The vast and complex military machine will decide its nation’s future

No leader will be able to take control without the army’s backing

The half-million man Egyptian military is the largest in Africa and 11th largest in the world.

Since it started in the late 1970s, US military aid to Egypt has totalled a staggering $40bn (£24.9bn). It is now charged, since the collapse yesterday of the 30-year-old Mubarak regime, with running the country.

Some 40 per cent of troops are conscripts, suggesting that, despite its size, and its influence over Egyptian society, it is yet to make the transition to being a professional military force. Personnel structures remain rigid, there is no recruitment channel from the ranks of non-commissioned to commissioned officers and a single re-enlistment choice for conscripts is for 20 years further service.

However, the internal structures belie the fact that the military is central to the narrative and historical reality of the emergence of contemporary Egypt, a message that is driven home not least by an impressive array of military museums, through curricula for the teaching of Egyptian history, and in the media, which lionises the past and present roles of the military.

No opposition political party dares be openly critical of the military, because not only does such criticism cross an informal "red line" drawn rigidly by the government, but also because such criticism would not strike a chord with most Egyptians.

The encroachment of the military into civilian domains, such as sports, is scarcely noticed and apparently not resented, as the much cheered victory in the 2010 Egyptian Cup of the Border Guards' football team attests.

Tangible economic and political interests underpin the military's popularity. It commands a sprawling economic empire that produces a vast array of military and civilian goods and services, none of which appears in the national budget. Close observers liken Field Marshal, Minister of Defence and now head of the Higher Military Council that took control of Egypt yesterday, Mohamed Tantawi, to the CEO of the largest corporate conglomerate in Egypt.

In the mid 1980s the World Bank urged that military companies be sold to civilian interests as part of the broader privatisation programme, advice that was rejected out of hand. Since then the military economy has continued to expand. Paradoxically, it has itself benefited from the privatisation programme, with formerly state owned civilian enterprises being handed over to military control.

That control is embedded in the constitution, which empowers the president, whoever that may eventually be, to determine the composition of the officer corps and to select the cabinet, hence to choose the Minister of Defence and Minister of Military Production, the latter presiding over the military economy.

Field Marshal Tantawi has long held both portfolios, suggesting the degree to which the military and its economic empire are intertwined and control over them centralised. The only civilian employees in the Ministry of Defence are said – and not jokingly – to be those who serve tea and coffee.

In more regular times, under the Egyptian constitution, neither the legislature nor civil society can exert any meaningful control over the military.

Civil society has been largely passive in the face of the military's autonomy. It has no access to relevant information about the armed forces, as attested to by Egypt's rank at the very bottom of Global Integrity's ranking of citizen's access under law and in practice to governmental information, its scores being zero on both dimensions. The asymmetry of information between the military and civil society has steadily tilted more in the former's favour over the past three decades. The media reported more information on defence and military matters in the 1980s than subsequently. A European defence attaché's lament that he learned more from the internet about the Egyptian military than he did during his three years in office in Egypt, reflects the information blackout that has been successfully imposed.

The political opposition, even if it wants to, cannot rapidly gain popular traction with a campaign to subject the military to civilian control, reduce it in size and restrict its role in the economy, a change that, even now, would be remarkable.

At present, despite its undoubted achievements in mobilising millions of Egyptians in protest against the established and military-backed political order, the opposition is not substantially more popular than the armed forces.

As manoeuvring around the establishment of the new political order intensifies, most if not all viable contenders, including the Muslim Brotherhood and other elements of the opposition, to say nothing of the new Vice President, the Minister of Defence and the rest of the high command, recognise that the military will probably be the single most important factor in determining its outcome.

Some members of the opposition may seek to strike a deal with the military to retain some power.

The writer is Professor in the National Security Affairs Department at the Naval Postgraduate School Monterey, California

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
i100
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model of a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution