In This Review

By Robert Springborg
272 pp, Polity Press, 2017

Much ink has been spilled on “deep states.” Springborg takes readers inside one. Under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt’s deep state is deeper and darker than ever before. In one of his more surprising claims, Springborg depicts the Egyptian state under King Farouk in the 1940s in relatively flattering terms and asserts that a succession of Egyptian autocrats have led the country down a path to politically vicious, economically unsustainable authoritarianism. Sisi has built on this dubious inheritance. Economic strategy has been sacrificed to prop up the intelligence services and to enrich the military, which controls much of the economy. Consumer subsidies, debt servicing, and civil-service wages take up 90 percent of the budget. The military lives off external and internal rents. Springborg examines how the presidency, the military, and the intelligence apparatus manipulate and control Parliament, the judiciary, and the bureaucracy. He then shows how the regime deals, in turn, with citizens (Muslims and Copts), labor, and students. He ends with a kind of Malthusian portrait of Egypt as living so far beyond its neglected means that it will surely fall off a cliff.