The armed forces exercise a guardianship role in state governance, acting in formal and informal capacities to ensure the stability of the political system, set its own operational objectives, and maintain public order when necessary. It has played a principal and uninterrupted role in maintaining the ruling political order it helped build after overthrowing the monarchy in 1952. Informal patterns of control over the armed forces contribute to inefficiencies in civil-military relations, but decisionmaking is managed in a fairly predictable, if opaque, way.
Intermediate Efficiency
Q1. Who has the power to assign missions to the armed forces and order their operational deployment?
The constitution defines the status of the armed forces, without asserting their subordination to any civilian authority. In the absence of a single national defense law or act establishing the armed forces and defining their structure, missions, and legal powers and obligations, they are governed by the separate laws regulating pay and pensions, promotions, the military justice system, and so on. Civilian bodies, including the legislature, auditing agencies, and the judiciary, have severely limited control and oversight functions over the armed forces by law, or none at all.

The president has formal power as the head of state and supreme commander of the armed forces. But the counterbalancing power of the armed forces is reflected in the guardianship role over the state assigned to them in the revised constitution of 2019, allowing them to intervene in politics based on their independent judgement of the need to do so. A National Defense Council headed by the president has wide-ranging nominal responsibility for the deployment and development of the armed forces but little real power in practice.

Informal processes and relationships and de facto powers are significant. The president is powerful, but his ability to assign policies and missions for the armed forces depends on securing their political loyalty and support. The minister of defense is commander in chief, but his authority is mostly nominal, as he is subservient to the president and subject to contradictory pressures and competing factions within the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Political calculations and personal loyalties are often privileged over competence, to the detriment of professionalism and overall defense outcomes.

The armed forces reject civilian involvement in defense affairs, and the 2019 constitution required the minister of defense to be an armed forces officer. The Ministry of Defense has considerable autonomy in managing the defense budget and defense affairs, which is reinforced by the exemption of the military from most laws and regulations governing the civil service and the rest of the state apparatus. Public dissemination of information or analysis pertaining to defense affairs is formally prohibited unless issued by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the armed forces’ Department of Morale Affairs, or official military spokespersons. Parallel armed forces outside constitutionally defined chains of command do no exist.

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Low Efficiency
Q2. What role do the armed forces play in the organization and conduct of political power?

The armed forces have played a central role in maintaining the ruling political order since taking power in 1952. This role was informal until the amended constitution of 2019 assigned the power to protect Egypt’s democracy and the civic nature of the state to the armed forces. As a result, the process for senior military promotions and appointments places a heavy premium on political and personal loyalty to the president and to superior commanders, although it also reflects a modicum of professional criteria.

The armed forces are characterized by obedience to the chain of command and do not align with civilian actors outside it. They have a strong corporate military identity that is reinforced by routinized political and social vetting of applicants to military academies. Officers tend to come from the middle classes and share a conservative worldview, and factionalism among them is largely confined to differences between generations or graduating cohorts. The minister of defense represents the armed forces’ interests to the government, but generally exercises less authority than either the president or the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

Retired senior officers occupy numerous top management positions normally held by civilians across the state apparatus, in the cabinet, government line and services ministries, local government, and the public business sector. A significant number also entered parliament in the 2015 elections. Military retirees exert considerable influence on nondefense issues, but generally do so on behalf of the president or of sectoral interests rather than the armed forces as an institution. The armed forces have, however, routinely expressed preferences on economic policies that, in its view, affect military businesses or social and political stability.

Military personnel are not allowed to vote, despite a 2013 Supreme Constitutional Court ruling that this was their constitutional right. The armed forces attach considerable importance to maintaining relationships with international providers of security assistance, but this does not offer these partners direct political influence.

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Low Efficiency
Q3. How significant a role do the armed forces play in the maintenance of public order?

The armed forces undertake public order and protection roles only exceptionally, when the police and other agencies belonging to the Ministry of Interior fail or prove insufficient. The constitution does not assign a public order mission to the armed forces, so any legal mandate for this role is indirect, relying on broad interpretations of the government’s duty to “maintain the security of the homeland, protect the citizens and state interests,” and on the state of emergency, which has been in force since 2013. Separation of jurisdiction between the armed forces and civilian security agencies is clear and coordination is generally effective, but institutional rivalry has resulted in operational errors.

The armed forces do not appear to have codes of conduct, rules of engagement, or training and equipment specific to public order missions, and cannot be held accountable by the judiciary or other civilian agencies for their actions. The government does not have clear authority to deploy the armed forces in public order missions, which are instead assigned by the president. A presidential decree with the force of law issued in 2014 and renewed every five years instructs the armed forces to protect a wide range of public facilities and infrastructure, while a 2020 decree also awarded them judicial powers of detention under emergency law. This diverts some military resources, but generally the public order role does not hamper the primary national defense mission of the armed forces.

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Intermediate Efficiency
Efficiency Levels
Q1 - Well-Defined Roles
Q2 - Political Involvement
Q3 - Public Order Role