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Egypt Index

The military became one of the most important factors in Egyptian politics after the overthrow of the monarchy in 1952. Nasser appointed members of the officer corps to senior positions in the bureaucracy and public sector to help implement his social revolution. But in the later years of the Nasser regime, fewer military figures occupied high government posts. Even fewer held posts during the Sadat and Mubarak regimes. Nevertheless, senior generals on active service continued to hold the key positions in agencies responsible for national security--the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior--as of early 1990.

After the June 1967 War, which tarnished the reputation of the military leadership, Nasser purged many officers from government. Sadat further reduced the military's influence in government by removing strong military figures who were liable to challenge his policies and by insisting on greater professionalism in the event of renewed conflict with Israel. He appointed fewer active or retired officers to high positions, although he named air force commander Husni Mubarak as vice president. Sadat was careful, however, to protect the career interests of professional soldiers and to provide for the material requirements of the military. Although the size of the armed forces had decreased after peace with Israel, the officer complement remained intact. Egypt's expanding relationship with the United States after 1974 assured a continued supply of modern weapons.

The performance of the army during the October 1973 War helped restore the military's prestige and served to justify Sadat's emphasis on professionalism instead of involvement in civilian politics (see Politics among Elites , ch. 4). The military leadership's views continued to have an important influence on the formulation of defense and national security policies. Opposition politicians, who had become more vocal during the Mubarak regime, insisted upon open debate on defense strategy, the privileges of the officer corps, and the share of national resources allocated to defense.

The armed forces played a role in maintaining domestic stability, although only under the most compelling circumstances had they actually been called upon in a domestic crisis. These occasions included the violent 1977 food riots and an uprising of conscripts of the Central Security Forces in Cairo (Al Qahirah) and other cities in 1986 (see Police , this ch.). The military leadership noted pointedly that the army units returned to their barracks as soon as both emergencies had ended. The efficiency and professionalism the armed forces demonstrated during these emergencies reinforced the public's perception that the army was the ultimate safeguard against militant Islamists or others who might threaten civil authority.

Mubarak's firm control over the military enabled him to restrict the influence of the officer corps over political decision making. His encouragement of democratizing tendencies in the political system led to previously unexpressed public criticism of the military's privileges and its demands on the economy. Much of the debate over the military's role during the Mubarak regime centered on Abu Ghazala, Mubarak's close collaborator, who was named minister of defense before Sadat's death in 1981 and was promoted to field marshal and deputy prime minister in 1982. Under Abu Ghazala, the military's growing involvement in Egypt's industrial, military, and agricultural sectors offset the military's diminishing role in politics (see Production of Civilian Goods , this ch.). With substantial economic resources and the means to earn revenues independently of the budget, the defense sector was able to maintain a high degree of financial autonomy. Despite the government's fiscal austerity, Abu Ghazala was able to purchase expensive modern weaponry during the 1980s and to undertake vast housing projects to improve the living conditions of both officers and enlisted personnel. Widely regarded as the natural successor to Mubarak as president, Abu Ghazala was careful not to appear to be a political rival to Mubarak or to undercut the president's authority. He nevertheless spoke out on nonmilitary matters, apparently with Mubarak's consent, and developed a network of contacts with civilian business leaders.

In April 1989, Mubarak abruptly appointed General Yusuf Sabri Abu Talib as minister of defense and commander in chief and assigned Abu Ghazala the vague position of assistant to the president. Most observers believed that Abu Ghazala had been dismissed for corrupt financial dealings as well as for a scandal over smuggling arms from the United States; others believed that Mubarak considered him too influential. One effect of Mubarak's dramatic action, however, was to strengthen civilian primacy over the military. Abu Ghazala's successor, Abu Talib, had earned a reputation as an efficient manager in his previous post as governor of Cairo. When Abu Talib took up his new post, he indicated that he intended to introduce greater financial accountability into defense programs and to limit the military's involvement in economic activities that were not directly related to defense and that competed with the private sector. Abu Talib was also charged with bringing corruption in the armed forces under control.

Data as of December 1990

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