Egypt’s Military Grip on the State

The Army and its Role in Changing the Constitutional Regime

As part of the Doctoral Dissertations series, the ACRPS has published Egypt’s Military Grip on the State: The Army and its Role in Changing the Constitutional Regime by Rashad Twam, with an introduction by Nathan Brown and Farhat al-Harshany. The book is 780 pages long and includes a bibliography and a general index.

Egypt’s Military Grip on the State is based on a complex approach that is at once deductive, inductive, and comparative. The book thoroughly documents the interventions on part of the army and other prominent actors during the transition into the Second Egyptian Republic, relying chiefly upon primary sources which it analyses and synthesises in an opening chapter devoted to the army’s role in the transition from the old constitutional regime. Next, it thoroughly transposes these sources in a second chapter devoted to the army’s standing within the new constitutional regime. Whereas the first chapter of the book is limited to the case of Egypt, in the second chapter the author compares it with other case studies: Portugal, Turkey, Tunisia, Algeria, South Africa, and France.

Although the book keeps to a fixed timeframe (2011-2014), the author enhances his argument by referring to the most significant developments to occur thereafter, particularly the 2019 constitutional amendment. He deconstructs the experience of transition into the First Republic in the mid-20th century, delves into historical experience and legislative precedent, and ultimately carries out an approach blending common law with the study of civil-military relations.

Tracing the political role of the Egyptian military prior to the revolution, when the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces maintained its prominence as a political actor despite being ineffectual at pursuing objectives beyond its own interests in that arena, the book begins by reviewing the army’s influence under the old constitution. Although the army’s relationship with other state institutions vacillated between harmony and conflict, at times taking on legislative and executive authority and at others coexisting therewith, what remains true to this day, the author argues, is that the military apparatus can ‘always hit the reset button’ and begin anew, as it were, if displeased by the political agenda of elected and appointed officials.

After the revolution, the military’s dominant position received an unprecedented constitutional entrenchment that both substantiated its existing privileges and granted it a new level of near-total independence from other state institutions. Having played a central role in this transition, the army remained unaffected by the principle of separation of powers which, in Egypt, has not managed to overcome the dense, extant patchwork of overlapping prerogatives, itself based on power balances at play during the historical moment of the constitution’s drafting. Rather, what had changed following the revolution was that the president now had to share power with the army institution—not with the prime minister, as in a semi-presidential system.

Further, the new constitution went beyond weakening the presidency (relatively speaking) vis a vis the army, as opposed to a democratic institution such as parliament or cabinet, to grant the military establishment the right to arbitrate in disputes between other branches of government. Apart from the fact that to have multiple mediating parties is both illogical and ineffective, the odds of a constitutional crisis are higher than ever should the presidency be occupied by a civilian of whom army leadership would not necessarily approve. The political rights of soldiers themselves, nevertheless, are abridged, which would be considered advantageous in many countries so as to avoid conflicts of interest. But in Egypt this has served only to strengthen the military’s power within the state, as individual rights that could compromise military discipline are to be abrogated. The rank and file are a bloc directed by the institution as it pleases, not vice versa; the army, by nature, tends not to accept an internal plurality of opinions and inclinations and must instead present a unified front.

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