BERLIN (AP) — The international community is doing a disservice to the Egyptian people by supporting the country's armed forces with "few strings attached," an anti-corruption watchdog said Friday.
The new report comes just days ahead of Egypt's presidential election, in which general-turned-President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi is virtually certain to win as he faces only one other opponent, an obscure politician.
Transparency International Defense and Security says Egypt's military received financial aid and security assistance from Western states and arms companies, helping the military to consolidate its power.
The Berlin-based watchdog said the Egyptian military, the budget of which is largely unknown, has expanded its political power and economic ambitions and is "a largely opaque and unaccountable institution."
"Egypt's armed forces have under President el-Sissi expanded their privileged position in the country's economy, have grabbed full control over the political system and yet they are not under any meaningful scrutiny," said James Lynch, the group's deputy director.
The report estimates Egypt's military annual budget to be $4.4 billion. Over the years, the Egyptian military has built a vast economic empire that includes food, mineral water and land reclamation companies. Independent researchers say the armed forces control up to 40 percent of Egypt's economy, though the figures have not been officially confirmed.
In an interview earlier this week, el-Sissi dismissed such estimates, saying the armed forces only control between 2 percent and 3 percent of the country's economy.
El-Sissi rose to power after he led the military overthrow of an elected Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, whose one-year rule proved divisive.
Egypt was among the five largest weapon importers in the world in 2017, data from Stockholm International Peace Research Institute showed earlier this month. Egypt continues to receive $1.3 billion in military aid annually from the United States.
"Western states, who could do much to influence this situation, are meanwhile failing to demand serious reform and instead carrying on with business as usual, while mistakenly still considering Egypt a trusted partner for security and stability in the region," Lynch said.
The report also urged the international community to promote domestic oversight of the Egyptian armed forces and make assistance available after the "basic levels of transparency and accountability" are met.