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The proposal to create a transitional regime of autonomy for the Arab population of the West Bank was initiated by Israel Prime Minister Begin. Through US mediation, the idea of autonomy was adopted by Egypt and Israel at Camp David as a program of full autonomy to the Arab inhabitants. The Camp David Accords proposed withdrawing the Israel military administration from the West Bank and Gaza and replacing it, for a transitional period of five years, with an elected council. The issue of the final status, after the termination of the five-year period, was left open to negotiation. The Accords referred to “the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and their just requirements.” This phrase could be understood as referring to a right of self-determination but it was not stated explicitly. Egypt and Israel failed to agree on the implementation of the autonomy plan. The issues that prevented agreement were participation of East Jerusalem Arabs in the elections for the Council and the powers and responsibilities that were to be transferred to the elected council. The main elements of the Camp David Accords were, later, adopted by the Israel-PLO “Oslo” agreements.
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.
The third chapter traces the decline of Nasserist hegemony and the rise of a new ruling class and its project of infitah (literally translated to ‘opening’). Marking Egypt’s opening to global capital and the failure of state-led capitalist development, these years see the dominance of neoliberal restructuring and Westernization. I argue that while this ruling class did attempt to create hegemony, its project was weaker than the Nasserist project. Engaging in debates on the effects of neoliberalism in the Middle East, the chapter argues that it was this bloc that laid the foundations for Egypt’s neoliberal trajectory but failed to create a hegemonic project strong enough to maintain the same level of hegemony as the Nasser-led bloc and thus had to rely on transnational social and ideological forces in order to rule. The question of transnational capitalist development and its effects across postcolonial contexts frames this chapter, as I argue that there is a correlation between weakening hegemony and neoliberal restructuring. This era is thus understood through Fanon’s notion of a dependent bourgeoisie, as well as Gramsci’s notion of an interregnum, a period of transition.
Chapter two presents an overview of the evolution of Egypt’s political economy under Nasser and Sadat. Central to this history are the struggles over property rights. Under Nasser, nationalist attempts to modernize the economy eventually gave way to an experiment in Arab socialism within the geopolitical context of the Cold War. During this period, an ‘authoritarian bargain’ was established in which broadly redistributive social and economic policies sought to provide welfare for, and redistribute land to, the popular classes in return for their political subordination. In the 1970s, Sadat began to dismantle Arab socialism and establish a more liberal political economy through his infitah policy. In doing so, Sadat presided over the beginning of the disintegration of the authoritarian bargain. To contain social conflict, Sadat emboldened the right-wing forces of political Islam in the hope that they would combat the left and provide an Islamic alternative to the social protection offered by the Nasserists.
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