There are a couple of great articles on the ways in which politics and business meld in Egypt from the New York Times and The Guardian.
Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt has long functioned as a state where wealth bought political power and political power bought great wealth. While hard facts are difficult to come by, Egyptians watching the rise of a moneyed class widely believe that self-dealing, crony capitalism and corruption are endemic, represented in the public eye by a group of rich businessmen aligned with Gamal Mubarak, the president’s son, as well as key government ministers and governing party members.
“The people around Gamal became the wealthiest group in the country,” said Hala Mustafa, a political scientist who quit the ruling party years ago, saying it was not committed to political reform. “They monopolized everything.”
While Egypt’s gross domestic product grew, so did the percentage of the population that was poor. Rumors of kickbacks and corruption swirled. There have been multibillion-dollar estimates of the wealth of the president or his family, but experts say those are unsubstantiated guesses.
Egypt was governed as a private estate. Mubarak’s immediate family is implicated in crony capitalist activities as partners of most of the businessmen who benefited from the regime’s corruption. These beneficiaries do not want to leave their palaces, beaches and resorts, lucrative businesses and extreme riches. These are fixed assets that could not be transferred outside the country – although it should be noted that the ruling elites have siphoned off much capital to foreign banks. Nonetheless, it is the country-turned-private-estate they do not wish to abandon – that’s why they deployed the thugs in Tahrir Square to terrorise the population. This is a tactic that the National Democratic party has used on many previous occasions. In the national elections to the people’s assembly and to the shura council, thugs are hired to intimidate voters and to support rigging the results. At all popular protests, the police set thugs to attack the protesters using all means of intimidation, including the sexual harassment of women participants. Thugs have become an arm of the police and they have been used as informants in popular quarters of the city. They are rewarded with licences to operate kiosks or run minibus services. In a sense, practices of thuggery have been adopted by the regime to maintain itself and protect the interests of the ruling elite for decades now. Facing the growing possibility of losing their illegitimately acquired wealth and power, the regime and its cronies resorted to the techniques and practices that they have previously used with impunity to silence all opposition and resistance. However, the magnitude of popular mobilisation and the resolve to fight for dignity and freedom have rendered the regime’s tactics obsolete.