Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 09/2012

Above the State: The Officers' Republic in Egypt

Yezid Sayigh

August 2012

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


Egypt’s new, democratically elected officials are struggling with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) for control of the country’s post-Mubarak future. The SCAF, which has ruled over Egypt since early 2011, is attempting to enshrine its custodianship of the country in the constitution. The civilian authorities are trying to wrest control from a military institution that has been the mainstay of authoritarian power for decades, and that now seeks to remain above the law. No less than the fate of Egypt’s transition is at stake. After 1991, the Egyptian Armed Forces expanded their thorough penetration of almost every sphere of Hosni Mubarak’s crony patronage system. The senior officer corps was co-opted by the promise of appointment upon retirement to leading posts in government ministries, agencies, and state-owned companies, offering them supplementary salaries and lucrative opportunities for extra income generation and asset accumulation in return for loyalty to the president. This officers’ republic served as a primary instrument of presidential power, and even after Mubarak’s ouster retains its pervasive political reach, permeating both the state apparatus and the economy—not just at the commanding heights but at all levels. To prevent overt military custodianship, the new president, Mohamed Morsi, and Egypt’s political parties must reach a firm consensus on limiting the exceptional powers the SCAF seeks to embed in the new constitution. Asserting effective civilian oversight over the detail of the defense budget and any other military funding streams is also key. Yet, the civilian leaders must tread carefully. The more progress they make, the harder the officers’ republic will fight to hold on to its power, potentially using its extensive networks throughout the state apparatus to obstruct government policies and reforms, impede public service delivery, and undermine the nascent democratic order. Egypt’s second republic will only come to life when the officers’ republic ceases to exist.