Modern History of Islamic Egypt
On July 23, 1952, the Free Officers Movement, a group of largely junior military officers from lower middle class backgrounds, overthrew the monarchy and established a new political system based on their left-wing Arab nationalist ideology. Within days, King Farouk was exiled after having been forced to abdicate. Within a matter of months, parliament was dissolved and political parties outlawed. A Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) comprising the leadership committee of the Free Officers Movement — a group that included Lt. Col. Nasser, Maj. Abdel Hakim Amer, Lt. Col. Anwar Sadat, Maj. Salah Salem, Maj. Kamal el-Din Hussein, Wing Cmdr. Gamal Salem, Squadron Leader Hassan Ibrahim, Maj. Khaled Mohieddin, Wing Cmdr. Abdel Latif Baghdadi, Maj. Hussein el-Shafei and Lt. Col. Zakaria Mohieddin — was formed and began forging the country’s new political and economic structure.
Among the RCC’s most important changes were radical agrarian reform and the confiscation of private property. By limiting land ownership to 80 hectares (200 acres) per person — reduced to 20 hectares in 1969 — and redistributing some of the confiscated land to peasants, the military established its populist roots. The nationalization of the industry and service sector and the creation of a mammoth public sector were other key factors sustaining the military regime.
As it steered the country away from its monarchical past, early on the new military order encountered internal problems. Within two months of the coup, the civilian figurehead premier, Ali Mahir Pasha, was dismissed due to his differences with the RCC over land reform policy. Maj. Gen. Muhammad Naguib succeeded him. Four months later, in January 1953, the RCC had Naguib disband all political parties, abolish the 1923 constitution and declare a three-year period of transitional military rule.
Issues also emerged with the Regency Council. The council had replaced the ousted monarch and was tasked with exercising the prerogatives of the infant King Fuad II, Farouk’s son. The three-member body included Prince Muhammad Abdel Moneim, a cousin of King Farouk; Col. Rashad Mehanna, a free officer with close connections with the MB; and Bahieddin Barakat, a former president of the Senate. Problems arose when Mehanna also turned against the RCC over the land reform policies. The clash resulted in Mehanna’s being imprisoned over charges of plotting a counter-coup. With Mehanna’s departure, the Regency Council was reduced to a ceremonial status.
Though the Wafd, the MB and the Communists had been neutralized with the move to outlaw political parties, the old order was not officially abolished until June 18, 1953. Egypt now was officially a republic, with Naguib holding both the portfolios of the president and prime minister. While the military would run the show for several years, Nasser laid the foundations of a civilian single-party state in 1953 with the creation of an entity called the Liberation Rally.
Nasser became deputy prime minister, Abdel Hakim Amer succeeded Naguib as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Abdel Latif Baghdadi took over as minister of war and Salah Salem became the minister of national guidance and Sudan affairs. Just who was the ultimate leader of the new regime remained unclear, however, leading to strains between Naguib and Nasser.
The two disagreed on a variety of issues, including the British withdrawal from Egypt; the MB, which Nasser was hostile toward; and the issue of resuming parliamentary life, which Nasser and his supporters opposed. (Their vilification of the politicians led to factionalization within the RCC.) These differences made Nasser distrust Naguib and his mild attitude toward the conservative Wafd and the Islamist MB.
Nasser ultimately began to view Naguib as an obstacle to the revolution. Nasser and his colleagues in the RCC were in a rush to institute their envisioned political order. Naguib in turn regarded Nasser and his supporters as impatient young men who lacked his experience.
Naguib proved the loser in this contest. He tendered a first resignation Feb. 23, 1954, but was restored to office due to pressure from a public that still supported him and out of fears that Khaled Mohieddin was engineering a revolt in the cavalry corps. His second and final resignation came April 19, 1954, as a result of Nasser’s behind-the-scenes efforts to portray Naguib as supporting a return of the Wafd and of the old order in general.
Nasser assumed the positions of prime minister and chairman of the RCC. All the members of the RCC were inducted into the new Cabinet except Mohieddin, the most left-leaning member of the RCC, who was sent away to Europe. Nasser and officers in the RCC loyal to him thus took full control of Egypt.
In January 1955, the RCC appointed Nasser president of Egypt. It took another year to draft the new constitution. That same year, the National Union replaced the Liberation Rally as the state’s sole political party. The new party selected Nasser as its presidential candidate, and in June 1956, Nasser was overwhelmingly elected president in a national referendum.
Nasser’s election as president brought the three-year transitional period from the monarchy to an end. The RCC was dissolved and its members resigned from the military to assume civilian positions. The new constitution established an institutional framework for the new regime, which concentrated power in a strong executive branch.
Now firmly in control, Nasser began paying more attention to foreign policy, in particular, to his Pan-Arab goals. As a first step, he nationalized the Suez Canal, which led to the 1956 war and in the process made Nasser a national hero and enhanced his stature in the wider Arab world. His involvement in regional and international affairs — which saw alignment with the Soviets and hostile relations with the West and Israel; involvement in Syrian, Yemeni, Iraqi, Algerian and Lebanese domestic politics; and tensions with Saudi Arabia and Jordan — had an impact on his efforts to consolidate power at home.
Nasser’s most unusual foreign policy move was the brief merger of Egypt and Syria into the so-called United Arab Republic (UAR) in 1958. North Yemen sought to join the merged state the same year to create a loose confederation known as the United Arab States. While the Yemeni component retained its autonomy, the Egyptian-Syrian merger required adjustments to the still nascent political structure of Egypt. A new constitution in 1958 for the UAR created a legislature and two vice presidents, one for Egypt and Syria, which had become provinces of the UAR.
Merging with Syria proved challenging, however. The Syrians resented that Egyptians dominated the UAR. Using Syria as a base to engineer a coup against Iraqi leader Abdel-Kareem Qasim also exacted a toll on the union between Cairo and Damascus. The UAR ultimately collapsed when Syrian army units declared the country independent in 1961 and forced the Egyptians out of Syria.
Fearing that the collapse of the UAR would undermine his position at home, Nasser embarked on a more aggressive drive toward socialist political economy. A new National Charter was devised in 1962, and a new ruling party called the Arab Socialist Union (ASU) replaced the National Union. More than half of the country’s businesses underwent nationalization, and Nasser’s opponents in the military were purged from the ranks.
While Nasser was working on a new constitution in the post-UAR period, the rise to power of pro-Nasser military officers in a coup that overthrew the monarchy in North Yemen once again pulled the Egyptian leader out of domestic politics and into regional geopolitics. A proxy war ensued between the Egyptians, who supported the new Yemen Arab Republic (YAR), and the Saudis, who threw their weight behind the forces of ousted Imam Muhammad al-Badr. Unable to impose a military solution, Egyptian forces backing YAR troops became locked in a stalemate with Yemeni monarchist forces. Many of Nasser’s top comrades came to oppose the military adventure in Yemen.
Further afield, the 1963 coup in Iraq brought pro-Nasser forces to power, and there was once again a move toward a new Arab union. The idea never gained traction because Nasser insisted on his own vision, and by this time Nasser faced serious domestic challenges from individuals who had been with him since the Free Officer and RCC days, including Amer, Sadat and Baghdadi.
A provisional constitution was enacted in 1964 that created a 350-member parliament. Elections were held and the new legislature completed one four-year term and another half term from the 1969 legislative elections before yet another constitution was enacted in 1971. Nasser secured a second six-year term in a fresh presidential election, taking his oath of office in March 1965.
While Nasser and many of his close allies had become civilian leaders, the military remained very much part of the government. It was not until Egypt’s crushing defeat at the hands of Israel in the June 1967 war that the military truly began moving away from actual governance. The defeat was a major setback for the military establishment’s reputation. In the period of introspection that followed the defeat, the regime decided that the military’s direct involvement in governance had degraded its professionalism. The 1967 war was seen as the culmination of a series of miscalculations, including the lack of preparation for the British-French-Israeli assault in the wake of the 1956 nationalization of the Suez Canal; the 1961 military coup by Syrian military officers, which led to the collapse of the union between Egypt and Syria; and the losses incurred in Yemen.
In an attempt to recover from the 1967 war, Nasser was forced to make changes to the military order he had established a mere 15 years earlier, removing senior military officers including military chief Field Marshal Amer, air force chief Gen. Muhammad Sidqi Mahmud and nine other generals. (Replaced as commander of the armed forces by Gen. Muhammad Fawzi, Amer eventually committed suicide.) The changes saw a second generation of military commanders come to the fore, a group that, with the exception of the army chief, had no direct ties to the Free Officers Movement. Under pressure from anti-government demonstrations triggered by the 1967 defeat, Nasser embarked on the March 30 Program, an initiative aimed at overhauling the military and the political system. In 1968, Nasser promulgated a law designed to separate the military from the formal government structures, but because the Israelis controlled the Sinai Peninsula, the army retained a privileged position within the state.
Despite these problems on the home front, which remained volatile, Nasser continued to dabble in foreign policy but by now had backed off from his desire to control the Arab world. Instead, he sought an Arab alignment against Israel. Nasser gave himself the additional roles of prime minister and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. In December 1969, he appointed Sadat and Hussein el-Shafei as his vice presidents. He had fallen out with a number of his associates from the RCC days, such as Khaled and Zakaria Mohieddin and former Vice President Ali Sabri. Having reconciled with Baghdadi, Nasser considered him as a replacement to Sadat.
Metamorphosis During the Sadat Era
Nasser’s death due to a heart attack in September 1970 cut short his plans and brought Sadat to power. It was under Sadat’s rule that the major moves to separate the government from the military took place. Initially, Sadat ran into a number of challenges, including the fact that he lacked Nasser’s stature and was opposed by those loyal to his predecessor both within the military and the ruling ASU.
As a result, within the first three years Sadat had to get rid of two sets of senior regime leaders — first, the Nasser loyalists, and then those he himself had brought to replace the pro-Nasser elements. For example, he replaced his vice president, Sabri, with el-Shafei, whom he eventually replaced with Mubarak in 1975. Sadat skillfully used the 1971 constitution and his “Corrective Revolution” to forge a new establishment. Like his predecessor, Sadat relied on the military for his support and legitimacy. Unlike his predecessor, he went one step further by playing the officer corps off each other. To this end, Sadat made full use of his presidential powers and the weakening of the military during the end of the Nasser era.
While Sadat picked up on Nasser’s move to separate the military from governance, he was also making good use of Soviet assistance to rebuild the armed forces in preparation for another war with Israel to reverse the 1967 outcome. Egypt’s “victory” in the 1973 war with Israel greatly contributed to Sadat’s ability to establish his leadership credentials and bring the military under his control.
The following year, he initiated the open-door economic policy, known in Arabic as “infitah,” which steered the country away from the Nasserite vision of a socialist economy and led to the creation of a new economic elite loyal to Sadat. To further weaken the Nasserites and the left wing, he also worked to eliminate the idea of a single-party system by calling for the creation of separate platforms within the ASU for leftist, centrist and rightist forces.
As a result, the ASU weakened and was dissolved in 1978 and its members formed the NDP. In addition to a new ruling party, Sadat allowed multiparty politics in 1976. Sadat also relaxed curbs on the country’s largest Islamist movement, the MB, allowing it to publish material and carve out a limited space in civil society as part of his efforts to counter left-wing forces.
In sharp contrast with the Nasser era, when the government was heavy with serving military officers, the Sadat era saw the creation of a new civilian elite consisting largely of ex-military officers. The elimination of Nasser’s allies, the rise of a new generation of military officers, and the building of a relationship of trust between the serving and former military officers were key factors in shaping a new order in which the military did not feel the need to rule the country directly.
The 1967 defeat had weakened the military’s position in the state, and there were concerns that Nasser’s death and Sadat’s rise would force it to resort to extra-constitutional means to regain power. A mix of purges and the relatively positive outcome of the 1973 war helped rehabilitate the institution, which went a long way toward strengthening the relationship between the presidency and the military.
By this time, Egypt had also switched sides in the Cold War, with Sadat establishing close relations with the United States. The move led to the creation of a new generation of U.S.-trained military officers. Even more important, U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s administration mediated a 1978 peace treaty between Egypt and its historic foe, Israel. That he faced no opposition from within the military in recognizing the state of Israel — still a controversial move among wider Egyptian society — underscores the extent to which Sadat had consolidated his hold on power, and how much Egypt had drifted away from its Nasserist roots.
The 1978 peace treaty made the military more comfortable with its exclusion from government. It did raise concerns about a reduction in the military budget, however, especially when Sadat’s economic policies were leading to the creation of a new civilian economic elite.
Sadat salved the military’s concerns by giving it the freedom to engage in business enterprises. While on one hand he promoted economic liberalization, allowing for the return of the private sector, he also promulgated Law 32 in 1979, which gave the armed forces financial and economic independence from the state. The military became heavily involved in the industrial and service sectors, including weapons, electronics, consumer products, infrastructure development, agribusinesses, aviation, tourism and security. According to the reasoning behind the move, this would keep the military from draining state coffers. In fact, it did drain the state’s coffers via subsidies for the military’s businesses.
In the 1980s, during the days of Defense Minister Mohamed Abu Ghazala, the military created two key commercial entities: the National Services Projects Organization and the Egyptian Organization for Industrial Development. It also created a variety of joint ventures with both domestic and international manufacturing firms.
In addition to the enrichment of the military as an institution, senior officers have long benefited in individual capacities through commissions on contracts involving hardware procurement. Even in the political realm, the military was able to have its say. This especially was true regarding succession, where Sadat appointed former air force chief Mubarak as his vice president.
The strong links via institutional mechanisms and informal norms were key to stability: Retired officers were able to run the show without having to worry about a coup. The political leadership felt it needed to prevent the emergence of a new civilian elite, which it feared could upset the relationship between the presidency and the military and thus increase the chances of a coup.
From the military establishment’s point of view, the new arrangement under Sadat was actually better than the arrangement under Nasser. Under Sadat, the military did not have to shoulder the responsibility of governance, but its interests in the government still were being looked after by people from military backgrounds. This allowed the military to avoid the hassles of governance and accountability for mistakes in governance and to maintain a democratic facade for domestic and foreign consumption.
The military still could briefly intervene should the need arise, as during the 1977 bread riots, when domestic law enforcement was unable to cope with unrest. The military was able to exact a price for helping Sadat then, forcing him to do away with the austerity measures. Overall, common origins, shared socialization, and academy and institutional experiences shaped a collective worldview. This created tight links between the presidency and the military, paving the way for the military to go into the background.
Institutionalization and Decline Under Mubarak
The changes that Sadat brought did not alter the reality that the military was embedded throughout the fabric of state and society. Senior serving officers in the presidential staff and at the Defense Ministry, governors in most provinces, and a parallel military judicial system provided a structural mechanism through which the security establishment maintained a say in policymaking. Even so, the move toward greater civilian political and economic space initiated by Sadat went into effect under Mubarak.
As Sadat did when he first came to power, Mubarak engaged in limited reforms and expanded on the process of developing institutions in an effort to consolidate the regime. The new president freed political prisoners and allowed for a slightly freer press. During the 1980s, Egypt also began having multiparty parliamentary elections in accordance with Law 40 enacted by the Sadat government in 1977 allowing for the establishment of political parties.
While carefully developing political institutions, the regime under Mubarak began addressing the presence of radical Islamist sympathizers in light of Sadat’s assassination. Emergency laws helped immensely to this end; they also helped the military preserve its clout at a time of increasing civilianization of the regime.
While Mubarak sought to broaden his base of support, his government fought the two main Islamist militant movements at the time, Tandheem al-Jihad and Gamaa al-Islamiyah. To do this, the Mubarak government reached out to the country’s main and moderate Islamist movement, the MB. The need to work with the MB to combat jihadists, who, in assassinating Sadat, had threatened the state, allowed the Islamist movement to expand.
The MB remained proscribed, preventing it from operating as a political entity. But the Mubarak government allowed it to spread itself in civil society through academic and professional syndicates as well nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) engaged in social services. Elections also allowed the MB to enhance its public presence.
In the 1984 elections, the MB won 58 seats out of a total of 454 in a coalition with the Wafd party, and in the 1987 polls, an MB alliance with the Labor and Liberal parties bagged 60 seats with the MB getting 30, Labor securing 27 and Liberals three. The rise of opposition forces, especially the MB, in the 1980s saw the regime institute new electoral laws in 1990. The Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that the mixed voting system was unconstitutional, however, given that it did not allow for people to run as independents.
On its face, the judgment looked like it would help the opposition, freeing it from being bound by lists and thresholds to securing its candidates’ election. The way in which the NDP implemented the new system, however, gave the ruling party an advantage through redistricting. The outcome was a reduced presence of opposition parties in the legislature.
By 1992, the Algerian experiment with democracy had further scared the Mubarak government about the risks of allowing multiparty polls. The Algerian elections almost saw a relatively new Islamist movement, Front Islamique du Salut, secure a two-thirds majority in parliament. An army intervention annulling the polls denied victory to the Algerian Islamists but sparked a decade-long insurgency by more militant Islamist forces. From the point of view of the Mubarak government, the MB was far more organized than Front Islamique du Salut, and Egypt’s jihadist movements were just as well established. This viewpoint received validation from Gamaa al-Islamiyah attacks against the government.
Having political opponents operating within constitutional bounds served the military by stabilizing the regime and giving it a democratic veneer. But the move to allow these forces to create space had unintended consequences, namely the rise of the MB. The NDP could only go so far in rigging the system in favor of the government, which meant the ruling party needed to take steps to enhance its domestic standing.
While the Mubarak regime was toiling with how to have a democratic political system while maintaining the ruling party’s grip, it was also experimenting with economic liberalization. There were efforts toward the privatization of state-owned enterprises in the mid-1990s. But the army made it very clear that its holdings were off-limits to any such moves.
The economic liberalization and the need to bolster the ruling party allowed for the rise of a younger generation of businessmen and politicians. Toward the end of the 1990s, Mubarak’s son Gamal was heading the Future Foundation, an NGO supported by pro-privatization businessmen. Gamal floated the idea of founding a Future Party, but his father brought him into the ruling party and Gamal still presided over the NGO.
The Gamal group included prominent businessmen Mohammed Abul-Einen and steel magnate Ahmed Ezz. This new guard led by Gamal quickly rose through the ranks of the NDP, and by February 2000, Gamal, Ezz and another key businessman, Ibrahim Kamel, became members of the NDP’s General Secretariat. Their entry immediately created a struggle between the military-backed old guard and the business-supported rising elements within the NDP, given that new voices had begun contributing to the policymaking process.
The 2000 parliamentary polls were a defining moment in the history of the NDP because of the need to balance parliamentarian candidacies between the business community and the old guard. Further complicating matters was a Supreme Constitutional Court ruling that members of the judiciary must oversee polling, which meant the usual electoral engineering would become difficult to pull off. Gamal wanted younger candidates who could revitalize the party and improve its public image, something rejected by old guard figures such as NDP Secretary-General Youssef Wali and organizational secretaries Kalam al-Shazli and Safwat Sharif, who later became secretary-general.
Eventually a compromise was reached in which some 42 percent of the NDP candidates were from the rising elements, with as many as a hundred of them in the 30-40 years age bracket. The party also benefited by the move of some 1,400 NDP members to run as independents, an average of six per constituency. In the end, the opposition parties bagged only 38 seats, 17 for the MB and the remaining 21 divided among the legal opposition parties.
While the struggle within the NDP actually benefited the ruling party on election day, it reshaped the landscape of the party. Only 172 of the official NDP candidates (39 percent) won, while another 181 NDP independents won, later joining the NDP. Another 35 genuine independent members of parliament also joined the ruling party, giving the party a total of 388 seats.
Thus, for a time, the NDP was forced to rely on its members who had run as independents to sustain its hold on the legislature. The outcome triggered an internal debate in which Gamal was able to make the case that the party needed internal reforms and pressed for a meritocratic method of candidate selection. Consequently, for the first Consultative Council polls and then local council elections, the NDP formed caucuses that allowed party members to vote for candidates.
This new system further enhanced Gamal’s stature within the party to the extent that he and two of his allies, lawmaker Zakariya Azmi and Minister of Youth and Sports Ali Eddin Hilal, were given membership in the NDP Steering Committee in 2002. This move brought parity between the old guard and the rising elements in the six-member body. In the 2002 party conference, Gamal was also appointed head of the party’s new Policies Secretariat.
Additional business class parliamentarians such as Hossam Awad and Hossam Badrawi gained entry into the NDP General Secretariat. In an election, 6,000 delegates voted in favor of Gamal’s agenda calling for technocratic reforms and economic liberalization, giving his faction majority control of the NDP’s central board. While the old guard under Sharif’s leadership held onto the post of secretary-general, the No. 2 position after Mubarak, Gamal’s influence rivaled that of Sharif.
Essentially, the need to revitalize the ruling party enabled a new generation of businessmen to enter the political realm via the parliamentary vote. The rise of these elites was likely seen as disturbing to the military-backed old guard, as it threatened their political and economic interests. But it served the military’s need to see the NDP sustain its hold on power in order to ensure regime stability.
The Roots and Future of the Current Crisis
The history of the modern Egyptian republic and its evolution in the past six decades provides for a great deal of experience. The current crop of generals can use its experience to manage the transition in a way that placates popular demands for a democratic political system while maintaining the military’s grip on power. There are numerous options for revamping the order established in 1952, but none of them will be easy, as the current transition leaders’ predecessors never faced such a robust popular demand for democracy. Regardless, Egypt has essentially returned to the 1952-type situation in which there are only two organized forces in the country, the Muslim Brotherhood and the military, and the country is in the hands of a provisional military authority.
Nasser's plan to elevate the military as the vanguard of society worked, but in the years after Nasser's death the military shifted its position. Rather than partnering with the Soviets to create a regional sphere of influence, the military evolved its position in Egyptian society into a system of ossified control. The state still owned nearly everything of worth, but it was managed by and for the benefit of the military leadership. Everything from banks to import/export firms to agricultural operations -- already heavily influenced by the military under the system -- was consolidated into a series of military oligarchies. Rather than working to elevate Egypt economically, the military oligarchs mostly split the local spoils and lived large.
This was a stable system from the late 1970s until the mid-2000s. Egypt's shielded geography limited the ability of any international economic interest to challenge the military's many personal fiefdoms. Egypt's partnership with the United States mitigated international pressure of all sorts, and in many ways even Egypt's ostracism from the Arab world due to its treaty with Israel allowed Egypt's generals to rule Egypt however they saw fit.
As Mubarak aged, however, an internal challenge to the military oligarchy arose in the form of the president's son, Gamal Mubarak, who wanted to transform Egypt from a military oligarchy into a more traditional Egyptian dynasty. Doing this required the breaking of the military's hold on the economy. Gamal and his allies -- often with the express assistance of international institutions like the World Bank -- worked to "privatize" Egyptian state assets for themselves. This process was a direct threat to the military's political and economic position at the top of Egyptian society. The military also viewed Gamal, who never completed his military service, as a political neophyte, incapable of understanding the country's strategic imperatives and managing its security apparatus.
The result was Egypt's Arab Spring. In the months leading up to the January demonstrations, Egypt's top generals were delivering very stern ultimatums to the president to abandon any hope of passing power to Gamal while looking at their options to unseat Mubarak via less conventional means. The military strategically positioned itself early on during the demonstrations as the honest broker and guardian of the protesters, taking care to avoid a violent crackdown on the demonstrators while Mubarak's internal security forces were vilified on the streets. Such a light hand was due not to lack of capacity but to lack of need. The demonstrations provided the generals with the means to remove Mubarak, the biggest liability to their own livelihood, while maintaining the military's paramount role.
Perhaps the clearest indication that the "revolution" was misconstrued comes from the participation levels. The protests reached their peak on the day that Mubarak ultimately stepped down. By the most aggressive estimate, only 750,000 people -- less than 1 percent of the population of densely populated Egypt -- took to the streets. In true revolutions, such as those that overthrew communism in Central Europe and the Shah in Iran, the proportion regularly surpassed 10 percent and on occasions even touched 50 percent. In short, Egypt's Arab Spring was a palace coup, not a revolution.
But the military's Mubarak-removal strategy did not come without risks. The military would much prefer to return to the days of ruling behind the scenes while leaving day-to-day governing to a civilian government that ultimately answers to the generals. But the political opening that the military helped create has also greatly complicated matters. The military must now employ a much more complex balancing act at home to keep the civilian government impotent, the opposition divided and foreign funding flowing toward a half-hearted democratic transition.
With trade and tourism expected to severely curtailed as a result of Egypt's political unrest, the military must make a special effort to keep up democratic appearances for the West now that the country depends again on the economic largess of outside powers. In dealing with the opposition at home, the military is no stranger to divide-and-conquer tactics and has maintained a robust intelligence service to monitor an already severely divided opposition. But the signs of strain are already showing; the military now needs to learn how to manage an Islamist-dominated opposition in the parliament as opposed to its usual practice of making mass arrests and breaking up sporadic demonstrations. The rewriting of Egypt's Constitution -- a process that the military intends to fully control -- will likely result in major disappointments that the opposition will have to contend with in the months ahead, adding more friction to the delicate arrangements the military has been seeking out with key opposition factions to remove this fight from the streets.
The more attention the Egyptian military must devote to internal matters the more its problems will grow in the immediate neighborhood. For example Islamist Palestinian movement Hamas is preparing itself for change to come out of Damascus (where the Hamas politburo is currently headquartered) while trying to leverage the political evolution that is already well under way in Egypt. The political legitimacy being granted to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt via this transition has provided Hamas, an outgrowth of the Muslim Brotherhood, with an opportunity to rebrand itself as a mainstream political operator, one that is just as capable as the Muslim Brotherhood to break out of political isolation in Gaza.
But Hamas will have to do more than conduct a public relations campaign to break out of isolation. The Egyptian military, which shares Israel's interest in keeping Hamas contained and the Sinai buffer region clear of foreign threats, remains the biggest obstacle to Hamas' strategic objective of dominating the Palestinian political scene. Hamas would like to see a political evolution in Egypt that results in an Egyptian Islamist government friendly to Hamas and hostile to Israeli interests. This is an ambitious agenda, but it is likely worth pursuing from the point of view of the Hamas leadership.
The best chance that Hamas has of accelerating this evolution is by creating a crisis of legitimacy for the Egyptian military by drawing the military into a conflict with Israel. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways, and there is no shortage of militant proxies that have benefited from the Egyptian military's political distractions to expand their areas of operations in the Sinai Peninsula. Israel is already frustrated by the Egyptian military's slackened control over the Sinai and tends to revert to a more preemptive regional posture when neighborhood threats cross a certain line.
This is not an evolution that will take place overnight. After all, Israel and Egypt went to war in 1973 to create the very peace that they are trying to preserve. This peace treaty is the foundation of external security for both sides of the Sinai Peninsula and it will take a lot of organization and effort to break it apart. But the coming years will also put the Arab-Israeli balance of power, as defined by peace between Egypt and Israel, under an unprecedented level of strain.
It was only in the 1930s that pan-Arab ideologues came to consider Egypt an integral and important part of the "Arab nation." Sati al-Husri even argued that, by virtue of its size, geographic location, and illustrious past, Egypt was destined to spearhead the Arab quest for unity. This theme struck a responsive chord among intellectuals and politicians within Egypt, where King Farouq (1937-52), himself of non-Arab stock, invested considerable energies in establishing himself as the leader of all Arabs, if not the caliph of all Muslims. Yet it would not be until Gamal Abdel Nasser's rise to absolute power in the mid-1950s that Egypt became synonymous with the Arab imperial dream: Egypt p.1 .
State actors in Egypt appeal to Islam in order to situate their rule within a broader framework of moral order, and to tie the Egyptian public to its political leaders in a web of rights and duties defmed by religious obligation. The significance, and viability, of this approach is based upon the majority population's continuing identification with, and belief in, Islam. Despite the perceived 'secular' quality of the Egyptian state and its leaders, it has never, in fact, broken with its religious moorings, preferring instead a time honored use of 'official Islam' to sanction political authority. Even during Gamal Abd' al-Nasser's rule (case study above), the modernizing state never sought to eradicate religious belief. Rather, the regime appealed to a more modernist interpretation of Islam in order to challenge traditional elites and to sanctify its socialist program of development. Egypt p.2 .
It should not be said that Islamists promoted a fascist concept of state. However, especially after the visit by Baldur von Schirach (as leader of German youth) to the Midlle-East in 1937, paramilitary youth organizations became a popular phenomenon. These authoritarian structure, fascist slogans, and contacts with Germans and Italians, and their presence in NSDAP rallies (together with politicians) in Nuremberg were in fact a source of anxiety for the British and the French. British government also sent a special commission headed by Earl Peel to investigate the matter. In its report of 1937, the commission proposed termination of the mandate and partition of Palestine (one-fifth of the land to go as a Jewish state, an Arab state in the rest of the country, and minor areas remaining under British mandate, in addition to Transjordan. Egypt p.3 .
The Islamic discourse that now dominates in Egypt has demonstrated intolerant and exclusive tendencies, and as such does not provide the kind of pluralist basis for a what is in fact a diverse society. How this affects Egypt's future remains to be seen, though it is likely that the two opposing elements of Egyptian culture-the secular intellectual and conservative Islamic-will continue to clash. If the state is able to improve economic well-being, increase political participation or otherwise generate alternative sources of legitimacy, its dependency upon religious politics may diminish, and the influence of conservative Islam may lessen. The irony, of course, is that any effort to genuinely open the political arena will seriously threaten the existence of the regime, since free elections would likely benefit the Islamist opposition. In other words, the state has limited its options by embracing conservative Islam as a source of legitimacy. Egypt p.4 .