Explain the Dominance of the Military in Egyptian Politics 1945-1990

Dominance of the Military in Egyptian Politics 12

The military has been a dominant force in Egyptian politics between1945 and 1990. It has managed to establish a deep state, whichpermeates the political, economic and social spheres. The militaryhas played a dominant role in the country’s politics, specificallyfrom 1952, when Free Officers Movement, led by Gamal Abdel Nasser,Muhammas Naguib and Anwar Sadat, staged a military coup, in the eventdeposing then King Farouk I (Waterbury, 1983). Analysis of thisdominance depicts that Middle Eastern societies have a predilectionfor strong, authoritarian rule, as opposed to democratic institutions(Khadduri, 1953). The essay will explain the dominance of themilitary in Egyptian politics from 1945-1990. Various militaryleaders have been active in leading coups that have resulted inmilitary dominance. They include Nagiub, Mubarak, Nasser and Sadat.This essay does not focus on Nagiub, rather briefly explainsMubarak’s role that is a continuation of Sadat (McDermott, 2013).More focus is on Nasser and Sadat. In explaining the military’sdominance, the paper employs several analytical frameworks, whichruns through the entire essay.

The body of the paper will be divided into two sections. Onesections endeavors to explain how and why the military rose to power.In explaining how and why, four explanations are used. These arecultural explanation, modernity explanation, development model andexternal forces. The four forces have facilitated the successfultakeover of the military in Egyptian politics. In addition, the fourforces have led to widespread acceptance among civilians of themilitary as legal authority. The second section looks into why themilitary have been able to stay in power using coup-proofing. Undercoup-proofing is the establishment of multiple security system, moneyand financing and endorsing military expertness. By explaining themeaning of the three ways of coup-proofing and their application, itbecomes possible to understand how they resulted in the state’sobedience to Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak.

How and Why the Military Rose to Power

According to Owen (2004:179), the military has dominated the past ofmost Middle Eastern nations. Countries like Egypt have witnessedmilitary coups resulting in the establishment of powerful, longlasting political regimes (Yapp, 1996). In order to understand howand why the military rose to power, it is relevant to take intoaccount the complex role of the military as a political, economic andcultural institution.

Cultural explanation

There seems to be a cultural predisposition towards authoritarianrule in Middle Eastern societies (Huntingdon, 1968). The perspectiveis rooted in Orientalist assumptions tied to a conception of the‘Arab mind’, which alleges that individual from the Middle Eastare determined by their culture, religion and language to preferauthoritarian systems of government (Lewis, 2002). Other scholarsfocus on aspects of Islamic doctrine and Arabic etymology that on thewhole, Middle Eastern societies are not culturally inclined towardsdemocratic institutions (Lewis, 2002: Kepel, 1985). A differentcultural explanation that explains the military dominance is linkedto politics. Following the Free Officer’s Coup and during Nasser’srule, military became ideological important and tied to Egypt’sself esteem and nationalism (Cook, 2011). Nasser’s brand of Arabnationalism started to mythologise the army’s authority and link itto Egyptian national pride (Ajami, 1974). Nasser’s popularity wasderived, in part, from his position as a successful fighter, with thetales of his exploits during the Arab-Israeli war establishing hiscredentials for leadership (Osman, 2013). Under Nasser, the Egyptianmilitary took on a symbolic significance in Egyptian politics andnational identity, providing a source of national pride.

Modernity explanation

The close engagement of the military in Egyptian politics might beseen as an aftermath of the colonial era and the period immediatelyafter independence (Ayubi, 1994). The nation underwent rapidmodernization. The country became self governing in 1922 following asuccessful struggle led by the Wafd party (Cleveland &amp Bunton,2009). Despite the freedom, the British progressed to control foreignaffairs and the Suez Canal (Harb, 2003). The close relationship amidthe monarchy and the British led to rapid modernization and rise of amiddle class. The middle class largely occurred within the armydissatisfied with widespread corruption in the monarchy. In 1952, theFree Officers Movement launched a military and sparked the beginningmilitary intervention in Egyptian politics. Arguably, themodernisation of Egypt in the 1930s and 1940s therefore created thecircumstances that brought about the Free Officers movement (Owen,2004).

Developmental model

The development of key institutions in Egypt over the 1960s, 1970sand 1980s was administered and facilitated by the army, meaning thatthe influence of the military was extended into the social, economicand administrative domains (Waterbury, 1983). The implication of thisis that Egypt’s development over the second half of the 20thcentury was intimately tied to the material and economic strength ofthe military. Furthermore, the army provided employment for largenumbers of the Egyptian population, and was regarded as a keybenefactor of healthcare and social institutions (Osman, 2013). Itmay be argued, therefore, that these developmental factors may gosome way towards explaining the dominance of the military in Egyptianpolitics.

External forces

The military’s turning point happened following the Camp Davidagreements in 1979 (Quandt, 1986). The agreements resulted in the endof prolonged negotiations resulting in a peace treaty between Egyptand Israel, which restored the Sinai to Egypt. This resulted in theisolation of Egypt from other Arab states forcing the nation tobecome a beneficiary of foreign aid from America (Brownlee, 2002).Notably, most of the funds were directed to the military. With moremoney, the military was able to strengthen its position within thepolitical sphere. The army became the centre of the economy:developing industry, factories, establishing hospitals, and buildingcommerce (Kienle, 2001). Through the development of political,administrative, and social institutions, the army has also reached alevel of bureaucratic penetration that renders their positionextremely secure. It is the establishment of this ‘deep state’that ensures that the military continues to dominate political lifein contemporary Egypt.

Why the Military has been Able to Stay in Power

Quinlivan (1999:133) describes coup-proofing as an array ofactivities taken by a regime to avoid a military coup. It results in“political-military arrangements”, which share diverse structuralaspects (Quinlivan, 1999:135). These aspect make it possible tounderstand why the military has been capable of staying in power inEgypt thus, dominating politics. Military leaders during the period1945 to 1990, employed coup-proofing strategies that ensured theycontinued to be in power.

Establishment of multiple security system

The survival of a regime relies on the trustworthiness andefficiency of security services in manners more intricate than aregime’s dependence on regular military. This is because, “thepropagation of security agencies with overlapping charters creates amarket with multiple sellers of security services and a singledemanding buyer” (Quinlivan, 1999: 149). When security agencies aremany they have a general order. The success of the military and theircontinued stay in power in Egypt is linked to the effective use ofthis aspect of coup-proofing.

Nasser established organizations that he used to support him. TheEgyptians disliked British rule. King Farouk did not have a goodreputation as he was corrupt. Many Egyptians felt that British rulepushed them further into poverty. Civilians felt that the Britishtreated them unfairly, which enhanced their hatred. Some of theincidents resulting in such hatred include the destruction of mudhouses that belonged to poor Egyptians during a road opening aimed atproviding water supply to the British army (Hopwood, 1990:30).Another incident was the attack at a police barracks resulting in themurder as well as injury of Egyptians (Hopwood, 1990:30). As aresult, the Egyptians felt that they needed a leader that could leadthem into a battle against the British as expressed by Nasser(Hopwood, 1990:35). Hence, he invented a Liberation Rally. The rallydepicts Nasser’s creation of organizations, which he would use tosupport him and avoid any possible revolution. Using the Rally,Nasser was able to convince learners as well as trade unions membersto revolt civilians rule. This resulted in strikes in regions likeAlexandria and Cairo (Hopwood, 1990:39). It is apparent that Nasseracts as the central command of his Liberation Rally. Despite thedifferent groups, he manages to convince them on what action to take.Nasser makes the state to obey him.

Endorsing military expertness

Professionalism in the military comprises of three prerequisites.They are social accountability, business character and expertness.The prerequisites either urge a military to intervene or notintervene in a coup. A regime that intends to coup-proof, endeavorsto enhance the expertness of the military in a technical way.Improving the expertness of the military enhances not just theircapability of handling foreign armies, rather enlightens them on theperils of a coup attempt. Comprehension of the risks makes it lessprobable that the military will attempt a coup (Quinlivan,1999:152-153).

Following their taking over in 1952, high ranking military officersacted as president, cabinet members and were in charge ofadministrative positions (Gotowicki, nd:106). At the point, theeconomic situation of Egypt was strained. The regime realized theneed to coup proof, which was made possible through encouragingmilitary expertness. Those that recruit to join the military becomeexposed to a new world that differs from their usual and agrarianbackground. Through training, the recruits gain experience thatinstills civic responsibility as well as devotion to their state.Hence, military service acts as a source of ensuring soldiers have asense of citizenship, are accountable and have a national identity.

Educational level is a determiner in the level of service in themilitary. Depending on the level of education, individuals getpositions that match their education. For instance, a doctor servesin the army as a war doctor. From 1970s, the role of the Egyptianmilitary has been advancing. It is crucial in economic development(Gotowicki, nd: 110). The sectors of the economy influenced by themilitary are agriculture, state infrastructure, civilian and militaryindustries. Egyptian president, Mubarak as well as the previousdefense minister shared an aspiration on the significant function ofthe military as a driver for economic advancement (Tripp &amp Owen,1989). This resulted in a horizontal extension on the military’sfunction in state economy.

By training the military, they become experts in various technicalsectors that result in economic development. Thus, they are seen asan important form on government in charge of technical issues.According to Cooper (1982:209), following the purge of Sadat’scabinet comprising of military officers, the military’s presencehas become widespread in sectors that are technical and directlylinked to military operations. These include defense ministries,transportation, production and communications. These are among themost important sectors of government. By occupying the positions, itbecomes possible for the military to dominate politics.

Also, military expertness was important in ensuring enhancedperformance during war. It was necessary for any political group todemonstrate its capability in protecting the self rule of Egypt. As aresult, such a regime was able to remain in power with minimalattempts to overthrow the regime. For instance, Sadat emphasized on aprogram that could result in more military prowess. The benefits ofthe program were apparent in the military prowess of the 1973 warwhen compared to the 1967 debacle (Gotowicki, nd: 116).

Money and financing

Quinlivan (1999: 153) makes it clear that it is expensive to caterfor multiple agencies, and at the same time maintain a balance withother needs a regime ought to meet. The significance of money doesnot merely apply in the purchase of weapons, or paying lucrativesalaries. The ability to sustain money use with time results in theformation of a type of politics with specific stability.

The military in Egypt has always had sources of money that haveensured they remain wealthy. The use of the money as noted byQuinlivan, has led to the creation of a strong political organizationby the military. The military is in charge of production companiesand factories, which hire thousands of civilians. The amount gainedfrom the production amounted to $400 million in 1980s. The militaryindustries were as well engaged in the exporting of a yearly averageamounting to millions the same years (Cooper, 1982:112). The gainsfrom the industries are reversed to the military. In the 1970s, theEgyptian military converted huge sections of military production tocreating goods for citizens with the objective of enhancing theirfunction in society. This results in creation of money under offbudget. Such efforts ensured that the military continued to have asupply of money to fund its activities. In 1985, the military wasaccountable for food production. The food was sold to civilians viacommercial outlets. Illustrations are El-safa water as well as thesale of canned foods. Considering that the money the military getsfrom the sales was not taxed, it can only mean that the military waswealthy. This facilitated its popularity and remaining in power.

Money is an important determiner in economic development. Systemsthat demonstrate a reduced level of economic advancement aresusceptible to military coups. The more money a regime has, thehigher the likelihood that society is able to access resources,making the regime able to compete politically (Thompson, 1975:472).In the event of an economic downturn, political leaders take theblame. For instance, in 1952, there was widespread unemployment aswell as escalating number of peasants, which resulted in militarycoup (Imad, 2003:276). However, the military has actively beeninvolved in actions aimed at resulting in the improvement ofcivilians’ life in Egypt, due to their wealth. As a result, byimproving the lives of civilians they are able to garner support,reducing the possibility of any attempts to overthrow them. Socialparticipation is very important in ensuring that society supports apolitical organization. For instance, Nasser used this approach inavoiding a coup by mobilizing the public on the need to assist thepublic, which worked to reduce susceptibility to military coups(Mansfield, 1973).


There is a high dominance of the military in the politicalactivities of many Middle Eastern countries. Most of these nationsare accustomed to authoritarian leadership. Many factors can belinked to the dominance of the military in Egyptian politics from1945 to 1990. The factors are related to how and why the military wasable to rise to power and the reasons for continued stay in power bythe military. All through the period, the military acted as a basisfor stability and security to civilians, in a region characterized bypolitical unrests. Hence, the military acted as a symbol of power andunity. Cultural, modernization, development and external factorsexplain how and why the military was able to dominate politics. Themilitary has remained in power owing to their use of coup-proofingtechniques. Coup-proofing has been possible due to the military’swealth, expertness that enhances technical expertise and establishingmultiple security systems.


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