February 20, 2011
The Egyptian Army in PoliticsBy David Bukay
Egypt is a praetorian state. By praetoriani, one refers to a society with high amounts of military politicization in the political, social, and economic strata. Practically, the praetorian state is characterized by high intervention and involvement of the military in the politics.
From July 23, 1952 on, the Egyptian political leadership has come from the military. It was started as a coup d'étatii, which means the military takes the reins of the government by violent and unconstitutional acts and that the important political roles of the regime are occupied by military officers, who are in charge of the decision-making processes.
The Egyptian army remains the only important institution and stable political elite in the country. The army bears the title of July 1952 liberator from the corrupt monarchical regime and the title of October 1973 liberator by restoring Sinai and overall Egyptian honor. Moreover, Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak were the first rulers in millennia to be native-born Egyptians. This has added to not only the Egyptians' national pride, but also the persistence of the military in Egyptian politics. At the beginning, Egypt was operated under direct military rule, but over the years it became more civilianized and open. Unfortunately, Egypt today is returning to direct military rule, and all circumstances clearly show that the military will not relinquish its place in politicsiii.
The Egyptian political system is an authoritarian regime and a patrimonial leadership. By authoritarianismiv, one refers to the following traits: a) central role of the military in politics; b) limited political pluralism; c) personal leadership; d) an absence of a guiding ideology; and e) lack of political mobilization and participation.
By patrimonial leadershipv, one refers to the following traits: a) the state is the exclusive property of the ruler, and the patron is the merciful father of the nation; b) the ruler holds unlimited power, introduced by worship via a cult of personality; c) military power is at the disposal of the leader; d) clientelist politics, with informal decision-making process that yields nepotism and corruption, dominate decision-making; and e) the political processes and institutions are informal and weak and encourage disorder and political decay.
Although a military regime may lead to processes of civilianization, it does not guarantee the creation of a civil societyvi, which is made up of non-state participants and non-governmental organizations. In Egypt, for example, there are political parties and professional associations, but Egypt lacks the essence of civil society, since one still must wonder about the nation's maturity and the extent of its influence and effectiveness.
Military regimesvii constitute clear majorities of two-thirds in the non-Western world and of one half in Africa. In the mid-1980s, half of the Islamic states and 60 percent of the Arab states were under direct military ruleviii. In other Arab states (most of them monarchical), the army was the guardian and the sole power of the regimeix. Military regimes are marked by weak political institutions -- that is to say low institutionalization and a high concentration of political corruption. Operatively, such a political system tends to lead to arbitrary centralized governmental leadership that maximizes the role of the military in politics. The policy this resultant regime adopts tends to be coercive and violent, withholding individual freedoms and civil rightsx.
Usually, what characterizes a military regime is a crisis of authority, legitimacy, and participation, which causes internal conflicts and prevents political stabilityxi. This is the reason why there is also a huge lag in democracy in Egypt, as in all other Arab-Islamic polities, since patrimonialism makes authoritarian regimes resistant to and deliberately ignorant of democracyxii. However, it is a mistake to describe the military regime in Egypt as even a quasi-democracyxiii. It is at best a civilianized military regime, but its functioning is far from democracy.
Democracy is not made of elections alone -- nor of parliaments, nor even of political parties. Democracyxiv is much more, and its important ingredients are a) individual freedoms and civil liberties (most prominent among them freedom of expression); b) prevalence of the rule of the law above all else (and this includes the separation and balancing of powers); c) sovereignty and citizenship empowered by the people, equality, and egalitarianism, including the rights of minorities; d) the centrality of stable political institutions, and the existence of civil society; e) vertical and horizontal accountability, operated by means of eligibility, responsiveness, and transparency of ruling systems; f) mobility, political participation, equality of opportunity, and multiple mature and effective political parties.
He who wishes to adopt and promote a ripe, sustainable, enduring democracy has to critically admit that almost all of these requisite qualities are fatally missing in the Arab-Islamic polity. This situation is well-analyzed by Larbi Sadiki, who denotes that although there are parties, elections, and parliaments in the Arab states, the way they are implemented precludes true democracyxv.
One of the main reasons for this failure to adopt democracy is Islam. Although the military regimes are considered secular, their constitutions in toto emphasize that the religion of the state is Islam. This constitutes a huge impediment to true democracy, since in Islam, the source of authority, sovereignty, and the rule of law is Allah alone. Everything stems from Allah and his will, and the believer acts out of absolute submission, surrender, and devotion to Allah. In a true democracy, by contrast, man is the focus, and logic is at the center. The justification for any conduct is rationality, pluralism, and free choice, and fair judgment. In Islam, there is no citizenship, nor is man the sovereign.
Islam and democracy are mutually exclusive. Democracy cannot simultaneously stay true to itself and accept Allah's values of rule and sovereignty in all spheres of life. Similarly, where the only source of law is the shari'ah, there is no need for democracy, which is based on man's laws and contradicts Allah's. The concept of majority rule, like all other conceptions of democracy, cannot exist in Islam. Islam purportedly includes the whole of human wisdom to the end of history, so not only is it perfect and unchangeable, but under Islam, accepting Western values is forbidden and tantamount to apostasy.
A Pew Research poll published in June 2010 proves illustrative. According to the poll, 95% of the Egyptian public would welcome Islamic politics, 84% support the death penalty for those who leave Islam, 82% favor stoning people who commit adultery, 77% favor whipping/cutting off of hands for theft and robbery, 59% side with Muslim fundamentalists, and only 27% side with the modernizers. Furthermore, 54% believe suicide bombings can be justified, and 52% support Hamas. And 82% of Egyptians dislike the U.S. -- the highest unfavorable rating among the eighteen Muslim nations Pew surveyed.
i Amos Perlmutter, Egypt: the Praetorian State. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974.
ii J.S. Fitch, The Military Coup d'état as a political process. Baltimore: John's Hopkins University Press, 1977. Edward Luttwak, Coup d'état: a Practical Handbook. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979.
iii T. Maniruzzaman, Military Withdrawal from Politics. Cambridge: Ballinger, 1987.
iv Amos Perlmutter, Modern Authoritarianism: a Comparative Institutional Analysis. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981.
v Samuel Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968.
vi Peter Odell, Civil Society, Oxford: Hart, 2008.
vii Erik Nordlinger, Soldiers in Politics: Military Coup and Government. Englewood: Prentice Hall, 1977.
viii S. Qureishi, "Military in the Polity of Islam: Religion as a Basis for Civil-Military Relations," International Political Science Review, 2/3 (1981).
ix Herb Michael, All in the Family: Absolutism, Revolution and Democracy in the Middle Eastern Monarchies. Albany: State University of New York, 1999.
x D.L. Horowitz, Coup Theories and Officers Motives. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980
xi Michel Hudson, Arab Politics: the Search for Legitimacy. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977.
xii Samuel Huntington, The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993.
xiii James Heaphey, "The Organization ofEgypt," World Politics, 18/2 (January 1966).
xiv Lary Diamond, "The Quality of Democracy," Journal of Democracy, 15/4 (October 2004).
xv Larbi Sadiki, Rethinking Arab Democratization: Elections without Democracy.