The Military has been the backbone of Egyptian political power in modern Egypt the largest component of which is the army. The Free Officers revolution and subsequent presidency of Gamal ‘Abdel Nasser created foundations for a modern authoritarian state in which the military is the ruling power in Egyptian politics—albeit not the governing power (thus Egypt is not a military dictatorship). All post-independence leaders, except for Muhammad Morsi, have been prominent military officers. For decades, the military has protected Egyptian regimes and enforced authoritarian conditions that have disempowered the political opposition, regardless of whether it is secular or Islamist. In reality, the military has benefited from rising Islamist activism since the 1970s, as it has granted them legitimacy to impose restrictions on a broad spectrum of opposition groups.
Egyptian military leaders have been strong supporters of economic neoliberalism, which has enriched military families and ensured close ties between the military and pro-regime businesses. The military has also promoted intensified control over civil society, has evolved an extensive internal security apparatus, and supports “anti-terrorism” laws that have granted broad powers to regulate opposition to the regime. The military has supported a political system that promotes governance by the political-military elite; Egypt’s Emergency Laws and current protest “regulation” laws provide a glimpse of the extensive control that the military possesses in government and legislation. Finally, the military is devotedly nationalist and adheres to the Nasserist legacy.
The Egyptian military has been strongly supported by Egypt’s American ally, receiving $1.3 billion in military aid annually since 1987, including American-manufactured weapons and equipment. The United States has favored regime stability in Egypt and values a regional ally that maintains peace with Israel; both the United States and Israel are viewed with suspicion and sometimes hostility by many Egyptians.
Despite these factors, the Egyptian military is popular among the wider Egyptian public. Unlike the police and other state security forces, which were reviled during the Mubarak presidency, the Egyptian military is regarded as a military “of the people.” Mandatory military service ensures that most families have personal ties to the military and view its branches as being made up of Egyptian sons and brothers. Arab Spring protestors welcomed the incursion of the military, viewing it as a counterforce to the state security forces that violently attacked demonstrations.
The military has remained powerful since the Arab Spring in 2011. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, a committee of military leaders that convenes in times of crisis, led the unpopular transition government following Mubarak’s removal, and the military steered the popular coup that unseated post-Arab Spring president Muhammad Morsi during the summer of 2013. The post-Morsi transitional government was led by Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the Commander in Chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces and a Morsi appointee.
CNN Wire Staff, “Experts: Egypt’s fate rests in hands of popular, powerful military,” CNN, January 30, 2011, accessed January 13, 2014.
Steven A. Cook, Ruling But Not Governing: The Military and Political Development in Egypt, Algeria, and Turkey (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007).
Theodoric Meyer, “F.A.Q. on U.S. Aid to Egypt: Where Does the Money Go, And How Is It Spent?” ProPublica, October 9, 2013, accessed January 13, 2014.