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The Military in the First Republic: Appeasement and Changing Interests

To understand the dynamics of Egypt’s civil-military relations, it is important to briefly map out the country’s security system. Egypt’s current defense and security sector is made of three main institutions: the Ministry of Defense,15 the Ministry of Interior, and the General Intelligence Service. The first two institutions each have controlled a separate surveillance apparatus: Military Intelligence and the State Security Investigation Service, respectively.16

Nasser (r. 1956-1970) endowed the presidential seat with extensive powers, including the right to appoint and dismiss vice presidents, prime ministers, ministers, and commanders of the armed forces at will. At the same time, he entrusted junta members with running the police force, surveillance apparatus, and paramilitary forces.17 In 1954, the General Intelligence Service was established to monitor espionage activities, but eventually got enmeshed in the intra-junta rivalry and became part of the repressive machine of the regime.

The politicization of the junta came with a hefty cost for the officer corps and the presidency. Favoritism and a low level of professionalization characterized intra-corps relations. Ultimately, this posed a threat to the president’s authority.18 Nasser’s rival was his closest associate and commander of the Egyptian Armed Forces, Field Marshal Abdel Hakim ‘Amer. With a deep following within the officer corps, ‘Amer worked to isolate Nasser and control access to information, especially about the military.19

President Sadat (r. 1970-1981) parted from his predecessor’s policies and restructured missions and actors of the security sector. Recognizing the negative impact of officers’ politicization, Sadat worked to sustain higher levels of professionalization through institutional independence. As early as 1971, Sadat selected his ministers of interior from within the police force, thereby ending two decades of military hegemony over the Ministry of Interior’s leadership. He also shifted control of the antiriot units, the Central Security Forces, away from the Ministry of Defense and delegated it to the Ministry of Interior. Most importantly, he reassigned the responsibility of monitoring political activity to the State Security Investigation Service,20 restricted the work of Military Intelligence to the monitoring of military officers, and reinstated the original mission of the General Intelligence Service. To further disengage the officers from politics, Sadat issued a decree in 1976 preventing all in-service officers from participating in public elections through vote or nomination.21 Sadat’s efforts to civilianize power included major changes to the makeup of the executive branch. Changes in the number of civilian cabinet members registered Sadat’s effort to demilitarize governance. Of the total ministers who served under Nasser, 20.6 percent were officers and 14 percent officer technocrats, compared to 4 percent officers and 9 percent officer technocrats under Sadat.22

Mubarak (r. 1981-2011) followed Sadat’s path. In his capacity as the supreme commander of the Egyptian Armed Forces, Mubarak screened the highest- ranking generals and appointed the least politicized to the most sensitive positions in the military while maintaining seniority.23 He not only preserved but augmented the military’s economic resources, thereby eliminating sources of institutional grievance. Throughout the 1980-2011 period, the military built a network of economic enterprises that guaranteed an undisrupted source of revenue.24 These economic perks were only made possible through the generous military aid received from the United States, which allowed the Ministry of Defense to direct part of its budget to consumer goods without cutting allocation for training and equipment.25

This attention to the military’s organizational interests paralleled an increased reliance on the police to control sociopolitical dissent, which explains why the Ministry of Interior witnessed extensive enhancement of its institutional capacity under Mubarak.26 Yet, the meteoric political rise of Mubarak’s son Ga- mal in the early 2000s27 disrupted the delicate balance between state institutions and produced grievances on different levels. On one level, it put more pressure on the Ministry of Interior to suppress public dissent triggered by Mubarak’s nepotism, thereby increasing public disaffection with the regime. On another, it created resentment within the officer corps toward what seemed an unjustified presidential succession for an unqualified candidate. Some unofficial military objections were aired as early as 2000,28 and increased as influence of the younger Mubarak expanded into political appointments and economic policies.29 The officers’ apprehension was due to the limited political credentials of Gamal Mubarak and his lack of commitment to the state apparatus, of which the military is a central component.30 However, the disapproval remained muted as the military’s leadership preferred to refrain from direct intervention. It was only after the mass uprising that the military intervened to oust the unpopular president. In February 2011, political authority was wrested from Mubarak and into the hands of the highest collective body of the military, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (scaf).

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