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The Deep State Comes to America

Author: Steven A. Cook, Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies
February 27, 2017


In the months and weeks leading up to the summer 2013 coup d’état in Egypt that brought Mohamed Morsi’s presidency to an end, Egyptians encountered one economic challenge after another. Blackouts had become commonplace, the tourism industry was dead, foreign investment was nonexistent, and the government was flirting with a solvency crisis. All of this meant severe hardship for the millions of Egyptians who had hoped that the end of former President Hosni Mubarak’s regime would bring them the “bread, freedom, and social justice” so many had demanded in Tahrir Square a few years earlier.

Among the most painful economic problems at the time was the shortage of fuel. In car-heavy Egypt, the inability to move — in addition to the usual, frustrating snarl of traffic — added insult to injury.

And then it was over. An economic crisis that had seemingly been months in the making disappeared almost overnight. A week after the coup, Ben Hubbard and David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times reported that gasoline was, suddenly, readily available. Was this just a coincidence — or was this the work of a secret cabal of military officers, intelligence operatives, and senior bureaucrats known as the “deep state”?

The idea of a deep state is hardly unique to Egypt. It is actually more commonly associated with Turkey and has recently turned up in the United States. For Turks, the rumors of their own long-standing secret cabal were confirmed when a Mercedes-Benz struck a truck in the small town of Susurluk, 150 miles southwest of Istanbul, on Nov. 3, 1996. The passengers in the Mercedes were an odd group that included Istanbul’s deputy chief of police, a member of parliament, a known hit man, and the hit man’s girlfriend. Only Sedat Bucak, the right-wing parliamentarian, survived.

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