Country Listing

Egypt Table of Contents


Chapter 5. National Security


Hawk at entrance to the hypostyle hall of the Temple of Edfu(Idfu)

EGYPT IS LOCATED in a region characterized by tension and conflict. Since Egypt's war with Israel in 1973, however, the threat of military confrontation with neighboring countries has steadily subsided. As of 1990, the government was in the process of reducing the size of its armed forces relative to the size of the population. At the same time, the armed forces were modernizing their command structure and updating their arms and equipment. With 448,000 troops, Egypt in 1990 remained one of the major military powers in the Middle East.

The four services--the army, navy, air force, and Air Defense Force--included conscripts and some volunteers. The average conscript served three years in the military, although people who had completed higher education served shorter terms. The military also had a liberal exemption policy.

Since the Free Officers' coup in 1952, career military officers have headed Egypt's government, and senior officers have played an influential role in the nation's affairs. The military's involvement in government has diminished since the 1970s, although ranking members of the officer corps have continued to fill the positions of minister of defense (who served concurrently as commander in chief of the armed forces) and minister of interior.

Egypt's military leaders enjoyed a reputation for competence and professionalism; many of these leaders had advanced training at foreign military institutes and combat experience as junior officers during the October 1973 War.

As of 1990, much of the military was still equipped with arms provided by the Soviet Union between the late 1950s and mid-1970s. In 1979 the United States began supplying Egypt with arms. With the exception of Israel, Egypt was the largest recipient of United States military aid during the 1980s. Its impressive stock of weaponry from all sources nevertheless did not match that of Israel in terms of modern armor and combat aircraft.

Egypt has made substantial progress in expanding its own arms industry, but this progress depended on assistance from several Western countries. During the 1980s, the army began to play an important role in Egypt's development efforts; it built roads, irrigation and communications systems, and housing. It also produced food and industrial products. These activities demonstrated that the military could be an asset to the country even during periods of peace.

The country faced no threat of invasion as of early 1990, but extreme Islamic groups fanned internal tensions. The police and the government's intelligence service were fairly successful in controlling Muslim extremists' activities, which included arson and attempts to assassinate government officials.

During the 1980s, elements of the military were involved in activities aimed at destabilizing the government. Religious conspirators in the army, seeking to overthrow the government, assassinated President Anwar as Sadat in 1981. But overall, the armed forces remained loyal to the regime and supported the peaceful transition of power from Sadat to the vice president and former air force commander Husni Mubarak. Troops again upheld internal order in 1986 by quashing riots of conscripts from the Central Security Forces, a paramilitary police body, protesting against harsh treatment.

Data as of December 1990