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Egypt’s Authoritarian Regime: Reasons of Its Power Research Paper

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Updated: Aug 4th, 2020

Historical Explanation Mechanism

Authoritarian regimes have succeeded in Egypt for a long time, despite the evident atrocities they perpetrate against their subjects. No meaningful resistance has been put up against them. Authoritarian regimes all over the world are known for their afflictive tactics and repression of the public to prevent opposition. Different scholars have suggested reasons why Egypt has sustained authoritarian regimes, regardless of the apparent subjugation and torture.

In 2013, the public protested against Mohamed Morsi, the new Egyptian leader who had been elected through the Muslim Brotherhood ticket. The election had been regarded as free and fair. Nevertheless, as the protests ensued, the military stepped in, arrested, and imprisoned President Morsi. The military went ahead to arrest and/or imprison thousands of the Muslim Brotherhood supporters. This incident led most people to believe that the military was the real power broker in Egypt.Indeed, authoritarian leaders in Egypt must appease the military for them to be recognized as legitimate, hence securing a reason to remain in power.

Scholars such as Brownlee assert that authoritarian regimes in Egypt have lasted because of the historical culture of repression in the country (470). Historically, successful practices often get reproduced and incorporated into new conditions. This situation has been witnessed in the Egyptian authoritarian regimes. Because early dictators such as Gamal Nasser were able to attain success as authoritarians, this case motivated later rulers to follow the same path (Gause 85). Kamrava reveals how the choices and bargains that were made during Nasser’s regime from 1952 laid ground for future authoritarianism and the emergence of the military as the central institution in the country (252).

Dictators create and dismantle institutions depending on how they perceive their usefulness or threat to their remaining in power (Bellin 130). This situation has caused the military to be empowered because authoritarian leaders see it as being capable of protecting them against opposition. In 1952, Nasser used the military to ascend to power through a coup. Subsequent presidents, including Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak, have only followed in the framework laid down by Nasser. They used the military to control and repress the public.

Authoritarian rule in Egypt has thrived because of the lack of the willingness to initiate democratic reforms. According to Kamrava, political liberalization in Egypt is almost invariably associated with colonial domination, as opposed to self-determination (255). This situation has effectively blocked out any democratic ideas from taking shape in the country. Instead, a robust military institution is in place to guard the patrimonial leadership that is increasingly becoming unpopular. The military serves to inhibit any meaningful rebellion against authoritarian rule in Egypt. Perkins maintains that the history of military control in Egypt and the Middle East, in general, is a determining force regarding the kind of eldership in these countries (7). With time, people have become accustomed to this form of leadership where coerciveness is normalized (Perkins 10). It makes sense that citizens are not interested in seeking greater political participation when their own security is indeed not guaranteed. The repetitive conflicts dubbed “revolutions” that have taken place since 1952 have left citizens demobilized and the leaders even more unwilling to share power (Gause 82).


President Nasser laid down the framework for authoritarian rule in Egypt by using and empowering the military to back his ascension to power. Subsequent presidents, for instance, Sadat and Mubarak, followed Nasser’s example. As a result, they were known to use the military to repress the public. This focus on the military has legitimized the institution as the power broker in Egypt. In 2013, the military was able to conquer and incarcerate President Morsi, despite the fact that he had been elected through a free and fair process.

Economic Explanation Mechanism

The majority of the people in Egypt are poor and economically disenfranchised. This situation makes them easy to control and oppress. To most people, the military body serves to empower people economically through creating jobs and stabilizing the country’s economy. In the same light, it would be difficult for the people to protest against the armed forces when they (people) are struggling to survive (Engle 467).

Egypt has one of the largest gaps between the rich and the poor. Most of the people are poor and barely educated (Perkins 4). This state of affairs facilitates oppression by the elites through the military. Mubarak is largely blamed for this inequality. Within a few years of Mubarak’s leadership, the inequality gap had widened to the extent that about 2000 families were earning over £E35000 annually compared to another 4 million who earned less than £E200 annually (Kamrava 255). This inequality has continued to date where it is capitalized on by the leadership to oppress the public. Many youths are left with no choice other than working for the military to earn a living for themselves and their families. Because the military provides a livelihood to many Egyptians, it is viewed as a legitimate institution. This way, most of the people overlook the atrocities perpetrated by the military. For instance, the current president, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, has used the military to oppress and kill thousands of people who are opposed to his administration (Perkins 8).

Another aspect of the economic explanation mechanism is that Egypt’s authoritarian leaders have been able to pursue economic policies that are seen as progressive. President Sadat signed an economic deal with Israel. The deal was able to promote the country’s economic advancement. The Egypt-Israel peace treaty meant that Egypt and Israel could trade more freely (Gause 82). In 2004, under President Mubarak’s regime, Egypt signed a deal that would increase its trade with Israel to $100 million. Morsi and al-Sisi have continued this economic relationship with Israel, despite the historical tensions between these two countries. Scholars such as Bellin argue that the authoritarian regimes of Egypt command the economy and use it to control the public (132). In Egypt, the majority of the jobs are in the public sector. This situation undermines the possibility of building autonomous institutions that can challenge the government.


Egypt’s military controls a vast portion of the country’s wealth. This wealth is used to obtain legitimacy from the people who may receive employment as service people in the military.

Coercive Explanation Mechanism

It is no doubt that authoritarian regimes rely on the oppression of dissidents to remain in power. In Egypt, state repression has been a characteristic of the country’s leadership style. When President Mubarak was overthrown in 2011 following his oppressive rule, the subsequent presidents showed no particular interest in getting rid of state repression. In fact, Hossam Bahgat, a renowned journalist in Egypt, believes that repression under President Al-Sisi has become worse compared to the situation during President Mubarak’s administration (Perkins 8).

Repression in Egypt takes different forms that range from a crackdown on media outlets to outright torture of dissidents. Repression is the practice of systematically instilling fear in people to prevent them from attempting rebellion (Bellin 130). Authoritarian rulers in Egypt have authorized imprisonment, including forced disappearance and extrajudicial killings of dissidents and protesters. The result of this case has been the fear that prevents people from engaging in further opposition. The current Egyptian government under Al-Sisi has conducted raiding in people’s homes and even installed surveillance infrastructure to monitor the activities of suspected dissidents (Gause 84). The government is also using preachers to teach against demonstrations. It has declared them (demonstrations) evil. The Al-Sisi regime conducts repression in a more unrestricted manner relative to what was being witnessed during President Mubarak’s government. As a result, more deaths and forced disappearances have been witnessed during Al-Sisi’s leadership. Scholars such as Bahgat reveal how the increased oppression has been caused by the inclusion of many military people in the top leadership (5).

Al-Sisi’s regime has eliminated the checks that were available to ensure that repression did not get out of hand. The checks included the Muslim Brotherhood and the National Democratic Party (NDP). The absence of checks means that the government can oppress the public with impunity (Bahgat 12). For the first time in Egypt, sexual violence has been used as a tool of repression, a case that was not witnessed in the previous regimes. It appears that state repression is becoming normalized. The 2015 anti-terrorism law may lead to the mass execution of peaceful protesters fighting for human rights in the country (Bahgat 15). Under the new law, news reporting, which is perceived to be in contradiction with government interests has been declared illegal. Hence, more journalists will be found in contravention of the anti-terrorism law, thus attracting detention and possible imprisonment. A growing tendency of the military to accumulate wealth has been observed in the recent times. This wealth has been acquired as kickbacks from the government.


Egypt’s leadership has had a history of using coercion to silence the opposition. This trend has been on the rise since the ascension to power of the military-backed Al-Sisi. The public has remained silent for fear of being declared terrorists. The new law passed in 2015 presents any form of protests and media activism against Sisi’s government as terrorism.

The Rabaa Square Massacre

The Rabaa Massacre happened on 14thAugust 2014. Protesters had been camping at the Rabaa al-Adawiya square to demonstrate against the removal of democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi by the military. The efforts to clear the demonstrators were brutal. They resulted in the death of 817 protesters. The military was reported to have used excessive force to remove these protesters. Human Rights Watch declared this massacre one of the worst to be committed in the recent times. In addition to the massacre, over 40, 000 protesters were arrested and put in prison. This mass execution marked the largest number of arrests in the country’s history. Morsi was also arrested and imprisoned. Military-backed Al-Sisi took his position. Al-Sisi’s ascension to the presidency marked a new wave of extrajudicial killings, imprisonment, and executions. Despite protests from the media and the international community, these atrocities continued into 2015.

Morsi’s government did not apologize for the killings. Instead, Morsi declared the demonstrators terrorists. The outlawing of the Muslim Brotherhood, the leftist party that had helped Morsi to ascend to power, followed this declaration. Powerful positions previously held by the Muslim Brotherhood were filled with military officials who are close allies of President Al-Sisi. Before the military took over the government, there had been massive protests by people who felt that Morsi’s regime had failed them. Scholars such as Bahgat believe that this frustration had resulted from over expectations occasioned by the wave of the Arab spring (3). At the time of these protests, Egypt had been divided into two camps: those who were anti-Morsi and those who wished for him to remain in power. The pro-Morsi protesters faced the wrath of the military. The military intervention was pegged on the argument that it was in the interest of the public that wished for an end to the Morsi regime. The latter group that supported the military intervention was bitter that Morsi’s government had failed to deliver its promises.

Nevertheless, some Egyptians still believe that Al-Sisi’s regime is rightfully in power. According to Caridi, many Egyptians are tired of the protracted conflict that has lasted since 2011 (4). Al-Sisi’s regime offers the much-desired stability. For this reason, many citizens are willing to overlook the atrocities committed by the government.

Conclusively, Egypt’s military was able to commit the atrocities at Rabaa Square following the legitimacy that it had assumed over the years. Since previous leaderships have been using the military to quell protests, the forces must have become accustomed to the use of power to silence dissidents. Importantly, Egypt’s military serves as an employer of many citizens. This situation not only gives the military legitimacy but also significantly reduces any possible opposition against it. As a result, many people supported the military instead of protesting the Rabaa Massacre. The fear of being targeted was another reason why not many people protested the massacre. Nevertheless, what the military did at Rabaa was wrong and that the international community should have condemned it strongly. The historical, economic, and coercive explanations are not sufficient to justify the atrocities committed at Rabaa. A legitimate government should not have to oppress its subjects to gain legitimacy.

Works Cited

Bahgat, Gawdat. “Egypt in the Aftermath of the Arab Spring: What Lies Ahead?” ACCORD is Ranked among Top Think Tanks in the World, vol. 1, no. 1, 2015, pp. 1-56.

Bellin, Eva. “Reconsidering the Robustness of Authoritarianism in the Middle East: Lessons from the Arab Spring.” Comparative Politics, vol. 44, no. 2, 2012, pp. 127-149.

Brownlee, Jason. “Unrequited Moderation: Credible Commitments and State Repression in Egypt.” Studies in Comparative International Development, vol. 45, no. 4, 2010, pp. 468-489.

Caridi, Paola. “Consensus-building in Al-Sisi’s Egypt.” Insight Egypt, vol. 7, no. 1, 2015, pp. 1-8.

Engle, Sally. “The Rule of Law and Authoritarian Rule: Legal Politics in Sudan.” Law & Social Inquiry, vol. 41, no. 2, 2016, pp. 465-470.

Gause, Gregory. “Why Middle East Studies Missed the Arab Spring: The Myth of Authoritarian Stability.” Foreign Affairs, vol. 1, no. 1, 2011, pp. 81-90.

Kamrava, Mehran. “Preserving Non-democracies: Leaders and State Institutions in the Middle East.” Middle Eastern Studies, vol. 46, no. 2, 2010, pp. 251-270.

Perkins, Andrea. Mubarak’s Machine: The Durability of the Authoritarian Regime in Egypt. University of South Florida, 2010.

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