Tumult has roiled Egypt for three years, starting with the popular uprising that led to the ouster of longtime President Hosni Mubarak, through the country's first free elections, then to what many Egyptians called a military coup, resulting in more than a thousand dead.
Today the military remains in charge of Egypt, and has characterized its forced deposition of Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood-backed winner of the presidency, as a necessary measure to stop the elected government from following a restrictive Islamic path under Sharia law.
But could the military have had other motives? In "Egypt in Crisis," airing Tuesday, Sept. 17 at 10 p.m. on PBS (check local listings), FRONTLINE and GlobalPost's Charles M. Sennott examine the Egyptian revolution as it progressed from youth movement to a toppled dictator to an opportunity for the Muslim Brotherhood to find the political foothold it sought for decades -- which it lost. Click here to see FRONTLINE's reporting on Egypt; click here to see GlobalPost's.
FRONTLINE and Yahoo News collaborated to bring you this exclusive preview of "Egypt in Crisis." This portion of the documentary explores the scope of the Egyptian military's deeply entrenched empire--a sort of Egyptian "military industrial complex." The excerpt also asks why Mohammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization with a long and controversial history in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, chose to let the military's power go unabated during his year in office — and was ultimately overthrown by it.
The military is more than just an army in Egypt. Solidified under Mubarak's long rule, it is big business, controlling as much as 40 percent of the economy. They make cars, clothing, food products, chemicals, metals and even bottled water. The full extent of their empire is unknown.
As Ashraf Khalil, author of the book "Liberation Square," notes in FRONTLINE's documentary: "The military is one of the top landowners in the country, and ... you can't even really get a proper list of military-associated industries. The military wants to preserve its perks, its privileges, its significant private sector economic empire, and they want to escape from civilian oversight."
In addition, notes freelance Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy, the military enjoyed constitutional protection from having to answer for numerous human rights abuses that took place under Mubarak. "Basically what the constitution guaranteed for the military was safe passage, so that none of them were held accountable for their violations of our rights during the junta rule, the S.C.A.F. rule. Left the military budget untouched-- left any kind of civilian oversight of that budget, and allowed the military to continue to put civilians before military tribunals," she said. "Which were all things that, you know, we, the revolution, wanted to fix."
Morsi blew the revolution's opportunity, however, by failing to align with many of the people who brought it about in the first place, according to Khaled Fahmy, chairman of the history department at the American University in Cairo. "The fatal mistake is that the Muslim Brotherhood could have turned to us, the revolution, and could have turned to Tahrir to tell them, 'we need you to write a constitution that would limit the power of the military,'" Fahmy told FRONTLINE. "We would have come to his rescue," he said. "And instead, he tried to flirt with the police and the military against us."