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Egyptian Military’s Power: Profile of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF)

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Egyptian Military’s Power: Profile of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF)

Civilian politicians may have captured the elected state institutions, but real power in Egypt still resides with the opaque Supreme Council of Armed Forces.

Carsten Koall/Getty Images

Why the Generals Still Run the Show:

Egyptian military’s power rests on a complex web of intelligence networks, profitable business enterprises and exclusive government budgets. Civilian politicians may have captured the elected state institutions, but real power in Egypt still resides with the opaque Supreme Council of Armed Forces.

While Islamists and liberals squabble over the shape of the new political system, the military positioned itself as the chief powerbroker between different political factions. The army’s funding, autonomy and command structure remain untouchable.

The State Within a State:

Egyptian military has effectively ruled the country since the 1952 coup, and the generals are in no rush to retire to their seaside villas.

Former President Hosni Mubarak, himself a former Air Force commander, began easing the army out of public life in the 1980s, but no major strategic decision could pass without the green light from the military top brass.

Military Kicks Out Mubarak in 2011:

In fact, Mubarak’s final grand plan of passing the presidency to his son Gamal, a civilian businessman who was on bad terms with the military, played a role in his undoing. When in January 2011 anti-government protests swept the country, the generals decided the old boss could no longer protect their interests and refused to intervene against the crowds.

But the generals had no intention of following Mubarak into disgrace and possible corruption trials.

Remnants of the Old Order:

Egyptian military is one of the last few stalwarts of the old regime that has survived Mubarak’s fall essentially intact.

And it’s not just guns and tanks that get the message across. While dismantling the main intelligence agency, the generals quietly maintained the feared and shadowy military intelligence apparatus, which they can use to stay one step ahead of their critics.

Thousands of citizens have been dragged through military courts on various charges since Mubarak’s fall, while the state-owned media adopted a familiarly respectful tone towards the new (old) rulers.

Economic Power:

And there’s plenty of cash to oil the military machine. Over the decades, the army has developed an impressive economic empire that compensated for the decline in its direct political power. Egyptian military controls:

  • Dozens of factories producing anything from weapons to vehicles and foodstuffs

  • Properties, construction businesses, petrol stations

  • Government funds that are out of purview of civilian authorities

Imagine the number of laborers, managerial stuff and suppliers depending on this enterprise, and you see a major economic player. Now add the annual $1.3 billion in US military aid, and you being to understand why, with all the turmoil in Egypt, the military has remained so cohesive. There have been no mutinies and very few examples of rank and file defying their superiors.

Why Some Egyptians Support the Army:

The generals have lost a tremendous amount of political capital since Mubarak’s fall, as they tried to suppress dissent and play a heavy hand in the transition to democratic civilian rule. But a great deal of prestige and respect remains attached to the armed forces.

Two factors are worth keeping in mind:

  • Fear of Islamist take-over: Secular Egyptians have been alarmed by the strong electoral showing by Islamist parties. Some political groups fearing for Egypt’s secular character will see in the army a bulwark against domination by the Muslim Brotherhood.

  • Fear of unrest: Call it counter-revolution if you will, but not everyone in Egypt is enthusiastic about change. Many Egyptians have been scared by ongoing unrest that has crippled the economy. True, some blame the SCAF, but others see the army as the only strong, functioning institution that can prevent descent into chaos.

While I wouldn’t put much money on the military running Egypt in the long-run, the generals retain enough political, economic and actual firepower to remain a force that all civilian contenders for political power have to contend with.

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