Safinaz El Tarouty, Businessmen, Clientelism, and Authoritarianism in Egypt. London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.
Jadaliyya (J): What made you write this book?
Safinaz El Tarouty (SET): This book is based on my PhD dissertation that I completed in 2014 at the University of East Anglia. The topic I chose for my dissertation was authoritarian survival in Egypt. I decided to examine this topic by focusing on the role of Egyptian businessmen in politics and their relationship to authoritarian survival. Since 2000, the visibility of businessmen in politics has been growing. This was evident in their election to the parliament, appointment in the ruling party, and in the cabinet. The increasing engagement of businessmen in politics motivated me to explore their role in sustaining Mubarak’s regime.
J: What particular topics, issues, and literatures does the book address?
SET: This book addresses the question: To what degree did businessmen contribute to the survival of authoritarianism over the three decades of Mubarak’s rule (1981–2011)? Other sub questions emerged from this question that the book attempted to answer: 1) Why did businessmen get involved in politics under the authoritarian rule of former President Mubarak? 2) Why did the regime allow businessmen to become engaged in politics? 3) What was the relationship between the regime and those businessmen who did not engage in politics? 4) Did all businessmen support the regime? If not, how did the regime deal with businessmen opposing the regime?
In light of the book’s research questions, I have classified the literature on authoritarian survival and renewal into two groups: the political economy approach and the institutional approach. The political economy approach explained the different relations that developed between the businessmen and authoritarianism, ranging from coercion to dependency to bargaining to predation; however, this approach could not explain the institutions in which these relations occurred. This is why I complemented the gap in the political economy approach by using the institutional approach. In the book, I review the literature on the different institutional mechanisms for regime’s co-option of supporters and containment of opponents.
One of the main issues this book addresses is that there is a gap in the existing literature on authoritarian renewal regarding co-option. This literature does not explain the fact that co-option between the regime and businessmen is flexible and can take different forms—for example, authoritarian clientelism, semi-clientelism, patron-broker client relationships, and, in exceptional cases, mutual dependency. By looking at the varieties and flexibility of co-option, we can understand how Mubarak’s authoritarian regime renewed its authoritarianism, especially after the introduction of economic liberalization, which increased the structural and financial power of businessmen.
One of the issues that I discovered through my research is that businessmen’s support for or opposition to authoritarianism is not always contingent on their economic interests. On the one hand, there are businessmen who played a role in supporting Mubarak’s authoritarianism for their own economic interests, since they were economically dependent on the regime. On the other hand, through my empirical research I found out that businessmen associated with the Muslim Brothers opposed Mubarak’s regime because of their ideological views rather than their belief in democracy. Their opposition to Mubarak’s regime was at the expense of scarifying their wealth and private businesses.
J: Who do you hope will read this book, and what sort of impact would you like it to have?
SET: The original empirical material and new theoretical contributions make this book useful for academics in undergraduate and graduate courses on authoritarian regimes, Egyptian politics, and the political economy of authoritarianism. The book is also written in a language accessible to non-academic readers, who may be just interested in reading about businessmen and their relation to Mubarak’s authoritarian regime. The book uncovers how economic liberalization under Mubarak resulted in more authoritarianism and provided new opportunities for economic predation, state capture, and market monopoly on the part of businessmen. Economic liberalization, by its own standards, should have instead improved economic efficiency and increased the degree of private sector competition. I hope my book could be a reference for policy makers and businessmen to learn from the mistakes of the Mubarak regime’s economic liberalization.
J: What methodologies did you use in your research for this book?
SET: I used qualitative methods to answer my research questions on the role of businessmen in authoritarian survival. Through interviews, newspaper articles, secondary sources, and interpellations submitted to parliament, I was able to construct case studies about different types of businessmen and their relationships with the regime. Through these case studies, I analyze the role of businessmen in authoritarian survival and renewal. I selected the interviewees after making a short list of large-scale businessmen who come from different political backgrounds: businessmen from the National Democratic Party (NDP), independent businessmen, and businessmen from opposition political parties, as well as opposition organizations and movements.
I chose a case study approach to allow for an in-depth understanding and analysis of businessmen’s relationships with the authoritarian regime. Businessmen who were examined in this research entered into clientelistic relations with the regime, and they have been classified based on the institutional tool by which the regime co-opted them: 1) businessmen who were co-opted by running for parliament as NDP members or independents; 2) other businessmen who did not engage in politics and were co-opted through social-network relations with Mubarak and his family; and 3) other businessmen who were co-opted by joining the loyal opposition parties. This is why I examine these three categories of businessmen in three different chapters: “Parliamentary Businessmen,” “The Social Networks of the Mubarak Family and Businessmen,” and “Businessmen in the Opposition.”
I believe that these classifications provide a comprehensive examination of samples of different types of large-scale businessmen who were co-opted by the regime through different institutional mechanisms. In order to complement my case study approach to businessmen and authoritarianism, I examine in each of these classification examples of the businessmen who refused to be co-opted by the regime.
Excerpts from Businessmen, Clientelism, and Authoritarianism in Egypt
This work examines the different institutional mechanisms of the Mubarak regime’s co-option of businessmen. It went beyond the conception of co-option as dyadic and static. This work demonstrates that in light of economic liberalization, the political economy of authoritarianism intersected with different types of clientelistic relationships. Co-option became flexible and took a variety of forms (for example, authoritarian clientelism, semiclientelism, patron-broker-client relationships, and mutual dependency). The varied means of co-opting businessmen demonstrate how the regime prevented them from playing a democratizing role in politics.
Ramy Lakah in Chapter Three; Ahmed Bahgat, Ibrahim El Moallam, and Mohamed Nosseir in Chapter Four; and El Sayyid El Badawi in Chapter Five entered into authoritarian clientelistic relationships with the regime. These clientelistic relationships were based on their subordination to the regime and were reinforced by credible threats of coercion. The regime used Lakah’s file of financial corruption at the Prosecutor General’s Office to threaten him. Even after Lakah returned to Egypt and reconciled with the regime by settling his debts with the banks, he was still under a credible threat of having the file documenting his corruption opened at any time, which made him continue in his support of Mubarak and in his subordination to the regime. In the case of Bahgat, the regime used his debts to public banks to threaten his business in case he became disobedient. This ensured that both he and his private channel, Dream TV, were subordinate to the regime. In the case of El Moallam, when his Al-Sherouk newspaper criticized the project of hereditary succession and Mubarak’s authoritarian regime in one of its articles, the regime used credible threats of coercion by closing his carton factory, claiming as its reason that the factory did not have a fire extinguisher. Nosseir’s authoritarian clientelistic relation with the regime was demonstrated by his subordination to Mubarak when he was ordered to establish a financial center, which he called “the Citadel project.” This subordination was reinforced by credible threats of coercion when he became one of those businessmen who had to provide support to the regime in the form of charitable activities. El Sayyid El Badawi’s economic and political careers were dependent on the regime for survival. This dependency forced him into an authoritarian clientelistic relationship with the regime based on credible threats of losing both his business and his political career if he were disobedient. Therefore, he obeyed the regime when he was ordered to buy the radical newspaper Al-Destour in order to tame it. Other businessmen entered into semiclientelistic relationships with the regime—for example, the loan MPs in Chapter Three and Wagih Siag in Chapter Four. In the case of the loan MPs, as a result of economic liberalization, the credit ceilings of banks were abolished, which allowed businessmen to loot banks’ money. This increased the structural and financial power of businessmen allowed them to enter into semiclientelistic relationships with the regime based on bargaining and less subordination. Similarly, the increase in the financial power of Siag after winning his case against the Egyptian government allowed him to enter into a bargaining relationship with the regime. The loan MPs’ bargain with the regime allowed them to pay back only part of the money they had looted from the banks. Siag’s bargaining with the regime allowed him to return to Egypt to resume his private business. In both cases, the bargaining relationships induced compliance by the threat of the removal of benefits (for example, the benefit of paying back only part of the money businessmen had looted from the banks in the case of loan MPs and the benefit of returning to invest in Egypt in the case of Siag) and not by threat of coercion.
This work has demonstrated that economic liberalization transformed the relationship between the regime and parliamentary businessmen into a triadic relationship, as mentioned in Chapter Three. This triadic relation involved the regime (as a patron), the parliamentary businessmen (as brokers), and the voters (as clients). In this triadic relationship, parliamentary businessmen played the role of brokers and replaced the state in providing social services to their constituencies.
The varied ways of co-opting businessmen demonstrate how the regime renewed its survival after the introduction of economic liberalization. One group of businessmen entered into authoritarian clientelistic relationships with the regime based on subordination. These relationships were reinforced by credible threats of coercion. Another group of businessmen entered into semiclientelistic relationships with the regime based on bargaining. The clientelistic relationships based on bargaining induced compliance by the threat of the removal of benefits rather than threats of coercion. A third group of businessmen entered into patron-broker-client relationships with the regime and replaced the state in the provision of social services. In exceptional cases, businessmen Ahmed Ezz and Naguib Sawiris formed a relationship of mutual dependency with the regime. Businessmen who refused to be co-opted by the regime—as in the cases of Ibrahim Kamel and Anwar Esmat El Sadat, discussed in Chapter 3—were punished by the regime and were prevented from engaging in politics. This means that the regime’s co-option of businessmen should not be understood in terms of only one type of co-option. In other words, the regime could not maintain its survival by using only threats of coercion with all businessmen, by bargaining with all businessmen, or by using all businessmen as brokers to replace the state’s role in providing services. Instead, the regime maintained its survival and renewed its authoritarianism after the introduction of economic liberalization by using a variety of clientelistic relationships with businessmen.
[Excerpted from Safinaz El Tarouty, Businessmen, Clientelism, and Authoritarianism in Egypt, by permission of the author. © 2015 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. For more information, or to purchase this book, click here.]