ABSTRACT

Minutes after Hosni Mubarak abdicated power in favour of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces on the 11 February 2011, the streets of Cairo echoed with the chant ‘the people and the army are one hand’. The adage is reflective of the complex relationships and associations which have become characteristic of the modern Egyptian state. In an astonishing feat of survival, the institution which has monopolized the cultural, political and economic life of the nation for sixty years succeeded, at least momentarily, in distancing itself from the failings, ineffectiveness and authoritarianism that have characterized this period. This chapter seeks to reflect on how this was possible by offering a new interpretation of Egyptian militarism, past and present. Scholarship on Egypt and postcolonial nation-states more broadly have traditionally approached the subject of militarism through a ‘civil-military relations’ paradigm (see Kelly, 1963: 283-285; Hopkins, 1996; Perlmutter, 1969; Luckham, 1971; Springborg, 2011; Kamrava, 2000; Cook, 2004; Sorenson, 2007). But we might ask how the enigmatic hyphen which structures the ‘civil-military’ binary addresses the way in which ‘one of the two terms governs the other or has the upper hand?’ (Derrida, 1982: 41). All such classificatory practices embody a logic that valorizes the first term while subordinating the second, and simultaneously excluding forms of analysis that go beyond their inherent binary logic. A focus on ‘civilmilitary relations’ implies the pursuit of a legalistic evolutionary process towards a separation of powers which either confirms or undermines liberal paradigms. In addition, the ‘civil-military’ dichotomy obscures the ideological and personal processes that perpetuate militarism on a cultural and social level, and that produce and reproduce the cultural political-economy of patriarchy and elite-based authoritarianism (e.g. Albrecht et al., 1980: 107). One of the abiding characteristics of modern Egypt has been the absence of the assumed ‘civilian’ sphere within the state. Ostensibly ‘civilian’ state institutions like the Presidency, local government, the police and state-owned media on the one hand, and public culture and society more broadly on the other, have been the subject of direct control of the military elite or subject to intensive processes of militarization and securitization. Thus, contemporary Egypt should not be the subject of ‘civil-military’ relations analysis, but of one based on ‘militarism’ (Vatikiotis, 1961; Haddad, 1961; Abdel-Malek, 1968; Abdalla, 1988). The material

consequences of classificatory practices mean that what is at stake is far more than semantics. ‘Militarism’ entices us to look beyond war and the formal political institutions of the state to the social, cultural, political and economic institutions, values and practices of war-based meanings and activities (Sjoberg and Via, 2010: 7). Militarized thinking has significantly informed what it means to be Egyptian and how one might intelligibly be Egyptian. A particular brand of romanticist masculine hyper-nationalism has been espoused by a ubiquitous military institution and has become the yardstick against which individual legitimacy is measured more broadly in society. Until recently, it was unthinkable to question the terms of references and discourses around which this militaristic understanding of the nation and legitimate Egyptian-ness is structured. Indeed, many Egyptians remain captivated by a militarized sense of national self and see the continuing prominence of the military in the socio-political and economic life of the country as natural and desirable. But for an increasing number of people prepared to take to the streets and engage in direct action for fundamental change, the ‘January 25th revolution’ is as much a reaction against militarism and its excesses as it is a rejection of the ever increasing socioeconomic inequality and authoritarianism of the Mubarak regime. This chapter seeks to make such a case through re-reading the history and present of Egyptian militarism. It does this first by illustrating the centrality of militarized thinking and practices within contemporary Egyptian society, and their links to understandings of gender, nation and citizenship. But the bulk of the chapter is historical, considering the development and transformation of Egyptian militarism through four distinct periods. A substantial conclusion then considers the current Egyptian revolution, considering the extent of the challenge to a deeply embedded pattern of military power.