, and residential quarters provided room
for business contracts with both internal and external circles. A number of
reports alleged close links between officials and their relatives at the top-level
leadership of the state, with circles of business and finance inside and outside
the country.53 Abdel-Rahman al-Amin provided figures on deals, revolving
financing, networks with rich shaykhs (patriarchs) in the Gulf, and regional
and international banks, as well as on business cycles for the benefit of those
at the top.54 Links between Islamic business in Sudan and Gulf financial
and commercial circles predated the Inqādh regime,55 but these circles have
received a tremendous boost during the Islamist reign, and many Sudanese
Islamist businessmen including retired army officers have established trade
links with the Gulf financial and commercial elite.
Oil rents, expansion of manufacturing ventures run by the army, and the
mushrooming of business networks all added to a momentum of expansion of
the SAF (and the NISS and other organized forces such as the PDF) toward
establishing upper-level army offices as part of the wealthy strata. Being part
of a broader new middle class, the strength of this momentum was such that
it survived policy measures and attempts to create a professional army. One
serious attempt of this sort came on the heels of signing the Comprehensive
Peace Agreement between the NCP and the SPLM/A in 2005. To build a
professional, united army out of Joint Integrated Units (JIUs) composed of
troops from the SAF and the SPLA was considered as a panacea for keeping
the country (North and South) together. The JIUs were meant to form the
core of the restructured armed forces to protect a united, democratic Sudan
and to bring the army under civilian control. However, underlying interests
of rent-seeking elites in the NCP and SPLM militated against the formation
of a professional army and civilian control and instead opted for power shar-
ing. As a result, JIUs never took off as a real prototype for a national army.
During the oil decade, the SAF had become the third largest African army
in terms of military spending.56 Once South Sudan seceded in 2011, the mili-
tary was the first to feel the crunch, evidenced by unfinished huge multistory
buildings at the headquarters of the SAF. Salaries and provisions were also
affected, which resulted in many soldiers deserting or leaving their jobs. SAF
advertisements for lower-ranking jobs that were not responded to prompted
the leadership to ask retired army officers to rejoin the service. Yet this pic-
ture contrasts sharply with the fact that spending on the army, security, and
police amounts to almost 70 percent of the government budget.57
Notwithstanding Islamist rhetoric to safeguard national independence, in
effect Sudan was reduced to a weak state seeking support from either “strong”
Civil-Military Relations in Sudan 147

regional powers (Iraq, Iran) or international radical Islamic movements such

as al-Qaeda. Links with the Iranian military industry and the establishment of
paramilitary groups such as the PDF and the Martyrs’ Foundation led to angry
reactions from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States on whose financial support
Sudan depended.58 While crony capitalists and top army businessmen looked
for cordial relations with oil-rich Arab countries, Islamist hardliners relied more
on strengthening networks with radical Islamic groups, Qatar and China.59

The SAF between the Secession of South

Sudan and the “Arab Spring” (2011–2015)

Sudan’s economy had an impressive GDP growth rate between 7 and 9

percent and implemented macroeconomic reforms between the years 2000
and 2010. At the same time, Sudan became a monoproduct economy, highly
dependent on oil for exports and revenues, with oil contributing over 95
percent of exports and about 50 percent of government revenues.60 After the
secession of South Sudan in 2011, the government of Sudan lost most of its
oil revenues, and non-oil real GDP growth slowed to 4.6 percent, reflecting
a broad-based slowdown in economic activity. To deal with this situation,
a three-year economic program was put into practice (2012–2015). Sudan
intensified oil exploration, gold mining, and the leasing out of land to foreign
investors,61 curbed public expenditure and downsized its expanded govern-
ment bureaucracy, continuing the privatization (sale) of government-owned
assets, and cutting energy and food subsides. Incessant efforts are being made
to substitute gold for oil.62 However, the relative gains failed to overcome
the structural defects in the economy. Defense and security expenditure have
swallowed government revenue, as shown in Figure 6.1.

Figure 6.1  Government Expenditure 2012 Budget. *Education and Health.

148 Atta El-Battahani

There was a steady increase in expenditure on the military-security sector

from 62 percent in the 2012 budget to 78 percent in 2013 to 88 percent in
2014.63 This indicates a failure of policies developed to curb public expendi-
ture and downsize expanding government bureaucracy, because entrenched
power networks (military, security, crony capitalists, and co-opted politi-
cians) opposed any serious measures taken to undermine their interests.
Instead of reducing government expenditure by 25 to 30 percent, actual
expenditure for 2013 increased by 45 percent from SDG 27.2 billion in 2012
to 39.3 billion in 2013.64 The annual reports of the Auditor General are lit-
tered with cases of exemption from taxes, embezzlement of public funds,
off-budget expenditure, and tajniyb (the sidelining of revenues).65 The so-
called sharikat al-hukumiyya (government companies), owned by cronies,
the ministry of defense, and the NISS are notorious for taking the law in their
own hands when doing business, and the justification has always been that
they are defending the national interest.
Inflation reached 44.4 percent at the end of 2011.66 Unemployment, par-
ticularly among the youth, kept rising, with destabilizing effects. It rose
from 14.2 percent in 1990 to 21.6 percent in 2010, putting Sudan as one of
the thirty-five countries with the highest unemployment rates worldwide.
Over and above, in September 2013 austerity measures were introduced as a
supplement to the state budget, including the devaluation of the currency by
29 percent, the removal of fuel subsidies worth SDG 3.6 billion, about 1.2
percent of GDP,67 as well as the elimination of food subsidies. As a result,
violent urban demonstrations erupted in September and October 2013.
In the peripheral regions of Sudan, widespread poverty fueled violent con-
flict and prompted the government to spend more on defense and security.
The levels of poverty in conflict regions averaged between 56 and 69 percent,
while in the central and northern states, it was 26 to 44 percent.68 Accord-
ing to an IMF report for 2013, 47 percent of the population lived below the
poverty line;69 inflation was at 43 percent by June 2014, and according to
the United Nations and USAID, 6.9 million people in Sudan were in need of
humanitarian assistance.70
On the flipside of this dire economic situation, crony capitalists and nou-
veaux riches were making gains. Economic and business ventures owned by
members of the political class received preferential conditions in exemptions
from taxes, access to loans, and lucrative business contracts. The Auditor
General annual reports abounded with documented cases of so-called govern-
ment companies and ministries and institutions that refused to be audited.71
In a conference organized by the business federation for national investors,
local businessmen complained that members of the political class managed
almost 70 percent of transactions.72 A considerable number of these nouveaux
riches had links to the SAF, the NISS, or former rebels who had joined the
Civil-Military Relations in Sudan 149

government. The powerful networks of military and security officers, crony

capitalists, and co-opted politicians stood against any serious austerity mea-
sures.73 The sharikat al-hukumiyya, owned by cronies and the ministries of
defense and interior together with NISS, enjoyed impunity.
The minister of defense, a close aide of President al-Bashir, kept complain-
ing about the army being starved of resources. In response, Parliament agreed
to increase the basic salary of the soldiers.74 At the informal level, both army
officers and soldiers made every effort to complement their income by engag-
ing in activities ranging from border trade with SPLM/A or rebel movements
in what is called al-wasq al-salam in the Nuba Mountains,75 to smuggling and
sidelining dues (tajniyb).
The “Arab Spring” coincided with the secession of South Sudan and its
economic impacts, and the regime crushed subsequent protests in Sudan with
ruthless brutality. This in turn caused splits within the Islamist ranks and
allegations of coup attempts by Islamist army officers.76 At the same time,
the government went ahead with scorched-land policies in Darfur, the Nuba
Mountains, and the Blue Nile State against rebels of Darfur and the SPLM-
North, who had united within the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) in 2012.
To counter this, the government upgraded its tribal militia, the janjaweed, into
Border Guards and then Quwwat al-Dʿam al-Sariyʿ (Rapid Support Forces).77
The enhanced use of military force not only for fighting rebels in the periph-
ery but also for quelling urban unrest necessitated giving sweeping powers to
the NISS and granting impunity to members of the military, police, security,
and RSF. A number of legislative measures were taken to ensure this, such as
the 2013 Military Act and constitutional amendments in January 2015,78 all
of which reflect an imbalance of power between the military and civilian rul-
ing elites. Whereas during previous periods of multiparty rule or postmilitary
government transition in Sudan, the trend had been to attempt to bring the
SAF under civilian control, the Inqādh regime has been an exception.
There is a huge security and financial potential associated with the long
borderline between Sudan and South Sudan and the flow of oil (and revenues)
northward.79 Moreover, the SPLM government in Juba, the capital of South
Sudan, and the SPLM/A-North fighting in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile
State have ideological and military ties. All this points to problematic and
tense relations between the two countries. Violent conflicts between the gov-
ernment in Juba and armed rebels near oil fields and reports of rebels cross-
ing the border reveal the sensitivity and uncertainty of the Juba-Khartoum
relations. Yet there are no concrete signs which path these relations will take.
Khartoum seems to be hypersensitive to maintaining the oil supply through
Sudan’s harbor of Port Sudan.80
Equally sensitive and of vital significance to Khartoum are the relations
with Qatar. In the wake of the secession of South Sudan with the subsequent
150 Atta El-Battahani

loss of oil revenues and Sudan’s economic and financial crisis, it was the sup-
port from Qatar that bailed out the Sudanese government.81 However, Qatar’s
role is not confined to financial and economic assistance,82 but there are signs
of an emerging political tutelage of grand design as regards the support of
radical Islamic movements in the region in which Sudan is seen as a pawn.
During its first decade in power (in the 1990s), the radical Islamic regime in
Sudan had made systematic efforts to expand and destabilize neighboring
countries as well as other Islamic countries in North Africa and the Middle
East.83 The “Arab Spring” and the subsequent rise of Islamic movements,
with which Khartoum has ideological affinity if not organizational links,
cast anew Sudan’s role under the coaching of Qatar’s supporting and aiding
allies. Evidence and reports of the Khartoum government facilitating logis-
tics and delivery of arms, money, and safe shelter to Hamas and Islamists in
Libya abound, with the potential threat they pose to the new anti-Islamist
regime in Egypt.84 In countering diplomatic and political measures taken by
Western countries, the Khartoum government relies on support from China
and Russia, among others.
Generally, the institutionalized, meritocratic nature of the Sudanese army
eroded over time and was completely undermined by the Islamist rule since
1989.85 One of the most disturbing signs in this regard is the increasingly
leading role played by the NISS vis-à-vis the SAF, and within the NISS
itself, the prominent role given to the RSF. While it is difficult to verify,
there are visible signs that NISS inner circles are dominated by elements from
the northern region whose loyalty to the presidency and NCP leadership is
beyond question. Intense power struggles at the center among the Khartoum
ruling elites have always drawn in, as allies or opponents, elites from periph-
eral regions, and this also has been the case during the Islamists’ reign. At the
same time, the rulers in Khartoum deliberately fueled fears of ethnic incur-
sions and persecution by the RSF if and when nonstate armed groups would
march into the northern regions.
In the past (1964, 1985), military intervention in Sudan used to take the
side of the people who protested against autocracy, thus sealing the fate of the
incumbent regimes and leading to the success of intifada. Since the secession
of South Sudan, the situation has been different; popular mobilization has
been moderate. Such moderate mobilization may be easily repressed with-
out too many consequences, whereas the violent repression of a large-scale
mobilization would be costly in terms of institutional integrity of the security
apparatus, international support, and domestic legitimacy. For the military,
institutional survival is an existential interest that it will most likely prioritize
over its other corporate interests.86 Hence, in the case of popular uprisings,
parallel military apparatuses, and the distribution of material incentives within
Sudan’s neopatrimonial regime, the military may withdraw its loyalty.87
Civil-Military Relations in Sudan 151


The Sudanese military’s engagement in politics goes back to the early post-
colonial period in the 1950s. It started its economic activities in the 1980s,
which continued under a military-Islamist regime that has lasted since 1989.
The above analysis shows that the economic activities of the SAF have been
peripheral to its military and political functions. The reason for this has been
particular to the Sudanese context: a peripheral country with an underdevel-
oped, dependent economy, an overdeveloped state apparatus, and expand-
ing armed groups. Due to these characteristics, the military has not become
involved in all fields of the economy, nor has it established links with the
war industry and formed a capitalist military-industrial complex. Instead, in
Sudan the military has acted more like a merchant, a rentier, or a bureaucrat
living on government spoils and spin-off.
The impact of the military manufacturing industry on the national economy
of Sudan and the involvement of the SAF in civilian economic activities has
been low when compared to Egypt. The focus of military production has been
on internal war supplies and export. However, the SAF is not less influential
in shaping the future political course of events than the military elsewhere.
Different from the cases of Tunisia, Egypt, or Algeria, in Sudan, the military
is being pulled in three different directions by a transition dilemma: Is it to
stick to its historic character and side with change agents, is it to defend the
Islamist agenda, or is it to stay neutral in order to protect its upper echelons’
expanding corporate business interests? A further twist in this dilemma is
that the alliance between the military and Islamists renders these options not
necessarily mutually exclusive.
A number of crucial points follow from this. First, in a way, the combined
effect of secession of South Sudan and the events of the “Arab Spring” have
added to the urgency for change, yet calls for change have been dashed by
Islamic autocracy in Sudan whose survival is gaining and attracting the sup-
port of groups and states in the region.
Second, the experience of Islamism in Sudan has a devastating impact on
SAF’s professionalism. A radical Islamic elite has adopted aggressive neo-
liberal policies, made structural changes in the SAF, and acquired windfall
oil rents (2000–2011). Yet presiding over failing state institutions, the Inqādh
regime has succeeded in instrumentalizing protracted violent conflict and
expanding rentier networks to involve upper-level ranks of the SAF in busi-
ness, although without adding real economic value to the national economy.
The SAF business has been geared more toward regime survival than toward
a positive impact on the national economy.
Third, one lesson from Sudan’s recent political history is that civilian
politicians cannot do without some sort of symbiotic relationship with the
152 Atta El-Battahani

military, and equally, the military cannot go alone, they need to work with
civilians. However, the structural changes wrought by the Inqādh regime has
had a mixed impact on the SAF: it has weakened it by boosting potential
rivals but at the same time has nurtured economic corporatism of at least the
upper ranks of the SAF.
Fourth, it is doubtful whether the business interests of the upper echelons
of the SAF would tip the balance of power inside the army for joining pos-
sible protests for change. Depending on the turn of events, a palace coup is
more likely to preserve the interests of the Islamic movement and its allied
cronies and nouveaux riches.
Fifth, it is an open question whether the resilience shown by the broad
mass of Sudanese society in not totally succumbing to the dictates of the
regime has had an impact on the military. It remains to be seen whether
the SAF might recall its historic role in standing up to rival institutions
formed during the last three decades and side with the people in an event
of intifada or whether the structural changes in SAF will make such a reac-
tion unlikely. Only history can tell. However, what this chapter underscores
is that the dynamics of the country’s complex and protracted conflicts and
turbulent economy assure a “central” role for SAF, at least for the foresee-
able future, in tipping the balance of power in the contest for state power
in Sudan.


1. Islamism refers to the ideology of embracing Islam as frame of reference for

state policies and all walks of life. For an exposition of current Islamic rule in Sudan
see El-Battahani, “The Post-Secession State in Sudan.”
2. Abdelrahim, Changing Patterns in Civil-Military Relations in the Sudan; Har-
dallo, “The Role of the Army in the Sudan”; Khalid, The Government They Deserve:
The Role of Elite in Sudan’s Political Evolution; Osman, “Army and Politics in
Sudan”; Abdel Salam, The Sudanese Islamic Movement: 1989–1999.
3. Hardallo, “The Role of the Army in the Sudan”; Ali, The Cultivation of
4. Mahmoud, The Sudanese Bourgeoisie; Ali, The Cultivation of Hunger.
5. El-Jizouli, “Al-Quwwat al-Musallaha fi al-Sudan: Sultat al-ʿUnff.”
6. Mahmoud, The Sudanese Bourgeoisie.
7. Garang, “Appeal to the Sudanese People on the Founding of the Sudan Peo-
ple’s Liberation Army.”
8. Apart from Hardallo’s paper in 1987 I have not come across a rigorous class
analysis of the SAF.
9. Ibrahim, “Economic Liberalization and the New Economic Elites in Sudan:
Civil-Military Relations in Sudan 153

10. A group of middle- and small-ranking officers were implicated in an attempt

to topple the regime because of its failure to curb rampant corruption in 2012.
11. One should not miss the connotation the Arabic acronym for RSF holds.
“Quds” (Quwwat al-Dʿam al-Sariyʿ) is similar to a label under which Palestinian
Islamist groups are fighting in the occupied Palestine, having as one aim the liberation
of Jerusalem (in Arabic “Quds”). It is not clear if this term is deliberately intended to
generate this connotation or if it came by chance. However, the fervent interaction of
Islamists with events in the Islamic world and the level of support Khartoum authori-
ties provided to victims of the Israeli strikes in Gaza suggest such a link.
12. Bellin, “The Robustness of Authoritarianism in the Middle East.”
13. Abdelrahim, Politics in Sudan: Changing Patterns in Civil-Military Relations
in the Sudan; Bechtold, Parliamentary and Military Rule in an Emerging African
14. Mahmoud, The Sudanese Bourgeoisie; Hardallo, “The Role of the Army in
the Sudan”; Niblock, Class and Power in Sudan: The Dynamics of Sudanese Politics,
15. Ali, The Cultivation of Hunger.
16. Grawert and El-Battahani, “Oil-Cursed: Peace Process in South Sudan.”
17. As İsmet Akça states in chapter 3 of this volume, capitalist militarism produces
a military that becomes involved in all fields of the economy (production, trade,
finance). The economic form of capitalist militarism has links with the war industry,
military-industrial complexes, defense and military expenditures, and economics of
war and violence. However, this does not pertain to Sudan.
18. See El-Battahani, Economic Transformation and Political Islam in Sudan:
1975–1989 for an example of the use of Gramsci’s concept of hegemony in explaining
both political potency and impotency of political Islam in Sudan.
19. In Sudan, security services describe forces of the national as well as military
20. Bellin, “The Robustness of Authoritarianism in the Middle East,” 144–46.
21. Nordlinger, Soldiers in Politics, 65–66.
22. The military corporate interest is more or less defined and shaped by the inter-
nal balance of power within the military itself.
23. Coleman and Brice, “The Military in Sub-Saharan Africa,” 366.
24. Hardallo, “The Role of the Army in the Sudan”; see also www.Sudanile.com
for recent disclosures of State Department Archives on American-Sudanese relations
(in Arabic).
25. Ali, The Cultivation of Hunger.
26. Niblock, Class and Power in Sudan.
27. Ibid.; Mahmoud, The Sudanese Bourgeoisie.
28. In return for the logistic support in crushing the communist coup in July 1971,
Lonrho (a UK-based commercial and industrial company) was immediately rewarded
by a concession for a huge sugar factory. These developments were reinforced by a
peace agreement with southern rebels in 1972 followed by rapprochement with north-
ern conservative political parties.
29. Bienen and Moore, “Military Economic Corporations,” 498.
154 Atta El-Battahani

30. Personal communication of the author with El-Rasheed Abu-Shama, Khar-

toum, 2013.
31. Osman, “Army and Politics in Sudan”; Niblock, Class and Power in Sudan.
32. One should not ignore the role played by the SPLM/A in exposing the weak-
ness of the Numeiri regime and contributing indirectly to the success of intifada.
33. Islamism in Sudan was a precursor for what was to come later in MENA coun-
tries during the “Arab Spring,” when Islamists made relentless efforts to capitalize
and benefit from democratic openings and, as soon as they won democratic elections,
would turn against democracy and go for autocratic control of state power.
34. Close associates to Hassan Turabi confirmed that his distaste of army officers
goes beyond his making fun of them as “slow to get it,” culminating in an animosity
to the army as an institution.
35. Abdel Salam, The Sudanese Islamic Movement: 1989–1999, 160.
36. Saeed, Al-Sayf wa-l-Tughah: Al-Quwwat al-Musallaha al-Suwdaniyya.
37. Until 1999, al-Nẓām al-Khāṣ remained under civilian control yet it included
members from the military and the security sector. In 1999, Hassan al-Turabi and
President al-Bashir clashed over who had the final word at the level of state leader-
ship. Following the split among the ruling Islamists, al-Nẓām al-Khāṣ came under the
leadership of the military and continued, albeit with diminished influence. With Presi-
dent al-Bashir tightening his grip on power and control of the inner circle around him,
al-Nẓām al-Khāṣ lost its former significance as the ultimate bedrock power ensuring
the survival of the regime against which all conspiracies were exposed and defeated.
El-Affendi referred to the same organization as “Super Organization” (see Gallab, The
First Islamist Republic: Development and Disintegration of Islamism in the Sudan),
and M. Haj Hamad called it al-Munaẓama dakhil al-Tanẓeem (the organization within
the organization); see Ibrahim, “Economic Liberalization and the New Economic
Elites in Sudan: 1992–2006”; Saeed, Al-Sayf wa-l-Tughah: Al-Quwwat al-Musallaha
al-Suwdaniyya; Abdel Salam, The Sudanese Islamic Movement: 1989–1999.
38. Ismail, “The Many Faces of al-Bashir. Sudan’s Persian Gulf Power Games.”
39. Saeed, Al-Sayf wa-l-Tughah: Al-Quwwat al-Musallaha al-Suwdaniyya,
40. El-Daw, Al-Khandaq: Asrar Dawlat al-Fasad wal al-Intibdad.
41. Keen, Complex Emergencies.
42. Saeed, Al-Sayf wa-l-Tughah: Al-Quwwat al-Musallaha al-Suwdaniyya; Mir-
ghani, “al-Jaish al-Soudaniwa al-Siyasa”; Idris, al-Islamiyyoun: Azmar al-Royaawa
43. Members of Parliament complained that the government neglected the army
and used all the budget resources to fund paramilitary and tribal groups. Some went
to the extent of reporting that some tribes have more heavy weaponry than the govern-
ment does. MP Adam Hamid Musa pointed out that low compensation for soldiers
prompted the state to use militias to resolve conflicts; cf. http://www.sudantribune.
com/spip.php?article55467, accessed on June 23, 2015.
44. Young, The South Sudan Defence Forces in the Wake of the Juba Declaration;
Sidahmed, The Oil Years in Sudan.
45. For studies on the impact of oil on Sudan’s economy, see Elbadawi, “Oil, Eco-
nomic Diversification and Development in the Arab World.”
Civil-Military Relations in Sudan 155

46. Idris, Al-Islamiyyoun: Azmar al-Royaawa al-Giyada, 110–41.

47. Unlike the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Sudan’s military did not have
advanced productive military-industrial infrastructure.
48. The relations between the army and other state institutions are similar to those
in one-party regimes; that is, eventually the political leadership of the party orches-
trates the whole show.
49. Small Arms Survey, “Human Security Baseline Assessment: Facts and Figures
for Sudan and South Sudan.”
50. Khalid El-Tigani, Editor and Publisher of Elaff Economic Weekly, February 20,
2015. See also Central Bank of Sudan, “Annual Report 2013.”
51. See homepage of GIAD Motor Company at http://www.giadmotor.com/eng-
lish/home_e.html, accessed November 11, 2014.
52. See homepage of Safat Aviation Group at http://safatavia.com/, accessed
November 11, 2014.
53. El-Daw, Al-Khandaq: Asrar Dawlat al-Fasad wal-l-Intibdad; Idris, Al-Islami-
yyoun: Azmar al-Royaawa al-Giyada; Ibrahim, “Economic Liberalization and the
New Economic Elites in Sudan: 1992–2006”; see Abdel-Rahman Al-Amin’s State-
ment at www.sudaress.com (in Arabic); see Ismail, “The Many Faces of al-Bashir”
and Ncpboycott.blogspot.com. In one of the parliamentary sessions, the former chief
of the NISS was critical of the amount of money poured on “building in the center of
54. Cf. Abdel-Rahman Al-Amin at www.sudaress.com.
55. El-Battahani, Economic Transformation and Political Islam in Sudan:
56. Sidahmed, The Oil Years in Sudan, 160.
57. El-Mahdi, “Impact of Post-Secession Economic Crisis”; Government of
Sudan, “Government Expenditure 2012.”
58. This has changed recently with Sudan taking the side of Saudi-led intervention
in Yemen. Khartoum seems set to distance itself from Iran and move closer to the
Arab and Gulf states.
59. Sidahmed, The Oil Years in Sudan; Ismail, “The Many Faces of al-Bashir:
Sudan’s Persian Gulf Power Games.”
60. Speech by Ahmed El-Majzoub, former state minister at the ministry of finance,
about reform plans of the government of Sudan, December 2013. Cf. also Interna-
tional Monetary Fund, “Sudan.”
61. African Development Bank Group. “African Development Report 2014.”
62. International Monetary Fund, “Sudan,” 11.
63. Al-Sudani newspaper, August 2014.
64. General Auditor addressing Parliament, October 2014.
65. Ibid.
66. El-Mahdi, “Impact of Post-Secession Economic Crisis.”
67. Darbo, “Sudan.”
68. In “Impact of Post-Secession Economic Crisis,” El-Mahdi quotes the Sudan
National Household Survey of 2010 by the Sudan Central Bureau of Statistics,
69. International Monetary Fund, “Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper.”
156 Atta El-Battahani

70. United Nations Data, “Sudan. World Statistics Pocketbook,” 2014, http://data.
un.org/CountryProfile.aspx?crName=Sudan, accessed August 31, 2015.
71. According to Mohamed Kabaj, economic researcher and advisor to wealth-
sharing talks in the Darfur Document on Peace in Sudan, and Ahmed El-Majzoub,
former state minister at the Ministry of Finance, Khartoum 2014.
72. Altageer Daily, July 8, 2014.
73. Al-Arab newspaper, July 23, 2015, and alrakouba.net.
74. Dr. Ali Suliman, former dean of the faculty of law, University of Khartoum,
said that he is now receiving a salary equal to that received by the soldiers in the SAF.
75. Ibid.
76. For example, the alleged coup attempt by Brigadier General Wad Ibrahim in
November 2012; cf. El Gizouli, “Wad Ibrahim: The Mopes of Retirement.”
77. There are conflicting reports on the nature and role of these forces: for the
government RSF are disciplined forces acting within the boundaries of law; for
the opposition and civil society organizations, RSF are paramilitary forces used by
the security to silence critics and opposition leaders. Recent events tend to give cred-
ibility to the government account.
78. In the past, Military Acts were issued in 1958, September 1983, and September
79. Oil from South Sudan is pumped for a fee through a pipeline through Sudan
up to Port Sudan at the Red Sea.
80. Sidahmed, The Oil Years in Sudan.
81. Oxford Analytica. “Qatar-Sudan Ties Are Laced with Doha Pragmatism.”
82. Ismail, “The Many Faces of al-Bashir: Sudan’s Persian Gulf Power Games.”
83. Ibrahim, “Economic Liberalization and the New Economic Elites in Sudan:
1992–2006”; El-Daw, Al-Khandaq: Asrar Dawlat al-Fasad wa-l-Istibdad.
84. El-Daw, Al-Khandaq: Asrar Dawlat al-Fasad wa-l-Istibdad; Ismail, “The
Many Faces of al-Bashir: Sudan’s Persian Gulf Power Games.”
85. Saeed, Al-Sayf wa-l-Tughah: Al-Quwwat al-Musallaha al-Suwdaniyya—
Dirasa Tahliyliyya 1971–1995; Mirghani, “Al-Jaish al-Soudani wa al-Siyasa”; Idris,
Al-Islamiyyoun: Azmar al-Royaa wa al-Giyada. In this regard, the Sudanese Army is
different from both Tunisian and Egyptian armies, which are highly institutionalized,
meritocratic, with well-established paths of career advancement and recruitment,
cf. Saeed, Al-Sayf wa-l-Tughah: Al-Quwwat al-Musallaha al-Suwdaniyya—Dirasa
Tahliyliyya 1971–1995.
86. Kårtveit and Gabrielsen Jumbert, Civil-Military Relations in the Middle East.
87. This explains the contrast between military responses to popular uprisings in
Tunisia and Egypt, and other countries in the region such as Libya, Syria, and Sudan.
In Tunisia and Egypt the army enjoyed a high degree of professionalism and insti-
tutionalization and, most importantly, military commanders saw that their corporate-
institutional interests did not depend on the political survival of their former rulers
(similar as in Sudan in 1964 and 1985).
Chapter 7

Patronage Politics in Transition

Political and Economic Interests
of the Yemeni Armed Forces1
Adam C. Seitz

The 2011 “Arab Spring” provoked a range of responses from the armed
forces of regimes across the Middle East and North Africa. Unlike a number
of other Arab militaries confronted by political dissent in 2011, the Yemeni
military was divided in their response, with some commanders rallying
around the regime and others stepping out in opposition to long-standing
president Ali Abdullah Saleh. The reaction of the Yemeni Armed Forces to
widespread antigovernment protests and continued factionalization can be
explained, in large part, by changes in ruling bargains and patronage politics
over the decade preceding the uprisings that challenged the economic and
political interests of the Yemeni officer corps in particular. This chapter
examines Yemeni civil-military relations before and after the 2011 uprisings,
arguing that the Yemeni military gained special access to and opportunities
within the state apparatus and the private economic sector under the Saleh
regime as a result of its central role in patronage politics and regime security.
Saleh’s narrowing of the patronage network in a way that threatened the eco-
nomic and political interests of the officer corps and existing patron-client
relations contributed to individual commanders’ decisions to either join pro-
testors calling for the ouster of then-president Saleh or side with him. Such
factors continue to contribute to the decision making of individual members
of the armed forces, as well as those seeking a new ruling bargain with the
transitional government led by President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, elected
in early 2012.
The military’s response to the 2011 uprisings highlighted the fact that
the duties of the Yemeni military are indeed not restricted to regime and
national security matters, but rather are inherently tied to Yemen’s social,
economic, and political networks through its tribal composition and patron-
age relations. Examining the evolution of Yemeni civil-military relations

158 Adam C. Seitz

and the reaction of the armed forces to the uprisings sheds light on how the
military elite benefited from their service and patronage politics, giving them
special access to the Yemeni economy and “sources of wealth” under former
President Saleh. Ahmed Saif highlights three sources of wealth for the ruling
establishment: a bloated military budget that does not correspond to the real
size of the army and security forces; control over import licenses, real estate,
and other industries through the Military Economic Corporation (MECO);
and finally, involvement in smuggling activities of all forms.2 Key elites
within the officer corps increasingly gained privileged access to the sources
of wealth when the military transitioned from a mercenary army under the
Imamate to what has been widely referred to as a “praetorian” force under
the Saleh regime.3
This chapter begins with a brief review of the history of civil-military
regime relations and the expansion of the military’s economic and political
interests in the northern Yemen Arab Republic before 2011. Through this
historical background, it underscores the tribal composition of the armed
forces and its central role in the patronage system, which contributed to the
development of what has been referred to as the “tribal-military-commercial
complex” in Yemen in the 1980s. I then move on to discuss three areas that
challenged existing ruling bargains between the regime, the Yemeni Armed
Forces, and their patrons starting in the early 2000s, which highlights the
influence that corporate and political interests play in the decision making of
the Yemeni officer corps. Based on an analysis of various media sources and
interviews with current and former Yemeni government officials and busi-
nessmen, the chapter concludes with an examination of developments since
the signing of the Gulf Cooperation Council Initiative in November 201l and
the resignation of the transitional government in January 2015.

Tribal Foundations of Yemen’s “Praetorian” Army

The military has played an increasingly significant role in Yemeni politics

since a group of army officers overthrew the Imamate in North Yemen in
the 1962 republican revolution. Since the withdrawal of Egyptian forces in
1967, three of four presidents of the northern Yemen Arab Republic and
both presidents of the unified Republic of Yemen have come from military
backgrounds. Following the 1974 military coup led by Colonel Ibrahim
al-Hamdi, the military’s role in Yemeni politics and the economy expanded
greatly under the military regimes of Colonel Ahmed Hussain al-Ghashimi
(1977–1978) and Colonel Ali Abdullah Saleh (1978–2011). Unlike their pre-
decessor, who sought to reform the military and weaken the influence of the
tribes, presidents al-Ghashimi and Saleh adopted policies favoring patronage
Patronage Politics in Transition 159

politics and tribalism, and, in the case of Saleh, facilitated the expansion of
the military’s role in the economy in the 1980s.
Prior to the 1962 revolution, the standing army of the Imamate state was
small, unprofessional, and ill equipped, forcing the Imam to instead rely on
tribal mercenaries for defense. The “support” of the paramount sheikhs of the
dominant Hashid and Bakil tribal confederations was given to the Imam in
exchange for a great deal of local autonomy, and over time were maintained
through a combination of savvy political maneuvering, factional manipula-
tion, gifts, and subsidies.4 Although the officers who led the 1962 revolution
set out to create a professional officer corps loyal to the state, the result was
anything but that—with tribal objections serving as the primary obstacle to
reform efforts. Instead, tribal influence continued to dominate the armed
forces into the 1970s. The armed forces inherited by al-Hamdi in 1974 were
described as consisting “of a large number of relatively self-contained fight-
ing units, little armies within the army,” with some units continuing to have
“parochial loyalties and to serve as power centers for contending factions
within and without the officers’ corps.”5 Al-Hamdi attempted to build a pro-
fessional military and thereby limit tribal influence over the armed forces, and
by extension, Yemeni politics, but his efforts were met with great resistance.
His reign ended with his assassination in 1977.
The pervasiveness of tribal influence over Yemeni society, politics, and
the armed forces was not lost on Saleh when he assumed the presidency in
1978. Saleh initially avoided military reforms like those that contributed to
al-Hamid’s downfall, and instead chose the path of least resistance, using
patron-client relations to build a praetorian army.6 Like his predecessors,
Saleh’s own rise through the military ranks and to the presidency is not only
reflective of the deep tribal penetration of Yemeni state institutions but also
the significance of patron-client relationships within the Yemeni military.
Saleh’s selection for the presidency came in large part as a result of his role
in the two preceding coups and the patronage relationship developed between
Saleh and al-Ghashmi and key tribal, military, and commercial elites. During
his military service, Saleh benefited not only politically but also economically
through the military’s role in smuggling activities. Following Saleh’s gradua-
tion from the officer’s training school in Sanaʿa, his first posting was at a mili-
tary base along a main road that served as a smuggling route between the port
city of Mocha and Taiz. According to Steven Day, during this posting Saleh
prospered in his work, not only through the bribes he received from whiskey
smugglers but also through the development of “important friendships with
merchants in Taiz.”7 Day’s observations underscore two things that are of
particular importance here: first, the special access that officers gained to
what was and remains an important source of wealth in Yemen—smug-
gling—and second, the important role that personal patronage relationships
160 Adam C. Seitz

played not only in Saleh’s commission in the army and later in building a
political powerbase but also in contributing to an increased involvement of
the military in the economy under his presidency.
The governments that rose from the ashes of the Imamate and nearly a
decade of civil war in the 1960s were increasingly reliant upon the military
for regime security and political support, with officers and their tribal patrons
gaining greater access to both the formal and informal Yemeni economy in
return for their support of the regime. This was especially true given the tribal
composition of the armed forces and the military’s central role in the Saleh
regime’s patronage system, which have been described as having “blurred
the social lines between historically distinct groups,”8 making it difficult to
distinguish between the state and civil society. The patronage relationships
Saleh forged with key tribal and commercial elites during his own military
service and the continued tribal influence over the armed forces aided in the
development of the tribal-military-commercial complex that emerged in the
1980s. They also contributed to the praetorian character of the Yemeni mili-
tary, with the armed forces being seen by a number of analysts and scholars
as “more willing to be assigned a role in maintaining internal order on behalf
of the incumbent regime.”9 Such a characterization was due, in part, to the
corporate interests in maintaining such a role, and benefits received from the
rent-based patronage networks under the Saleh regime.

Yemen’s Tribal-Military-Commercial Complex

While “social codes” prevented what was essentially a mercenary army from
participating in trade and commerce under the Imamate,10 the military’s role
in Yemeni politics and the economy grew under President Ali Abdullah
Saleh. The development of what has been described as a “tribal-military-
commercial complex” in the 1980s, in which “high-ranking officers and a
few great merchants’ families all had their hands in each other’s pockets,”11
turned the military into a significant economic player in its own right.
The International Crisis Group notes that changes in the Yemeni political
economy contributed greatly to a “convergence of military and commercial
interests in the 1980s,” asserting:

In the 1970s, the country was awash with lucrative remittances from Yemenis
working in Gulf states. At the same time, the central government benefited from
aid and loan packages from a variety of sources including the US, Soviet Union
and Gulf states. In the early 1980s, aid dried up and remittances levelled off.
Following the crash of oil prices in the mid-1980s, the government stabilized
foreign reserves by banning private imports.12
Patronage Politics in Transition 161

Paul Dresch writes of the emergence of a military-commercial complex in

the mid-1980s, arguing that “personal wealth accrued from control of import
business and of currency transactions linking Yemen to the wider world, and
many of those who exercised such control were army officers.”13 A prominent
Yemeni civil servant said of the growing role of the Yemeni officer corps in
the economy that “around 1983, a new phenomenon occurred. Military offi-
cers became more involved with society, and they began to use their positions
for personal [financial] gain . . . . They were all involved in smuggling, traf-
ficking and privileged business deals.”14 Over time, the Yemeni military, and
the officer corps in particular, became an important link between Yemen’s
core elites and between prominent tribal elites and the regime through its cen-
tral role in Saleh’s political patronage system. Peter Salisbury breaks down
Yemen’s core elites into five groups: the young reformers, the security ser-
vices, key tribal groups, politicians, and the merchant elite.15 Saleh rewarded
elites within these often competing groups with access to key sectors of the
Yemeni economy in return for their political support.
With regard to the armed forces, the Yemeni officer corps, and by exten-
sion their tribal patrons, gained special access to the economy through their
control of the military conglomerate, the Military Economic Corporation
(MECO). Although MECO was originally established as a supplier of
boots, uniforms, bread, and canned goods to soldiers, its economic activities
expanded throughout the 1980s and 1990s into a number of nonmilitary sec-
tors of the economy.16 Information regarding MECO’s extensive holdings and
economic dealings is shrouded in secrecy, but luckily the works of a number
of Yemeni scholars, analysts, and observers describe a rapid growth of the
economic portfolio of the officer corps and MECO in the 1980s.17 Victoria
Collins writes of MECO’s expansion into nonmilitary sectors of the economy
in the 1980s that “once commercially viable quantities of oil had been dis-
covered in the Yemen Arab Republic’s Marib region in 1984, it was not long
before MECO acquired 20,000 hectares in the area.”18 Shelia Carapico writes
of changes in the Yemeni political economy and the military’s increasing
involvement with the oil wealth that flowed directly to the government that,
“[l]ike the imams, the regime could now bestow private fortunes through
government contracts. For instance, grain and sugar contracts went to power-
ful tribal families . . . while army officers prospered from their affiliation with
the Military Economic Corporation and subsidized credits for irrigated cash
farming in Maʾrib and al-Jawf.”19
During the boom years of the late 1970s and early 1980s, Saleh used the
increase in oil and customs revenues, foreign aid, and loans to transform
the armed forces into not only a key source of political patronage but also
an increasingly important economic player. The increase in government
revenues allowed the regime to reward tribal patrons for their support of the
162 Adam C. Seitz

regime with political and military appointments, which in turn gave them
privileged access to the aforementioned sources of wealth. When aid, remit-
tances, and oil revenues began to taper off in the mid-1980s, new coalitions
were required to avoid economic collapse. The crash and resulting govern-
ment ban on private imports in the mid-1980s resulted in a convergence of
interests for a number of elite groups. Saleh was able to bring together a
number of influential and disparate groups by linking their economic and
political interests to one another and the regime, resulting in the formation
of a tribal-military-commercial complex in Yemen. The military, through
MECO, served as an essential link in this chain, making it an important eco-
nomic actor in its own right.

To the Victor Belong the Spoils:

Unification and Civil War

Prior to unification of the northern Yemen Arab Republic and southern

People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen in 1990, the armed forces of the
north were deeply embedded in the economy. Under Saleh’s northern state,
the officer corps reaped the benefits from their role in the president’s styled
patronage politics and the tribal-military-commercial complex that had devel-
oped during the 1980s. With unification and the subsequent civil war between
the southern socialists and Saleh in 1994, the armed forces of the newly estab-
lished Republic of Yemen saw their access to the sources of wealth grow.
Following a 1994 minidefense review, Saleh issued a series of significant
proclamations, as he moved to disarm southern security forces and replace
them with northern police and military forces loyal to the General People’s
Congress. Thus, he destroyed any semblance of power sharing with the
south, and at the same time laid the foundations for the grievances of former
southern military officers. These would become a driving force in protests
starting in 2007, and in the broad-based social movement al-Hirak, demand-
ing payment of military pensions, inclusion within the armed forces, and
“sounder and more just governance” for southern Yemenis.20 Saleh argued
the reduction of the armed forces by fifty thousand men and the removal of
tens of thousands of civil servants “were made in line with austerity measures
recommended by the international lending institutions.”21 Most observers
viewed the cuts as a comprehensive process of purging, as a vast majority of
the dismissals were limited to the southern ruling by Yemeni Socialist Party’s
military recruits and civil servants.
Such moves underscore the reality that unification was by name alone,
resulting in the domination of one political system and military over another
by force and coercion. The expression “to the victor belong the spoils” seems
Patronage Politics in Transition 163

fitting for explaining the supremacy of the old guard of the north and Saleh’s
brand of patronage politics in shaping civil-military-regime dynamics in the
newly “unified” Republic of Yemen. Saleh’s early moves to consolidate
power, sideline the Yemeni Socialist Party, and disarm southern security
forces between 1990 and 1993 were solidified with the victory of the north
over the southern separatists in a brief civil war in 1994.
In addition to the military and civil service purge of the early 1990s, the
Saleh regime responded to recommendations made by international lend-
ing institutions and privatization efforts by implementing a number of eco-
nomic reforms, which included some structural adjustments to MECO. This
included changing the name of the military-run conglomerate from MECO
to the Yemeni Economic Corporation (YECO)22 and changing a number of
its leadership posts to nonmilitary personnel—many of whom were related
to Saleh. Such a move unwittingly institutionalized the tribal-military-com-
mercial complex within the context of privatization and liberalization efforts,
allowing the military to greatly expand its influence over the Yemeni econ-
omy into the private sector by giving officers and their tribal patrons access
to import licenses, real estate, and other businesses. Adding to the portfolio
of YECO, many of the assets seized and property occupied by northern forces
following their victory over southern separatists in 1994 came to be held by
the military-run conglomerate. YECO and the Yemeni Armed Forces came
to benefit greatly from the civil war and postunification privatization efforts,
absorbing a number of former southern state-owned enterprises and the two
largest privatized companies in the north.23 According to its own advertis-
ing, YECO has oversight over “the development of every industry including
pharmaceuticals, agriculture, and construction.”24
Since the early 2000s, however, the tribal-military-commercial complex
and praetorian role of the Yemeni Armed Forces has been under increasing
pressure. This was a result of the regime’s attempts at security sector and
economic reform, the Saleh regime’s role in the US-led global War on Ter-
ror, and the dynastic aspirations of the former president. Such factors brought
pressure on existing ruling bargains and increasingly challenged patronage
relations, threatening the political and economic interests of a number of
important stakeholders—especially members of the officer corps and their

Impact of “Reform” Efforts

One set of factors that put pressure on existing civil-military-regime dynam-

ics were the military reforms put in place by the Saleh regime in the late
1990s and early 2000s, which coincided with shrinking oil revenues and
164 Adam C. Seitz

remittances and growing political opposition to the Saleh regime’s increas-

ingly exclusionary policies. On the heels of Yemen’s first local elections and
a constitutional referendum extending presidential and parliamentary terms,
the National Defense Council (NDC) announced the abolition of compulsory
military service in May 2001, opting to, instead, depend exclusively on a
volunteer force. Although the council claimed the decision was due to the
settling of outstanding border conflicts, when combined with the political and
military reshuffling that had taken place between 1999 and the constitutional
referendum in February 2001, the NDC’s decision was viewed by some as a
means for Saleh to further consolidate power and coup-proof the regime by
purging the ranks, as many Yemenis, most notably southerners, continued to
be excluded from the ranks.
The Yemeni military was the country’s largest employer, with an estimated
sixty thousand active soldiers, forty thousand reserves, and an additional
seventy-one thousand paramilitary forces, and a 2006 defense budget repre-
senting approximately 40 percent of the Yemeni government’s total budget,
constituting about 6 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP). Thus, the
NDC’s announcement came out highly controversial, as Yemen faced an
increasing threat of economic hardship as a result of declining oil revenues
and nearly a decade of international isolation.25 Whatever the true motiva-
tions, such moves challenged the political and corporate interests of military
elites and the military’s central role in an increasingly exclusive rent-based
patronage system under Saleh, which the regime relied upon for support from
a number of influential tribes.
As a result of increasing unemployment and economic hardship, grow-
ing domestic opposition, and a hydra of security threats, which a number of
analysts argue were, to some degree, manufactured by the regime to keep
foreign aid flowing into government coffers,26 the regime reintroduced com-
pulsory military service in 2007. The move was viewed by some as a way to
combat high unemployment among young adult males, to combat growing
internal security threats, and as a response to growing unrest in the south.
In reality, however, rather than adding personnel to the ranks, the policy
change did little more than inflate the overall military budget and increase
cash flow to existing military and tribal patrons. Indeed, the official number
of active forces is quite deceptive, as a significant share of the budget does
not go toward force readiness or national security but rather to maintaining
patronage networks and regime security. Some sources estimate that the
number of active Yemeni military personnel may be inflated by as much as
one-third when “ghost soldiers”—that is, individuals listed on military pay-
roll who never or rarely worked and whose pay is pocketed by the military
elite and equipment sold on the black market—are taken into account.27 For
the officer corps in particular, the employment and payroll structure of the
Patronage Politics in Transition 165

Ministry of Defense, in which payroll distributed to unit commanders to

pay the forces under their command, allows for pervasive corrupt practices.
This includes the use of ghost soldiers to “line their pockets while providing
a social safety net of sorts for a wider subset of the population,” with such
practices becoming an important “source of patronage for officers and regular
soldiers alike,” as the salaries and benefits of these ghost soldiers reverted to
unit commanders.28
A side effect of such a payroll structure and the practice of ghost soldiers
was not only a lack of military effectiveness but also the development of units
where soldiers increasingly owed their allegiance to individual commanders
and tribal patrons rather than the regime or the state. The practice had become
an increasingly important source of wealth for the officer corps. When the
Saleh regime attempted to take action to reduce the number of active service
members in the early 2000s and later account for ghost soldiers under specific
commands, existing ruling bargains were challenged and patron-client rela-
tions were put under increasing stress.

Security Threats and the Role

of External Patronage

Increased domestic political opposition and economic uncertainty coin-

cided with international pressure on the Saleh regime to take action against
al-Qaeda elements operating largely unabated inside Yemen’s borders fol-
lowing the September 11, 2001, terror attacks. The threat posed by al-Qaeda
posed somewhat of an opportunity for a cash-strapped Yemeni government
whose budget was heavily dependent on a combination of oil revenues and
foreign aid. The shift in international focus to national security and combat-
ing terrorism also allowed the Yemeni government to delay privatization
efforts and other reforms that had been prerequisites to obtaining loans from
the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, providing a lifeline
of sorts to public sector employees and the armed forces.29 This included
cutting oil subsidies which, although a major drain on the Yemeni economy,
besides the profits from the subsidies and smuggling diesel, had become an
important source of wealth for a small group of elites, including members of
the armed forces.30
With his newly found alliance with Washington, DC, in the US-led global
War on Terror, Saleh sought to exploit the transnational terror threat posed
by al-Qaeda to not only build up his praetorian forces but also as a means to
abandon what were formerly essential temporary alliances. These included
alliances with local tribes, various political factions, and Islamist groups,
perceiving instead that “external patronage [provided by the United States]
166 Adam C. Seitz

is enough to strengthen key alliances”31 within his increasingly exclusive

inner circle, of which the military’s slice continued to increase. Furthermore,
while Saleh’s decision to ally himself with the United States led to a modest
increase in US aid to Yemen after it had virtually ended in the 1990s,32 this
alliance proved to be a double-edged sword for the regime. It provided Saleh
with the means to consolidate political power through the military with US
patronage and counterterrorism aid, while simultaneously marginalizing and
radicalizing large segments of Yemeni society. Such a balancing act often put
him at odds with both domestic elites and Washington.
With growing domestic opposition to the regime, Saleh became increas-
ingly dependent on international support afforded by his role in the global
War on Terror. This was especially true as Saleh clung to power in the sum-
mer and fall of 2011, when he repeatedly emphasized the “indispensable”
role he played in the War on Terror. Saleh’s belief that he could essentially
renegotiate existing ruling bargains and abandon traditional pillars of domes-
tic support in favor of the external patronage provided by the United States
proved disastrous for the regime. US counterterrorism aid in particular had
become a source of wealth in its own right, as it further inflated the military’s
already bloated budget, allowing the regime to solidify patronage relations
through military appointments, and in some cases allowed for an expansion
of ghost soldier practices. This particular source of wealth, however, was
contingent upon the continued international security threat posed by al-
Qaeda and an uninterrupted flow of counterterrorism aid to the Saleh regime
to combat the perceived terrorist threat emanating from Yemen. Thus,
Washington’s decision to back the Gulf Cooperation Council’s transition
deal and suspend counterterrorism aid dealt a substantial blow to Saleh, as a
number of regime patrons no longer saw their interests served by supporting
the regime.

From Ally and Potential Successor

to “Rogue General”

During Saleh’s presidency, the military had become an indispensable tool

of control for the regime, not only for repression, but perhaps more impor-
tantly as an integral element of Saleh’s system of patronage politics. Over
the decade of the 2000s, however, the tribal-military-commercial complex
and the praetorian characterization of the armed forces was challenged by
what Alistair Harris describes as Saleh’s adoption of “a neo-patrimonial
patronage system based upon co-optation of tribal leaders.”33 Harris argues
that “socio-economic and political norms exacerbated by Saleh’s style of
neo-patrimonial, corrosive patronage politics” have “undermined traditional
Patronage Politics in Transition 167

tribal and social structures.”34 Saleh’s promotion of family members and

marginalization of rivals within the military increasingly challenged the cor-
porate interests of the officers and merchant families alike. The praetorian
characterization of the military in the 1980s and 1990s had been grounded
on the military’s role in the regime’s patronage networks and the ability to
co-opt the tribes through inclusion within the ranks, and with appointments to
“leadership” positions within the armed forces. As Saleh’s system of patron-
age evolved, with his kin dominating the political, economic, and security
arena, the deterioration of traditional social and administrative structures
contributed to a drastic reduction in the regime’s tribal support base, as well
as increasing concerns over presidential succession.
Confrontations over presidential succession were taking place within the
Saleh family as early as 1996, and by the late 1990s, had become one of the
greatest stresses on civil-military relations.35 Although Yemen was a republic
with presidential elections mandated in the constitution, Saleh was increas-
ingly viewed as positioning his eldest son, Ahmed Ali Saleh, who served as
commander of the Republican Guard and Special Forces, to succeed him.36
The issue of succession brought with it questions of regime legitimacy, as
it challenged long-standing ruling bargains and growing concerns over the
future of patronage politics in Yemen. The increasingly tense relationship
between the Saleh family and General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, commander
of the army’s 1st Armored Division, highlights the challenges that Saleh’s
dynastic aspirations posed to the political and economic future of members
of the armed forces and their tribal patrons.
General Ali Mohsen played a central role in a “covenant” that cemented
Saleh’s ascent to the presidency in 1978,37 and in the months that followed
it was instrumental in thwarting a number of coup attempts and helping to
shore up tribal and military support for Saleh. Again in 1994, General Ali
Mohsen provided key support to Saleh by rallying support among Afghan
Arab jihadists against southern separatists. As a result of his long service to
Saleh and his regime, it seems clear that General Ali Mohsen felt entitled to
play the role of Saleh’s successor, or at the very least of the kingmaker, which
would keep his economic interests secure. Since the late 1990s, however, his
economic and political future was increasingly in doubt, as moves by Saleh
were gradually seen as breaking with the 1978 pact.
In 2004, General Ali Mohsen’s 1st Armored Division was responsible for
putting down the al-Houthi insurgency in Saʿda. Some analysts and Yemenis,
including the paramount sheikh and influential businessman, Sheikh Hamid
Abdullah al-Ahmar, have suggested that Saleh’s son Ahmed “used his
Republican Guards to support Zaydi tribal rebels against troops under the
command of Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar.”38 Whether true or not, such percep-
tions were buoyed by the lack of support General Ali Mohsen received from
168 Adam C. Seitz

Sanaʿa to pursue the war in Saʿda, as well as reports that the Salehs were
actively plotting his demise.39
Not only were General Ali Mohsen’s political ambitions challenged by
Saleh’s exclusionary policies and the war in the Saʿda, but perhaps more
important were the impacts on his access to the sources of wealth, which
he had benefited greatly from over the past thirty-three years. The growing
rivalry between the Salehs and Ali Mohsen, led Saleh—in his capacity as the
supreme commander of the armed forces—to call for an audit of units under
General Ali Mohsen’s command in the mid-2000s, in what was described
as an effort to stem corruption and government waste.40 Although the audit
never took place, it was yet another attempt by the Salehs to not only publicly
discredit Ali Mohsen as corrupt but also to cut him off from a significant
source of wealth, personal power, and patronage through the elimination of
his access to “ghost soldiers” to line his pocket and those of his own tribal,
military, and political patrons.
The case of General Ali Mohsen stands as an important example of the
influence that patronage politics and corporate interests play in military deci-
sion making, and in shaping Yemeni civil-military relations in general. The
use of the al-Houthi insurgency to sideline General Ali Mohsen, as well as
economic and military reforms throughout the 2000s, challenged existing rul-
ing bargains, not only between Saleh and Ali Mohsen but also a number of
key elites who benefited from existing patronage relations and the access they
had gained through their clients within the armed forces. When commanders
were faced with the decision to either support the Saleh regime or back those
calling for the president’s ouster, the praetorian relationship between the
military and regime was put to the test. The decisions of individual officers
were ultimately influenced by their own economic and political interests and
those of their tribal patrons.

After the “Arab Spring”: Patronage

Politics in Transition

The ouster of Saleh resulted in increased competition for access to sources

of wealth, challenging the highly individualized system of patronage politics.
President Hadi issued a number of decrees over his three-year tenure intended
to replace members of the old guard and chart a path toward restructuring
the Yemeni Armed Forces under a centralized command structure and reign-
ing in military spending. However, the implementation of these decisions
was slow, and they were perceived as uneven and met with fierce domestic
resistance.41 In the end, Hadi’s military reform efforts did little to disentangle
the military from Yemeni politics or the economic sector, nor did they seem
Patronage Politics in Transition 169

to have any impact on the pervasiveness of tribal and personal loyalties in

the officer corps. Instead, presidential decrees directed at the armed forces
reflected an attempt at redistribution of political patronage that favored the
Hadi government. This is especially true when taken with Hadi’s attempts to
co-opt tribal militias fighting al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in
southern Yemen.
Under the transitional government of President Hadi, the armed forces
continued to maintain special access to Yemen’s sources of wealth.
Through its continued control of YECO, the military remained an impor-
tant economic player under the Hadi government. Military shakeups and
shifts in the tribal and political composition of units and changes in the
leadership of YECO constituted an attempt to transfer the sources of wealth
and political patronage from the old guard to the new guard. Through a
presidential decree, Hadi replaced then director-general of YECO, Hafiz
Maʿyad—the husband of Saleh’s niece. The removal and trial of Maʿyad
had been a demand of the youth during their demonstrations against the
former regime. Miʿyad stood accused of corruption and of “being one of
the former regime’s members who took part in mobilizing gunmen and
thugs to attack peaceful demonstrators.”42 Following Hadi’s presidential
decree, Miʿyad stormed the YECO corporate headquarters in Sanaʿa with
over one hundred gunmen, with some sources indicating that he had acted
on the order of Ahmed Ali Saleh.43 The incident underscores not only
the continued influence the old guard retained even after Saleh’s ouster,
but also the consequences of challenging elites’ access to the sources of
wealth. Under Saleh and the tribal-military-commercial complex, YECO’s
economic activities had grown substantially with Saleh’s family firmly in
control of the corporation by the late 2000s, and military officers continu-
ing to hold managerial roles after Saleh’s ouster and Hadi’s reshuffling of
the leadership.44 Given the highly influential economic activities of YECO
in the national economy, as well as a conduit for development aid from
foreign donors, there seems to be a general perception among competing
factions that whoever controls YECO gains significant access to the sources
of wealth and political patronage in Yemen.
Another example of the armed forces’ continued significance in patronage
politics came after the al-Houthi occupation of Sanaʿa and the signing of the
“Peace and Partnership Agreement” between the Hadi government and the
Houthis in September of 2014. The Houthi offensive came soon after the
Hadi government announced the removal of oil subsidies. While the move
was a prerequisite for international loans and an essential step toward reign-
ing in the government’s budget, Hadi’s announcement was met with fierce
domestic opposition. The armed forces, and especially members of the old
guard, stood to lose an important source of wealth, as they had long benefited
170 Adam C. Seitz

from the subsidies and their role in smuggling subsidized diesel. The lifting of
the subsidies contributed, in part, to a number of units’ decisions to surrender
to the Houthis as they descended on the capital, demanding that the subsidies
were to be put back in place.
In addition to their calls to reinstate the subsidies, following their occupa-
tion of Sanaʿa and an agreement with the Hadi government, the Houthi lead-
ership demanded that the roughly twenty thousand Houthi militiamen that
now occupied the capital be incorporated into the Yemeni army and police.
Ali al-Bikhiti, a spokesman for the Houthis, asserted that the group be treated
like the Islah Party, whose loyalists had been recruited into the armed forces
following the formation of Yemen’s “unity” government in 2012.45 The
Houthis reiterated this demand in January 2015 as a precondition for talks
on releasing President Hadi and several of his cabinet members from house
arrest.46 The statement by al-Bikhiti and the repeated demands by the Houthis
to be incorporated into the armed forces underscore the continued signifi-
cance of the armed forces in patronage politics in Yemen. Hadi’s recruitment
of Islah party members and their patrons was merely a realignment of patron-
age politics, and the Houthi’s demand to incorporate their own patrons was
an attempt by the group to do the same.


Through its role in patronage politics under the Saleh regime, the Yemeni
Armed Forces, and the officer corps in particular, gained privileged access
to the country’s sources of wealth. Saleh-style patronage politics contributed
to the development of the tribal-military-commercial complex in Yemen,
which further cemented the military’s role in the Yemeni economy. Their role
in YECO in particular gave select members of the military elite privileged
access to the sources of wealth, not least of which in its role as a conduit
for international development aid. In the context of a lack of employment
opportunities and a seemingly endless cycle of insecurity, the military has
been transformed into an important source of wealth in its own right. As
the Yemeni officer corps has been transformed into an elite class of its own,
members of this elite group have increasingly sought to protect their own
access to the sources of wealth, which at times has put officers at odds with
clients and patrons alike.
At the time of this writing, Yemen’s political and security crisis had
devolved into civil war between competing elite factions, and regional mili-
tary intervention led by Saudi Arabia. Elite competition for political influ-
ence and access to the sources of wealth amid military factionalization has
contributed greatly to the current conflict. Although much remains uncertain
Patronage Politics in Transition 171

as Yemen enters a new stage of political violence, if history can provide any
insights, the armed forces seem likely to retain a central role in linking a num-
ber of disparate groups to the government, as tribal and political elites seek
to renegotiate ruling bargains within an environment dominated by persistent
security threats, elite competition, weak institutions, and political patronage,
in which loyalty can be bought but never truly owned.


1. This chapter draws on the author’s previously published work (cf. Seitz, “The
‘Arab Spring’ and Yemeni Civil-Military Relations,” 49–66.
2. Saif, Complex Power Relations in Yemen Provide Opportunities for al-Qaeda,
3; Robinson, Wilcox, Carpenter, and Al-Iryani, Yemen Corruption Assessment, 3–4.
3. The term praetorian or praetorianism has been used by number of scholars to
describe civil-military relations in Yemen. See Droz-Vincent, “From Fighting Wars
to Maintaining Civil Peace?” 394; Droz-Vincent, A Return of Armies to the Forefront
of Arab Politics?; Knights, “The Military Role in Yemen’s Protests,” 261; Barany,
“Comparing the Arab Revolts: The Role of the Military,” 28–39.
4. Burrowes, The Yemen Arab Republic, 18–19.
5. Ibid., 64.
6. The tribal composition of the Yemeni Armed Forces and the significance of
patron-client relations have recently been discussed by a number of regional scholars.
Barany points out that unlike many of the other Arab states faced with the challenges
of widespread public unrest, “[t]ribal affiliations . . . are of the foremost importance in
Yemen” where appointments to positions of trust, including key military posts, were
based upon tribal and kinship ties. Droz-Vincent seconds this observation, describing
the Yemeni military as being characterized “by deep penetration of tribal relations.”
Furthermore, the tribal composition of the military and its role in Saleh’s system of
patronage have made it all the more difficult to rally the military behind a central
ideology, undercutting any efforts to transcend Yemen’s tribal sociopolitical system.
As Fattah argues, “The feeling of tribal allegiance inside Yemen’s military is, at least,
as equal to military allegiance.” (Barany, “Comparing the Arab Revolts,” 33; Droz-
Vincent, “From Fighting Wars,” 392–94; Fattah, “A Political History of Civil-Military
Relations in Yemen,” 25–47.
7. Day, Regionalism and Rebellion in Yemen, 90–91.
8. Barrett, Yemen: A Different Political Paradigm in Context, 70.
9. Droz-Vincent, “From Fighting Wars,” 394; Droz-Vincent, A Return of Armies
to the Forefront of Arab Politics?; Barany, “Comparing the Arab Revolts,” 28–39.
10. Chaudhry, The Price of Wealth: Economies and Institutions in the Middle
East, 111.
11. Blumi, Chaos in Yemen: Societal Collapse and the New Authoritarianism, 176.
12. International Crisis Group, “Yemen’s Military-Security Reform,” 3–4. See
also Chaudhry, The Price of Wealth, 193–225, 269–77; Dresch, A History of Modern
Yemen, 156–59.
172 Adam C. Seitz

13. Dresch, A History of Modern Yemen, 163. See also International Crisis Group,
“Yemen’s Military-Security Reform,” 3.
14. International Crisis Group, “Yemen’s Military-Security Reform,” 3–4.
15. Salisbury, Yemen’s Economy: Oil, Imports and Elites, 10–11.
16. Dresch, A History of Modern Yemen, 159.
17. Peter Salisbury noted of YECO (formerly MECO) and the military’s role
therein that “discussions with Yemeni businessmen, diplomats, officials at interna-
tional institutions and other sources have all yielded a similar result. Yeco is a ‘big’
and ‘important’ player in the economy, but to what extent remains unknown.” (Salis-
bury, Yemen’s Economy: Oil, Imports and Elites, 12). Similar views were expressed
in the author’s own discussions and interviews with Yemeni businessmen and former
government officials in the summer of 2014.
18. Collins, Dancing on the Heads of Snakes, 122–23.
19. Carapico, The Political Economy of Activism in Modern Arabia, 55.
20. Dahlgren, “The Snake with a Thousand Heads: The Southern Cause in
21. Blumi, Chaos in Yemen, 139, 175–76; Day, Regionalism and Rebellion in
Yemen, 137–38.
22. YECO—Yemeni Economical Corporation website: http://yeco.biz/yecoeng/.
23. Phillips, “Al-Qaeda and the Struggle for Yemen,” 110.
24. Summit Communications, “Fighting for Fair Trade”; YECO website at http://
25. United States Agency for International Development, Yemen Corruption
Assessment, 4; Cordesman and Wilner, The Gulf Military Balance in 2012, 20–24.
26. Phillips, Yemen and the Politics of Permanent Crisis.
27. United States Agency for International Development, Yemen Corruption
Assessment, 4.
28. International Crisis Group, “Yemen’s Military-Security Reform,” 4.
29. Sultan, The Bane of Privatization and Liberalization.
30. Phillips, “Al-Qaeda and the Struggle for Yemen,” 108; Hassan, “Details of
Daily Draining That Befalls Yemen.”
31. Blumi, Chaos in Yemen, 154.
32. Prados and Sharp, “Yemen: Current Conditions and U.S. Relations,” 4, 6.
33. Harris, “The Role of Tribes in the Stabilisation of Yemen,” 270.
34. Ibid., 264.
35. Day, Regionalism and Rebellion in Yemen, 211–13.
36. Barrett, Yemen: A Different Political Paradigm in Context, 71.
37. Ali Abdullah Saleh owed his presidency, in large part, to a 1978 “covenant”
reached between prominent Hashid Sheikh Hamid Abdullah al-Ahmar, then-Briga-
dier General Ali Mohsen and then-Major Saleh. According to Phillips, the “covenant”
contained an understanding that the Sanhan tribe would stand together under Saleh’s
leadership and that Ali Mohsen would be next in line to succeed Saleh as president
(Phillips, “Who Tried to Kill Ali Abdullah Saleh?”)
38. Barrett, Yemen: A Different Political Paradigm in Context, 71; Phillips, Yemen
and the Politics of Permanent Crisis, 93–95.
Patronage Politics in Transition 173

39. Citing a source close to the former president, Phillips writes that Saleh had
informed General Ali Mohsen that he would not receive new hardware to combat the
growing insurgency and was also refused requests for support from the country’s best
equipped and most highly trained units, the Republican Guard and Central Security
Forces. Adding to such speculation are reports implicating President Saleh in elabo-
rate plots to kill General Ali Mohsen, in one instance with the assistance of a Saudi
airstrike, unbeknownst to Riyadh (Phillips, Yemen and the Politics of Permanent
Crisis, 94; Day, Regionalism and Rebellion in Yemen, 218).
40. Author’s interview with former Yemeni government official, London, January
41. “Yemen Soldiers Mutiny over Restructuring: Army Source,” Agence France
Press, August 9, 2012, http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/2/8/49993/World/
42. “Ousted Director Attacks YECO with 100 Gunmen.” Yemen Fox, April 9,
2012, http://www.yemenfox.net/news_details.php?sid=2659.
43. Ibid.
44. According to Phillips, Saleh used to be the head of YECO, and the uncle of one
of Saleh’s wives headed the corporation until 2010 (Phillips, Yemen and the Politics
of Permanent Crisis, 71). In 2014, the military continued to serve important manage-
rial roles in YECO with some serving as branch directors, as highlighted in a list of
assassinations targeting security and military personnel published by the Yemen Times
(Al-Khameri, “Assassinations Targeting Security and Military Personnel in 2014”).
45. Al-Batati, “Yemen’s Al Houthis Demand Recruitment in Army.”
46. Al-Haj, “Yemen’s Shiite Houthi Rebels Demand Their Militia Join Army,
Chapter 8

Libya’s Tentative State Rebuilding

Militias’ “Moral Economy,” Violence,
and Financing (In)Security
Philippe Droz-Vincent

Libya displays a very different model when compared with other cases of
Arab armies that have strongly invested in economic activities. A basic prem-
ise for the military’s economic role is that there is a weighty military corps
with some sense of itself and of its interests, at least among its high officers,
in close relation to the executive. Such symbiotic relations include the army’s
bargaining for economic privileges in return for “political quietism,” with the
executive keeping the exclusive upper hand on the day-to-day management
of the polity and the military having some agency to preserve its prerogatives,
as exemplified by Egypt, Yemen, Syria, and Iraq under Saddam Hussein. This
was not the case in Libya under Qaddafi: there was no similar military corps
or at least no huge military apparatus. Through a coup in 1969, Muammar
Qaddafi came to power from the ranks of the military. However, as he was
suspicious of other officers’ potential coup d’états against him, Qaddafi kept
the Libyan military weak and divided, with an estimated number of between
twenty-five thousand and forty-five thousand troops.1 Instead of a strong
military institution and in full contradiction with the basic requirements for
his ideological ambitions to build Libya as an Arab power or as an African
heavyweight, Qaddafi ideologically favored a nebulous concept: “the people
in arms (al-Shaʿb al-Musallaḥ).” Thus, he marginalized the regular army
and even attempted to dissolve it several times, in 1977, 1983, and 1993, but
without any actual effect—as usual in Qaddafi’s Libya, decisions were made
from above but often not applied. The military institution was, nevertheless,
severely weakened and neglected.
Qaddafi’s security and praetorian forces were far more crucial to the
regime and stronger than the army, and they were mainly dominated by
family members, his tribe, and allied tribes: within these two groups of
forces, tribes such as al-Qadhadhfa, al-Magharha, Awlad Suleiman, and

176 Philippe Droz-Vincent

al-Warfalla were positioned in specific units, including the famous 32nd

Brigade led by Qaddafi’s son Khamis. Qaddafi did not hold an official posi-
tion in the jamāhyriyyah, defined as people’s power (sultat al-Shaʿb), but
he controlled it through his networks of authority, the intelligence bureau
of the leader (Maktab Maʿlumat al-Qaʾid), the Jamahiriyyah security orga-
nization (Hay’at Amn al-Jamahyriyyah), and numerous security services
(mukhabarat). All of this functioned, along with the much-feared revolu-
tionary committees (al-lijan al-thawriyyah), like a parallel army, but one to
which Qaddafi never gave the real means to constitute itself as a pillar of
the state—in comparison, for instance, to Iran’s “guardians of the revolution
(Sepah-i Pasdaran).”
As a consequence, the problem for post-Qaddafi’s Libya was not that of a
huge military corps trying to preserve its economic interests during transition,
as exemplified by Egypt after the fall of Mubarak. However, the question of
the role of armed actors in Middle Eastern political economies was figured
out in another way in Libya. The legacy of a-institutionalism/a-statism under
Qaddafi’s long rule has given way to a return of localism, an old Libyan
feature. More importantly, this has been a starkly militarized localism, as
the social rage against authoritarianism muted into an all-out insurrection in
a country that was turned into an arsenal by Qaddafi. The nine-month civil
war has given birth to militias gaining the upper hand in forging a new revo-
lutionary legitimacy (sharʿiyyah thawriyyah) to replace that of Qaddafi’s old
“Green Revolution,” and featuring many youth who have experienced the
power of the gun. Within this complex milieu, Libyan militias as new politi-
cal actors have played decisive economic roles.
This chapter argues that control over the country’s economic resources
is an essential part of ongoing disputes among militias and other formal or
informal political actors in the state rebuilding process. The Libyan transi-
tional trajectory is a direct result of the struggle among militias to shape the
reconstruction of state institutions as a way to preserve their newly acquired
privileges. Moreover, this chapter argues that this domineering political and
economic role of the militias explains the difficult process of rebuilding the
Libyan polity, with a “weak” government without a consolidated sense of a
state; that is, unable to process and execute decisions or maintain physical
security, and where legitimacy is divided between many nonstate powers
(militias) executing some kind of state functions (security forces). Neverthe-
less, these militias are not just the undesired “side effects” of a complex tran-
sitional process. Libyan militias have “embedded” themselves in the social
fabric of power in Libya, even hijacked the whole political process for their
own benefit and developed their own sources of legitimacy, a kind of own
“moral economy.” Libya was then ruled from 2011 to 2014 by an “organized”
yet chaotic equilibrium of militias that have cultivated their own sources of
Libya’s Tentative State Rebuilding 177

legitimacy and local enclaves of power, along with their forceful grip on the
country’s economic resources, until a breakdown occurred mid-2014.
This chapter is based on a systematic reading of the Libyan press as
referred to in the footnotes, as well as interviews and off-the-record meetings
mainly with Libyan activists in various European capitals.

Toppling Qaddafi: Civil War, Foreign

Help, Localism, and Militias

Libya singles itself out among other “Arab Spring” states with a very specific
transitional trajectory. Two elements are specific to the Libyan political con-
ditions. First, the end of Qaddafi’s regime was not only a product of social
mobilization against authoritarianism but also of a full-scale nine-month
civil war, social mobilization turned into insurrection, and internal fight-
ing. Second, external Arab and Western intervention, especially NATO’s
rapid involvement, decisively tilted the balance of power toward rebellion.
The external support played a definitive role in helping some defectors
to form the National Transitional Council (NTC) and rally others behind
them. Then, the international cover, with a Franco-British initiative for UN
Security Council Resolution 1973 demanding a ceasefire and the imposi-
tion of a no-fly zone over Libya, succeeded in obtaining the “leading from
behind” support of President Obama. This Western move obtained an Arab
cover with the support of Qatar, which actively secured the Arab League’s
approval that enabled the Security Council to adopt Resolution 1973, and
the Western-led coalition financed, armed, and trained Libyan rebel fighters
to topple Qaddafi.
The Libyan military (and its huge equipment) did in fact play a major,
albeit indirect, role in taking down Qaddafi when the uprisings erupted.
Qaddafi deliberately chose to keep the military weak and dysfunctional. But
he amassed huge weapons depots, supposedly useful in case of war, that were
not under the control of the military, but of the revolutionary committees
(al-lijan al-thawriyyah). They were ransacked during the revolution, and their
access passed, according to their various locations, to a specific militia that
jealously guarded its privileged access to “its” storage site. The small Libyan
military, or what remained of it, imploded and lost its organizational capaci-
ties, with some units siding with protesters. Many officers, frustrated by their
having been sidelined during Qaddafi’s years of rule, joined the uprising and
helped build armed units in the east.
In parallel and with foreign prodding, military defectors and civilian politi-
cians formed the NTC.2 Although the political organ and the “external arm”
of the February 2011 revolution organized with expatriates’ support, the NTC
178 Philippe Droz-Vincent

never led the uprising militarily. Its authority in the east, in Cyrenaica, was
disputed by local councils and their military structures, and, supported only
by the small rebel national army, it could not establish effective authority in
much of the country—especially the western part. Although the NTC quickly
transferred its office from Benghazi to Tripoli—the symbolic center of power
in Libya—after the “liberation” of the capital in August 2011, it did not suc-
ceed in establishing political and military control over the postrevolutionary
The most important factor of the Libyan uprising was not the NTC, but
the return of the “local” to the fore of military operations and politics.4 Since
the uprisings and the fall of Qaddafi, militias, called brigades (katāʾib) by
Libyans, have acted as standing armies in defined territorial areas, with each
brigade developing its own chain of command and narrative of the revolu-
tion. There are hundreds of them, consisting of an estimate of 150,000 armed
men in 2012, likely inflated to around 250,000 in 2013.5 These militias
are a product of the liberation of the country in a piecemeal fashion with
local rebellions and ad hoc military councils (al-majalis al-ʿaskariyyah)
protecting cities and villages. They sprang up spontaneously and locally in
defense of a city, with some being more ideologically tainted, such as the
Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other kinds of Islamists (jihadists).
Militias and local councils have proliferated in various locations of the
country, based on solidarity networks stemming from locality, tribe, city,
neighborhood, region, or ideology, or a mixture of all. Examples include,
for instance, the Western Military Council, a rather disciplined coalition
formed with the help of army officers from Zintan, a city of thirty thousand
inhabitants; the powerful coalition of brigades from Misrata, a city of three
hundred thousand inhabitants, with more than two hundred armed groups
and thirty thousand to forty thousand fighters; the militias of Berbers (the
rivals of Misratans) in the Nafusa Mountains; the rival Tubu and Zway tribes
in Kufra; Islamist or jihadist militias located in hubs of Islamism such as
Derna, Bayda, and Benghazi’s poor neighborhoods such as Hayy al-Laythi,
and more. At the same time, several local councils in the East fused and
formed the NTC on February 27, 2011, in order to secure international rec-
ognition, but they failed to build any hegemonic status—even in the eastern
region itself.
Evidently, foreign funds played a crucial role in shaping this stateless and
fragmented political situation. Hundreds of millions of dollars were funneled
to the opposition by Qatar in particular, especially through Abdel Hakim Bel-
hadj, a former high-ranking member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group
and leader of the Islamist-tainted Tripoli Military Council, who was turned
into an international media figure with Qatar’s help. Qatari funds were also
transferred through Ali al-Sullabi, a well-known Islamic scholar. And the
Libya’s Tentative State Rebuilding 179

international supply of arms also provided help. For instance, Zintanis, from
the city itself and also the surrounding villages, first fought with old Italian
rifles from their grandfathers, but then received a massive French airdrop
of weapons in the summer of 2011, and NATO strikes destroyed Qaddafi’s
heavy weapons in their path. Consequently, the war was waged by a multi-
tude of militias operating across the country outside the reach of the NTC
rather than a unified rebel army.6

Militia Politics and “State Rebuilding”:

Capturing the State and Financing (In)Security

After the fall of Qaddafi, militias have refused to lay down their weapons and
have entrenched themselves in the social landscape. Most importantly, they
control economic resources and engage in revenue-generating activities of
various kinds.
Firstly, amid institutional turmoil in the process of rebuilding the Libyan
state, militias have connected themselves to state sources of income. At
the beginning, especially in the situation of a nonfunctioning governmental
administration, militias did not demand salaries from the state apparatus, but
they asked the NTC for medical treatment abroad for wounded revolutionar-
ies and compensation for dead fighters. Later on, the abyssal task of restoring
security, the rivalry/power struggle between the two legitimacies of the NTC
and the revolutionaries, and the rumors of return of Qaddafi’s loyalists all
led to the formation of new economic relations between the rebuilt skeletal
center and militias.
The NTC tried to buy revolutionaries’ loyalty with a one-off handout,
which the latter saw as derisory. The revolutionaries questioned the very
legitimacy of the NTC and criticized its corruption, and set up demonstra-
tions and even armed resistance against it.7 In a concerted response, a process
of registration of fighters was undertaken with the help of the UN Support
Mission in Libya, following models of Disarmament, Demobilization, and
Reintegration in postconflict settings. Rebels in the civil war against Qad-
dafi numbered twenty thousand, no more than forty thousand, in all parts of
Libya.8 But when the Warrior’s Affairs Commission for Rehabilitation and
Development—created at the end of 2011 as a nongovernmental body, then
transformed into an interministerial body under the prime minister’s author-
ity—sought to register fighters and to place them under the Ministries of
Defense or Interior, it received an overwhelming number of applications.9
Around 230,000 to 250,000 applied, which was called “the offensive of
papers,” as the credentials of alleged revolutionaries were difficult to verify.
To simply come from a town that resisted Qaddafi’s forces was seen as a
180 Philippe Droz-Vincent

guarantor of a “revolutionary” status. In reality, many were power seek-

ing and greedy individuals united by a “culture of the victor.” Eventually,
140,000 were registered, with consequent financial obligations on the side of
the state.10
At the same time, the government needed to address basic security con-
cerns within the messy void left by the fall of the Qaddafi regime and its
a-institutional legacy. A system of salaries was created, as militias were
registered and paid by the government. In 2011, the NTC took the fateful
decision to triple the salary of the average functionary, as salaries in Libya
had been fixed at very low levels for a long time, especially during the years
of embargoes, and suffered from huge inflation. Those who had fought in
the war got a fivefold pay increase. Hence, militiamen received their salaries
from the state through the various katāʾib, thereby inflating the number of
would-be militiamen.
The succeeding General National Congress (GNC), elected in July 2012,
continued the complicity with militias. Militias were incorporated into dif-
ferent ministries’ structures anyway through the wholesale integration of
brigades: fighters were not recruited on an individual basis, but incorporated
as members of a given brigade. Thus, brigades continued to act on the basis
of legitimacy from their local constituencies and influential commanders,
in defiance of the rational-legal legitimacy of the state. The GNC allowed
numerous other forces originating from the coalition (tajammuʿ) of militias
to fulfill various security functions: the Libya Shield Forces (Quwwat Dirʿ
Libya), created in April 2012 and related to the Ministry of Defense, to secure
key installations in Tripoli; the (provisional) Supreme Security Committees
(al-Lajnah al-ʾAmniyyah al-ʿolya al-Muʾaqqatah, SSCs), whose provisional
existence has endured; the Border and Strategic Installations Guard, which
includes the Petroleum Facilities Guards (created in October 2012), and
more, all supposedly security providers, and all labels concealing the persis-
tence of militias.
Secondly, militias have carved out lucrative fiefdoms for themselves. All
militias or groups of militias have security functions that give them priori-
tized access to key installations and resources.11 Some brigades have clashed
over the control of strategic oil terminals or fields, Tripoli’s international air-
port, or the Ras Ajdir crossing with Tunisia, just to get the lucrative rights to
secure the area. The major petroleum facilities in the East, such as Ras Lanuf,
Zuweitina, and Sidra, have been occupied by the very militias committed to
protect them under the heading of the Petroleum Facilities Guards (among
many other blockages).12
Furthermore, militias are entrenched in the new skeletal Libyan state
institutions, especially at key veto points allowing them to control resources.
These rebuilt institutions have forged organic relations with militias, as
Libya’s Tentative State Rebuilding 181

became clear in 2011 to 2012 in the nomination of a commander of the

Zintani Western Military Council (Osama al-Juwali) as Minister of Defense,
and a Misratan commander (Yusuf al-Manqush) as an army chief of staff in
the interim government until 2013. Misratans built the parallel Libya Shield
Forces that were granted official status by the same ministry. Registration by
the War Affairs Commission has led to the rearmament of militias with bet-
ter weapons and the expansion of militias outside their home environment,
rather than applying the disarmament program. In the 2014 government,
before the crisis of the summer of 2014, every important ministry, including
those of Interior, Defense, Justice, and Foreign Affairs, has connections with
the Misratan militias and their allies from the Muslim Brotherhood and its
political platform, the Justice and Development Party, as well as some Salaf-
ists, all forming a dominant ruling coalition in 2013 to 2014. This alliance
is contested by the rival Zintan groups that are close to liberal politicians
such as Mahmud Jibril and ʿAli Zaydan, and federalists from the East, all
buttressed by the guns of coalitions of militias that intervene to forward their
interests. Stakes are about politics but played with militias, and it is a lucra-
tive business.
Thirdly, beyond access to state resources, the “authorized” militia brigades
(namely those related to and/or registered by the state) are involved in numer-
ous illegal activities. And militias bereft of governmental payments seek
alternative sources of income, such as racketeering, real estate, investing in
smuggling, and more. In Libya’s security vacuum, where the state apparatus
relies on a complex web of militias providing for public protection, there is a
combination of many damaging factors: lawlessness and impunity for revo-
lutionaries, Islamist and Salafist militancy, score settlings of old grievances,
long-suppressed tensions now set free, and multiple and uncoordinated secu-
rity providers—as militias tend to act independently and arbitrarily, answer-
ing only to their commanders. Such an environment is conducive to acts
where politics, ideology, and a good deal of banditry are mixed, and hundreds
of groups vie for power and resources. Zintani forces sell protection for traf-
ficking groups on the western border, and their control of the Tripoli airport
(until August 2014) was a strategic asset for large-scale smuggling. Misrata
is a hub of flourishing commerce with an active port, one of the busiest of
the country, and is without police and controlled by militias. Misratans have
created a booming economy with air conditioners and cement imports, but
also involving drug trafficking, migrant smuggling, car theft, racketeering,
and much more. The city port of Zuwara, near the border with Tunisia and in
geographic proximity to Malta and Italy, is a huge smuggling hub controlled
by other rival militias.13 The power of the gun allows politics and dirty busi-
ness. Ideology is even blurred with dirty business: for instance, the Derna
Brigade, renamed Abou Slim Martyr’s Brigade, which was incorporated in
182 Philippe Droz-Vincent

the SSCs under the Ministry of the Interior in April 2012, not only enforces
Salafist strict “moral codes” (prohibition of alcohol, strict veiling of women)
in the city of Derna but also controls the lucrative black market in the city.
The situation is even more unregulated among brigades in the South, with
the additional complexity that brigades from the coastal cities also come
to rescue and “police” some southern areas on behalf of the GNC and then
participate in smuggling. Libya, with 4,300 kilometers of borders, has a high
degree of border porosity. It is a key trafficking hub into Europe—particu-
larly Malta and Italy—with Lampedusa lying 600 kilometers from Libya’s
shores, and located on some of the oldest trans-Saharan trade routes. In the
first half of 2012, clashes in Kufra and Sabha killed hundreds over the control
of the smuggling routes between Chad, Sudan, and Egypt. Clashes between
the Tubu, an African black minority, and the Zway that were “wrapped”14 in
arguments presenting their grievances as a response to Qaddafi’s discrimi-
natory policies in fact started over the control of smuggling (for cigarettes,
narcotics, gasoline, etc.), as the NTC’s endorsement of the Zway militia
to monitor borders is equated by others as a near monopoly over the illicit
economy in the center of Libya. Some brigades subcontracted by the NTC
to provide security in the South have even openly asked European diplomats
for payments in order to stop the flow of Sub-Saharan African migrants, as
additional lucrative income,15 and the mere control of the routes, is a profit-
able commodity.
Fourthly, illegal activities have in numerous cases autonomized themselves
from the constraints of the weakly institutionalized networks of militias and
local councils—localism can be a way to “police” social relations through
“contained” violence in the absence of a state monopoly on force (see below
on the “moral economy” of militias). These activities have shifted from
smuggling on a small scale—quite natural in the absence of a state—to pure
banditry on a larger scale. The weapons market, flourishing because of the
large availability of the Libyan arsenal, has far-reaching consequences, as
exemplified by the case of Tuareg rebels in Mali,16 and also by Libyan smug-
glers presumably providing civilians in Cairo and in al-Ṣaʿid in Upper Egypt
and in Southern Egypt with heavy weapons, which were then used in bloody
“tribal” clashes in Aswan in April 2014.17 Libyan arms are largely available
across the Middle East. Since 2012, the number of abductions at random
checkpoints has been on the rise, mostly of Libyans with links to the former
regime and increasingly also Libyans without such links, for no apparent rea-
son but a ransom. Furthermore, bank robberies by masked, armed men have
been on the rise since 2012, and copper theft has accelerated, as an incident
in December 2013 revealed that thieves set a military base on fire in order to
steal the copper from burnt ammunitions. A parallel economy of banditry has
thrived in such a decentralized and armed milieu.
Libya’s Tentative State Rebuilding 183

“Greed” or “Governance from Below”?

Social “Embeddedness” of Militias
and Its Economic Implications

The phenomenon of Libyan militias should not only be interpreted as the

control abusively exerted by nonstate armed actors on the Libyan state and
its resources. As the result of the specific “state-building” in post-Qaddafi’s
Libya, militias’ control of resources is not simply a form of “greed” in the
sense of Collier and Hoeffler’s analysis:18 militias are also part of the system
of governance at the local level.
Militiamen are not just “outlaws and crooks,” as Libyan officials usually
dub them before Western officials.19 Militianized local contexts of tribes, cit-
ies, villages, communities, and neighborhoods are at the core of the phenom-
enon of militia politics. In post-2011 Libya, local power depends on the size
of the local militia, its role in the revolution and its ensuing legitimacy, and
each area’s economic resources. Post-2011 Libya can be regarded as a kind
of paradoxical realization of Qaddafi’s dream of a stateless society governing
itself, of a state that is a tribe and hence a family, to borrow his convoluted
terminology. It is the end product of Qaddafi’s model of governance from
below and Qaddafi’s favorite regime structures, the much-feared revolution-
ary committees (al-lijan al-thawriyyah) have been inherited by local katāʾib.
The paradox of post-2011 Libya is that politics is blocked at the national
level, but it is most dynamic at the local level with thriving municipal activ-
ity. Local councils act as community interest groups and brokers, along with
militias, in order to overcome the problem that at the national level, the state
with its bureaucracy, system of transitional justice, security sector reforms,
and monopoly on violence is slow to proceed on or is blocked in a stand-
still by zero-sum political bickering between political forces buttressed by
This social “embeddedness” of militias is propped by a prior culture of
deep resentment in Libya, combined with a mounting culture of violence and
the large availability of weapons as a consequence of the Libyan-specific case
of armed uprisings. On the one hand, the Qaddafi regime was particularly
tough for Libyans. In 2011, the jamāhyriyyah was in a state of total decrepi-
tude, with a lot of people unable to find jobs, and perhaps 20 percent to 30
percent of the population living under the poverty line—even those working
in the hegemonic public sector had a bad and bare life.20 A lot of people were
left aside, excluded, depreciated, humiliated, and survived as small smug-
glers (between Malta and Libya)21 or with drugs. Specifically, young Libyans,
more than half of the population not having known another head of state,
were living in isolation and with a sense of marginalization. The Qaddafi
regime tolerated an unofficial economy of black markets based on the resale
184 Philippe Droz-Vincent

of state-subsidized goods to offer some breathing space for younger genera-

tions. In the 1990s to 2000s, Tunisia became a key destination to Libyans, and
everything sold in Libya at subsidized prices was resold in Western Africa.
Furthermore, inhabited by one-third of Libya’s population and accounting for
nearly 80 percent of the country’s oil production, the east of the country was
ready to explode in rebellion: this region had suffered most under Qaddafi
and faced a kind of collective punishment after the insurgency of the Libyan
Islamic Fighting Group in the 1990s. These essential features of Qaddafi’s
governance have fueled a diffused, yet shared, resentment and strong griev-
ances in Libyan society, especially in its young part, that have muted into an
open clash of legitimacies between the so-called revolutionaries (thuwwār)
and the necessity of rebuilding (or just building) central institutions to govern
the country.
On the other hand, a dangerous atmosphere of violence and creeping
lawlessness has prevailed in Libya with retaliations and score settling using
heavy weapons, in the absence of an effective national police and with the
widespread availability of weapons. The flipside of the specific Libyan tra-
jectory has been a generalized “social access” to weapons of many calibers,
from a family renting an antiaircraft machinegun on a pick-up to make noise
at a wedding to political uses of weapons by individuals or militias. A piece
of graffiti on the walls of Benghazi in 2012 read: “al-qātil yuqtal, the killer
has to be killed,” giving a concrete sense of the atmosphere of violence with
those having arms relying on weapons to settle every problem. One of the
many thuwwār, real or alleged, can’t be prosecuted even for wrongdoing and
benefit from a kind of immunity with their status as heroes of “Libya’s libera-
tion.”22 Neighborhoods’ walls are filled with posters of martyrs (shuhadāʾ)
made by communities and families, and with slogans such as “Libya will
not forget the heroes” (Libya lan tansā al-ʾabṭāl). A culture of violence has
installed itself in Libya: there is a banality of violence in Libya since the 2011
uprising, and whoever has a gun or is part of a militia is listened to.23
As a result of this twin process, militias have “embedded” themselves into
local settings. While the NTC has focused on the conquest of the western
part of the country (and the capital Tripoli) with NATO’s help, local militias
and councils organized to rebuild normal life. As a consequence, they were
able to resist attempts by the NTC to centralize power. And militias/brigades
have their “counterparts” in the elected General National Congress (GNC):
out of its 200 members, 80 are assigned to party lists and 120 to independents
who represent local interests, often connected to militias. In the eyes of many
Libyans, militias and local councils have better and faster abilities to mobilize
resources, with superior connections and information, than the NTC (then the
GNC), with its image of a far and opaque institutional centralizer. They have
filled the void at the local level as people resented the police, which was seen
Libya’s Tentative State Rebuilding 185

as an instrument of the regime, al-Niẓām. They have reinstated some form

of security proclaiming themselves as the defenders of the people’s quest for
justice and dignity. Militias have offered a kind of makeshift governance of
the territory they control: they have functioned as a parallel police force or as
armed forces—though they have also been decried for their exactions.24 The
katāʾib obviously get enduring legitimacy from such a specific setting.
The paradox is that Libyans might resent the generalized day-to-day vio-
lence related to the presence of militias, but at the same time benefit from
militias and ask for their protection.25 Symptomatically, in 2012, people in
Benghazi attacked a powerful jihadist militia, Ansar al-Shariʿah, during
the so-called Save Benghazi Friday protests, but later asked them to come
back because there was no police to protect popular neighborhoods (Aḥyāʾ
shaʿbiyyah) or to secure the hospitals. Militias such as Ansar al-Shariʿah pro-
vide welfare and social support, and have also maintained some public infra-
structure and repaired roads. They draw legitimacy from such social actions
while also pursuing their own agenda by enforcing the most ideologically
strict moral codes of the Salafis in some cities and attacking Western inter-
ests. Similarly, federalists, such as Ibrahim al-Jathran,26 are not just greedy
actors trying to control oil facilities in the East. They also exhibit a populist,
federalist discourse against the government and its corruption with some
resonance in eastern Libya, and benefit from tribal support from Ajdabiya and
the powerful al-Obeidat tribe.27 In Misrata, the heavy price paid by the city
during the uprising, when the city suffered rape and pillage during its siege
by Qaddafi’s forces in the spring of 2011, created distrust of the Misratans
toward national institutions and, in particular, any security institution staffed
by those who had served to some degree in the Qaddafi regime. Hence, mili-
tias are local answers to the basic question of trust that is at the root of state
building and democratization, to follow Charles Tilly—but, in Libya, trust
has only been built at the local level and hijacked by militias.28 Studies of
rebel governance in general show that rebels are able to govern some areas
and make their rule endure if they answer to some basic needs of the local
population by providing some “public goods.”29
And conversely, the problem can be grasped at an individual level. Militias
provide jobs for many young Libyans, who see militias as a means to get
access to state/central resources. Militias have acted as middlemen between
the disorganized state institutions and the thuwwār, and they have created an
artificial job market structured from below. The uprising was led by young
people affected by unemployment. The young Libyan citizen’s view is often
schizophrenic. Individuals mostly prefer to disarm, as indicated by a survey
of 165,000 revolutionaries undertaken by the Warriors’ Affairs Commission
that asked them for opportunities they see for themselves for the future, but
collectively they have no incentives to do so. In today’s Libya, the militias’
186 Philippe Droz-Vincent

economy benefits numerous young males who have experienced the power
of the gun since 2011.

Weak State versus Strong Militias: The Militias’

“Moral Economy” and Unrestrained Violence

The above processes in Libya do not reflect a thorough and classic

shift/“transition” from revolutionary “street politics” to civilianized political
processes (institutionalization) and state rebuilding in motion.30 Militias in
Libya have a very specific character, as they have become entrenched in the
security sector. They do not prosper against or are antithetical to the state; on
the contrary, they thrive on the state, albeit a weak one. They gain survival,
resources, and political power through their position, on small territories and
on their restricted “constituencies,” within weak state structures.31 They do
not aim at destroying the state, since they need it as a collector of revenues
from oil and gas exports and a source of external legitimacy. At the same
time, their actions impede all processes of state building and politics: the
whole process of obtaining government positions grants legitimacy to mili-
tias and weakens the state’s would-be Weberian monopoly of force that is
said to be the basis of state building32 (on the European historical trajectory).
They are not actors like the so-called warlords or total spoilers who follow
the pure model of “greed” in conflict studies and who are moved by loot-
ing without limits. Yet militias are involved in looting, smuggling, and bad
tricks, and they consider their institutionalization as a risk of seeing the end
or a treason of the “true spirit of the revolution” (to borrow their own terms),
and they justify their disruptive moves while being also cajoled by weak state
authorities, or at least some parts of them, into helping to reinstate security
in the country.
Libyan militias display a form of organic relations with the center, which
is completely different from the privileged relations between governments
and the armed forces common in the Arab world, where the military forms
a pillar of the regime and is kept loyal through “exchanges” of economic
resources through privileges, military economy, and more. In Libya, the
resulting picture is one of “privatization” of the state by nonstate actors
displaying an unstable equilibrium of militias. The latter is buttressed
by a “moral economy,” informed by the belief that militias defend some
legitimate rights owned by the thuwwār and by their etching out of spaces
of independent economies and political autonomy. Militias have engaged
in a multitude of economic activities, using violent modes of appropria-
tion. At the same time, they have developed some forms of social welfare
(jobs) and security (in “their” localities). Hence, most militias should not
Libya’s Tentative State Rebuilding 187

be simply considered as “greedy” actors or “bad guys.” They also embody

and are part of a complex “moral economy” based on the specific Libyan
social conditions, inherited from years of an authoritarian regime and social
resentment. E. P. Thompson’s notion of “moral economy” aims at recon-
structing the ethical details that inspire actors, a set of normative attitudes
concerning the social order they are part of.33 Take, for instance, the bread
riots of the eighteenth-century, when peasants’ behavior did not just con-
sist of spasmodic forms of undisciplined social violence but of coordinated
actions by many villagers who were expressing popular views about prices
and subsistence. This notion has been further popularized in African stud-
ies, especially by the remarks of Paul Lubeck on a Northern Nigeria moral
economy functioning through Islamic charity and endorsed by “a large,
impoverished, lumpen population, whose daily experience reflected many
of the changes and tensions inherent in Nigerian peripheral capitalist devel-
opment.”34 This all resonates with the Libyan militiamen, who base their
legitimacy and impose economic control on a moral discourse—Islamic or
But militias also display the use and abuse of violence.36 Militias, involved
in peripheral modes of governance in towns, cities, local councils, and tribes,
have been reluctant to give up their authority and their weapons. They use
them to blackmail the government and the GNC: any relatively small group
of men with arms can extract whatever concession they desire from the
government by blocking a road to Tripoli or threatening to cut off an oil
pipeline or a water canal. When one group using blackmail tactics gets its
demands successfully met, other armed groups will instantly copy its tactics.
Such behavior has been institutionalized through militias’ blackmail. They
have bargained everything, from small things, such as treatment for a fighter
or for more pensions, to large political demands. In October 2013, a militia
abducted the prime minister for three hours in order to ask for a few more
millions for its members, two seats in the constitutional assembly, and a gov-
ernment grant for someone to study abroad. The Revolutionary Operations
Room, the militia tasked with keeping Tripoli safe, was implicated in this
incident. But militias have also asked for significantly larger demands with
huge enduring consequences.
For instance, and most importantly, in March 2013, they forced at gunpoint
the passage of the Political and Administrative Isolation Law (Qānwn al-ʿAzl
al-Siyāsy wa-l-ʾIdāry), stipulating that anyone who had held an official posi-
tion in politics, security, or business in the Qaddafi regime could be excluded
from the country’s political life.37 This radical law is but a tool in the hands
of militias—and it mirrors the de-Baathification law of the US Coalition Pro-
visional Authority in Iraq in 2013. The Political and Administrative Isolation
Law further entrenches militias in the military and police, since it provides
188 Philippe Droz-Vincent

militias with legal means to bar the only skilled individuals who had been
working under Qaddafi, including the too many officers (numerous colonels)
of the fragile Libyan Army, from positions of power in the security forces. It
institutionalizes the militias’ control over the Ministries of Defense and Inte-
rior through the Libyan Shield Forces or the Supreme Security Committees.
At an individual level, numerous Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood militiamen,
barred from university education or unemployed under the Qaddafi regime,
now have increased chances to move upward along the social ladder, as the
already educated officers are now deemed ineligible by the isolation law. Fur-
thermore, in a more straightforward way, many police officers, army officers,
judges, and bureaucrats have been threatened, or even assassinated, by armed
brigades to exclude them from public positions and as a way to perpetuate the
void militias benefit from.
Facing such powerful stakeholders, the GNC, the central authority in Libya,
has remained a very weak and timorous government albeit ruling a wealthy
oil-rich country, when oil flows and is not blockaded by any militia. It has
been unable to use its money to build its power. This is quite different from
classic “rentier economies” such as those in the Gulf. In post-2011 Libya, the
state has been a patronage machine in the hands of its clients—armed stake-
holders, rather than being a centralized state coopting clients by hand-out of
money or favors. Militias have valued the state as such, almost as a kind of
open prey or golden goose, and the central authority has remained very shy,38
acting as a kind of technocratic government with no sense of the state. The
central government has not seriously attempted to become a real state: it has
not fought for its own differentiation against rival centers of power to build its
own monopoly over the means of force.39 A specific model of centralization/
state building and of return of the local has been characteristic of the Libyan
political trajectory since 2011: all Libyans are nationalists and they have
fought hard to liberate the whole country, not just al-Barqah (Cyrenaica) or
other localized or regional places. The ultimate aim of the revolution was the
capture of Tripoli and Sirte, as symbols of the Qaddafi regime through a con-
catenation of localized and autonomous rebellions rather than a unified rebel
army. However, until mid-2014, the return of localism did not mean that the
country would drive toward partition.
Two legitimacies are colliding: on the one hand that of external representa-
tion (NTC) then followed by that of elections (GNC), and on the other hand,
that of revolutionary war. The NTC—with initially nine, then eighty-six
members who were mostly unknown and appointed without any clear pro-
cedure—feared being seen as too despotic and failed to act boldly as “state
builder,” perhaps not according to models of state building as displayed in
international organizations’ jargon, but at least with some sense of the state,
even a decentralized one. The NTC’s elected successor, the GNC, did not
Libya’s Tentative State Rebuilding 189

act as a state-building organ either, but as an accommodationist center for

as many militianized interest groups or political groups as possible, sus-
tained through the handing out of resources. Symptomatically, the budgets
for 2012, 2013, and 2014 increased subsidies far beyond the levels preva-
lent under Qaddafi; wages in the public sector—the main employer in the
country—have been enhanced numerous times since 2011.40 The more the
government transferred resources to militias and local councils, the more it
reinforced their legitimacy and influence. Furthermore, the GNC reacted with
empty threats of using force against federalist challenges. In March 2014,
the decision to act against the blockade of major oil terminals by Jathran’s
Petroleum Facilities Guards was delayed many times, and the government
was dependent on action by the Central Shield Forces to oust Jathran’s
forces, a militia from Misrata. This galvanized broader tribal support in the
east for Jathran and his federalist demands and led to a negotiated settlement
whereby Jathran secured the payment of wages to his militia. Thus, Libya
seems far from state-building efforts involving the violent elimination of
rivals in a mechanism of contestation, as described by the late Charles Tilly
in European history.41
Conversely, militias have played on Libyan society’s distrust of a strong
center, or the specter of “the evil center,” that might become a tyranni-
cal power in the hands of a leader and on the unease of the government to
impose its will. They have gained a position of power they can use to make
this resentment felt by starving Tripoli of resources of oil, gas, water, food,
imports, flows of goods, and more. They have played, according to their
interests, either a-institutionalism (an aversion against central government as
opposed to local forms of governance) by blackmailing the center, or have
made use of new institutions, such as the influential National Commission
for Integrity and Patriotism created to apply the Political and Administrative
Isolation Law when they benefit from its rules.42 Militias have benefited from
the difficult legitimization of the NTC, viewed by many revolutionaries as
“Jamaʿat Saif, the gang of Saif al-Islam Qaddafi,” who headed a reformist
wing in his father’s regime, and they have denounced the NTC as a fifth
column populated with Qaddafi loyalists, whom they called “the dregs of
the old regime” (azlām al-niẓām al-sābiq). Hence, they denied the NTC
ownership of the revolution. Militias brand their legitimacy as the “real fight-
ers” or thuwwār, and they pose as the February revolution’s moral arbiters:
some, who were engineers, farmers, or mechanics (not fighters) have acted
courageously, holding back Qaddafi’s brigades for months and facing tanks
and Grad rocket barrages, hence earning high esteem in their local society;
many others have opportunistically joined them in brigades. They are deter-
mined to thwart the resurrection of what they call “the old order.” Zintanis
recall that they fought hard and captured Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, an essential
190 Philippe Droz-Vincent

and symbolic asset in their own hands (not in the governmental prisons).
Misratans claim they sacrificed thousands in one of the deadliest battles of
the nine-month civil war and captured Qaddafi. Regionalists like Ibrahim
al-Jathran play on regional resentment in Cyrenaica. Furthermore, militias
control their own media outlets, as the private media are booming in Libya
on the local level, financed by local businessmen. These media serve as
platforms for local/tribal self-advancement and often, as provocation against
others,43 hence weakening the building of the legitimacy of a prospective
The delayed and prolonged process of political change, often plagued by
violence, was not taken into account by most external observers from 2011
to 2013, and even until the first months of 2014. Firstly, the paradoxical
nature of the Libyan transition was the surprising successes and rapid post-
revolutionary accomplishments of the NTC, with the smooth handover of
power from this entity to an elected General National Congress (GNC) in
August 2012, the reemergence of political parties, and the proliferation of
civil society organizations.44 The country was not doomed a priori for a bleak
future as numerous other postconflict cases after regime change. However
and secondly, at the same time, it has been a murky and chaotic transition, as
violence has instilled itself in political processes, not in the form of a gener-
alized civil war, but under the guise of militianized violence, and displaying
the complex prominence of violence as a social phenomenon “embedded”
in Libyan society after the end of the civil war and as a “moral economy”
of militias. Afterward, as of June 2012, several attacks took place, target-
ing public buildings in Tripoli and Benghazi, and the British ambassador
narrowly escaped death in Benghazi. Then came the 2012 tragic attacks on
the US consulate in Benghazi on September 11, which resulted in the death
of the US ambassador. The incident signaled open outbreaks of violence
that marred the previously virtuous process of rebuilding Libya, opened up
by the elections of the GNC and the selection of a legitimate government.
Conversely and thirdly, stability has prevailed at the local level. In fact,
symptomatically, pacification in post-Qaddafi’s Libya, effective from 2011 to
2014, has been less the product of centralized state building, with the return
of the monopoly on force to a central executive, than being the result of the
continuous action of local mediators—especially tribal notables (wujahāʾ),
Sufi clerics, and religious authorities such as the Grand Mufti of Libya, who
have continuously defused violence in local contexts by negotiating truces
(lajnat al-sulh).45 Local actors, elders, reputation, family links, neighborhood
belonging, tribal mediations, and more have helped in regulating militias.
As a corollary, violence was limited to particular cities and specific targeted
actors, especially to the fierce competition between militias to stay relevant
in the “moral economy” of militias.
Libya’s Tentative State Rebuilding 191

However, in the summer of 2014, a threshold was crossed toward disin-

tegration. Members of the former Libyan army were increasingly targeted
in 2013 to 2014 by a campaign of assassinations in the East, particularly
in Benghazi and Derna, and began to take matters into their own hands. In
May 2014, General Khalifa Haftar launched an operation called “Dignity
(Karāmah)” against Islamist-leaning forces in Benghazi, targeting dreaded
Salafist Ansar al-Shariah in particular. Haftar had taken part in the 1969
coup with Qaddafi, served as commander of the Libyan forces during the
Libyan-Chadian conflict, and defected in the 1980s before returning to Libya
in 2011. This move took place at a time of complete political stalemate: the
GNC, which had been unable to craft a constitution and crippled by politi-
cal infighting, was disbanded in August 2014 after the election of a house of
representatives in June 2014 that produced a poor showing for the revolution-
ary new elites and the Islamists once dominant in the GNC (with a very low
turnout and a boycott by the Berbers). Yet the former president of the GNC,
the mufti of Tripoli, and some militias (the Libyan Revolutionaries Opera-
tion Room in Tripoli and the Misratans) resisted the transfer of power. At the
same time, Misratans and Islamist-leaning militias attacked Zintani militias
in Tripoli, in particular to evict them from the airport, a crucial asset for
smuggling and taxing. Localized and limited clashes between rival militias
that were contained before morphed into an all-out battle, with two govern-
ments in September 2014 claiming to represent the legitimate will of the
Libyan people, the reconvening of the GNC that had extended its mandate
to continue operating, and a house of representatives that met “offshore” on
a Greek ferry lent by a businessman in Tobruk and that had support from
militias aligned with General Haftar.
The fractious Libyan militias have lined up and given way to a mortal
polarization between two warring “camps”: “Operation Dignity” of General
Haftar and Zentani militias versus “Operation Dawn Libya (Fajr Libya)” of
the Misratan militias and some Islamist factions, both composed of volatile
coalitions of militias and exemplifying at most the hijacking of the Libyan
transition by armed actors and the risks of full-scale civil war. For both
“camps,” the control of oil ports such as Sidra and Ras Lanuf and of the
central bank have been targets of prime importance, hence transforming a
very specific relationship of militias to resources, or the militias’ “moral
economy,” into an all-out battle for oil and money. Furthermore, regional
actors, such as Egypt, Chad, Niger, Algeria, Tunisia, Sudan, Qatar, Turkey,
and Saudi Arabia, have lined up in this emerging conflict, either to help
mediate or to stand behind one coalition or another. For instance, Egypt has
been directly involved in aerial retaliations, hence displaying the features of
regional involvement similar to the process that fueled the militarization of
the Syrian uprising.
192 Philippe Droz-Vincent

Conclusion: From an Equilibrium of

Militias (2011–2014) to Civil War (2014– . . . )

In today’s Libya, control over the country’s economic resources has been
an essential part of ongoing disputes among militias and other formal or
informal political actors in the post-2011 revolution state-rebuilding process.
Deinstitutionalized economic relations in Libyan society were the byproduct
of proliferating and socially embedded militias and a weak government in
a country endowed with a huge amount of resources. With the absence of
a strong security sector under the control of the Ministries of Interior and
Defense, militias kept their predatory roles and suffocated state-building
processes around the center. The Libyan model of “weak” government, along
with militias retaining some legitimacy, economic resources, a political role,
and the control of arms is a very unstable equilibrium that has ruled the coun-
try since 2011.
This was the direct product of an un-(or under-)defined project among Lib-
yans for post-2011 Libya. Libyans had suffered from years of social neglect
by a patronizing state pillaged by Qaddafi and his familial or allied cliques,
against the backdrop of subsidized, but rather low levels, of life, in a country
weakened by years of embargo. That does not mean that Libyan society and
elites are incapable of agency and government: they fought hard to get rid
of this system in 2011. Yet the ensuing emerging decentralized system with
the forceful return of localism lacks executive capabilities of whatever type.
Nearly four years after the victory of the “revolution,” the crux of the problem
remains how to build a new political system from a setting characterized by
contradictory dimensions: flourishing elected local councils, local initiatives,
civil society activism, blocked central institutions, and powerful militias. Per-
haps it would not be a brand new democracy, something a bit far-fetched so
shortly after decades of destructive Qaddafi rule, but at least a polity in a pro-
cess of transition whose processes will be rooted in the emerging pluralism
from below that is characteristic of Libya.46 The relative success the country
experienced in 2011 to 2012 was followed by several setbacks in 2012 to
2013, signaled early by small but highly symptomatic features, such as the
low turnout of popular registrations for the Constitution Drafting Assembly
and the growing apathy toward the GNC and its complex proceedings.47 And
this was also reflected in the gradual changing face of militias toward unre-
strained violence, with the ensuing stalemate in the political process.
Militias can be understood as predatory actors looking for resources, but at
the same time, they act as providers of local governance with a high degree
of local legitimacy, displaying their own “moral economy.” The fact that
Libya’s militias have not experienced an excruciatingly cruel and violent
enduring civil war of the kind seen in Sierra Leone or Somalia should have
Libya’s Tentative State Rebuilding 193

facilitated their reintegration. They were not uncontrolled killing machines

fueling a “culture of war”; namely, a social setting where arms serve as
political means to conquer and stay in power—such as those in neighboring
Chad or Darfur, something that has not yet engrained itself in Libya, at least
until 2014. The good news, when taking into consideration the amount of
weapons of various calibers and types freely circulating in the country with
the end of the regime, was that Libyans did not fight against each other in a
Hobbesian civil war of everyone for themselves (from 2011 to 2014). During
the war, there was a political objective—to topple Qaddafi—and the process
of rebellion was decentralized at most and did not produce recentralization
around the NTC. Luckily, after the war, with numerous militias roaming,
Libyan society has not experienced the trajectories based on identity/ethnic/
confessional fragmentation, as happened in Bosnia in the 1990s, Iraq between
2005 and 2007, or Syria moving from civic mobilizations to full-scale civil
war after 2011.48 The picture in Libya from 2011 to 2014 was an “organized”
chaos: militiamen were registered for the most part and related to the state,
though a weak one; however, militias with their “revolutionary legitimacy”
were a strong impediment to state rebuilding of any kind. Things began to
change when the equilibrium of militias and their interplay governing Libya
morphed into heavy fighting in mid-2014, then approaching full-scale civil


1. Mattes, “Rebuilding the National Security Forces in Libya,” 85–99.

2. Lacher, “Families, Tribes and Cities in the Libyan Revolution”; Murphy, “The
Members of Libya’s National Transitional Council.”
3. International Crisis Group, “Holding Libya Together: Security Challenges
after Qadhafi.”
4. On the reassertion of “hinterland culture” in the Libyan 1969 revolution, see
Roumani, “From Republic to Jamahiriya: Libya’s Search for Political Community,”
5. McQuinn, “After the Fall: Libya’s Evolving Armed Groups.”
6. Wehrey, The Struggle for Security in Eastern Libya; Lacher, “Libya’s Fractious
South and Regional Instability.”
7. “Attack on the Prime Minister’s Office after the Suspension of Payments to
Revolutionaries,” Al-Watan al-Libya, April 10, 2012; “Protest by Union of Revolu-
tionary Brigades against the NTC,” Al-Watan al-Libya, May 1, 2012.
8. Author’s interviews with activists and former members of the NTC, Brussels,
October 2012.
9. “Supreme Security Committees to Be Dissolved by End of Year,” Libya Herald,
October 17, 2012; “LD 500 Million Project Prepared by WAC to Get Revolutionaries
194 Philippe Droz-Vincent

Ready for Business,” Libya Herald, December 17, 2012; “Abdelkarim Decrees: Inte-
gration of SSC Members in the Ministry of Interior,” Quryna Newspaper, December
17, 2012.
10. Cf. Warriors Affairs Commission homepage: http://wac.gov.ly/armod/; Wehrey
and Cole, Building Libya’s Security Sector.
11. “Five Tripoli Brigade Bases Handed Over to the Army,” Libya Herald, Novem-
ber 21, 2013; “Military Source: Revolutionaries Take 20 Tanks to Zintan,” Quryna
Newspaper, May 28, 2012.
12. “Oil Pipeline Blocked at Nalut by Protesting Guards,” Libya Herald, January
4, 2014.
13. UN Panel of Experts, “Final Report of the Panel of Experts Established
Pursuant to Resolution 1973 (2011) Concerning Libya”; Shaw and Mangan, “Illicit
Trafficking and Libya’s Transition: Profits and Losses.”
14. Tubu complained having been discriminated against because they were not
Arabs, as the Zway.
15. Author’s interviews, Brussels, October 2013; even the Minister of Interior
caused an uproar with declarations threatening Europeans to facilitate the pas-
sage of illegal immigrants if “they do not shoulder the responsibility” with Libya
(“Minister of Interior’s Accusations Surprise Europeans,” Quryna Newspaper, May
12, 2014.)
16. The open flow of Libyan arms and the return (with whole arsenals) of Tuaregs
formerly incorporated in some way into Gaddafi’s armed forces/militias were
instrumental in the offensive of the Tuareg “Mouvement National de Libération de
l’Azawad” against the Malian government, which triggered the French intervention
in January 2013 (Lacher, “Fractious South and Regional Instability”).
17. Author’s interviews with two researchers specialized in disarmament, Geneva,
June 2014, and Al-Masry Al-Youm, August 6, 2014.
18. Collier and Hoeffler, “On Economic Causes of Civil War,” 563–73.
19. Author’s interview with foreign diplomats, Paris, January 2014.
20. United Nations Development Programme, Libya—National Report on Human
21. Libyans did not need visas to enter Malta before its joining the European
Union in May 2001.
22. In 2012, some were arrested for crimes, but they were then freed by their
brigades that stormed police stations.
23. A new law regulating gun ownership effective in March 2014 has not been fol-
lowed by the reality on the ground. See: “Gun Ownership Law Passed by Congress,”
Libya Herald, December 16, 2013.
24. They also control makeshift prisons with some of the “wanted” (maṭlūbīn) in
application of what they call “the victors’ justice”—for instance, “private”/“clandestine”
prisons in villas once owned by Gaddafi-era officials in the Gharghour neighborhood
in Tripoli along the airport road.
25. See the survey of 1,200 Libyans by NDI and JMW Consulting: “Seeking
Security: Public Opinion Survey in Libya,” with some results published by Benstead,
Kjaerum, Lust, and Wichmann in “Libya’s Security Dilemma.”
Libya’s Tentative State Rebuilding 195

26. Ibrahim al-Jathran is a former rebel commander who secured control of the
eastern ports and oil terminals in Sidra, Ras Lanuf, and Zueitina with his “Cyrenaica
Self-Defense Forces,” and who was rewarded with the command of the Petroleum
Facilities Guards in Cyrenaica.
27. “Oil Rich Eastern Libya Push Away from Central Government, Declares
Semiautonomous State,” Associated Press, March 6, 2012; “Jathran Swears in
His New Cyrenaican Cabinet,” Libya Herald, November 3, 2013; “Misratans Pull
Out of Sirte and Oilfields Ahead of Possible Jathran Deal,” Libya Herald, March 17,
28. Transitions to democracy require the emergence of a broadly trusting public
that is made possible by “trust networks” integrated into political regimes through
historical processes (Tilly, Trust and Rule); in Libya, militias have “hijacked” such
29. Mampilly, Rebel Rulers.
30. Pelham, “Libya in the Shadow of Iraq,” 539–48.
31. Marten, Warlords.
32. Tilly, Coercion, Capital and European States.
33. Thompson, “The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth
Century,” 76–136; Scott, The Moral Economy of the Peasant.
34. Lubeck, “Islamic Protest under Semi-Industrial Capitalism,” 377; see also
Lonsdale, “The Moral Economy of Mau Mau.”
35. McQuinn, “In Libya, Will Misrata Be the Kingmaker?”
36. And for a given militia, such abuses are “moral,” or “legitimate,” because,
according to their rationale, if they do not act in the context of the absence of a state,
“others,” namely other communities, groups, villages, or towns, will do the same and
weaken their position. Author’s interview with a Libyan young civil activist and blog-
ger, Brussels, October 2012.
37. “Controversy over Law on Political Exclusion,” Al-Jazeera.net, August 17,
2012, quoted in Lacher, Fault Lines of the Revolution: Political Actors, Camps and
Conflicts in the New Libya; “GNC Is Coerced and Law Passed Are Legally Unsound,”
Libya Herald, January 18, 2014.
38. Discussions with two members of the GNC, Paris, March 2014.
39. See the process in European state building as described by Tilly, Coercion,
Capital and European States.
40. Zaptia, “Budget to Be Delayed—Finance Minister Kilani”; Zaptia, “2014 Bud-
get Expected to Be LD 68.59—Salaries and Subsidies Shoot Up.”
41. Tilly, “War Making and State Making as Organized Crime,” 169–91.
42. “Inside the Commission for Patriotism and Integrity,” Libya Herald, April 11,
43. El-Issawi, Transitional Libyan Media.
44. Vandewalle, “After Qaddafi,” 131–35.
45. “Libya, Security Organs, Elders, Notables in Benghazi Issue a Document
Asking for the Deployment of Government Forces and the End of Attacks,” Al-Quds
al-Arabi, May 2, 2012; “Opinion: The Councils of Elders, a Stereotype Scenario,”
Tripoli Post, May 12, 2012.
196 Philippe Droz-Vincent

46. Many studies assert that a basic required condition for democratic transition
is the existence of a state (cf. Linz and Stepan, Problems of Democratic Transition
and Consolidation). Evidently, this precondition is currently difficult for Libya (cf.
Anderson, The State and Social Transformation in Tunisia and Libya).
47. Vandewalle, “Beyond the Civil War in Libya,” 437–58.
48. For instance, with a militia in Jufra, one of the central garrison towns in central
Libya, claiming to have six hundred tanks, and another militia in Sabha fielding fifty
tanks and scores of Grad rockets launchers, Libyan society could have slipped into
the fate of the above three states.
Chapter 9

Syria’s Army, Militias, and

Nonstate Armed Groups
Ideology, Funding, and Shifting Landscape
Sherifa Zuhur

In March 2011, with nonviolent protests throughout the country, the Syr-
ian revolution broke out in defiance of the regime’s harsh punishment of
civilians, especially children. Armed groups soon organized an estimated
1,500 groups, ostensibly to defend civilians, many of them having adopted
a jihadist ideology. Other fighters reject jihad, but realize the only hope for
the establishment of a Free Syria is to defeat Assad’s forces. The seeds of the
revolution had been planted with Bashar al-Assad’s suppression of the 2000
to 2001 “Damascus Spring” and were watered by the example of Tunisia’s
and Egypt’s revolutions.1 The death by torture of a thirteen-year-old child
galvanized the southern Syrian city of Daraʿa in the spring of 2011 and trig-
gered the Syrian version of the “Arab Spring.”2 Considering the participation
of rural areas in the uprising, Bouthaina Shaʿban, advisor to Bashar al-Assad,
called for the alleviation of rural misery. The people of Daraʿa responded
angrily, yelling, “Yā Buthayna yā Shaʿban, shaʿb Darʿa mu jūʿān.” (Oh,
Bouthaina Shaʿban, the people of Daraʿa are not hungry.)3 Calls for freedom
resonated after decades of suppression of civil society and physical torture,
disappearances, and a persistent emergency status since 1963.4 Protest chants
included: “silmiyyah, mu ṭāʾifiyyah” (peacefully, no sectarianism). The revo-
lution was for “dignity,” not simply bread.
The Syrian Armed Forces and loyalist militias attacked civilian demon-
strators and their homes viciously, causing mass flight. In the early summer
of 2011, armed groups formed to protect civilians and oust the government.
Many army officers also defected and joined the Free Syrian Army.5 As
groups of the Islamic Front (initially organized as the Syrian Islamic Front)
were engaged, tensions arose between jihadists and the Nonviolence Move-
ment (NVM). The NVM trained and expected to exert civilian rule over
freed areas, receiving some economic support, mostly via the Syrian political

198 Sherifa Zuhur

opposition abroad. Nonetheless, continuous military engagement stymied

the transition to civilian control. A significant NVM remains. Among other
activities, it is represented in 128 local councils of civilians providing ser-
vices in liberated areas and the Local Coordination Committees.6 The NVM
demonstrates concerted public representation of the “worthiness and com-
mitment”7 of its participants. It inspires international support and donations
to its political leadership and contrasts with the marked brutality of jihadist
groups. For the opposition, the fact that Assad’s forces have not been able to
recapture territory, and that its fighters are still operative, is a victory of sorts,
however punitive to Syrian civilians.
Based on a thorough compilation of Arabic and English media reports
over the course of the Syrian war, interviews with fighters and supporters
of the opposition, and analytical reports, this chapter examines Syrian fight-
ers in terms of their ideological underpinnings, local sites of control, local
and foreign membership, economic activities, and regional webs of funding
as they relate to the perpetuation of the conflict. The chapter argues that
the Syrian conflict is primarily ideologically driven, even though paramili-
tarization is underway and displays examples of the existence of “markets
of violence.” These “markets” are defined as “economic areas dominated
by civil wars, warlords or robbery in which a self-perpetuating system
emerges.”8 Militias’ robbery, smuggling, trafficking, and other illegal
activities both predate the conflict as a part of Syria’s informal economy and
present a recent symptom of it. More importantly, the conflict has reached a
military standoff, in part due to international or regional networks of fund-
ing that perpetuate it.
To understand the military standoff and the potential for overcoming it,
this chapter begins with an examination of the Syrian military and other
regime-affiliated forces. It briefly locates the Syrian army within the politi-
cal economy of discontent in pre-2011 Syria. It traces changes in the regime
forces thanks to army defections, the formation of militias, and foreign
military support to Assad after 2011. The chapter then focuses on nonstate
armed groups by investigating the local, regional, and international dimen-
sions of the revolution’s asymmetry and markets of violence, pondering both
political-ideological and economic factors, including foreign recruitment and
sources of funding to armed groups.

The Syrian Army: Defectors, Shabbiha,

and Foreign Support

Before the uprisings, and for decades after the 1967 war and the Israeli
occupation of the Golan Heights, the Syrian military’s buildup of weaponry
Syria’s Army, Militias, and Nonstate Armed Groups 199

occurred mainly to deter Israel’s military power. By 1986, Syrian military

spending was 30 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP), and the army
consisted of 500,000 personnel, with 5,000 tanks, 650 combat planes, and
102 missile batteries.9 After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Syria leveraged
its alliance with Iran, and maintained Gulf States’ support and Russian assis-
tance. In 2008, Syria’s army had 215,000 active troops, with seven armored
divisions, one Republican Guard division (excluding its reserve soldiers),
and 4,950 tanks.10 In 2011, the Syrian military’s active personnel numbered
295,000, with 314,000 reserves and 108,000 paramilitary forces.11
The Syrian military played a key role in the political economy of discon-
tent in Syria during the three decades that preceded the uprisings. Under
Hafez al-Assad, the leader of the 1970 military coup, the president of the
Syrian Arab Republic and head of its single ruling Baath Party from that
coup until his death in 2000, rural populations in Daraʿa, Homs, Raqqa, Deir
az-Zor, and the Hawran had suffered economically.12 This was a means of
politically punishing these areas. Similarly, urban populations in areas mainly
in northern and northeastern Syria were economically marginalized. Sunni-
dominant Damascus, Homs, and Hama had been repressed since 1982, when
the Syrian military flattened Hama and its Islamic resistance, which had been
similarly active in the other cities.
In 1986, shortages and Syria’s inability to make debt payments were
to be solved through an economic opening, an infitah. Al-Assad’s regime
reined in subsidies, while he issued joint ventures and Investment Law
No. 10, intended to attract private investment in agriculture.13 Some mixed
sector companies opened, but Syria also relied on Iranian, Saudi Arabian,
and Libyan aid, and its “second economy,” profiting from and marketing
in Lebanon through a heavy Syrian military presence there. Under Bashar
al-Assad, during the 2000s, the regime semiliberalized the Syrian economy,
but it blocked all political reforms, preferring a “Chinese path.” While
state business networks were established and joint ventures introduced in
2010, Syrian-manufactured products faltered, and rural areas suffered from
drought14 and lack of state development schemes—all adding to the discon-
tent with the government.
The Syrian military lacked a large role in the formal economy, unlike the
armies’ business and industries based in Egypt, Jordan, or Pakistan. How-
ever, its officers profited from smuggling networks in Lebanon during its
civil war (1975–1990). Impoverished Syrians worked there as cheap laborers
and employees, the price of Syrian produce undercut Lebanon’s, and smug-
gling activities enabled the Syrian upper and middle classes to have access to
Western consumer goods available on the Lebanese market. Syria was forced
to withdraw from Lebanon in 2004, but smuggling activities where army offi-
cers in control of borders and roads were involved continued. Furthermore,
200 Sherifa Zuhur

Syria’s economic changes meant that gains accrued to a small core of about
one hundred individuals, political leadership, entrepreneurs, senior army and
intelligence officers (or retirees); a second strata of their sons and relatives;
and a third strata of business tycoons and other politicians.15 These circles and
loyalist senior military stand to lose should Assad fall.
After the eruption of the uprisings, defections among Syrian Army troops
and officers began in June of 2011. Once the revolution altered expectations
of the future, the regime could not purchase the loyalty of the Syrian army
because of the high levels of political repression wielded against so many.
As reserve troops fled, many were jailed or forced to serve unless they could
arrange for their families’ flights. By March of 2012, men between eighteen
and forty-two years old were forbidden to travel. Up to thirty officers per
day defected in the summer of 2012. There are disputes about how many
former officers versus ordinary civilians formed the nebulous Free Syrian
Army.16 But the effect on the regular military was profound—experts spoke
of two armies: one of all religious sects, and the other, primarily ʿAlawites
and Shiites in the Republican Guard, the 4th Division, and the Special
Forces unit.17
To enlarge its force beyond the military to crush the rebels, the Assad
regime employed the shabbiha, gangs armed and funded by the state. Shab-
biha means both “a ghost” and the Mercedes S600 model (shabaḥ), which
militia gangs drove to smuggle cigarettes and food from Syria into Lebanon
and hashish and weapons into Syria in the 1980s. These initial shabbiha ran
protection rackets established by Rifaat al-Assad, President Hafez al-Assad’s
brother, and his cousin, in Latakia, Baniyas, and Tartus. A second generation
of shabbiha emerged by 2011, funded by Bashar’s brother Maher al-Assad
and his cousin Rami Makhlouf and others.18 ʿAlawite prisoners were released
specifically for this purpose. They carried out several massacres, marauding
and burning Sunni civilian areas at al-Houla, al-Qubair, Baniyas, Bayda, and
Thiyabiyya, and operated their own detention/torture centers.19 They were
receiving US $130 a day in June of 2012, from private funds. The shabbiha
looted the museum in Palmyra, and stole Roman antiquities, selling them on
the black market in Lebanon and Syria. It must be added that rebels as well
as regime forces deal in artifacts to obtain money for arms.20
The regime formed further paramilitary forces, for example, the al-Jaysh
al-Shaʿbi (People’s Army). Some were trained and supported by Iran’s
Islamic Revolutionary Guards and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.21 Various popular
forces, committees, and shabbiha were integrated into the National Defense
Forces, civilian militias, which supplemented the regular forces bled by
defections, rebel attacks, or imprisoned (for not firing on civilians) or con-
fined to their barracks.22 Syria has 200,000 security personnel in addition to
the armed forces, which had dropped to 178,000 in 2013.23
Syria’s Army, Militias, and Nonstate Armed Groups 201

Not all regime loyalist paramilitaries are Alawi. The Sunni Berri clan of
Aleppo and some Sunnis in Deir az-Zor and Daraʿa are Assad loyalists, and
loyal Druze and Christian groups also formed.24 The Shiʿa Liwaʾ Abu al-Fadl
al-Abbas are a section of the National Defense Forces in Sayyidah Zaynab
in Damascus. These Syrian paramilitaries may number more than sixty thou-
sand. Women are members, as in the Alawi Lioness Brigade, which labeled
all who wear the hijab as “al-Qaeda.”25 Sectarianism is part of the militias’
raison d’être; they believe that Islamism in Syria threatens their survival.
In this context, support by foreign troops and arms supply to the regime
is significant. Hezbollah’s estimated five thousand troops, the Iranian Revo-
lutionary Guard and thousands of militia volunteers from at least fourteen
factions of Iraqi fighting groups, also fight in Syria.26 Fighters from ʿAsaʾib
Ahl al-Haqq, Iraq’s Kataʾib Hezbollah, the Badr Organization, Harakat
Hizballah al-Nujabaʾ, Kataʾib Sayyid al-Shuhada, and Muqtada al-Sadr’s
Liwaʾ al-Youm al-Mawʿud are defending Assad and use sectarian, apoca-
lyptic narratives.27 At least ten thousand foreign Shiʿi fighters are engaged
in Syria.
Russia, which cancelled 73 percent of Syria’s debt in the 1990s, held
contracts with Syria worth US $1.5 billion by 2012, and has supplied gun-
ships, Yak-130s, air defense and coastal missile defense, and antiship mis-
siles designed to thwart invasion efforts, and delivered arms at its naval port
at Tartus.28 Moreover, Russia has airbase facilities in Tadmor (Palmyra) and
electronic surveillance facilities in Latakia and near Damascus. Russia, on
the United Nations Security Council, has blocked efforts to require Assad to
step down.
Iran strongly supports the Assad government, too. The relationship, which
developed to counter Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, is managed by Iran’s Islamic
Revolutionary Guard Corps.29 An Iranian official, Hojjat al-Islam Mehdi
Taeb, declared Syria the thirty-fifth province of Iran.30 Iran announced a
credit facility agreement with Syria of US $1 billion in January 2013, and
then offered US $3.6 billion in credit later that year.31

Nonstate Armed Groups: Shifting Landscape

In order to understand the shifting landscape of Syria’s revolution, this sec-

tion maps and traces the formation, features, switching alliances, sizes, and
aims of the main nonstate armed groups fighting in Syria. The number of
armed groups that emerged in Syria between 2011 and 2014 was approxi-
mately 1,500; it was their aim to overthrow the government.32 Besides the
largely secular Free Syrian Army (FSA), the Salafi-jihadists fight the ʿAlawi
Assad government and its allies in Shiʿi Hizbullah not only because of
202 Sherifa Zuhur

Assad’s assaults on Syrian Sunnis but also because they believe the ʿAlawis
are false Muslims (munāfiqīn) or infidels (kāffar).

The Free Syrian Army

The Free Syrian Army (FSA) is a conglomerate of many groups (estimated
at 80,00033 to 100,000 in 2012 to 68,500 in 2013, and 55,000 in 2014).34 It
was created in July 2011 by defectors under Riad al-Asaad, a former colonel
of the Syrian Air Force. Defectors were mainly motivated by ideological
reasons. They sustained economic losses when they joined the revolution, as
they lost their stable salaries and privileged status vis-à-vis the regime. West-
ern and Gulf sponsors have wanted their sponsored connections in the FSA to
counter Salafi-jihadi groups like Jabhat al-Nusra,35 and fight the Islamic State
of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS).36 However, the FSA has at times coordinated
with al-Nusra, and some of its former personnel are now in other Islamist
factions. On the other hand, Islamists also joined the FSA. Women composed
many FSA battalions, which responded to massacres of civilians as in Homs
in early 2013. These included the Daughters of Walid Brigade in Homs and
the Sumayya bint Khayyat Brigade in an-Nabek.
FSA forces in the north of the country in the first three years of the conflict
had greater operational freedom and better supply lines, and thus, more influ-
ence over the command structure.37 The Northern Storm Brigade, affiliated
with the FSA, levied fees at the Bab al-Salam crossing into Turkey on rebel
groups bringing goods in and out of Syria, and this brigade was also involved
in kidnapping and smuggling.38 Syria’s fighters had received approximately
US $26 million from the United States by 2013—a total of US $80 million
in nonlethal assistance was promised, but not provided. Some one thousand
to three thousand were enrolled in a CIA training and equipping program in
East German–trained FSA commander Salim Idris, a former general in
the Syrian army, chaired the Supreme Military Command (SMC), which
supported a broad coalition of opposition groups and the Syrian Opposition
Coalition.40 The SMC received funding from France, Germany, Italy, Turkey,
the United States, Great Britain, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab
Emirates, and Qatar and gained excellent headway until the spring of 2013.41
US CIA funding to arm the FSA was authorized in the spring of 2013, but the
FSA did not receive heavy weapons. However, heavy weapons originating in
Croatia reached the FSA from over the Jordanian border in February, aiding
their progress in the Daraʿa and Damascus provinces.42
In September of 2013, after Assad’s forces launched sarin attacks on sub-
urbs of Damascus killing hundreds, the United States briefly threatened mili-
tary strikes in response. Russia proposed the destruction of Assad’s chemical
Syria’s Army, Militias, and Nonstate Armed Groups 203

weapons instead. US and European backers may have wanted the FSA and
the jihadists to demonstrate just sufficient strength to pressure a diplomatic
solution at the Geneva II Middle East Peace Conference in early 2014.43
However, the talks were postponed, and then failed. In agreement with Assad,
a process of shipping out the Syrian chemical stockpile for destruction started
under the supervision of the United Nations and the Organization for the Pro-
hibition of Chemical Weapons, and was completed in August 2014.
Parallel to this, a counter-council of Salafi-jihadist groups formed to reject
solutions forged in the SMC with Assad, and denounced the Geneva II talks.
Due to struggles within the FSA, Idris was relieved of his command in Febru-
ary 2014 and replaced by Brigadier General Abdul-Ilah al-Bashir al-Noeimi,
a former career officer in the Syrian army.44
The FSA does not only consist of former officers and soldiers of the Syr-
ian army pursuing purely military aims. There are also Islamists fighting in
the FSA.45 Many of them were part of the Syria Islamic Liberation Front
(SILF), which emerged in September 2013 and was an umbrella organiza-
tion of nineteen ideologically varied groups.46 Suqur al-Sham, led by Shaykh
Ahmad Abu ʿIssa, was more hardline. Abu ʿIssa, called Ahmad al-Jarba, was
president of the Syrian National Council (SNC)47 “of the munāfiqīn (hypo-
crites).” Earlier examples of Islamist FSA elements were the Farouq Battal-
ions, famous for their defense of Baba Amr in Homs, which also defended
al-Qusayr against the Syrian Armed Forces and Hezbollah in April to May
2013. After the discrediting of its leader, Abdul Razaq Tlass, a former Syrian
army lieutenant,48 two other leaders were expelled. They formed the Farouq
Islamic Battalion. The Farouq Battalion diminished, and members joined
the Muslim Brotherhood–dominated49 Hazzm Movement with five thousand
members and twelve affiliate brigades. The Hazzm Movement disbanded
itself after fighting Jabhat al-Nusra and joined the Levant Force, an alliance
of Aleppo-based Islamist rebels.

Salafi-Jihadist Groups
Salafi-jihadist entities evolved in the 1990s, along with the Gulf State funding
of religious entities.50 The Muslim Brotherhood are technically Salafis and, in
exile, played a strong role in the SNC. The Salafi-jihadists arose due to three
main causes. The first was the crushing of Islamist resistance in 1982; the sec-
ond was to support fighters in transit from Iraq and Jordan following the 2003
US-led invasion of Iraq; and the third was their connections and affiliations
to other regional and international movements of Salafi-jihadists.51 There are
also nonjihadist, non-Salafi Islamic movements, such as the Zayd Sufi move-
ment, which supports the revolution, as does the mosque orator Shaykh Dr
Muhammad Ratib al-Nabulsi and his students, and foreign-led Sufi militias.52
204 Sherifa Zuhur

Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS) is an Iraqi and Syrian group
that evolved from the more than forty groups resisting the US occupation of
Iraq, and which were referred to (collectively at times) as al-Qaeda in Iraq,
or al-Qaeda fi Bilād ar-Rāfidain (al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers),
which contained Syrians and who established maḍāfāt (guesthouses) in Syria
for traveling jihadists. The Jabhat al-Nusra li-Ahl al-Sham (al-Nusra) and
ISIS were both allied with parent al-Qaeda—although the latter has cut off
relations, being unable to exert control over the two groups. Al-Nusra and
ISIS have been highly successful in fighting, due in part to their funding, their
zeal for jihad, and the failures of Iraq’s political unification in Anbar prov-
ince. A split occurred between al-Nusra’s leader Abu Mohammad al-Julani
(who was falsely reported to be killed) and the Islamic State of Iraq’s leader,
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who formed ISIS.53 Al-Nusra’s origins were in Abu
Musʿab al-Zarqawi’s Iraqi network.
Al-Nusra was first announced in early 2012. Its leader was al-Jawlani, who
had supported al-Qaeda in Lebanon as well as Iraq. The Syrian intelligence
services had allowed the activity of such Islamist groups until 2007. A group
allied with al-Nusra, the Free Jazira Brigade in the northeastern Yarubiyya
area, consists of Shammar tribesmen.54 In 2014, many other tribes allied with
al-Nusra or ISIS.
Al-Nusra and ISIS have swollen in size. At the end of 2014, al-Nusra had
an estimated six thousand to fifteen thousand members.55 ISIS had 20,000 to
31,500 in Iraq and Syria.56 The CIA believes fifteen thousand foreign fight-
ers are fighting with ISIS (other estimates are at twelve thousand). Al-Nusra
claims: “The only way to establish God’s law on earth is through jihad and
fighting.” Their second requirement is “loyalty and disavowal” (al-walāʾ
wa-l-barāʾ, i.e., adhering to Salafi doctrines and denouncing non-Islamic
practices and ideas). Anyone who violates this doctrine is considered an
infidel and an apostate.57 Long prior to its eruption in Iraq in 2014, ISIS pro-
moted daʿwa (missionary activities), speeches, singing of inshād (religious
songs), Qurʾanic recitation, the distribution of food and fuel in areas held, and
required full covering of women.58 ISIS followers burned churches, attacked
local non-Salafi activists in Raqqa, executed ʿAlawis, threatened people who
did not fast in Ramadan, and cut off tobacco products crossing into Aleppo.59
On November 8, 2013, ISIS killed an ʿAlawite family near Salamiyya, and
crucified a shepherd in March 2014 and two others in April 2014.60
ISIS captured Mosul and Tikrit as the Iraqi army crumbled, and declared
a caliphate on June 30, 2014. Its troops blitzed through al-Anbar province,
and executed and kidnapped Yazidis in Sinjar, causing another mass exodus.
Meanwhile, FSA groups had been trying unsuccessfully to defeat ISIS in
Syria’s Army, Militias, and Nonstate Armed Groups 205

Aleppo province since January 2014.61 The United States then declared a
counterterrorist campaign against ISIS, primarily in Iraq, but also in Syria,
and launched air attacks, as a sustained battle raged in Kobane in October
Jabhat al-Nusra shares ISIS’s goal of establishing an Islamic state, consid-
ers the Druze, ʿAlawis, and Ismaiʿilis to be derelict in their Islamic faith, and
opposes democracy. It has used suicide bombers and vehicle-mounted bombs
and has assassinated members of government and the state media. Al-Nusra
spoke of “bringing the law of Allah back to his land.”62 Al-Nusra and FSA
fighters cooperated in an effort to capture the major highway through the
Aleppo-Hassakeh road in the fall of 2013, and the FSA strongly opposed US
airstrikes on al-Nusra and ISIS. It is obvious that the factionalization of the
rebels has damaged their war against Assad, yet his forces have not prevailed.
In order to sustain the jihadist movements financially, al-Nusra members
have depended on external funds. They have also kidnapped or acquired
hostages for profit and obtained income from the tribes’ takeover of Syria’s
oil fields. From early 2014, journalists claimed that ISIS and al-Nusra were
controlling the oil and gas trade, although wells are on tribal lands. The tribes
smuggled oil to Turkey; they control at least one oil well or more on each of
their lands, sometimes using home refineries.63 Oil is also transported to Iraq
for refining. Some gas is provided to a gas plant controlled by al-Nusra, while
the rest is sold on the market. Gas was sold to the Assad government in Deir
az-Zor as it lost control of the facilities.64 The conflict has on the one hand
erased Syria’s official oil exports, causing losses of US $20 billion, and on
the other established oil as a side market for smugglers, tribes, and combat-
ants. The Assad regime obtains some oil from tribes and ISIS in order to keep
producing electricity.65 However, strikes on an electricity grid, or deprivation
of oil profits are not, sui generis, an attack on a strategic center of gravity,
because in rural Syria, many citizens never had been receiving electricity
ISIS and others also smuggle out diesel fuel. The Western media criticized
Turkey’s “allowing” of such smuggling, arguing that Turkey should stand
by other NATO nations against ISIS. Turkey is, however, supportive of the
rebels, and not likely to control the smuggling, which benefits those in its
border towns.67

Kurdish Fighting Groups

The largest Kurdish fighting groups are the People’s Protective Units
(Yekîneyên Parastina Gel, YPG) militias (forty-five thousand to fifty thou-
sand), the armed wing of the Supreme Kurdish Committee and the Jabhat
Akrad (seven thousand). They fought Assad’s forces, seizing 365 villages
206 Sherifa Zuhur

and towns in the fall of 2012, and border crossings and the oil fields in 2013.
Kurdish forces clashed with FSA-allied forces within Aleppo and near the
Turkish border, and battled al-Nusra and ISIS in the eastern provinces for
months at Kobane.
Located in northeastern Syria (Rojava, western Kurdistan) are the 1,332
oil wells and 25 gas wells of Rmeilan oil field, which the YPG won in battles
following an agreement with al-Nusra, and which were administered by the
Democratic Union Party. The Supreme Kurdish Committee, the Kurdish Dis-
tributing al-Jazeera’s Fuel, has replaced the former Syrian company, Sadcop.
As Homs’s and Baniyas’s oil refineries are closed, similarly haphazard and
dangerous refining methods (to those in non-Kurdish areas) have sprung up
in this region.68
The YPG oppose al-Nusra and ISIS. One in every five YPG fighters is
female, and Salafi-jihadist fighters detest them and the Kurds’ nationalism.69
A woman fighter of the YPG explained that her movement wants a unified
Arab and Kurdish Syria.70 The YPG are part of the revolution, as the two
Assad governments strongly suppressed Kurds.

Older and Newer Islamist Coalitions

Harakat Ahrar ash-Sham al-Islamiyya (Islamic Movement of the Free Men
of the Levant) was estimated at ten thousand to fifteen thousand fighters.71
In Aleppo a smaller group, al-Muhajirun, and later, Jaish al-Muhajireen
wal-Ansar, included many foreign fighters. After joining ISIS, it unleashed
suicide attacks on Menagh airbase outside Aleppo, capturing it in August of
2013 under Tarkhan Batirashvili, known as Abu Omar al-Shishani.72
Ahrar al-Sham was dubbed a “nationalist Salafi-jihadist” group as com-
pared to al-Nusra’s “internationalist Salafi-jihadist”73 orientation.74 Some of
its founders were held in Sednaya prison. The group purchased arms from
Turkey, Chechnya, and elsewhere.75 In the summer of 2013, Ahrar al-Sham
and al-Nusra began a second offensive at the Aleppo Central Prison in
order to free one thousand opposition prisoners. It fought ISIS as part of the
umbrella Islamic Front (see below). On September 9, 2014, a major attack in
Ram Hamdan, Idlib, killed Ahrar’s leader and many commanders, and was
viewed as an ominous betrayal.
The Syrian Islamic Liberation Front (SILF) included many groups like the
Qatar-backed Tawhid Brigade (Muslim Brotherhood), which claimed eleven
thousand fighters. It developed an attached female brigade, Our Mother
ʿAʾisha, in Aleppo.76 The SILF became the Jabhat Islamiyya (Islamic Front,
IF) with about forty-five thousand fighters in December 2013. Strongest
within it was the Jaysh al-Islam with nine thousand fighters.77 The IF included
Ahrar al-Sham and was led by Zahran Alloush, a former Liwaʾ al-Islam
Syria’s Army, Militias, and Nonstate Armed Groups 207

commander receiving Saudi funding and Pakistani training.78 The IF had

both Salafi and “non-jihadist” battalions. Liwaʾ al-Tawhid was joined by the
Northern Storm Brigade of the FSA under the IF.
Another new coalition, Jaysh al-Mujahidin, with nine Islamist forces in
Aleppo and Idlib, included part of Kataʾib Nur al-Din al-Zangi, Harakat Nur,
and Jund al-Haramayn. Denounced by ISIS, this group gained strength in
the north, fighting with IF and al-Nusra. The Jaysh al-Sham in Idlib came
from Liwaʾ Dawood and some parts of Suqour al-Sham Brigade.79 Ajnad al-
Islam is an Islamist umbrella organization in Damascus and parts of Quneitra
governorates. Its Aleppo forces are now part of the Levant Front (al-Jabha
al-Shammiya), led by Abdel-Aziz Salameh. It operates in Aleppo, was estab-
lished in December of 2014, and has absorbed the Hazzm movement.

Foreign Recruitment, Funding, and Spillover

Since Salafists believe that active jihad is required, the promotion of ongoing
jihad in Syria inspires foreign recruitment. Syria became a jihadist magnet
more powerful than Afghanistan, as terrible civilian casualties and Baathist
anti-Islamism provided the cause.80 An important jihadi theorist, Abu Muʿsab
al-Suri, wrote about Assad’s near-eradication of the Islamists in 1982 and
recommended attacks on ʿAlawites, Christians, and Westerners in Syria.81
The total number of foreign jihadists is unknown, but it is essential to
predictions for the fate of Syria and the jihadist movements. The largest
group of Salafi-jihadists who traveled to Syria consisted of 2,400 to 3,000
Tunisians and Iraqi fighters. In addition, there were seven hundred to eight
hundred Jordanians.82 Perhaps one thousand Turks fight for ISIS and one hun-
dred Chechen fighters were in Syria.83 One hundred US-American Muslims,
possibly 412 French jihadists, and 50 to 95 Spanish fighters are in Syria. As
many as 366 UK nationals may be involved.84 Up to 152 Dutch fighters and
87 Swedes traveled to Syria to fight, and as many as 205 Australians were
in Syria. Some forty Tehrik-i-Taliban fought among one hundred Pakistani
fighters in Syria, some under Abu Jaʿfar al-Libi.85 Up to fifty Indonesians are
possibly in Syria. The CIA’s estimate of foreign jihadists with ISIS is fifteen
thousand, which was a quite high number when issued. In fact, many govern-
ments now arrest those traveling for jihad, or returning from it. Some 1,200
Saudi jihadists had traveled to Syria by 2013, and now probably number
1,500 to 2,500, although the Mufti of Saudi Arabia issued a statement to dis-
courage jihadists in October 2013, and Saudi authorities arrest them. Libyan
jihadists either arrived in Syria or ran training camps back home in Libya.
Jihadists are either self-funded or salaried. For the salaried elements, more
than seventy foreign partners have sent funds to opposition fighters. Jihadist
208 Sherifa Zuhur

networks adeptly use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, e-mail, and text mes-
saging to disseminate fund-raising appeals. Jihadists also use social media
to enlarge their presence; for example, ISIS used bots to promote certain
hashtags on Twitter to give the impression of more users.
Propaganda campaigns have raised funds, too. In Kuwait, one campaign
equipped twelve thousand fighters at US $2,500 each; another campaign
“Wage Jihad with Your Money” offered “gold (donor) status” for US $350
(cost of eight mortar rounds) and silver status at US $175 (fifty sniper bul-
lets).86 Donors in countries with restrictions could transfer funds to Kuwait
that help run operation rooms, equip fighters, or provide salaries. Following
the Houla massacre (summary executions of 108 by progovernment shabbiha
north of Homs on May 25, 2012), a former Kuwaiti soldier said he collected
US $14 million in just five days. Couriers brought arms to Turkey, and then
he carried them across the border.87 Weapons have arrived in this way from
other sources.88 Saudi Arabia had previously allowed donations to be col-
lected by private citizens.89 It has since disallowed this activity, yet fund-
raising continues privately. Assets (funding) are not a center of gravity, but
they impact “the endurance and staying in power of the sides in a protracted
war of attrition.”90
Fighters raised some funds through kidnapping, smuggling, and oil sales.
Syrians were kidnapped, often by local paramilitaries, and paid modest ran-
soms, but Qatar paid US $20 million in ransom for Fijian UN peacekeepers,
and millions to the kidnappers of thirteen nuns from Maʿloula. There is a
market in cars and parts smuggling and drug smuggling, a trade that long
preceded the conflict.91 Captagon, a Syrian-made amphetamine, is used by
fighters on both sides, and is sold and smuggled out, allegedly to fund rebels.
Twelve million capsules were confiscated in 2013.92 Due to violence in east-
ern Lebanon, the government suspended raids on hashish producers. Much of
this product is sold in Syria, or trafficked by Syrians elsewhere.93 A marriage
and sex market for very young women resembling prostitution is another dark
side of Syria and its refugee camps.94
Some claimed that economic activities such as oil sales and smuggling
replaced donor contributions to jihadist groups, but donor funding obviously
continues.95 For instance, for training a new force of “moderates” against
ISIS, the United States has promised up to US $4 billion in aid.
The concept of “markets of violence” suggests that fighters’ organiza-
tional salaries or stipends prolong conflicts.96 Conversely, it is argued that
better stipends to jihadist militias led to stronger performance against the
SAA and enlarging support first to Jabhat al-Nusra, and later to ISIS. How-
ever, private money flows are nearly impossible to track or stem. Regard-
ing foreign assistance, the United States and Gulf States have offered cash
assistance and relief aid to the Syrians and rebels, but were prevented from
Syria’s Army, Militias, and Nonstate Armed Groups 209

offering heavy weaponry or air assistance by the US Congress. The United

States also constrained the Gulf States from providing weaponry. Turkey has
provided access and aid, and vowed to cut off entry to ISIS after its alarm-
ingly rapid expansion in Iraq. However, many of the fighters in these groups
have received inadequate or no stipends, and insufficient food for months.
According to militia fighters in Palestine, Lebanon, and Iraq,97 salaries kept
fighters’ families from destitution, yet they held fast to nationalist or Islamist
ideology and fought even when unsupported. This supports the argument
that ideological motives prevail over economic motives among armed jihadi
groups in Syria.
Salafi-jihadists challenge the Syrian government’s tight control over
television and official media, and over foreign journalists who were very
constrained. Many journalists have been killed or kidnapped. The Assad gov-
ernment also expends funds to influence the foreign media, and Russian and
Iranian media amplify these efforts. In this context, Salafi-jihadists counter
the Syrian Arab News Agency, the official media, by mapping their battle
progress, magnifying victories, and attracting recruits and funders. Social
media and text messaging is an important tool. @ShamiWitness, arrested in
India, saw Twitter as his means of aiding the ISIS jihad.98 Fund-raisers use
Twitter to call for donations with drop-off points or numbers posted at call
centers. Abu Musʿab of the al-Muhajirun issued weekly addresses online
requesting donations and postprayer entreaties (duʿāʾ) toward the creation of
an Islamic state. With his British accent and use of specific religious phrases
understood by non-Arabic speakers, he appealed to global jihadists.
YouTube videos document battles, attacks on civilians, broadcast com-
manders’ messages regarding tactical decisions, and show weapons captured
or those purchased by donors.99 The groups’ martyrology is online. Jabhat al-
Nusra operates the channel Manara al-Bayda and advertises videos on Shaikh
al-Islam. Branding (identifying the militia’s affiliation, or that of the battalion
or individual leaders) assists recruitment and donors for the organization.
For instance, ISIS brands its videos via al-Furqan media. References to the
Caliphate abound, and maps of the entire MENA region under black ISIS
banners predated its formal announcement in 2014. Ahrar al-Sham likewise
displayed Salafi black banners, whinnying Arabian stallions, and training
exercises at its camp in Raqqa to a soundtrack of inshād.
As for the FSA, it also promotes its own strategic communications and
operations with foreign funds and social media. Syrians in Syria and in exile,
Turkey, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the
United States, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Lebanon have all funded
the FSA.100 The United States denied the rebels the receipt of weapons and
defunded the FSA in Hama and Idlib to punish it for losing to al-Nusra.101
In fact, the United States has secretly funded opposition groups and Syrian
210 Sherifa Zuhur

expatriates since 2011. Social media is also essential to the FSA from its
commanders’ account, which provides independent coverage of battles to
identification of the dead provided via Local Coordination Committees to the
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights based in London.
The Syrian revolution rapidly spilled over and has impacted neighboring
states, particularly Turkey and Lebanon. Most dramatic were ISIS’s and
al-Nusra’s seizure of hostages from Lebanon’s army, clashes in Tripoli and
bombings in Beirut, including the one that killed the former finance minis-
ter Mohamed Chatah—all between supporters of Hezbollah and the jihadi
groups. ISIS’s significant expansion in Iraq during 2014 has resulted in a
US-led campaign against it since September 2014, including bombings in
Syria. Support promised for “moderate” rebels planned over the next eighteen
months suggests a US expectation of a continuing conflict and shows that
spillover has in turn impacted funds to be expended on the conflict.


One important factor contributing to the standoff102 at the time of writing

between the forces of the Syrian government and the various militant groups
has been the fracturing of Syria’s centralized military and the efforts to split
ISIS and al-Nusra from other armed opposition rebel groups.103 Many of the
1,500 rebel fighting groups are former soldiers from Assad’s army, whereas
others are civilian volunteers. They reached the conclusion that nothing but
armed force would bring down the Assad regime. Thus, ideological—even
existential—motivations are the main drivers impelling both pro- and anti-
Assad fighters. Economic factors also play a role in perpetuating the conflict,
but these are secondary to the political interests. It is worth mentioning here
that most of the nonviolent movement opposed the armed groups, even as
they were being slaughtered by Assad’s forces or intelligence.
In the Syrian conflict today, the strength of the fighting groups, in their size
and arms, are predictors of victory, defeat, or stalemate. Their funding is one
factor in that strength. Meanwhile, military factionalism and the growth of
local powerbrokers have complicated rebel advances, as well as UN efforts
at securing limited ceasefires.
Economic factors such as competition and infighting among donors, and
military factors such as rebels’ inability to obtain more heavy weaponry ear-
lier lessened their efficacy against Assad’s forces. Still, rebels retained much
of Aleppo, parts of Damascus, Idlib, Homs, and Hama and much of Daraʿa,
and have captured most of eastern Syria. The immense economic and human
suffering of Syrians, three hundred thousand dead, nine million refugees (7.6
million of these in Syria), and an untold number of injured, maimed, and
Syria’s Army, Militias, and Nonstate Armed Groups 211

traumatized must be considered, but not with the thought that they had any
choice other than to defend themselves against the intense air attacks of the
SAA and house-by-house demolitions. And unfortunately, it would be purely
speculative to imagine a funding shut-off given the refusal of Assad’s back-
ers, the ease of international monetary exchanges, and the internal “markets
of violence” sources of income.
Assad’s dilemma, in Clausewitzian terms, is the diffusion of the conflict’s
center of gravity throughout the country, and his inability to extinguish the
popular will for revolution. This, along with rebel strength, meant they could
defend fixed lines and move to larger formations, since the regime could not
continue to maintain its defenses or counterattack in all areas.104 Considering
the fracturing of forces and Assad’s defensive stance, the only salvation for
battered Syrians lies in a political deal leading to a transitional post-Assad
structure. This might require military intervention via a ground invasion.
(A Turkish intervention, or a Jordanian or a coalition having a temporary
mandate over Syria, have been suggested.) Otherwise, the disastrous fight-
ing, expansion of international jihad, and markets of violence will likely


1. The “Damascus Spring” was an attempt by urban intellectuals, profession-

als, and former political prisoners to secure reforms from Bashar al-Assad soon after
he had assumed power. The regime of Bashar al-Assad violently clamped down on
reformers (al-Hayat, September 27, 2000; al-Wathāʾiq al-Ṣādirat ʾan al-Haiy’ah al-
Ta’sysiyyah, Damascus: n.d; MidEast Mirror, April 19, 2001, 18).
2. “Women in Daraʿa Demonstrate against Bashar al-Assad,” YouTube,
1:26, posted by “horanson1,” April 7, 2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=
3. Zuhur, “The Syrian Opposition.”
4. “Syria: Demonstrations Women in Baydaa the Village of Banias—Syria,”
YouTube, 0:41, posted by “Antivirus 211C,” April 13, 2011, https://www.youtube.
com/watch?NR=1&v=WsJSu88ylEY; George, Syria: Neither Bread nor Freedom,
48–49; Human Rights Watch, “Syria.”
5. This chapter relies in part on personal interviews with combatants, members
of the NVM, and also with health and aid workers primarily collected between 2012
and late summer of 2014, and on Skype and telephone interviews. For their safety
and that of intermediaries, as well as my own, no details will be provided. However,
numerous other open source data confirm various statements and assessments, as for
example, views and opinions of jihadist group members as in Weiss and Hassan, ISIS:
Inside the Army of Terror. Interviews are alluded to in the endnotes.
6. The LCCs strive to identify the dead and document these deaths and the vari-
ous battles across Syria’s provinces, providing important snapshots on the conflict
212 Sherifa Zuhur

over time. These are disseminated by the Syrian Organisation for Human Rights.
They are not always immediately or completely accurate, and may be amended with
additional information; al-Shami, “Syria’s Grass Roots Civil Opposition.”
7. Tilly, Social Movements 1768–2004, 3.
8. Elwert, “Markets of Violence,” 221.
9. Hinnebusch, “The Foreign Policy of Syria,” 150.
10. Some 1,200 of these tanks were not in use. Cordesmann, Nerguizian, and
Popescu, Israel and Syria: The Military Balance and Prospects of War, 166.
11. International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 2011, 330.
12. For example, electric power was cut off for as long as ten hours a day for
months at a time.
13. Sukkar, “The Crisis of 1986 and Syria’s Plan for Reform”; Pölling, “Invest-
ment Law No. 10: Which Future for the Private Sector?”; Zuhur, “Syria: From Arab
Nationalists to a Security Services State,” 125–27.
14. In 2006, Syria also had a drought, an occurrence so frequent as to belie the
thesis of this article. Hammer, “Is a Lack of Water to Blame for the Conflict in Syria?”
15. Haddad, Business Networks in Syria, 64, 86; Makinson, Martin, “Syria’s Very
Private Schools of Shame,” Wordpress.com blog, December 8, http://sherifazuhur.
16. “Q & A: Nir Rosen on Syria’s Armed Opposition,” Al Jazeera, February
13, 2012, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/02/201221315020166516.
17. Giglio, “Inside Bashar al-Assad’s Army,” October 12, 2012, http://www.
18. Amor and Sherlock, “How Bashar al-Assad Created the Feared Shabiha
Militia: An Insider Speaks,” Telegraph, March 23, 2014, http://www.telegraph.
19. Carter Center, “Syria: Pro-Government Paramilitary Forces.”
20. Baker, “How Ancient Artifacts Are Being Traded for Guns.”
21. Lucas, “The Real Story of ‘Syria’s Iran-Hezbollah 50,000-Man Militia’”;
Holliday, “The Assad Regime,” 30–31.
22. Holliday, “The Assad Regime,” 27–28.
23. International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 2014, 344.
24. Holliday, “The Assad Regime,” 18.
25. Sly and Ramadan, “The All Female Militias of Syria.”
26. Smyth, “From Karbala to Sayyida Zaynab: Iraqi Fighters in Syria’s Shia
27. Wicken, “New War Old Faces”; Smyth, “From Karbala to Sayyida Zaynab.”
28. Galpin, “Russian Arms Shipments Bolster Syria’s Embattled Assad.”
29. This became evident when operatives of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard
were seized as hostages in Syria in August of 2012.
30. Sadeghi-Boroujerdi, “Syria Is Iran’s 35th Province.”
31. “Syria and Iran Ink Credit Deals,” al-Bawaba, January 17, 2013; “Iran Grants
Syria $3.6 Billion Credit to Buy Oil Products,” Reuters, July 31, 2013.
Syria’s Army, Militias, and Nonstate Armed Groups 213

32. Schmitt and Mazzetti, “U.S. Intelligence Official Says Syrian War Could Last
for Years.”
33. Another person in the Supreme Military Command (SMC) claimed to com-
mand 320,000. Mohammad al-Mustafa in a personal [Skype] interview with journalist
Liz Sly.
34. Lister, “Syria’s Insurgency”; Kechichian, “Free Syrian Army.”
35. In order to receive funding via the Friends of Syria (also known as the Friends
of Democratic Syria), a group of Syrian opposition leaders and international partici-
pants met in London and issued a communiqué on October 23, 2013. See: “London 11
Friends of Syria Final Communiqué.” http://www.voltairenet.org/article180671.html.
36. Also known as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), in the following
referred to as ISIS.
37. O’Bagy, The Free Syrian Army, 33.
38. Abboud, “Syria’s War Economy.”
39. Sayigh, “Is Armed Rebellion on the Wane in Syria?”
40. And earlier, the Syrian National Council. Lund, “The Non-State Militant
Landscape in Syria”; Lavoix, “Strategic Intelligences Assessment for Syria (4)”; Sly,
“Defector Syrian General Will Be Conduit for U.S. Aid to Rebels.”
41. Sofer and Shafroth, “The Structure and Organization of the Syrian Opposition.”
42. “Foreign Smuggled Weapons Spread North into Syria,” Brown Moses Blog,
February 2, 2013, 2.
43. Geneva II was intended as follow-up on the first international meeting in
Geneva on June 30, 2012, which had resulted in a “Final Communiqué” of the Action
Group for Syria. http://www.un.org/News/dh/infocus/Syria/FinalCommuniqueAc-
tionGroupforSyria.pdf. See also Besheer, “Geneva Communique: Road Map for Syria
Political Transition.”
44. Lund, “A Coup in the Supreme Military Council.”
45. Lister, “Syria’s Insurgency.”
46. These included the Kataʾib al-Farouq Islami (Islamic Farouq Battalions,
established in Homs/Hama), the Kataʾib al-Faruq (al-Faruq Battalions, established in
Homs), Liwaʾ al-Islam (Islam Brigade, established in Damascus), Suqur al-Sham (in
Idlib and Aleppo with eight thousand to nine thousand fighters), the Liwaʾ al-Tawhid
(Tawhid Brigade, mainly in Aleppo), the Fath Brigade, also in Aleppo, and the Deir
ez-Zor Revolutionaries’ Council.
47. The SNC stands for the Syrian National Coalition, and its full name is the
National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces. Jarba was elected
president on July 6, 2013. There has been a good deal of factionalism and disputes
within this opposition group, which was formed in Qatar in November 2012.
48. Abdul Razaq Tlass appeared in a YouTube video engaged in Skype/phone
sex reportedly with a Turkish journalist in August of 2012 presumably due to spy-
ware. Cf. “The Abdulrazaq Tlass Affair and the Naked Truth,” Syria in Transition.
Malik Al-Abdeh’s Blog, September 24, 2012. http://syriaintransition.com/2012/09/24/
49. For background on the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, see Rabil, “The Syrian
Muslim Brotherhood,” 73–88.
214 Sherifa Zuhur

50. For earlier sources of Salafism, see Commins, Islamic Reform: Politics and
Social Change in Late Ottoman Syria, 34–88.
51. The main rationale: repelling attacks on Muslim lives and property by enemy
forces (based on Surah 2:190). Salafi-jihadists also claim to be fighting for Islam
(Surah 2:193) against the disbelief (polytheism) of Assad’s ʿAlawi grouping. Zuhur,
“Syria: A Haven for Terrorists.”
52. Rumman, “Syrian Sufis Divided as Salafist Influence Grows.”
53. Roggio, “Al Nusra Front Denies Emir Killed by Syrian Troops.”
54. The Shammar are one of the largest Arab tribes, extending to Iraq, Saudi
Arabia, Jordan, and Syria. Cf. Heras, “The Battle for Syria’s Al-Hasakah Province.”
55. Some fifteen thousand according to “Syria’s Islamist Fighters: Competition
among Islamists,” Economist, July 20, 2013. The lower estimate is from Jenkins, “The
Dynamics of Syria’s Civil War.”
56. Roggio, “On the CIA Estimate of Number of Fighters of Islamic State,”
Threat Matrix, a blog of the Long War Journal, September 13, 2014, http://www.
57. Kayed, “Meeting Syria’s Mujahedeen.”
58. Zelin, Al-Qaeda in Syria.
59. Ibid.
60. AbdelAziz, “Death and Desecration in Syria.”
61. Quickly resulting in 500 casualties (240 fighters from FSA or the Islamic
Front, 157 ISIS fighters, and 85 civilians). Cf. Simon and Dumalaon, “Almost 500
Reported Killed in Syria.”
62. Benotman and Blake, “Jabhat al-Nusra: A Strategic Briefing,” 3.
63. Karouny, “In Eastern Syria, Oil Smugglers Benefit from Chaos.”
64. Abdul-Ahad, “Syria’s Oilfields Create Surreal Battle Lines Amid Chaos and
Tribal Loyalties.”
65. Hubbard, Krauss, and Schmitt, “Rebels in Syria Claim Control of Resources.”
66. Tira, The Nature of War, 57.
67. Seibert, “NATO Ally Tacitly Fueling the ISIS War Machine.”
68. Hamo, “Syria’s Kurds Struggle with Islamists for Control of Oil.”
69. The world media only began to cover the Kurdish-ISIS struggle intensively in
Kobane in 2014, but it was a feature of the revolution dating back several years when
I began to cover these groups. Cf. Beals, “Syria’s Sisters of War”; Johnson, “Meet the
Kurdish Female Freedom Fighters of Syria.”
70. Beals, “Syria’s Sisters of War.”
71. “The ‘Radical Islamists’ of Ahrar al-Sham,” Free Halab webblog circa May
30, 2013, http://freehalab.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/the-radical-islamists-of-ahrar-
72. Roggio, “Muhajireen Army Uses BP to Launch Suicide Attack on Aleppo
73. See Lavoix’s discussion of Abdelrahman al-Hajj’s approach in “Strategic
Analysis Assessment for Syria (4.),” and see http://i0.wp.com/www.redanalysis.org/
74. Lund, “The Non-State Militant Landscape in Syria.”
Syria’s Army, Militias, and Nonstate Armed Groups 215

75. Daloglu, “Salafists Vow to Fight until There Is Islamic State of Syria.”
76. Malone, “All Female Group Fights in Aleppo”; Heffez, “When Women
Joined the Jihad in Syria.”
77. Labousse, “The New Face of the Syrian Revolution”; Sinjab, “Guide to
Armed and Political Opposition.”
78. Black, “Saudi Arabia to Spend Millions to Train New Force.”
79. Labousse, “The New Face of the Syrian Revolution.”
80. Wong, “Foreign Fighters Surpass Afghan-Soviet War.”
81. Al-Suri, “Ahl al-sunna fi al-Sham mawajahat al-nusayriyyah wa-l-saliybiyyah
wa-l-yahud. Pt. 1.”
82. Ma’ayeh, “Jordanian Jihadists Active in Syria”; “Ministry: Around
2,400 Tunisians Fighting in Syria,” AFP in Al Arabiyya, June 23, 2014, http://
ing-in-Syria.html; Lederer, “More than 12,000 Fighters from 74 Countries Went
to Syria.”
83. Yeginsu, “Turkey Is a Steady Source of ISIS Recruits.”
84. Safi and Evershed, “Australians Fighting in Syria.”
85. Ur Rahman, “Pakistani Fighters Joining the War in Syria”; Mujeeb, “Pakistan
Taliban ‘Sets Up a Base in Syria’”; Golovnina and Ahmad, “Pakistan Taliban Set Up
Camps in Syria.”
86. Hubbard, “Private Donors’ Fund Adds Wild Card to War in Syria.”
87. Ibid.
88. Abouzeid, “Opening the Weapons Tap: Syria’s Rebels Await Fresh and Free
89. Torchia, and Klapper, “Friends of Syria Conference: US Among Countries to
Fund Syrian Opposition.”
90. Tira, The Nature of War, 7.
91. Ali, “Syria ‘War Merchants’ Crush 2011 Opposition.”
92. Henley, “Captagon: The Amphetamine Fueling Syria’s Civil War.”
93. Moussaoui, “In Lebanon, Marijuana Trade Thrives from Chaos of Civil War.”
94. “Report: Saudi Men Exploiting Syrian Refugees,” Saudi Gazette, May
10, 2014, http://www.saudigazette.com.sa/index.cfm?method=home.regcon&cont
entid=20140510204632; Long, “Rape and Sham Marriages: The Fears of Syria’s
Women Refugees.”
95. Dilanian, “Islamic State Group’s War Chest Is Growing Daily.”
96. Elwert, “Intervention in Markets of Violence.”
97. Author’s personal interviews with members of Hezbollah, al-Aqsa Brigades,
Shi`a militias in Iraq, and Hamas military and al-Ghad political wing, al-Qaeda fi
Jazirat al-ʿArabiyya dating from 1999 to 2011.
98. “Shami Witness Unmasked: I Will Not Resist Arrest.” Channel 4 News,
December 12, 2014, http://www.channel4.com/news/police-bangalore-islamic-
99. Hubbard, “Private Donors’ Fund Adds Wild Card.”
100. Barnard, “Syrian Rebels Say Saudi Arabia Is Stepping Up Weapons
216 Sherifa Zuhur

101. Starr, “Official Says CIA-Funded Weapons Have Reached Rebels”; “US
‘Funded Syrian Opposition Groups,’” Al Jazeera, April 18, 2011. http://www.
aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2011/04/2011418114117731717.html; AlHamadee
and Gutman, “Rebels in Syria say US Has Stopped Paying Them.”
102. Leading to assessments such as by Schmitt and Mazetti, “US Intelligence
Official Says Syrian War Could Last for Years.”
103. The original version of this chapter showed how this pattern—replicated in
Libya, Yemen, and areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan—is now an essential feature of
civil wars and the struggles against Islamists and reflects some dynamics discussed
by Ahram, Proxy Warriors.
104. Sayigh, “Is Armed Rebellion on the Wane in Syria?”
Conclusion and Outlook
Elke Grawert

This book takes the events following the “Arab Spring” as a cause for a
renewed examination of the economic and political role of the military in the
MENA region. Moreover, the authors studied the resource base and economic
activities of paramilitary forces and nonstate armed groups (NSAGs), which
form a significant part of armed organizations in the region. The findings
reveal that the military, paramilitary groups, militias, and NSAGs pursue
activities that are embedded in the larger national, and even global, economy.
In addition, several armed organizations, state and nonstate, combine eco-
nomic with political power.
Building on early academic accounts of the role the armed forces play
in modernization and development and on scarce contemporary studies on
the military as an economic actor, the authors’ findings from nine countries
confirm a continuity of the economic dimension of the military. In fact, the
military successfully adapted to the grand shift in the international economic
context, from a framework favoring state-led developmentalism from the
1950s to the 1970s to a liberalized, and increasingly globalized, market
economy from the 1980s to the 2010s. However, adaptation strategies range
from maintaining a protectionist sector dominated by the military (while
private sector companies have to compete in a liberalized framework), to out-
right participation of military foundations and holdings in the global finance
market. The first part of the conclusion presents this transformation process
and compares the country cases with regard to the bargains through which
the military gained and maintained a degree of autonomy toward the govern-
ment. It also assesses the effects of the acquisition of privileged contracts and
privatized businesses by military and paramilitary officers on state-society
relations, and it finally looks into the influence of the military on the regimes
in the MENA region.

218 Conclusion and Outlook

In the second part, the conclusion turns to the “Arab Spring”1 to discuss its
results along four dimensions: the challenges the militaries faced during the
mass protests and their responses, the factionalization of armed organizations,
the relevance of organized Islamism, and the ensuing changes of the politi-
cal economy of armed organizations. The “Arab Spring” has fundamentally
affected state-society relations or the “ruling bargain”2 between citizens and
government, which, in the MENA region, materialized as a relatively stable
compromise between largely quiescent citizens tolerating authoritarian rulers
who distributed socioeconomic benefits, mostly through patron-client rela-
tionships. The conclusion shows the different ways by which the military and
armed organizations tried to (re-)establish legitimacy and how the erosion of
the ruling bargain boosted the proliferation of armed groups.
Finally, the conclusion highlights the authors’ findings about the increas-
ingly blurred boundaries between militaries, militias, and nonstate armed
groups in the field of economic involvement. It characterizes in particular
the economies of NSAGs as they developed in Libya, Syria, and Yemen,
and considers the interlinkages of militias and NSAGs with the state. It
also assesses the formation of distinct local orders, governed by militias, as
a result of access to economic resources that enable armed groups to gain
popular support and legitimacy.
The conclusion ends with an outlook on the potentials and threats caused
by armed organizations’ economic engagement. It considers the impact
of regional and international factors and the potential future political

Emergence of Military Business

To protect the nation was the main task of the military after independence
in the Middle East, in interstate wars during the 1960s and 1970s and the
Iraq–Iran war in the 1980s, and this justified a high defense budget. Lasting
tensions between countries that emerged after secessions, like Pakistan and
India after 1947, the separation of Pakistan and Bangladesh in 1971, and the
Yemen Arab Republic and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen in
1968, had the same effect. The result typically was a huge army (with ratios
between soldiers and civilians of 1:64 in Jordan, 1:198 in Egypt, and 1:304
in Pakistan3), an elevated military budget, and continuous purchases of arms
from major military powers, combined with political dependence on the main
supplier. Egypt has steadily relied on US military assistance since 1979, and
Jordan since 1957, whereas Syria has received military supplies from the
Soviet Union and later, Russia, since 1955. Pakistan, Iran, and Sudan had
fluctuating relations with the United States and other major arms exporters.
Conclusion and Outlook 219

This encouraged a diversification of suppliers and the development of domes-

tic arms industries in these countries.
The chapters in this volume show that most of the MENA countries wit-
nessed long periods of military rule, which promoted the influence of mili-
tary institutions not only in the political but also in the economic, realm. In
Pakistan, the military legally received agricultural land and urban plots, as a
legacy from colonialism, in order to provide for the welfare of the military
personnel after retirement. According to Siddiqa, this indicates a modernized
type of a feudal land use system. All authors mention the provision of free
housing for military officers, followed by a gradual expansion of construction
businesses run by the military and opportunities for officers to buy subsi-
dized land. This was common in the extended MENA region as an incentive
to secure commitment and loyalty of the officers. Military companies and
individual military officers doing business with civilians based on subsidized
property thus became one feature of the economic activities of the military
during the 1960s.
During the 1960s, the establishment of military companies in order to
advance industrial and technology development at a time when the private
sector was small—another legacy of colonialism—constituted the second tier
of military economy. In Pakistan, food processing factories and public works
schemes run by the military, capitalized through a previously colonial fund,
turned into a military foundation. In Nasserist Egypt, a land reform expropri-
ated the landed aristocracy, private companies were nationalized, and mili-
tary engineers and technocrats took over production management as well as
leading positions in the state bureaucracy. Similarly, the Jordanian military
pursued development tasks and absorbed up to 25 percent of the labor force.
In Turkey, the Armed Forces Trust and Pension Fund OYAK was set up in
1961 after a military coup in order to provide capital for military industries.
Akça analyzes the functioning of this fund, which stands as a model for an
increasingly important military approach to accumulate capital. Accordingly,
the Turkish OYAK fund became the basis for military economic engage-
ment in the private sector while enjoying tax exemptions and protection from
seizure of its products. Due to compulsory membership of military officers,
revenues were guaranteed, and OYAK redistributed them to the members as
cheap loans, bonuses, and social welfare services. State protection of Turk-
ish industrial entrepreneurs from external competition led to the formation
of holding companies managed by large national entrepreneurs and triggered
a process of monopolization in sectors with enhanced import-substituting
industrialization. The automotive and cement industry in particular, but also
agro-chemical and food processing industries as well as insurances, were the
domain of OYAK investments, benefiting from customs barriers for imports,
tax exemptions, and favorable credit facilities. The military conglomerate
220 Conclusion and Outlook

flourished within these sectors and played a significant role in economic

These different starting points of economic activities of the military shed
light on the earliest types of military businesses in the greater MENA region.
They indicate differences in the social alliances of the military, which had
a feudal character in Pakistan, a middle- and lower-class focus in socialist
Egypt, and a tendency to support the local big capitalists in Turkey.
The protectionist industrialization strategy ran into a crisis in the early
1970s, first in Turkey, then spreading to most non-oil-exporting MENA coun-
tries. The crisis erupted as a foreign exchange crunch due to overvalued cur-
rencies, shortage of energy due to the rising oil price, mounting inflation, and
lack of raw materials. Foreign debt service and interest rates rose rapidly. The
governments of that time were under pressure to seek new loans, which were
only available under the condition of implementing structural adjustments
of the economy. Facing increasing popular political protests against cuts in
food and transport subsidies, reduced wage levels, and the dismissal of state
employees, the regimes clamped down on demonstrators. To overcome the
crisis, Turkey turned to an enhanced production of capital goods and exports
in order to decrease financial dependency from external creditors. Egypt
partially demilitarized the state bureaucracy and the economy, implementing
some liberalization measures, such as privatizing state-owned enterprises,
previously managed by socialist officers. The effect was the emergence of a
community of “crony capitalists” intertwined with the leadership of the mili-
tary regime. In Syria, where military companies thrived in the construction
sector, retail trade, food production, and food processing, this had a similar
effect. Together with crony capitalists, military officers with family ties to
the regime were part of the inner circle of power, whose members benefited
from economic privileges protecting them from real competition in the pri-
vate sector.
None of the countries studied in this book consistently pursued structural
adjustment toward a liberal market economy. Immediately after the Camp
David Peace Accord with Israel in 1979, the Egyptian Ministry of Defense
created the National Service Products Organization, a military institution
set up to direct the peacetime commitment of the military officers toward
economic development. According to Abul-Magd, military economic enter-
prises thereafter expanded and established branches for civilian commodity
production and services, allegedly to supply military personnel and provide
subsidized products, especially food, for the poor. To build infrastructure and
to modernize cities was the task of the Engineering Authority of the Egyptian
Armed Forces, an institution of the technical professionals of the military.
Following the 1970 to 1971 war with India, Pakistan’s short-lasting civilian
regime nationalized a number of strategic private companies, which came
Conclusion and Outlook 221

under control of the military regime after the coup of 1977. Siddiqa points
out that at that time, the military established welfare trusts and holdings for
further military companies, similar to OYAK in Turkey, taking on business in
agriculture and milling, in fertilizer, oil and gas industries, security services,
infrastructure, and transport. Different branches of the military engaged
in different economic fields, crowding out civilian entrepreneurs. Military
projects in infrastructure and education favored military staff and family
members while demanding fees from civilian users. In Turkey, a strong
interest alliance of military and capitalist private entrepreneurs successfully
compelled the government to extend protectionist policies, notwithstanding
the crisis of the import-substitution strategy.
Sudan and the northern Yemen Arab Republic were also facing a debt
crisis and economic stagnation in the late 1970s. As a condition for loans,
the International Monetary Fund (IMF) demanded austerity measures and
economic liberalization. While, on the one hand, the two governments began
with a tentative and limited privatization of state companies, they established
military economic corporations in the context of structural adjustment on the
other. The aims of these military institutions were to use excess resources of
the armed forces to support the ailing national economy and to provide the
members of the military with social welfare assistance. Moreover, due to a
lack of foreign currency, the military corporations were set up to provide
the army with ammunition, tools, and weapons and to upgrade the technical
administrative capacities of members of the armed forces. El-Battahani char-
acterizes the Sudanese military economic corporation as a military merchant-
capitalist organization engaging mainly in import-export trade and marketing,
predominantly with the private sector. Seitz ascribes a tribal-military-com-
mercial character to the Yemeni complement. The latter was, from the outset,
part of the president’s patronage network providing officers with access to
various economic sources of wealth, including land for oil exploration and
government positions. The Yemeni officer corps had links with tribal patrons,
who benefited from this special avenue to tap into the economic resources of
the country and build political power. In addition, individual military officers
took over control of import businesses, received subsidized credits for irri-
gated cash crop farming, and engaged in currency transactions as means of
personal enrichment.
In Iran, the Islamic revolution in 1979, the subsequent Iraq-Iran war, and
related international economic sanctions shaped the economic role of the
country’s armed organizations. During the early 1980s, the regime national-
ized heavy industry, manufacturing, mining, and foreign trade. It founded
the paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and new insti-
tutions, among them endowed foundations that seized assets and firms of
the previous monarchy. Harris presents the IRGC as an organization that,
222 Conclusion and Outlook

alongside with the military, operated through its economic foundations, pro-
duced military technology, performed relief operations, and was engaged in
education and in commodity production. After the end of war in 1988, the
IRGC took the lead in national development based on its engineering skills.
Through a cooperative foundation, it provided housing loans and other ben-
efits to war veterans. Through a contracting branch, it engaged in construction
and development projects, competing with similar economic activities run by
the ministry of defense.
According to the country analyses in this volume, import-substituting
industrialization as a development strategy pursued by state companies and
the military as a “vanguard of modernization” came to an end during the
1980s. What remained as a legacy from this era was a powerful economic
elite consisting of active and retired military officers, entrepreneurs con-
nected to the military through family and patronage relations, as well as crony
capitalists linked to the military elite.

Adaptations of Military Business to the

Neoliberal Economic Environment

The neoliberal turn in the international economy, following the end of the
Cold War in 1989, changed the type of economic activities of the mili-
tary—as the authors show in this volume. It enhanced export orientation and
engagement in the service and finance market. The era of nationalist devel-
opmentalism was over. Instead, the leaders of transitioning regimes adopted
mottos such as fostering technical expertise, increasing economic efficiency,
and a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation during the 1990s. During the
same decade, a general trend in the MENA region was the formation of busi-
ness ties between the military and large local and foreign investors, which in
the Arab states were primarily with the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Engagement in the tourism business and the administration of the Suez
Canal and Red Sea ports by the Egyptian military indicate that the military
took advantage of the semirentier economy, which shaped the regime’s
patronage system. The main repercussion was growing social inequality due
to the biased redistribution of wealth within clientelist relationships. Accord-
ing to Abul-Magd, this surfaced, among other things, in the fact that a grow-
ing number of military officers were appointed as governors, which indicated
a strong corporate identity and self-confidence of the military as well as close
links with the executive. In both Egypt and Pakistan, military companies
increased land seizures for commercial agricultural production and expanded
into chemical industries, mining, gas and oil industries, besides continu-
ous involvement in construction and infrastructure. Siddiqa shows that the
Conclusion and Outlook 223

Pakistani military expanded its four welfare foundations into banking, finance
and insurance, real estate, travel, IT, energy, and education—fields promis-
ing benefits for officers after retirement, and drawing from the capital accu-
mulated in the military pension funds. In Turkey, the military coup of 1980
paved the way toward a fundamentally restructured economy, characterized
by export-oriented industrialization, a privatization of state companies, and
financial accumulation. Akça reveals that this was accompanied by a deep
transformation of society and politics through a combination of market econ-
omy and repression against oppositional movements, which persisted under
the subsequent civilian authoritarian regimes.
In Iran, the Islamic government used the ideology of self-sufficiency to
disguise liberalization and privatization measures for parastatal companies.
The government also demanded from the security and military forces that
they obtain revenue sources independent from the state. As Harris points
out, international sanctions contributed to a development, where former state
managers as well as foundations and cooperatives of the IRGC competed
with military economic organizations for contracts in the private sector,
while retired military and IRGC officers started individual businesses. The
result was a huge parastatal sector consisting of social welfare fund institu-
tions, foundations, banks, and holding companies that produced about half of
the national income. The Iranian business of armed organizations split into
parastatal companies run by the military and economic privileges for retired
officers, converging with the development of military business elsewhere in
the region.
In countries where military business was less dominant, as in Jordan,
Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, neoliberalism materialized mainly for retired mili-
tary officers, through privileged access to land, business licenses, and man-
agement or board positions in the private sector in the context of privatization
of state companies and assets. The military officers thus maintained their
status of the economic elite in these countries. Previously established con-
nections with cronies contributed to their growing prosperity in the neoliberal
economic environment. In Yemen, foreign aid, remittances from the Gulf,
and oil revenues declined, and after a brief civil war, the country reunited
in the mid-1990s, forcing the government to forge a new social alliance to
secure support. Seitz’s analysis reveals that in the context of privatization and
liberalization efforts, the regime included civilian managers in the Yemeni
military economic corporation, among them many relatives of the president,
and it used this institution to expand military influence into the private sector.
Under the shadow of an alliance with the United States in the “war on terror,”
the Yemeni government could delay privatization efforts and other measures
of liberalization that were conditions for loans from the IMF and the World
Bank. The military corporation became an institution that absorbed former
224 Conclusion and Outlook

South Yemeni state-owned enterprises and large northern Yemeni companies

under the guise of privatization. Whereas through these measures, the govern-
ment linked economic and political interests of the members of the adjusted
patronage network to one another and the regime, it sidelined the southern
Yemeni forces, taking the need to implement austerity measures as a pretext.
Hence, the government used the neoliberal turn to provide the military with
an inflated budget and strengthen the military economic corporation, facili-
tating military officers’ control over import licenses, real estate, and a few
industries. A bloated parastatal sector emerged, similar to the one in Iran.
In Syria, economic liberalization during the 2000s led to the establishment
of state-business networks and joint ventures, favoring a small core group
around the president and his family, which consisted of political leaders,
entrepreneurs, and senior army and intelligence officers, both active and
retired. In Libya, as an oil-rich country with a regime that distributed rents
in order to keep every organization under its control, there was no neoliberal
turn. Droz-Vincent points out that the regime relied on tribal- and family-
based praetorian armed forces, a range of intelligence forces, and armed
popular committees for regime protection. It also built a huge arsenal of
weapons distributed in secret locations. Different from Syria and all other
countries examined in this volume, the Libyan regime kept the military weak
and carefully played out the various paramilitary organizations against each
other, so that none of these could gain political or economic autonomy and
develop bargaining power toward the regime. In the civilian realm, however,
tribal leaders acquired political bargaining power based on special relations
with the regime, and they became semiautonomous local rulers who not only
controlled the civilian local institutions but also the traditionally armed mem-
bers of their tribes.
A third type of military adjustment to neoliberalism was the establish-
ment of arms production sites linked to international arms producers mainly
through joint venture partnerships with foreign defense companies. Jordan is
an exemplary case in this book; still this also occurred in most of the other
countries described here. In Jordan, Egypt, Iran, and Turkey, this develop-
ment was due to continuous subsidies for military welfare schemes through
military funds and foundations, while the government reduced social support
of the rest of society as a structural adjustment measure. In Sudan, revenues
for the military economy came from oil rents during the 2000s, supplemented
in the case of Yemen by aid for the war on terror. The military-industrial
corporations expanded and established new branches and engaged, among
other things, in the production and assembly of weapons, aircraft, vehicles,
and communication devices.
With the military budget shielded from public scrutiny, it makes it difficult
for scholars to assess the relevance of military business for funding military
Conclusion and Outlook 225

expenditure, in particular because the resource flows within the military

conglomerates cannot be traced. In this book, Marshall conducts a survey
of these businesses from sources available through data provided by foreign
partner companies. Capital created through arms deals flowed into the civil-
ian sector through defense offsets resulting in the establishment of joint ven-
tures. These were means to generate benefits for local and foreign businesses,
again exempted from public scrutiny. The Jordanian King Abdullah II Design
and Development Bureau (KADDB) was founded in 1999 as an institution to
facilitate such deals in particular. As Marshall shows, the Jordanian military
industries thus managed to secure a position in the globalized supply chain
of military products.
The country analyses show that lacking mechanisms of civilian oversight
and checks and balances of the security and defense sector budget provided
the military economic elite with much leeway to use capital for profit-oriented
investment, personal enrichment, buying the loyalty of clients, or any other
purpose. At the same time, military economies benefited from close links to
regimes, which would bail out loss-making military enterprises. The military
started to use its power predominantly for financial gain and less for building
political alliances, indicating that it had grown into an important economic
actor with a strong influence on the regional political economy.
The comparison of the country cases reveals that the use of the autonomous
political power of the military was crucial to bargaining legal privileges, such
as tax exemptions for military companies and privileged access to business
licenses for retired officers. Moreover, military and paramilitary founda-
tions and pension funds, which relied on compulsory membership, became
the basis for intensified capital accumulation, the establishment of military
holdings, and the expansion of military investment in the neoliberal context.
Securing procurement contracts from the public sector, purchasing bankrupt
companies and banks by the state, and, as was the case in Turkey, selling
strategic public enterprises to OYAK, indicated the ability of the military to
convert political power into economic power. The chapters in this book pro-
vide evidence that the economic power of the military is rooted in a historical
development, which has propelled military officers into the capitalist elite of
each country. According to its respective characteristics, they became part of
the economic elite striving to accumulate capital and thus became enmeshed
in the competition between national-oriented and globalized business factions
(Turkey, Egypt, Iran). In other cases, they formed a faction of the tribal- or
kinship-based elite and were connected to the regime as praetorian forces
that benefited from the commodification of bureaucratic privileges through
military companies and from their individual status as retired officers (Syria,
Yemen). A third group of countries belongs to the same category, but there,
military institutions such as KADDB in Jordan and the Military Industrial
226 Conclusion and Outlook

Corporation in Sudan in particular, functioned like “transmission belts”

between international arms industries and local broker agencies supplying
local patronage networks in the early 2000s. Close regime ties of the military-
industrial conglomerate and a strong role of the national intelligence in it
characterize these examples. The case of Pakistan spans the range between
the faction of the large-scale landed property and neoliberal finance capital. In
all cases, the neoliberal turn triggered a shift from military corporatism to the
appropriation of privatized or outsourced business by military conglomerates
as well as individual officers. In other words, privileged contracts replaced
military corporatism, although in different ways according to the prevailing
shape of each country’s economic elite.
On the flip side of the coin, the neoliberal turn implied a reduction of the
cost of labor, mainly by suppressing wages through the deregulation of labor
markets. It also increased subcontracting, introduced flexible working times,
and curbed the rights of laborers and unions. In this environment, military
companies used free labor of conscripts, for example, in food production and
construction projects in Egypt, as Abul-Magd states. A small part of the lower
ranks in the military of the MENA countries benefited from patronage rela-
tionships with officers, and as Marshall shows for the case of Jordan, some
could seize employment opportunities provided by foreign investors attracted
through military broker institutions for infrastructure and development proj-
ects. Most of the lower military ranks, however, had neither access to patrons
nor jobs in joint ventures, so they became part of the growing impoverished
strata of society emerging as a consequence of neoliberal economic policies.

The Challenges of the “Arab Spring”

All the country cases in this book witnessed political mass protests during
the past decades, to which the authors refer in their analyses of class relations
and social dynamics of change. In Turkey, the Gezi Park protest in 2013 was
the most recent incidence, in Iran the Green Movement of 2009, and in Paki-
stan protests of small peasants and landless laborers against measures of the
military sprang up repeatedly in 2014. In the cases of Egypt, Yemen, Libya,
and Syria, the authors focus on the “Arab Spring,” stressing the following
aspects: (1) mass uprising against the incumbent regime, (2) intervention of
the military, (3) rise of Islamism, and (4) proliferation of armed organiza-
tions. Most of the authors in this volume use widening class differences as
a starting point to analyze the strategies by which the military legitimized
political interventions and, more or less openly, its continuous economic
activities. For Egypt, Turkey, Iran, and Sudan, the authors use the Gramscian
concept of hegemonic faction of the bourgeoisie—in this book also called
Conclusion and Outlook 227

economic elite—and argue that the ranks of the military and officers of para-
military forces have become part of this faction. They consider struggles for
predominance in this hegemonic section of society as crucial for the changes
triggered by earlier protest movements, in particular in tipping the balance
of power in Turkey, Pakistan, and Sudan. The motives for military interven-
tions were a mixture of political and economic interests, often guided by the
interest to protect autocratic regimes and their patronage networks in which
the protagonists of the military and paramilitary organizations had a stake.
In Sudan, all the four above aspects of the “Arab Spring” surfaced in com-
bination. The country’s history shows military factions siding with protesters
during mass uprisings leading to regime changes. The last such occurrence
was in 1985. The fall of the military regime was followed by a military-led
transition and short democratic rule with the Muslim Brotherhood as a viable
opposition party. The result was a long-lasting military-Islamist regime, a
cowed population, protracted civil war with jihadist legitimization on the
part of the regime, the secession of South Sudan, and the generation of a
range of paramilitary forces. El-Battahani shows how the upper echelons of
the military and the National Intelligence Service of Sudan (NISS) became
a hegemonic faction of the Sudanese economic elite and part of crony-capi-
talist networks. They combined arms control with increasing economic and
political autonomy, and the regime relied on buying the loyalty of the two
powerful forces. The security sector received the bulk of the state budget,
feeding on state revenues that had become scarce after the end of the oil
boom. El-Battahani examines the resulting societal tensions, repressive state
action against demonstrations, attacks of the military and paramilitary forces
against armed resistance movements fighting in western and southern Sudan,
and growing competition between the hegemonic class factions. Based on the
historical role of military factions in supporting uprisings and regime change,
El-Battahani suggests a deeper split in the military paralleling the increased
class gap between soldiers and officers as one future scenario. As a second
scenario, he assumes struggles between hegemonic elite factions, where the
dominance of the NISS may be attacked. These scenarios are also relevant for
MENA countries that faced the “Arab Spring” of 2011 to 2012.
In Egypt, the military used the “Arab Spring” to consolidate its political
power and ensure its hegemonic economic position. In 2011, it sided with
the protest movement and thus helped to oust the president along with his
attempt to make his son his successor. The temporary alliance with the Mus-
lim Brotherhood in 2012 to 2013 did not lead to a military Islamist regime as
in Sudan, but ended with a return to a military regime that criminalized the
Muslim Brotherhood heavily, causing a deep divide in the Egyptian society.
The military used the institutional track to confirm its power above checks
and balances in the constitution, the political track to extend ruling positions
228 Conclusion and Outlook

for military officers, and the publicity track to gloss over its claim to be
the guardian of the nation in patriotic songs that were broadly popularized.
According to the analysis by Abul-Magd, the military regime in power since
mid-2013 has been undecided in its economic stance, fluctuating between
supporting the interests of the lower and middle classes, those of the national
capitalists, or those capitalists inclined to integrate fully in the globalized
economy. In any case, as an outcome of the “Arab Spring,” the military has
established itself more firmly than ever before in leading sectors of the Egyp-
tian economy and thus has secured for itself a greatly advantageous position
in the competition with entrepreneurs of the private sector.
In 2011 and 2012, Jordan witnessed a few antiregime protests that were
contained by riot police. After that, developments in neighboring Syria
deterred Jordanians from protesting. The comparatively stable Jordanian
regime used its military to protect the borders and to cooperate with the UN
high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) in implementing refugee pro-
grams. Moreover, as Marshall indicates, it trained the armed forces of other
countries, built infrastructure and transport facilities, and exported military
industry products and services into the MENA region. To justify state sup-
port, KADDB legitimized its economic endeavors in an effort to link the
public and private sectors of the Jordanian economy, create employment, and
upgrade technical skills. The “Arab Spring” hence increased legitimacy of the
Jordanian military as general protector of the nation, which included provid-
ing job opportunities for skilled labor.
In Yemen, the military was divided in its response to the “Arab Spring”
protest movement. According to the analysis of Seitz, the divide was the
result of previous presidential attempts to downsize the tribal-based patron-
age network and rather to mainly rely on the funds and protection of the
United States—a move that threatened the economic and political interests of
the officer corps. The abolishment of conscription and the exclusion of most
of the southern Yemeni officers from the ranks from about the year 2000
onward led to a rise in the unemployment rate, a collapse of parts of the tribal
patronage system, and growing unrest among tribes. The reintroduction of
compulsory military service in 2007 inflated the military budget, of which a
large share served to fund patronage networks required to secure the regime.
Military officers used this source of wealth to build up positions as powerful
commanders connected to tribal patrons, and to safeguard the loyalty of their
soldiers by paying them properly. As in Egypt, attempts of the incumbent
president to install his son as successor caused resentment in the military
ranks. Fearing for their economic and political interests, during the “Arab
Spring” uprisings military commanders chose different sides, hoping to get
to the winner’s edge and renegotiate the ruling bargain to their advantage.
The expulsion of President Saleh in 2012 weakened his patronage network
Conclusion and Outlook 229

and increased competition among the key figures of power in Yemen. After
forming a unity government that included former oppositional party followers
in the army, the new president started to build his own patronage network and
included former outsiders such as southern Yemeni tribal militias, while he
maintained the military economic corporation as a crucial source of wealth
for officers. Fierce competition over control of the corporation and over
access to privileges and the related patronage networks escalated when the
government implemented gasoline subsidy cuts in order to solicit IMF loans
in 2014. According to Seitz, the threat of losing privileged access to sources
of wealth triggered the uprising of the northern Houthi, who occupied the
capital and demanded for their followers to be included in the military as a
condition for the return to peace. The “Arab Spring” in Yemen thus boosted
the role of the military as the main avenue to economic and political power,
over access to which armed tribal groups turned to violence that subsequently
escalated into civil war with the involvement of regional powers.
In Syria, the military regime had clamped down on civil unrest led by the
Muslim Brotherhood in 1982, seeking to extirpate that organization. Accord-
ing to the analysis of Zuhur, this was one root cause of the emergence of
Salafi-jihadist groups including ISIS. The second root cause was the long-
established connection between Syrian local groups and Iraqi fighters against
the US-led invasion of 2003, who had taken refuge in Syria. The third cause
was the mobilization of further jihadist groups in the Middle East that the
Gulf States had supported since the 1990s. During the “Arab Spring,” the
Syrian regime retaliated against the unarmed protest movement with mili-
tary power and paramilitary groups, eventually causing it to escalate into a
regionalized civil war between the regime forces and a broad range of—
disunited—NSAGs. The military split into regime-loyal core divisions, the
ordinary army, and deserted officers forming the Free Syrian Army (FSA)
fighting against the regime. For its own protection, the regime employed
paramilitary gangs to carry out massacres and atrocities among civilians and
to destroy places inhabited by Sunni Muslims. Some of these militias were
funded by family members of the president, others by the Iranian IRGC and
Lebanese Hezbollah. They followed the sectarian ideology instigated by
the regime and attacked certain Sunni groups and predominantly the Mus-
lim Brotherhood and other Salafi groups. The privileged regime circle of
high-ranking officers of the military and the intelligence service, politicians,
and big businesspeople around the president and his family lost much of its
previous economic power during the civil war. Since late 2012, units of the
Hezbollah, Iranian IRGC, and Iraqi militias support the regime, train its mili-
tias, supply them with arms, and join the fighting, whereas Russia continues
its military assistance to the government. The Syrian opposition, on the other
hand, has formed an exile coalition, which until early 2013 received support
230 Conclusion and Outlook

from a broad range of Western states as well as Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi
Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar.
According to Zuhur, Syria’s oppositional groups run local councils and
keep up a rudimentary administration in parts of the country over which the
regime has lost control. In reaction to this, in late 2013 Salafi-jihadist groups
formed a counter-council, thus cementing the split of the opposition which,
faced with continuous bomb attacks on residential areas by the regime forces,
increasingly organized in NSAGs. As Zuhur reveals, there were cross-cutting
connections and coordination attempts within the armed opposition, even
between the Free Syrian Army and Islamist groups. The most powerful
jihadist groups, the al-Nusra Front and ISIS, benefited from their massive
ideological mobilization, sophisticated propaganda in the social media, the
political split in Iraq, extended fund-raising, and recruitment of foreign fight-
ers. The two jihadist groups fought each other and allied with Syrian tribes.
The armed struggle of FSA groups, Kurdish groups, and US and French air
strikes launched on positions of ISIS in Iraq since 2014 failed to defeat ISIS,
which conquered large territories in Syria and Iraq and established branches
in Sinai, Libya, Afghanistan, and other countries in the region. The Syrian
“Arab Spring” thus resulted in a deep division of the society, mass flight, a
deep Shia-Sunni divide in the region, and a regional war with international
involvement. The regime it had aimed to topple remains in place, although
with a limited range of rule. Zuhur adds that for both the proponents of the
regime and the dominant Salafi-jihadist NSAGs, no alternative than to con-
tinue on the path of violence appears to be viable, because on each side, defeat
would lead to their extinction. Zuhur claims that the Syrian “Arab Spring”
ran into an ideologically driven war, which brought the warring parties into
an existential dilemma from which the only way out will be a political deal.
Given the complexity of the war, with its range of proxy wars between dif-
ferent actors from the region (Turkish-Kurdish dispute, Iran–Saudi Arabia
power struggle, Sunnite-Shiite battles, moderate versus fundamentalist Islam,
among others) and international powers (US-led Western coalition versus
Russia), this will take time.
In Libya, the uprisings of the “Arab Spring” took the shape of a general
insurrection, with fighters capturing arms from the regime’s scattered arsenal.
Heavy armed response of the combined forces of the military and paramili-
tary regime-loyal forces rapidly turned the state-society confrontation into a
civil war. The weak Libyan military collapsed, and some units and individual
officers sided with the protesters and assisted in building militias. With the
support of Western and Arabian Gulf air forces, the regime was ousted in
2012. Droz-Vincent contends that the subsequent proliferation of local mili-
tias throughout the country, drawing in high numbers of unemployed youth
and legitimizing themselves through their revolutionary activities, was the
Conclusion and Outlook 231

legacy of the previous regime. The fact that Qaddafi relied on his personal
praetorian forces and avoided to establish institutionalized and functional
armed forces loyal to the state contributed to the immediate collapse of
the military. Furthermore, the brigades could turn the ideological basis of
the Qaddafi regime into an ideology of revolution, taking advantage of the
high degree of popular participation and local autonomy stated in the Green
Book. Anchored in tribe, neighborhood, town, region, a particular ideological
Islamic group, or a mixture of all, the brigades established makeshift councils
in order to defend towns and villages. Droz-Vincent points out that several
groups built their own local political rule and managed to gain local legiti-
macy by providing communities with security and some social and adminis-
trative services. Weapons left from the NATO support of the opposition and
funds from Qatari sponsors facilitated this development. The Libyan General
National Congress, elected in 2012, integrated entire brigades in the govern-
ment and gave others tasks to secure crucial state facilities such as petro-
leum installations, borders, government buildings, and infrastructure. The
brigades thus became intermediaries between the communities and powerful
commanders from which they derived legitimacy, on the one hand, and the
emerging government, on the other.
According to Droz-Vincent, in 2013 until mid-2014, Libya had a govern-
ment several ministries of which had links with an alliance of brigades from
Misrata, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Salafi-jihadist groups. An alliance of
brigades from Zintan that supported liberal politicians and federalist groups
from Benghazi formed against them. Subsequently, brigades and political
actors competed over the control of state institutions and a range of economic
resources as well as strategic facilities as a particular means for economic
gains. Scattered rule by militias prevailed until 2014. This outcome of the
Libyan “Arab Spring” collapsed in mid-2014. Officers of the former military
started to kill Islamist brigadists in the context of a stagnating constitutional
process and growing political infighting following a parliamentary election
with low voter turnout. Various brigades fought over the control of the main
airport and, subsequently, other strategic and economically lucrative facili-
ties. The government split into two factions, one from Zintan and one from
Misrata, each backed by a loose alliance of diverse brigades. Different gov-
ernments from neighboring countries and the Gulf took sides or tried to medi-
ate. Hence, similar to the case of Syria, the “Arab Spring” in Libya resulted
in the proliferation of numerous NSAGs fighting each other and a civil war
that was increasingly spreading out into the region.
The comparative analysis of authors’ assessments of the outcomes of the
“Arab Spring” indicates that the previous structure of the military was deci-
sive for the reconsolidation of an autocratic regime (Sudan, Egypt) or a split
into numerous paramilitary groups fighting against an opposition radicalizing
232 Conclusion and Outlook

in NSAGs (Yemen, Syria, Libya). In the first category, the military emerged
stronger than ever as a predominant political power, safeguarding its economic
privileges and ruling out public scrutiny. In the second category, the fact that
NSAGs increasingly fought each other indicates deep divides in society that
the uprisings had brought to light. In the absence of procedures geared toward
ameliorating these differences, many actors exacerbated political contradic-
tions by forming ideologically distinct groups engaged in combat. The initial
structure of the opposition took the form of councils protected by like-minded
NSAGs, which gained legitimacy from local constituencies through their
efforts to protect them from the government forces or other NSAGs and by
providing them with social services, infrastructure, and administration. At
the same time, the war context created commanders, many from the previous
officer corps and now wielding increasing influence through NSAGs under
their control. Accumulating bargaining power appears to be one motive,
mere economic aims another one, both more or less disguised by ideological
claims. The influx of external NSAGs further increased the multitude of vio-
lent actors through new alliances with local groups supplemented by internal
and external recruitment. The links of militaries, paramilitary organizations,
and NSAGs with regional supporters are likely to protract violence as the
chief means to negotiate these countries’ political future.

Blurred Boundaries between the

Military, Paramilitary Groups, and
NSAGs in the Economic Field

Developments unfolding in the context of the “Arab Spring” require a closer

look into the similarities and differences in the economic activities of the
military, paramilitary organizations, and NSAGs. The chapters in this book
reveal that the establishment of welfare funds, holdings, and engagement in
the global finance market as well as setting up factories for military and civil-
ian commodity production in the formal economy so far seems to be a domain
of military organizations and their subsidiaries. Yet all kinds of armed orga-
nizations, among them parts of the military, as well as individual members
of these, are active in the field of international and global commodity trade
and the extraction of payments from users of appropriated land and roads
controlled by armed units. The chapters on Syria, Yemen, and Libya show
that trade by armed organizations flourishes in the context of the so-called
shadow globalization, which Peter Lock describes in Violence as Regulation.4
He distinguishes the regular, informal, and criminal sphere of the economy
and allots the latter two to the sphere of shadow globalization. According to
Lock, the informal economic sphere has expanded at the fringes of the regular
Conclusion and Outlook 233

economy as dynamic survival networks, and sprouted as the rule of law

receded. The criminal economic sphere is the realm of mafia-like networks
profiting from the exploitation of mineral resources, drugs and arms smug-
gled from war areas, human trafficking, and other violently appropriated and
traded resources. It is linked to the regular economic sphere through money
laundering and a range of other transfer activities. Lock holds that the shadow
globalization has advanced due to the same forces that have driven regular
globalization—that is, deregulated finance markets, privatization of state
companies, the opening up of economies to the world market, declining costs
of communication and transport, and shrinking public administrations. The
concurrence of liberalized commodity and capital markets with technological
innovation in communication industries has alleviated the global movement
of illegal goods and services.5 As a consequence of the finance market crisis
of 2007, governments have established numerous institutions and authorities
to increase transparency and have attempted to conclude international agree-
ments on financial regulation.6 However, compliance varies internationally
and enforcement is weak, and the freedom of movement for capital is still
high on a global scale. Moreover, in spite of agreements like the Arms Trade
Treaty and other international conventions attempting to regulate the informal
and criminal spheres of the economy, the trade in commodities such as small
arms and light weapons and drugs, smuggling, and trafficking has continued
in the absence of serious enforcement. The role of the armed organizations
in the MENA region in the informal and criminal spheres of the economy
deserves an analysis of its own. The findings of the authors of this book can
serve as a basis for this.
Smuggling weapons, fuel, and commodities is not only a widespread busi-
ness among NSAGs but also of paramilitary groups and some military offi-
cers, as El-Battahani states for the case of Sudan, Seitz for Yemen, Zuhur for
Syria, and Droz-Vincent for Libya. It is a phenomenon typical of civil war,
which denotes one of its regional dimensions and indicates that civil wars
persist, among other reasons, through trade with neighboring countries.7 The
same occurs in countries with subsidized products, such as diesel in Yemen,
which creates profits if smuggled abroad where prices are higher. Subsidy
cuts in the framework of austerity policies thus drain a lucrative trade chain
and are likely to cause uprisings, incited by the beneficiaries from smuggling,
be they military officers or commanders of NSAGs, as was the case with the
Houthi offensive in Yemen in 2014. In Sudan, border trade and smuggling
by rank-and-file of the military has been rampant along the South Sudanese
border. According to El-Battahani, commanders and officers of the military
and paramilitary groups also have traded with the areas held by NSAGs in
the southern part of (northern) Sudan after the renewed outbreak of civil war
in 2011.
234 Conclusion and Outlook

In her chapter on Syria, Zuhur describes an early case of military involve-

ment in international trade in the criminal economic sphere. The Syrian
military had not played a significant role in the formal economy like in Egypt
or Pakistan, but it was involved in the business of smuggling cigarettes,
food, spare parts for vehicles, Western consumer goods, drugs, and weapons
between Syria and Lebanon. Weapons originated from Iranian, Saudi Ara-
bian, and Libyan assistance for civil war parties, indicating at least a regional
if not international or even “shadow-globalized” dimension of this trade.
Individual officers in charge of border and road control linked up with the
shabbiha in the context of the Lebanese civil war of the 1980s. During this
period and thereafter, as long as the Syrian army controlled the country, the
officers not only profited from arms trade with regional militias but also from
the sale of Western products to Syrian upper- and middle-class customers and
from business on the Lebanese markets. Zuhur holds that the cross-border
business continued after Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2004. Family
members of the president revived and enlarged the shabbiha with released
prisoners from the same religious sect (’Alawites) during the uprisings of
the “Arab Spring” in 2011, and they attacked Sunni areas in particular and
detained and tortured numerous inhabitants. In Yemen, too, military officers
have a history of enriching themselves through checkpoints and road tolls,
collecting fees from smugglers, a most lucrative trade in times of civil war.
However, even in times of peace, military officers occasionally use one or
more of these sources of income, as Siddiqa and Abul-Magd present for the
cases of Pakistan and Egypt.
Control of strategic facilities such as oil wells, refineries, and gas plants
is a favorite field for generating extra income for the military, as the chap-
ter on Egypt has shown. In Syria, these facilities used to be in the hands of
the regime circle around the president. However, al-Nusra Front and ISIS
obtained access to these resources after gaining control over tribal land with
oil wells that Syrian tribes had seized in the course of the civil war. Since
2014, these NSAGs have been engaged in the oil and gas trade, whereas
members of the tribes allied to the NSAGs have smuggled oil to Turkey and
Iraq for refining and have also processed some in their own makeshift refiner-
ies. Al-Nusra controlled a gas plant and sold gas on regular markets. NSAGs
including ISIS smuggled diesel fuel across the Turkish border to generate
income, with Turkish border towns also benefiting from this business. In
addition, like the government forces and its paramilitary allies, NSAGs also
engaged in smuggling drugs and car parts from Lebanon and selling antiqui-
ties, which reveals that the use of the same means of “criminal” economic
activities by any kind of armed organization occurs in an order regulated by
violence and finds a market in the framework of shadow globalization. Inter-
estingly, al-Nusra and ISIS also sold oil and gas to the Syrian government
Conclusion and Outlook 235

so that it could continue to provide electricity, indicating that the jihadists

attempted to secure some supply to the population in areas under their con-
trol. Syrian NSAGs not only participated indirectly in the global oil and gas
market but also received external funds from a range of individual private as
well as governmental sponsors from the Gulf as well as payment for volun-
teers who participated in US training to fight against ISIS. Zuhur points to
the substantial role of social media for fund-raising, signifying another arena
of the globalized market crucial for the economic resources of NSAGs. They
used these funds for the payment of fighters, arms and ammunition, and to
equip operation theaters.
Further funds of NSAGs stem from domestic sources. In Syria, kidnap-
ping individuals, ranging from civilian citizens to lucrative foreign hostages
from the UN peacekeepers, has been a lucrative business. Brokering young
women to men for short-term marriage has become another mafia-like trade
for profit by Syrian NSAGs. Extracting dues from the population in return for
the promise of protection is common on the part of NSAGs as well as para-
military and government forces. Relatives of the president established protec-
tion rackets run by shabbiha militias under their control in towns along the
Syrian coast, and in Libya, many brigades have collected protection money
from population groups in areas under their control as a source of income.
Land seizures are another source of income, not only for NSAGs during civil
wars but also for the military in times of peace. In Pakistan, the heyday of
this business, where military officers made profit by subletting seized land to
big farmers, was under the military regime between 1999 and 2008. Siddiqa
shows that under the civilian regime that followed, the military continued
efforts to abolish sharecropping and imposed on small farmers payment of
rent for land use, which made it easier to evict them if they were unable to
pay, and which provided the officers with direct financial revenue. This and
other studies in this book disclose that brokering land and other assets is a
widespread economic activity of military officers, often combined with politi-
cal office, which alleviates benefits for members of their patronage networks.
From the perspective of farmers, truck owners, and proprietors of other
assets, the difference between the requirement to pay such rents, dues, taxes,
or protection money to military officers, any paramilitary group or militia, or
a NSAG is negligible.
The military may not only fleece citizens but also the state. As Seitz and
Droz-Vincent reveal, in Yemen and Libya, the military and militias benefited
greatly from payments and equipment for “ghost soldiers,” inflated numbers
of military personnel listed on the payrolls. The benefit extended beyond
the economic gain to the political realm, where it served to strengthen the
power of commanders in patronage networks. In Libya, where the distinction
between government forces, paramilitary groups, and NSAGs has become
236 Conclusion and Outlook

increasingly blurred during the attempts of rebuilding the military with bri-
gades after the ousting of Qaddafi in 2011, all armed groups have thrived
from the state. As Droz-Vincent shows, this does not only pertain to the
“ghost soldier” phenomenon but also includes the interest in gaining political
power through the state in order to collect revenues from oil and gas exports
from the position of a state official or an official entitlement to operate as
security provider. Particularly for the case of Libya, Droz-Vincent describes
the generation of semiautonomous and militia-governed units—including
their internal relations with local communities and external relations with
other such units—and the state-in-the-making. Such a situation of coexisting
local orders prevails in situations of civil war, in NSAG-held territories in
Syria, Yemen, and Sudan. These local orders can become cores for the for-
mation of coherent structures up to the degree of a new state likely to secede.


The explanation for why armed actors are involved at all levels of the econ-
omy, from local to global, lies in the fact that they have continuously adapted
to drastic changes in the predominant international and global economic
frameworks during the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Through-
out this period, civilian actors have been struggling to establish international
conventions and regulations in order to get the adverse repercussions of
economic globalization under control. Where international regulations have
successfully gained the support of states, enforcement has far lagged behind
due to the absence of powerful institutions above the national level.
The chapters of this book and the final analysis have revealed on an
empirical basis the interests and strategies of diverse armed groups, includ-
ing the military and NSAGs, in business and economic involvement at all
levels, and disclosed in detail the avenues and strategies they pursue. Obvi-
ously, globalization of the economy and communication opened up a range
of opportunities for them. At the global level, international movements for
transparent financial and trade transactions, and the enforcement of existing
and the creation of new binding regulations for global actors, would change
the conditions of economic involvement for civilian as well as armed actors
in the long run.
As the chapters have shown, the national level—and, on that level, the
role of the military—has been crucial for the containment, suppression, or
proliferation of armed groups in the MENA countries. As part of the regime,
it has collaborated in strategically releasing actors or tolerating groups, which
then formed NSAGs that had a divisive effect on oppositional movements.
The economic weight of the military also originates from the conditions at the
Conclusion and Outlook 237

national level, and the development of relations between the military and the
government on the one hand, and state-society relations on the other. Long-
term military regimes, which survived in the era of globalization following
the end of the Cold War, have devoured the state and institutionalized their
hegemony politically and economically, most outstandingly in Pakistan and
Egypt. In the absence of strong, autonomously acting state institutions, broad,
long-term alliances of civilian groups, or solid political parties representing
large parts of the society, the military is likely to consolidate this position
even more. The formation of factions within the military, even if this happens
due to contradictory economic interests such as those between the national
bourgeoisie and global capitalism, and a respective alliance with strong social
groups, may be one way to undermine the powerful military conglomerates,
as history has shown. A strong division of interests between the military and
an equally strong paramilitary force, such as a powerful, armed intelligence
service or militia, may have the same potential. A coup d’état by such a
faction of the state forces thus can be a starting point for a change that may
gradually bring civilian groups to a hegemonic position in society. The popu-
lar uprisings in the MENA region in the “Arab Spring” can be considered
as having opened the door only slightly ajar so that a glance at the turmoil
underneath these long-term autocratically ruled societies was possible. The
authors of this book have taken this glance, and their analyses invite more
in-depth research about what is there and how it works.


1. “Arab Spring” is a label that excludes non-Arab actors in North Africa and is,
therefore, put in quotation marks.
2. Kamrava, “Introduction,” 1.
3. See table “Characteristics of the Armed Forces in Nine Country Cases (2014)”
in Appendix C. For a comparison, the ratio of soldiers to civilians is 1:576, in
Germany 1:446, whereas in the United States it is 1:22. Cf. International Institute for
Strategic Studies, The Military Balance, 40, 90–91, 96–97.
4. Lock, “Gewalt als Regulation: Zur Logik der Schattenglobalisierung.”
5. Ibid., 42–53; see also Schlichte, “Gewinner und Verlierer,” 11–18.
6. Hanson, Kashyap, and Stein, “A Macroprudential Approach to Financial
7. Grawert, “Challenges of Sub-Regional Peace after the Comprehensive Peace
Agreement in Sudan,” 246–55.
Appendix A

Glossary of Arabic Words

Mohammad Yousif Aburok

Abou Slim Martyr’s Brigade

(previous name: Derna brigade); Islamist militia that advocated the imple-
mentation of Sharia law within Derna, Libya, commandeered by former
veterans of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). In April 2012, incor-
porated in the Supreme Security Committees (SSCs) under the Ministry of
the Interior.

Ajnad al-Islam
Islamist umbrella organization in Damascus and parts of Quneitra gov-
ernorates. Many of their forces are part of the Levant Front (al-Jabha

Al-Aqsa brigades
Palestinian armed groups that identify themselves as the military wing
of Fatah. They have nationalist goals without Islamic or other religious

Also known as Nusayris or Ansari, Alawis are a religious group in Syria. It
is part of the “Twelver,” the largest branch of Shia Islam.

Al-Jabha al-Shammiya
See: Levant Front
240 Appendix A

Al-Jabhat al-Islamiyya
See: Islamic Front or IF

Al-Jaysh al-Shaʿbi
Paramilitary force formed by the Syrian regime. The majority of its members
are Alawis and Shiʿa. A coalition between the Syrian Armed Forces, Syrian
Resistance, and other groups to defend the Assad regime.

Al-Lajnah al-ʾAmniyyah al-ʿolya al-Muʾaqqatah

See: Supreme Security Committees (SSCs)

Al-Lijan al-Thawriyyah
See: Revolutionary Committees

Sunni extremist umbrella organization for many Salafist jihadist groups. It
has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United Nations.

Al-Qaeda fi Bilād ar-Rāfidain (Al-Qaeida in the Land of the Two

Al-Qaeda organization in Iraq.

Al-Qaeda fi Jazirat al-ʿArabiyya

Al-Qaeda organization in Saudi Arabia.

Ansar al-Shariʿah
Also known as Ansar al-Shariʿah in Libya (ASL), it is a Salafist Islamist
militia group that advocates the implementation of strict Sharia law across
Libya. Ansar al-Shariʿah was created in 2011 during the Libyan Civil War.
They have perpetrated extremist attacks and have been recognized as a ter-
rorist organization by the United Nations.

Arab League (LAS)

Regional organization of the Arab countries.
Appendix A 241

ʿAsaʾib Ahl al-Haqq (Asaib Ahl al-Haq)

Also known as the Khazali Network, it is an Iraqi extremist Shi’a paramilitary
group active in the Iraqi insurgency and the Syrian civil war. It is controlled
by Iran.

Badr Organization
An Iraqi Shiʿite political party with an unofficial Shiʿite Islamist military
wing called the Badr Brigade. It was formed and controlled by Iran. The Badr
Brigade is engaged in the Syrian civil war fighting on the side of the Assad
regime against the opposition.

Daughters of Walid Brigade

A women battalion in Homs and part of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), mainly
engaged in supporting the FSA in civil aid.

Democratic Union Party (PYD)

Also known as the Partiya Yekitîya Demokrat, it is a Kurdish political party
established in 2003 by Kurdish activists in northern Syria. The PYD is one of
the most important Kurdish opposition parties in Syria.

Fajr Libya (Dawn Libya)

A coalition of Libyan armed groups from Misratan militias and some other
Islamist factions that fights against the Libyan Armed Forces of General
Khalifa Haftar and also against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Farouq Battalion
Established in Homs/Hama as part of the alliance of Khalid bin Walid
Brigade, formed by the Free Syrian Army, they are also part of the Syrian
Islamic Liberation Front.

Free Jazira Brigade (Ahrar al-Jazeera)

Armed group of Shammar tribesmen that allied with Nusra.

Free Syrian Army (FSA)

Largest Syrian armed opposition alliance with several different armed
groups. Most of the groups are Sunni. Their goal is the destruction of the
Assad and Baath regime.
242 Appendix A

Islamic party in Palestine with both military and political wings. Since the
elections in 2006, Hamas has governed the Gaza Strip without coalitions or

Harakat Ahrar ash-Sham al-Islamiyya (Ahrar al-Sham group)

Also called Ahrar al-Sham. A coalition of multiple Islamist and Salafist
groups for fighting the Assad and Baath regime as well as the Islamic State
of Iraq and the Levant. Ahrar al-Sham is a part of several armed groups like
the Islamic Front and Ansar al-Shariʿa.

Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba

Iraqi and foreign Shiʿi Islamist paramilitary organization, formed and
directed with Iranian assistance. Engaged in Syria in fighting the opposition
of the Assad regime.

Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki (Kataʾib Nur al-Din al-Zangi)

A Sunni independent armed group that fights against the Assad and Baath
regime. Allied with the Free Syrian Army and the Islamic Front.

Hazzm Movement
Several of small armed factions that joined the Levant Front on March 1,
2015. Also part of the Free Syrian Army.

A Shiʿi Islamist militant group and political party based in Lebanon.
Hezbollah was formed and directed with Iranian assistance. Until the Syrian
civil war, Hezbollah had fought against Israel in south Lebanon. Hezbol-
lah militants are engaged in Syria in fighting the opposition of the Assad

Infitah (Opening)
Political and economic opening for private investment in Egypt in the years
following the October War in 1973. It goes back to the method of liberaliza-
tion policy of Anwar El Sadat.
Appendix A 243

Singing of theme poems from everyday life, often about religious and tradi-
tional issues.

Islamic Front (IF)

Group of Islamist anti-Assad rebels in Syria formed by the merger of seven
separate groups—Ansar al-Sham, the Kurdish Islamic Front, Ahrar al-Sham,
Liwaʾ al-Haqq, Jaysh al-Islam, Suqour al-Sham, and Al-Tawhid Brigade—on
November 22, 2013. The last three groups were formerly part of the Syrian
Islamic Liberation Front (SILF). The IF also fights the Islamic State in Iraq
and the Levant (ISIL).

Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)

Also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS), it is a Salaf-
ist jihadist extremist militant group that calls itself the State of the Islamic
Caliphate. It was formed originally by the al-Qaeda organization in Iraq. Dur-
ing the Syrian civil war, they engaged in Syria. Many Syrian Salafist jihadist
armed groups united with them in order to create ISIL on June 29, 2014.

Ismaiʿilis (religion)
Second largest branch of Shiʿa Islam after the “Twelver.”

Jabhat al-Akrad
See: Kurdish Front Brigade

Jabhat al-Nusra (Nusra Front, Jabhat al-Nusra li-Ahl al-Sham

or Nusra)
A Salafist Islamic jihadist militia fighting against the Assad and Baath regime
with the aim of establishing an Islamist state. Al-Nusra Front is formally the
Organization of al-Qaeda in Syria.

Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar

Formerly known as the Muhajireen Brigade, it is a jihadist group and
part of Al-Nusra Front. The Brigade fights mainly in Aleppo and Latakia
244 Appendix A

Jamaʿat Sayf
Coterie of Sayf al-Islam al-Qaddafi.

Jaysh al-Islam
Formerly known as Liwaʾ al-Islam, it is a coalition of multiple Salafist
groups. As part of the Islamic Front and allied Free Syrian Army, it fights
against the Assad regime, against Al-Nusra Front, and the Islamic State in
Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Jaysh al-Mujahedeen (Army of Mujahedeen)

Army of Mujahedeen is a coalition of Sunni Islamist armed groups that was
formed to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) during the
Syrian civil war. Jaysh al-Mujahedeen is part of the Levant Front.

Jaysh al-Sham
Formerly part of Suqour al-Sham brigade. It split from it because it did not
want to participate in the fighting between Suqour al-Sham and the Islamic
State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Jaysh al-Sham fights mainly in Idlib Gov-
ernorate and is allied with the Islamic Front, the Free Syrian Army, and the
Nusra Front in fighting the Assad and Baath regime.

Jund al-Haramain
A brigade of Jaysh al-Mujahedeen.

Kataʾib Hezbollah (KH)

Iraqi Shiʿa Islamist paramilitary group that is active in the Iraqi insurgency
and in the Syrian civil war. The KH were formed by Iran in the context of the
2003 Iraq war to fight against the coalition forces.

Kataʾib Sayyid al-Shuhada

Formerly part of Kataʾib Hezbollah (KH), it is an Iraqi Shiʿa Islamist para-
military group that is active in the Iraqi insurgency and in the Syrian civil
war. Kataʾib Sayyid al-Shuhada are formed and controlled by Iran.
Appendix A 245

Kurdish Front Brigade

Was originally formed by Kurdish and Arab defectors from the Syrian Army
and is part of the Free Syrian Army.

The Levant Front

Also known as al-Jabha al-Shammiya, it is a union of the largest armed
groups in Aleppo, northern Syria. Most of the members of the Levant Front
are Sunni Islamist groups. The Levant Front fights against the Assad regime
but also against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room (LROR)

Also known as the Revolutionary Operations Room, it is an armed group
loyal to Nouri Abusahmain, the major figure on the Islamist side of the 2014
Libyan conflict. The LROR has been declared a terrorist organization by the
Libyan parliament.

Libya Shield Force

An armed organization formed in 2012 by anti-Qaddafi armed groups. It is
linked to Islamist and Salafist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and

Liwaʾ Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas (al-Abbas brigade)

Syrian Shiʿa Islamist paramilitary group that supports the Assad regime.

Liwaʾ al-Youm al-Mawʿud

See: Promised Day Brigade (PDB)

Liwaʾ Dawood
Formerly part of Jaysh al-Sham and defected from it to join ISIL in July 2014.

Liwaʾ Tawhid (Liwa al-Tawhid, or al-Tawhid Brigade)

A coalition of many armed groups in Aleppo Governorate such as Ahrar al-
Shamal Brigade. Also part of the Free Syrian Army and Islamic Front and
fights against the Assad regime and against the Islamic State in Iraq and the
Levant (ISIL).
246 Appendix A

Local Coordination Committees (LCCs)

A network of diaspora/local Syrian groups that organize and report on pro-
tests as part of the Syrian opposition against the Assad and Baath regime.

National Defense Forces (NDF)

A branch of the Syrian Armed Forces formed after summer 2012 by the
Syrian government in order to fight the opposition of the Assad regime. It is
organized and controlled by the Syrian government.

National Transitional Council (NTC)

Also known as the Transitional National Council, which was the de facto
government in the liberated Libyan areas and cities from February 27, 2011,
until August 9, 2012.

Northern Storm Brigade

Armed group in Azaz in northwestern Syria, near the Syrian-Turkish border
and part of Liwaʾ al-Tawhid and the Islamic Front. It fights against the Assad
regime and against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Our Mother ʿAʾisha

Female brigade in Aleppo with similar ideas like Daughters of Walid

The People’s Protective Units

Also known as the Yekîneyên Parastina Gel (YPG), they are the main armed
forces of the Kurdish Supreme Committee in Syria. The YPG have become a
major opponent of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Political and Administrative Isolation Law

A law concept in the countries of the “Arab Spring” after each fall of the for-
mer regime that prohibits the candidacy and governorship of all government
and party officials of the fallen regime for “several” years.

Promised Day Brigade (PDB)

One of the largest and most powerful Iraqi Shiʿa Islamist paramilitary groups
active in the Iraq war. The PDB is engaged in Syria to fight the opposition of
Appendix A 247

Assad regime and was formed and directed with Iranian assistance. It is allied
with Kataʾib Hezbollah and ʿAsaʾib Ahl al-Haqq.

Qānwn al-ʿAzl al-Siyāsy wa-l-ʾIdāry

See: Political and Administrative Isolation Law

Quwwat al-Daʿm al-Sariyʿ (QUDS)

See: Rapid Support Forces (RSF)

Quwwat Dirʿ Libya

See: Libya Shield Force

Rapid Support Forces (RSF)

Formerly known as “Janjaweed Militias” during the war in Darfur after 2003,
the RSF are Sudanese paramilitary forces that reformed in August 2013 and
were controlled by the Sudanese government to fight the opposition of the
Sudanese regime.

Republican Guard Division (Syria)

Also known as the Syrian Republican Guard, it is a presidential guard that
was formed in 1976 to defend the Assad and Baath regime especially in
Damascus, the capital of Syria.

Revolutionary Committees
Committees established to protect the revolution and to prevent a civil war.
This has become a concept in many countries and revolutions. In Libya, Qad-
dafi created these committees a few years after the revolution and used them
as a parallel army to pursue his opponents and to stifle any ideas of a further

Supreme Kurdish Committee (SKC)

System to govern the Kurdish areas and community in Syria during the Syr-
ian civil war, formed by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and
the Kurdish National Council (KNC) after signing a cooperation agreement
between the two parties on July 12, 2012.
248 Appendix A

Supreme Military Command (SMC)

Also known as the Supreme Military Council, which represents the elected
unified command structure of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and includes
Syria’s most important oppositional field commanders.

Supreme Security Committees (SSC)

Created by Order No. 20 of the Libyan National Transitional Council in
October 2011 to provide security in the capital and other liberated Libyan
cities that had been under control of Qaddafi forces before. The SSCs were
also formed to create appropriate security conditions that would contribute to
the return to normal life.

Suqour al-Sham Brigade

A former Sunni Islamist armed organization in Idlib Governorate, Syria. The
brigade fought against the Assad and Baath regime and was split in many
brigades after its decision to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
(ISIL). Member of the Free Syrian Army before it created the Islamic Front
with other groups on November 22, 2013.

Syrian Islamic Liberation Front (SILF)

In 2012 one of the strongest armed coalitions of Islamist rebel brigades who
fought against the Assad government in Syria. After November 2013 the
SILF became the Islamic Front (IF).

Syrian National Council (SNC)

Also known as the Syrian National Transitional Council, it is a Syrian civilian
opposition coalition, based in Istanbul (Turkey), formed in August 2011 to
lead the Syrian revolution against the Assad regime.

Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP)
Taliban Movement of Pakistan

Yekîneyên Parastina Gel (YPG)

See: People’s Protective Units
Appendix B


The boundaries and names shown and the designations used on this map do
not necessarily imply official endorsement by the Bonn International Center
for Conversion.

Appendix B

Map 1  Research Area. Source: GAUL, Natural Earth. Layout: Marianne Wargenau.

Appendix B

Map 2  Libya. Source: GAUL, Natural Earth. Layout: Marianne Wargenau.

Appendix B

Map 3  Syria and Iraq. Source: GAUL, Natural Earth. Layout: Marianne Wargenau.
Appendix C



Table C.1  Characteristics of the Armed Forces in Nine Country Cases (2014)
Data/Country Jordan Syria Sudan (North) Iran Turkey Egypt Pakistan Yemen Libya
Active personnel (highest figure) 100,500 178,000 244,300 523,000 510,600 438,500 643,800 66,700 7,000
Active personnel (2010) 100,500 295,000 109,300 523,000 510,600 468,500 617,000 66,700 35,000 (est.)
Civilians per one Soldier 64.9 126.9 145.2 154.5 159.8 198.1 304.7 390.6 892
Civilians per one Soldier (2010) 64.4 76.2 312.8 143.5 148.2 180.3 299.4 363.6 86.1
Army 74,000 110,000 240,000 350,000 402,000 310,000 550,000 60,000 Up to 7,000
Navy 500 5,000 1,300 18,000 48,600 18,500 23,800 1,700 n.k.
Air 12,000 27,000 3,000 30,000 60,000 30,000 70,000 3,000 n.k.
Air defense — 36,000 — — — 80,000 — 2,000 —
Special Operations/Revolutionary 14,000 — — 125,000 — — — — —
Guard Corps
Reserve (most recent figure) 65,000 314,000 85,000 350,000 378,700 479,000 513,000 n.k. 40,000
Paramilitary/armed security forces 15,000 178,000 (2013) 20,000 40,000 102,200 397,000 304,000 71,200 n.k.
Paramilitary (2010) armed security 10,000 108,000 17,500 ⸗40,000 102,200 397,000 304,000 71,200 n.k.
forces 200,000
Appendix C

Fighters in nonstate armed groups (est.) 187,000 (2014) 60,000 (2013) 250,000
GMI* rank 8 4 n.k. (66 in 30 24 26 66 48 111
Military expenditure, in % of GDP 3.5 (2013) n.k. n.k. 1.9 (2012) 2.3 (2013) 1.7 (2013) 3.0 (2013) 2.9 (2013) 3.3 (2012)
Military expenditure, in % of GDP 5.0 (2010) 4.1 (2010) 3.4 (2006) 2.1 (2010) 2.2 (2010) 2.0 (2010) 2.9 (2010) 3.0 (2010) 1.2 (2008)
(before the Arab Spring)
Arms imports 2013† 100 361 345 18 604 501 1,002 22 51
Sources: IISS (2015), 315, 327, 344, 461; SIPRI (2014); World Bank (2014); BICC (2014); Editors’ compilation from the chapters.
n.k. = not known.
— = No data on this sector available for this country.
*The Global Militarisation Index (GMI) depicts the relative weight and importance of the military apparatus of one state in relation to its society as a whole.
†In constant 1990 million US dollars.

Table C.2  Military Conflict Data by Country (between 1946 and 2013)
Country Sudan
Indicator Jordan Syria (North) Iran Turkey Egypt Yemen Pakistan Libya
Type of Constitutional Single-party Federal Islamic Republican Military Divided Federal Islamic Divided
government monarchy system in Islamic republic parliamentary government government: republic government:
civil war republic democracy resigned transitional
and not president and elected
in control cabinet vs. government
of vast militant Islamic vs. militant
territories movement movements
Conflict/war — Domestically/ Domestically — Domestically Domestically Domestically/ Domestically/ Domestically/
type (2013– regional regional regional regional
Number of 6 6 5 6 8 8 10 7 5
conflicts and
Number of 2 (2011) 2.2 (2010) 11.2 (2012) 4.1 (2012) 2.6 (2011) 3.4 (2011) 4.8 (2010) 7.7 (2012) 1.7 (2012)
Appendix C

Number of 14.8 (2006) 4.3 (2008) — — 10.9 (2008) 3.4 (2011) 2 (2009) — —
Death penalty allowed allowed allowed allowed no death allowed allowed allowed allowed
Torture > 50 cases > 50 cases > 50 cases > 50 cases > 50 cases > 50 cases > 50 cases > 50 cases > 50 cases
Political Terror 3 5 5 4 4 4 4 5 4
Scale Index
Political System –3 –9 –4 –7 9 –4 3 7 –7
Index value
Sources: Amnesty International (2013); Child Soldiers International (2012); CIRI (2014); CSP (2014); Heuni (2010); UCDP/PRIO (2014); PTS (2014); Sexual Violence in Armed
Conflict; Bastick, Grimm, and Kunz (2007); Global Overview and Implications for the Security Sector (2007); UNDP (2011); UNODC (2013); World Bank (2014); Ceder-
man, Wimmer, and Min (2010); ETH (2012); Wimmer, Cederman, and Min (2009).
*Per 100,000 inhabitants.
†For 2013

Table C.3  Economic and Other Indicators by Country

Country Sudan
Indicator Jordan Syria (North) Iran Turkey Egypt Yemen Pakistan Libya
GDP per capita 2014 (in current US $) 5,422.6 — 1,875.9 5,315.1 10,529.6 3,198.7 1,408.1 1,334.1 6,569.6
GDP per capita 2014 (PPP in int. $) 12,050.3 4,068.9 16,391.6 19,226.1 10,529.9 3,784.6 4,844.2 15,590.8
Gini* coefficient index value 33.69 35.80 35.29 38,28 40.04 30.75 35.91 29,63 —
(Last known value) (2010) (2004) (2009) (2005) (2011) (2008) (2005) (2011)
Human Development Index (2013) 0.745 0.658 0.473 0.749 0.759 0.682 0.5 0.537 0.784
Unemployment (% of total labor force) 12.6 10.8 15.2 13.2 10.0 12.7 17.4 5.1 19.6
Unemployment, youth total (% of total 33.7 29.8 24.5 29.7 20.4 38.9 29.8 8.5 51.2
Appendix C

labor force ages 15–24)

Unemployment, youth female (% of 55.9 65.9 27.5 41.7 23.6 71.1 53.7 11.9 77.2
female labor force ages 15–24)
Unemployment, youth male (% of male 28.0 23.2 22.6 26.4 18.8 25.8 20.3 7.5 38.5
labor force ages 15–24)
Agriculture, value added* 3.4 — 28.1 — 8.5 14.5 — 25.1 —
Manufacturing, value added* 19 — 8 — 18 16 — 14 —
Source: World Bank (2015).
*% of GDP.


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