Military Review

For a revolution or a counter-revolution? The role of the military in the politics of Egypt

The events of the “Arab spring” have been going on for almost three years in countries where for decades the real power was with the military and other security forces. They began in December of 2010 in Tunisia, and soon the revolution really broke out in Egypt. Unlike Libya and Syria in Egypt, it did not lead to a collapse or to a severe crisis of state structures, which made it possible to avoid a civil war. In this case, the behavior of the army circles was crucial in both cases. As it became apparent soon after the overthrow of Mubarak, retaining an active role in the post-revolutionary period, the Egyptian military consistently fighting for a central place in the politics and economy of the country.

When events began in Egypt called “Tahrir” (after the square’s name), the army refused to take part in suppressing mass demonstrations, but the military itself took the supreme power in the country, putting the protesters in front of this fact and The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces will govern the country during the long months of transition.

Thus, if in Tunisia, from which, in fact, flared in the Arab world, the military played the role of arbiter and organizer of the political process, in Egypt they rushed to the political arena.

Perhaps this behavior was predetermined by the status of the army before the start of the revolutionary events - Egypt was a classic "officer regime" like Algeria, Iraq and Syria.

Economics and politics under military control

From the middle of the last century, the Egyptian army invariably enjoyed the patronage of the ruling regime, since it itself supplied cadres for many years. Like Tunisia, Egypt has always been a police state. But here, unlike the Tunisian Republic, the army occupied an exceptional position for more than half a century. Although the number of armed forces (450 thousand) is three times lower than the police, the military are equipped and financed much better than the police and special services.

It is also known that the military are actively present in the economy. Their share in GDP is estimated from 10 to 30 percent. Intelligence, also manned by military personnel and reporting directly to the president, was the main intelligence service of the regime. Its employees have a higher status than the police. The units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in the former Egypt were only the first line of defense of the regime, while the support and bastion of presidential power was the army.

The Egyptian army is not considered a highly professional force that could effectively serve national interests, including in peacetime: to protect the border, to provide assistance in disasters, to participate in peacekeeping operations, to fine-tune interaction with the allies at the exercises. The armed forces of the country are considered “obese”, the officers are relaxed and more busy with small and large personal business, and the troops are mediocre in their studies or not at all. Military planning usually came down to fantasies about a possible war with Israel.

The training of specialists is fragmentary and non-systemic. The maintenance of military equipment does not correspond to real needs and, like the rear support, is directly dependent on American assistance. A number of samples that Egypt imports from the United States as part of the 1,3 annual billion-dollar military aid cannot compete not only with Israeli counterparts, but also with weapons and military equipment of other Arab countries, although it is often significantly more expensive.

Inside the army structure of the Ministry of Defense deliberately did not satisfy all the needs of the combatant units and did not conduct procurement in the proper amount in order to prevent the growth of the authority of the officers and coherence both within the units and subunits, and between their commanders. The reason for this was the fear of an attempted military coup.

The agreement of the military with President Mubarak was to ensure that the command could create its own economic autonomy, within which part of the profits went to support retired officers and funding other benefits aimed at ensuring the loyalty of the officer corps.

The Egyptian armed forces minimally managed to ensure national security and were more focused on supporting the regime with the condition that the political leadership provides military bureaucracy with assistance and patronage.

By the beginning of the events on Tahrir Square, the authority of the army in society was not very high, but the influence remained very significant due to the considerable integration of the military into the economy. Long before Tahrir, the problem of the change of the head of state became the central issue of the internal politics of Egypt. Not later than two years before the start of mass protests, it was already known that Mubarak sought to reconcile two differently directed and contradictory forces: on the one hand, the military leadership, and on the other, his personal project, the son of Gamal, who was supposed to bring to power to the detriment of interests military bureaucracy. However, by that time, Gamal’s integration into Egypt’s business community had been going on for several years, so that Mubarak’s son would be supported at the right moment by the business community in case of possible opposition from the military. It is also likely that the preparation of the country for the coming to power of Gamal envisaged the promotion of his figure as a unifying business and military interests. Until now, the specific motives of the parties remain unknown, but it is definitely clear that by the beginning of the uprising, the military, firstly, were very influential, and secondly, there were certain strong contradictions between the civilian business and the ruling family.

The confrontation between the servicemen and the team of Gamal in the struggle for Mubarak's inheritance was inevitable. On the eve of the revolution, the team of the son of the head of state consistently moved to power, especially since the president was clearly inclined in favor of Gamal and not the head of military intelligence Omar Suleiman and the military clan. Thus, when the Mubarak regime was shaken, the military felt that there was an opportunity to get rid of their patron, who had become an adversary, and regain control over the economic assets, which, in their opinion, rightfully belong to them.

"Tahrir" - on whose side the army

In Egypt, the situation worsened immediately after the departure of the President of Tunisia, Ben Ali from his own country. 14 January 2011, he left his state, and 17 January at the parliament building in order to protest against the deteriorating economic situation, the Egyptian self-immolating. A week later, the first large-scale organized protest was held on Tahrir Square. A week later, the military declared that they would not open fire on the demonstrators. The army provided the police and special services to deal independently.

For a revolution or a counter-revolution? The role of the military in the politics of Egypt

After several days of mass protests, when dozens of demonstrators died every day, opposition leader Mohammed Baradei said he considered it necessary to negotiate the configuration of the new government with the leadership of the armed forces. Tanks were stopped at the approaches to Tahrir. A week later, on January 31, the military for the first time really loudly announced themselves. They officially announced that they respect the fair demands of protesters and will be present on the streets only to protect protesters and maintain law and order. On February 11, military intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who had been appointed vice president shortly before, announced that Mubarak had resigned as head of state. Two days later, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said: in accordance with the requirements of Tahrir, it was decided to dissolve the parliament, suspend the constitution and begin to prepare the country for reforms and new elections.

One of the first decisive steps by the military leadership was the seizure of the assets of close friends of Gamal Mubarak. The military also put the rest of the security forces under control. Then Interior Minister Habib Adly was arrested just in case, and various security forces completely came under the control of the army. The military leadership also found a replacement for Adley from among the top leaders of state security. The head of the Central Directorate of Security Forces was fired, and the case was opened on suspicion of torture (practiced both in police and military structures).

In the future, the Egyptian military held all power and did not show any particular desire to radically reform domestic policy, but the protests continued, despite the victims among the protesters, already at the hands of the military. It was the moment when the true motives of the military were revealed: to force Mubarak to obey the demands of the democratic public and appoint a vice president, promote his candidate to this post, force Mubarak to announce early elections and resign, transferring the duties to the newly appointed Omar Suleiman.

From July to November 2011, the demonstrators moved from demands to speed up reforms and conduct trials on the most odious representatives of the old regime to demands to dissolve the Supreme Council of the Supreme Court. Gradually, the Supreme Council was forced to make new and new concessions. The specifics of the situation was that with the level of support for the population of less than 50 percent more than 90 percent of the Egyptians were convinced that it was the military that could provide the necessary conditions for free and fair elections. In November 2011 - January 2012, parliamentary elections were held in the country, and in May-June presidential elections were held. In the parliament, Islamists from the Muslim Brothers Party received the majority, Islamist Mohammed Mursi was elected head of state, the inauguration of which took place on June 30 on 2012.

After Mubarak’s departure, the military achieved immunity from the Supreme Court from any civil prosecution until the new constitution was approved. However, in mid-August 2012, Mursi took two decisive steps: he dismissed the head of the High Council and his deputy, as well as the head of intelligence and the head of the presidential security service.

By their actions during the “Arab spring”, the Egyptian military clearly demonstrates that a lot depends on this part of Egyptian society, including the main thing - the country's political future.

Before "Tahrir", the army for half a century was generally satisfied with its role and place in the political structure of Egypt. Despite the occasional friction between the military and the political elite, the very structure of power in the country did not experience truly serious challenges and threats. None of the participants was going to dramatically change the balance, occasional clashes occurred only about who will take the highest post.

The most plausible conclusion regarding the motives of military behavior during the uprising on Tahrir is that the military, defending revolutionaries, did not try to take any revolutionary steps themselves - they, in their opinion, contributed to preserving the actual model of alignment of forces and interests, on which he encroached senior mubarak. From this point of view, the army acted as a counter-revolutionary force. Desperate attempts by the military in the wake of the protests to concentrate full power in their hands and to hold the post of the president of the former commander of the air force, Ahmed Shafik, confirm this thesis: the military would like to use the uprising to settle accounts with Mubarak and eliminate the threat of reform.

However, they underestimated the potential of the Islamists in a greater than usual democracy. As a result, last year the Egyptian military lived with the need to respond to the main challenge of the "Arab spring" in Egypt - the parliament and government in the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Call Mursi: cope and counterattack

Immediately after the Islamists led by Mursi came to power, the Egyptian military had to make a choice: either recognize the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood and go into the shadows, or try to refrain from engaging in politics with their own hands and try to rule the country indirectly, through pressure on electoral power and politicians or grossly intervene in politics and carry out a coup.

The Mursi government, barely taking power, took steps that threatened the interests and status of the military. Muhammad Mursi and his supporters, apparently, tried to either provoke an aggravation on the Sinai Peninsula, or at least use it to change the army leadership.

In early August 2012, the terrorists massacred Egyptian police and border guards on the border with Israel and the Gaza Strip - it seems that the purpose of these attacks was to create the impression of powerlessness of the army and possibly provoke Israel into clearing the peninsula, sending the military to the slaughterhouse to get out which was somehow not worthy and without loss of chances.

“The society places the blame on the generals for the attack on Sinai, which for many has become an indication that the army must get out of politics and focus on its main task - the defense of frontiers. The military did not cope with the tasks on them, they need to be replaced. These generals have become old and stagnant, they spent too much time in power, and this time was podzatyanulo because of the revolution and the confusion associated with it, ”- this is the position of the authorities in the local press.

Following the results, Marshal Tantawi was dismissed - elderly, harmless and calm; the Chief of General Staff Sami Anan was also dismissed, and the prosecution of Mursi, who used the support of military rival, Ahmed Shafiq, was forced to leave the country. The largest military operation since 1979 began in Sinai. Marshal Tantawi was replaced by the youngest member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the successor of Omar Suleiman, the head of intelligence Abdelfatah Sisi. Commanders of the Navy, Air Force and Air Defense of Egypt were also sent to resign. The first steps towards the creation of a civil state were accompanied by thousands of demonstrations of his supporters on Tahrir and in many Egyptian cities. The April 6 Movement, the support of Mursi and the main driving force of the anti-Mubarak demonstrations, issued a statement announcing the goal of the country's political leadership: "We want a strong army to protect the people and not interfere in politics" .

Apparently, personnel changes in the top of the army thought Mursi to Sinai. There were signs that the change of military leadership occurred with the knowledge of the High Council and as a result of consultations with it. Starting against the background of events in Sinai, with the abolition of the constitutional declaration adopted by the Council, which expanded the military’s authority to dismantle the Mubarak regime, Mursi subsequently cut the powers and capabilities of the High Council, and in November-December 2012 removed himself from the control of the judiciary ( the president’s legislative activity could no longer be challenged in court) and ensured the adoption of the draft constitution, which caused widespread protests across the country. The strengthening of the president to the detriment of the parliament and the court Mursi justified the need to do away with the remnants of the old regime, but the country started talking about an Islamist coup, large-scale street protests began everywhere, and the legitimacy of the first democratically elected president was in question.

Meanwhile, in early March 2013, the Egyptian authorities were forced to announce the maximum level of terrorist threat in Sinai - the weekends and holidays of civilian authorities, police and security forces, and military personnel were canceled. A number of localities in Israel, including Eilat, were subjected to rocket attacks from Egyptian territory. The killings and abductions of police and military in the incomplete year of Mursi’s rule became much more frequent, and as a result, at the end of May, additional tank units were advanced to Sinai, which even met Israel’s understanding.

Against the background of a difficult economic situation, especially in the sphere of tourism, the Mursi Islamists in the gasoline and food markets were forced to deal with profound political contradictions in society, desperately trying not to back down from their interpretation of the principles of fundamentalism, which are deeply alien as the most active and productive part of the Egyptian people, so and to the Orthodox, who considered Mursi not sufficiently radical, that is, in fact, completely redoing the state as soon as possible. The economic and political crisis in the country has alleviated the situation of the military. Strictly speaking, the generals headed by Sisi freed the Brothers from a tremendous shame, creating in addition the image of the victims of the military coup that took place on July 3. In the course of this coup, the military suspended the constitution, removed the government of Mursi from power and arrested him, temporarily transferring the duties of the head of state to the chairman of the Supreme Constitutional Court, Adly Mansur, and dissolving parliament.

Apparently, those observers are right who believe that Mursi underestimated the servicemen and their sense of purpose in the struggle to preserve their positions in politics and economics. The military used the mistakes of the Islamists, once again acting as a counter-revolutionary force, hiding behind the slogans of defending democracy and the achievements of the revolution. Secular technocrats, such as Mohammed Baradei, rightly believed that the Islamists, with the support of the army, stole their victory over Mubarak. When Mursi replaced the army elite in August 2012 of the year, he demonstrated to the opposition that the Islamists have no special harmony, much less collusion. Having pushed the new constitution into 2012 in December, which, among other things, was designed to guarantee the neutrality of the military, Mursi apparently thought that the army would now deal exclusively with professional problems, in particular, restoring order in Sinai. Meanwhile, the secular opposition and the army, probably, long before July of the year 2013, began to search for points of contact. One such point could be the categorical rejection by both sides of the formation in Egypt of a model like the Iranian, when the limited president is controlled from behind the scenes by authoritative theologians (signs of this mechanism can be traced in the constitution adopted by Mursi, according to which fundamentalists from the Al-Azhar Islamic University received the right last word on controversial issues of legislation and the entire legal system).

In the context of the meeting in Cairo, the ministers of foreign affairs and defense of Russia and Egypt in the "two plus two" format, commentators discussed a lot about the reasons for the possible support of the new Egyptian authorities by Saudi Arabia. Presumably, Saudi monarchs see Egyptian Muslim Brothers as rivals like Iranian ayatollahs. For the Saudis, such Islamists, who enjoy broad popular support, can be dangerous because they have a wealth of experience in underground work, interaction with various sectors of society, and survival in conditions of hard centralized pressure. It has long been known that for many years inside Saudi Arabia there exists its own powerful fundamentalist underground, aiming at the physical elimination of the ruling dynasty of the “traitors” who sent enemy soldiers to the holy land of the Prophet Mohammed.

The personality of Abdelfatah Sisi in this context is rather mysterious. On the one hand, he was allegedly known for his religiosity, and it was believed that the new minister sympathized with the Islamists from among the Brothers. On the other hand, he does not have combat experience, but he has a great sympathy for the personality and views of the first president of Egypt, Nasser, a nationalist and ardent supporter of pan-Arabism. In addition, Sisi studied in the UK and the USA, was a military attache in Saudi Arabia. After his appointment as Minister in Egypt, it was said that he was almost a secret member of the Brothers, but this does not seem to be true, since Sisi’s career was under Mubarak. More similar to the truth information that after his appointment as head of military intelligence, very trusting relations established between him and Mursi, as the head of intelligence obtained the president’s position, providing him with valuable information about the attitudes and plans of those military men who had a sympathy for Mubarak.

Place the sun in the new Egypt

It was hard to guess what the role of the military would be in the new Egypt after the overthrow of Mubarak, it is not easy to talk about it now. There is still the impression that the Egyptian officers do not want to engage in politics with their own hands and would prefer to govern the country indirectly, through pressure on the elective authority and politicians. The true role of the Egyptian military at the moment can, therefore, be judged only by indirect indications - the next steps of the new authorities. If these steps are not aimed at a radical change in the position of the army, then most likely the officers were able to take control of the new motley authorities. If the army feels threatened, then it is premature to consider the revolution in Egypt ended.

In particular, the role and place of the army can be judged by how the new government will react to the formation of the budget and the national security strategy. In addition, the role of the military in the new Egypt should become more apparent in the formulation of foreign policy. The fact that the ministers of foreign affairs and defense of Russia visited Cairo says the following: the military keep abreast of and act within the framework of a certain plan. Since there were no substantive comments on the results of the meeting with the representatives of Russia, as they were not followed by the results of the vigorous visit to Cairo by US Secretary of State Kerry, it can be assumed that this story is waiting for a dramatic development.

For the Egyptian army, the revolution provided a unique opportunity, it would seem, in a hopeless situation of changing the leader and the subsequent “shake-up” to maintain their positions - even if at the cost of further stagnation or even the prospects of a large-scale Islamist project.

The Egyptian military apparently made a choice in favor of the Turkish model, while the Brothers were clearly following the Iranian path. In addition, the military command is under pressure from those who are demanding an investigation into the “economic crimes” of the old regime. The army leadership was seriously involved in most of them, so for obvious reasons the military authorities cannot allow the anti-Mubarak movements to play a leading role. The military is not interested in a strong parliament. It seems that in Egypt the struggle of revolution and counter-revolution is not going to end in full swing soon, and the military have no intention of giving up their positions.
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  1. Ingvar 72
    Ingvar 72 27 November 2013 15: 24
    The military in Egypt is either loved or afraid. But definitely respected. People towards Mursi and Mubarek are negative, but they remember Nasser with gratitude. The same longing for better times as we have nostalgia for the Union.
  2. Migari
    Migari 27 November 2013 15: 30
    The Egyptian armed forces minimally managed to ensure national security and were more focused on supporting the regime with the condition that the political leadership provides military bureaucracy with assistance and patronage.
    From there, and conclusions, maintain your position - albeit at the cost of further stagnation or even the prospects of a large-scale Islamist project.
  3. Volodya Sibiryak
    Volodya Sibiryak 27 November 2013 15: 30
    I think that the military in power is now the best for Egypt. They are the only ones that can prevent confusion and confusion. Arabs understand only power. Remember, when Hosni Mubarak took over as president, he immediately introduced a state of emergency, which remained until the end of his reign, during this period everything was more or less calm.
  4. Stiletto
    Stiletto 27 November 2013 15: 39
    Yeah In this situation, indeed, Egypt is better to feed its army than alien.
  5. atalef
    atalef 27 November 2013 15: 43
    yes the author will excuse me, but in the article frank mistakes
    1. Egypt imports from the United States in the framework of annual military assistance in the amount of $ 1,3 billion, can not compete not only with Israeli counterparts, but also with the military and military equipment that is in service with other Arab countries, although it often costs significantly more.

    Egypt does not import it, but receives it as a gift, so the price does not matter
    Thus, when the Mubarak regime shook, the military felt that it was possible to get rid of their patron, who became an adversary, and regain control of economic assets that, in their opinion, rightfully belong to them.

    Nothing of the kind, just the military at first were scared of the fate of Gaddafi, looked around and, after they threw Mursi first, released Mubarak from prison and closed criminal cases
    3.In early August 2012, terrorists massacred Egyptian police and border guards on the border with Israel and the Gaza Strip - it seems that the purpose of these attacks was to create the impression of army weakness and, possibly, provoke Israel to clean up the peninsula, sending the military to the slaughter, there was no chance of getting out of it with any dignity and without loss.

    Mursi thought, together with Hamas (Gaza), to provoke the military and if Israel succeeds in becoming a mess and finally asserting itself by finally dismissing the entire top of the army (as in Turkey), it did not slip through and therefore Hamas is now raking from Egypt not just in full, but in such a way that we even dream could not .
    4. The Egyptian military apparently opted for the Turkish model

    what is the turkish model? If Ataturk, then yes, if Erdogan is definitely not, and the breakdown of deep relations with Turkey (more precisely, the recall of the ambassadors) is proof of this, the Military in Egypt thwarted Erdogan’s plans to create pan Muslim-brothers-axes. An incomprehensible situation developed and in many ways secular Turkey - goes to the wilds of Islamism with Erdogan, and backward and religious Egypt - to a secular path with the military
    In general, in all these countries, the military was the most advanced part of society, therefore the author’s biggest mistake is who are the revolutionaries here and who are the backbones - it’s all the other way around, than he made
    1. alone
      alone 27 November 2013 22: 19
      The Egyptian military killed Sadat together with Muslim brothers and put Mubarak in his place. After 30 years, the same military silently betrayed Mubarak, helped put Mursi in his place. After a year the same military again betrayed Mursi, arrested him and now they’ll probably put him in his place Al Sisi.

      xxxx year. The Egyptian military betrayed Mr. A and put Mr. B. in his place.

      World History, Egyptian Power laughing
  6. Ivanovich47
    Ivanovich47 27 November 2013 15: 50
    Having come to power as a result of legitimate elections. Morsi began a "soft" Islamization of Egypt. It is not known how the events would have developed, but the army again made a military coup. Judging by how aggressively Turkey met political changes, it will be possible to put an end to Islamization. Apparently the military caught on and decided it's too early to give power to civilian politicians.
  7. mak210
    mak210 27 November 2013 16: 02
    And to me, to be honest, whoever has a longer saber, I believe that the vast majority of Egyptians do too. But the cheapest resort, and even the Red Sea, is a pity. They clearly have this mess for a long time, maybe forever, if the Muslim Brotherhood gets hold of power.
    1. Ingvar 72
      Ingvar 72 27 November 2013 16: 16
      Quote: mak210
      But the cheapest resort, and even the Red Sea, is very sorry.

      In September, I was relaxing in Sharm, everything is calm, the prices are free. In the Sinai, the military is on every corner.
  8. makarov
    makarov 27 November 2013 16: 47
    Without exception, everyone is fighting for power, because Power is money.
    Thus, history again went in a circle in pursuit of a golden calf.
  9. mr_Doom
    mr_Doom 27 November 2013 17: 42
    Only military, only hardcore!