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The Egyptian Military and the Presidency

Continuity and Change

Dina Rashed

The establishment of the first republic in Egypt in 1952 brought the country’s military to the center of political life. Except for very brief periods, military men have monopolized the presidential seat for over six decades. However, the relationship between the presidency and the military has been anything but static. Gamal Abdel Nasser consolidated missions of external and internal security under the command of the military while his junta occupied the highest political positions in the state. Anwar Sadat sought to restructure the political system he inherited by civilianizing the cabinet and redrawing the institutional boundaries between the state’s institutions of force. Hosni Mubarak followed in Sadat’s footsteps, intensifying efforts to disengage the military from domestic control, and depended extensively on the forces of the Ministry of Interior to enforce his authoritarian rule. In 2011, the Egyptian uprising brought the first republic to an end and created conditions for the revival of a direct military engagement with politics. Tumultuous and short lived, Egypt’s second republic ended with a second mass uprising and the ouster of the first democratically elected civilian president. Mohammed Morsi followed a policy of official appeasement toward components of the security complex but could not forge real relations of trust and cooperation with either the military or the police. Abdul Fatah el-Sisi’s policies aim to secure more political powers for the military and public support for the military’s engagement in the state’s economy.

Through examining the dynamic relationship between the military and presidents in Egypt, this chapter aims to identify moments of cooperation and contention and discuss their impact on Egypt’s transition to democracy. Through discussions of the historical narrative, I intend to underscore two important aspects relevant to political transitions. First, I highlight an under-theorized form of military disengagement from politics: retreat from domestic control and involvement in economic activity. This partial disengagement differs markedly from trajectories of delegation of power and democratization that are often discussed in civil-military relations literature. Second, I show how in the postregime breakdown of power, trust-building measures remain an integral part of the transition to democracy.

The chapter first discusses notable scholarship on military intervention in politics. It then engages with the historical narrative of the Egyptian republics, showing the dynamics of power between presidents and militaries. In the final section, I discuss how trust, and the lack of it, affected the country’s transition from the Mubarak regime.

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