Published online by Cambridge University Press: 15 September 2020
I trace back the economic empire of Egypt’s armed forces to its early beginnings under the presidency of Anwar al-Sadat (1970–1980). Sadat’s neoliberal turn, on the backdrop of the 1978 Camp David Accords, meant that Egyptian generals could enrich themselves without worrying about actually fighting a war. In essence, Sadat promoted the material interests of the military elite in exchange for loyalty. By studying military intrigues under Sadat I show that the tactic paid off: from the 1970s onward, coup-makers typically hailed from the middle and junior ranks of the officer corps, suggesting that the generals were satisfied overall with their lot. I prove that coup-proofing under Sadat laid the groundwork for a deep intergenerational divide within the Egyptian officer corps laden with tremendous implications on military agency in 2011. I then study the development of the Egyptian military economic sphere under Mubarak and the practice of providing generals with generous direct cash payments. By asking the who-got-what question, I show that money hoarded by the Egyptian top brass never trickled down to their subordinates. I also probe the struggle of mid-ranking and junior officers to make ends meet and demonstrate that, while the military elite did very well under Mubarak, their subordinates did not. This was especially true during the decade that preceded the 2011 uprising, when inflation compounded the economic malaise of public sector employees, including mid-ranking and junior officers in the military hierarchy. In Syria, 1970 was the major crucible year with the rise to power of then minister of defense Hafez al-Asad. Just like his predecessors at the helm of Syrian politics, al-Asad lived under the threat of military coup, especially in the first half of his tenure. To survive in a particularly dangerous environment, he prioritized coup-proofing over other considerations. Al-Asad ethnically stacked his armed forces from the outset with Alawi officers and allocated sensitive positions in the military–security complex to family members and personal friends and allies. In addition, al-Asad counterbalanced the military with praetorian units and turned a blind eye to the pervasive venality of his generals. The result was a complex coup-proofing system that delivered and endured. I study such systemization in detail and provide novel data on it – including the involvement of Syrian generals in shady business deals and the Lebanese narcotics trade in the 1980s and 1990s.