Recruitment and Composition of the Elite

Egypt Table of Contents

Within the Egyptian elite, a core elite had even more power than the broader ministerial elite. The overwhelming dominance of presidential power in Egypt meant that influence flowed, above all, from closeness to the president; his confidants, whether they held high office or not, were usually counted among the core elite.

Under Nasser, these men were fellow military revolutionaries such as Abdul Hakim Amir, Anwar as Sadat, Kamal ad Din Husayn, Abdul Latif Baghdadi, Zakariyya Muhi ad Din, and Ali Sabri. Several prominent civilians, such as press magnate Muhammed Hassanain Haikal and industry czar Aziz Sidqi, also had influence on the president and exerted power in their own domains. But the military clearly dominated the state, and most technocrats were mere executors of policy. Between the 1952 Revolution and the late Sadat era, however, there was a continual attrition in the ranks of the Free Officers; many fell out with Nasser, many were purged by Sadat during the succession struggle with Ali Sabri, and others retired thereafter. Of the twenty-six Free Officers politically active in 1970, only eight were absorbed into Sadat's ruling group, whereas a number of others emerged as leaders of the political opposition to his regime, notably Khalid Muhi ad Din on the left and Kamal ad Din Husayn in the nationalist center.

Under Sadat the top elite ceased to be dominated by the military and was transformed into a much more heterogeneous group. To be sure, certain old Free Officer colleagues and several top generals remained in the inner circle. Vice President Mubarak was a member of the inner core. Among other officers in the top elite, generals Ahmad Ismail Ali, Abdul Ghani al Gamasi, and Kamal Hassan Ali played important and extended roles. But civilians far outnumbered the military. Prime ministers such as Abdul Aziz Hijazi, Mamduh Salim, and Mustafa Khalil enjoyed real power during their tenures. Minister of Foreign Affairs Ismail Fahmi was a close confidant of the president until they fell out over Sadat's trip to Jerusalem. Interior ministers such as Mamduh Salim and Nabawi Ismail were key members of the elite in a regime plagued by constant dissidence. Certain minister-technocrats enjoying influence over key decisions or sectors belonged to the core elite; among these were Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Abdul Munim Qaysuni, long-time Minister of Petroleum Ahmad Izz ad Din Hilal, and Minister of Power Ahmad Sultan. But it was men such as Osman Ahmad Osman (also seen as Uthman Ahmad Uthman) and Sayyid Marii (also seen as Sayyid Marei), representatives of the business and agrarian bourgeoisies, who seemed to have enjoyed the most intimate confidence of the president, whether they held top office or not.

Osman was perhaps the second most powerful man in Sadat's Egypt. A multimillionaire capitalist, he and his family presided over a huge business empire spanning the public and private sectors. He held office for a time, as minister of reconstruction, but his relatives were in and out of a multitude of public offices. Through the marriage of a son to one of Sadat's daughters, he was virtually incorporated into the president's family and appeared to use his influence to favor business in general as well as his own fortunes. Another influential member of Sadat's "family" by marriage was Sayyid Marii, a technocrat from a landowning family. He had presided over Nasser's agrarian reform, but in the 1970s he helped steer Sadat toward both political and economic liberalization. He ran the official party and the parliament on Sadat's behalf for extended periods and was a force behind the multiparty initiative.

Mubarak tried to distance himself from these core Sadatists, and many were pushed from the center of power. Mubarak's inner core was headed by two advisers in the presidency with diplomatic service backgrounds. Usamah al Baz, a former diplomat who directed the president's Office for Political Affairs and was reputedly a closet Nasserite, or supporter of Arab socialism, seemed to enjoy political influence with the president; Mustafa Faqi was another close adviser. Ismat Abdul Majid's extended tenure as minister of foreign affairs indicated that he had the trust of the president and gave him considerable influence in the foreign policy bureaucracy. Yusuf Wali, a former agricultural bureaucrat, headed the ruling party and was Mubarak's chief political troubleshooter.

After the dismissal of Kamal Hassan Ali, a general of conservative proclivities who had served Sadat, Mubarak's prime ministers were technocrats trained in economics and lacking personal political bases. Ali Lutfi was a long-time minister of finance and Atif Sidqi was a top state auditor. Mubarak generally upgraded the role of technocrats in his inner circle at the expense of the "wheeler-dealer" politicians of the Sadat era. On the one hand, Atif Ubayd, an American-backed minister of cabinet affairs, was thought to be prime ministerial material but was passed over; on the other hand, officials who served Nasser but were pushed out by Sadat made a certain comeback. Still, the infitah bourgeoisie who supported and benefited from Sadat's rule remained powerful in the Mubarak regime, particularly entrenched in the interstices of state and business. One sign of their continued power was their ability to block attempts to legalize a Nasserist party. The continuing coercive base of the state was reflected in three major figures close to the center of power. Field Marshal Abdul Halim Abu Ghazala was long reputed to be the number-two man in the regime and was said to have been offered the vice presidency in acknowledgment of the fact. The hardline face of the regime was presented by tough and disliked ministers of interior, notably Hassan Abu Basha and Zaki Badr, whose campaigns against the opposition contained elements of dissent yet drew the heat away from the president. Mubarak's ability to dismiss both top army and police generals indicated the consolidation of his control over the elite.

Because the command posts of the bureaucracy were levers of power and patronage in Egypt, the cabinet as a whole could be taken as the second rank of the top elite, just below the core around the president. Recruitment into the cabinet remained the main road into the elite, and arrival there was either an opportunity to build power or a confirmation of seniority and influence in the bureaucracy or military. Moreover, the formation of the cabinet was a key opportunity for coopting into the regime important personalities and interests from outside the state apparatus.

The change in the composition of cabinets from the Nasser era to the post-Nasser period indicated a shift in the paths to power. Under Nasser, the military, and particularly members of the Free Officers, constituted a privileged recruitment pool from which strategic ministries were filled, although apolitical technocrats recruited from the bureaucracy and the universities also filled a significant proportion of ministerial posts. Under Sadat and Mubarak, the military declined as a main recruitment channel into the cabinet; whereas the military supplied one-third of the ministerial elite and filled 40 percent of ministerial positions under Nasser, in Sadat's post-1973 "infitah governments," military representation dropped to about 10 percent, and it remained limited under Mubarak. It was still possible for prominent officers to attain high political office. The minister of defense position, a preserve of a senior general, remained one of the most powerful posts in the regime and could be a springboard to wider political power. General Kamal Hassan Ali moved from minister of defense to minister of foreign affairs and finally to prime minister under Sadat and Mubarak. Perhaps the single most important ladder to power under Sadat was the combination of an engineering degree with a career in the bureaucracy and public sector. Persons with such backgrounds, making up around one-fourth of Sadat's ministers after the initiation of infitah, seemed to be the chief beneficiaries of the decline of military dominance in politics. The relative eclipse of the army was also paralleled by the rise of professional police officers into the top elite. One, Mamduh Salim, became prime minister, and others wielded great power as ministers of interior and ministers of local government. Academia was an important channel of recruitment in all three regimes. Professionals, such as doctors and lawyers, and, increasingly, private business people became eligible for recruitment by service in party and parliamentary politics and made up about one-fourth of the ministerial elite in the late Sadat era. Although the roads to power diversified after Nasser, access by middle class military officers probably narrowed from his era of rule to the post-Nasser Egypt, which upper- and upper-middle class personalities dominated.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress