Ibrahim A. Karawan
Since 1952, Egypt's domestic politics and foreign policy have undergone a fundamental restructuring or radical alteration in orientation and defining characteristics. The one-party system of the Arab Socialist Union was replaced by a managed political pluralism, an Egyptian version of a controlled glasnost. The state-centered economy based on central planning shifted to an open-door economic system, or infitah iqtisadi. The external alliance with "the mother country of socialism," the Soviet Union, was scrapped in favor of a close alignment with the United States. And the "conflict of destinies" with Israel that had started with Egypt's involvement in the Palestine War in 1948 was brought to a dramatic end three decades later at Camp David. Despite the far-reaching and multidimensional nature of these changes, one political fact has never changed in Egypt since Nasser's "Free Officers" seized power: Egypt has been ruled by presidents who had a military background and who relied on the army as their main power base.
This chapter examines the political role of the Egyptian military against the backdrop of these changes. It places the evolving role of the military establishment, within the context of societal and political transformation, as they have challenged state managers at critical junctures. In 1965, 1967, 1977, and 1986, the authoritative control or the political management of the military became crucial for the regime's survival and political viability. The current political decompression or relaxation of restrictions on freedom of expression has made it possible for researchers to have access to the views of former military and political leaders as well as the critics of the special role of the military institution. The conclusion identifies the main trends concerning the political role of the Egyptian military to date and speculates about future directions.