Egyptian Armed Forces
In this article, we shall discuss the Egyptian armed forces in the history of Egypt. We will examine the buildup of the Egyptian military, beginning at the time of Ottoman Governor of Egypt Muhammad Ali, through this time period until the World War II era, and then moving forward to Gamal Abdel Nasser and the Free Officers, as well as during Nasser’s time in office. We will then examine the state of the Egyptian armed forces during Anwar Sadat’s time in office, during the reign of Hosni Mubarak, and then in more recent years. We will also give particular attention to the actions of the Egyptian army and armed forces during the 2011 Egyptian uprisings, and then in recent years. We will end the article with an analysis of the military during the existing rule of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
History of the Egyptian Armed Forces
Muhammad Ali Pasha, the Governor of Egypt beginning in 1801 has been credited for first building Egypt’s military towards what has been viewed as a more independent fighting force. It must be remembered that at the time that Muhammad Ali Pasha came to power, Egypt was under the control of the Ottoman Empire. However, while Muhammad Ali was called to fight on behalf of the Ottoman Empire (in the Hijaz, for example, fighting Wahhabi forces in Mecca and Medina (in 1811)), the Pasha quickly set out to build his own military–one that he saw as separate from Ottoman forces.
After having consolidated power in 1811, and also in this year having helped the Ottomans in 1811, Muhammad Ali Pasha looked to make a name for himself and his province; he looked to build a military that would be strong enough to rise Egypt to its own separate, independent power. Part of this was because of what he saw as the weakness of the Ottoman Empire, and worried that European countries such as Britain and France will have dominance over Egypt, similar to what they had over the Ottoman Empire. And because of this concern, Muhammad Ali Pasha was determined to make sure that he had a formidable army. Thus, he made a commitment to build a large and well trained military force. To do so, he felt that he had to look to the military powers of the time: Europe.
Muhammad Ali Pasha began sending people to study military tactics in Europe. In addition to this, he also brought military leaders from Europe to Egypt, individuals who were willing to provide loyalty to him. Furthermore, Muhammad Ali Pasha, feeling that he further needed materials to fund the military, as well as people, went into the Sudan in 1820 and not only occupied the territory, but enslaved people, putting them to serve in his military.
Over time, the Pasha’s Egypt’s armed forces began to not only be a series military force, but one that posed direct threats to the Ottoman Empire’s army itself. This was because of his goal to make the military a powerhouse. As Hashim (2011) writes:
Muhammed Ali succeeded in turning Egypt into the strongest military power in the Middle East.7 By 1830, the army had 100,000 troops, the navy 25,000. The officer corps consisted of Turco-Circassians in the senior ranks, foreign officers from the West in the middle and technical ranks, and “native” Egyptians in the middle and junior ranks. The enlisted personnel consisted overwhelmingly of peasants, the fellahin. Muhammed Ali’s third-most-important task after the construction of a modern army and imposition of unpopular conscription was the creation of a reliable and loyal officer corps that would obey him and subordinate itself to his political dictates.
In time, Muhammad Ali Pasha used his military against the very Ottoman Empire that he was under. Looking to acquire timber for its Navy, Muhammad Ali sent his son Ibrahim into Syria, attacking an area controlled by the Ottoman Empire itself. The sultan and viziers understood that they had a major problem. In fact, “At one point, the sultan at [Istanbul] became concerned about Egypt’s newfound power, and made threatening moves to quell the Egyptians. Muhammad Ali sent his son, Ibrahim Pasha, with the Egyptian army to teach the Ottomans a lesson. The Ottomans backed down when Ibrahim’s forces came within marching distance of [Istanbul], and the Ottoman scouts reported that the Egyptians would have little trouble occupying the capitol” (Laits.utexas.edu). It never go to this point, as foreign powers came in to try to help find a diplomatic solution to the conflict. Through an agreement, the Pasha agreed to remove his forces, and in exchange, his son Ibrahim would govern Greater Syria (Cleveland & Bunton, 2013). And in 1832, with a victory in Konya (one that a much smaller Egyptian military was able to beat Ottoman forces), the Sultan and top Ottoman leaders made sure Muhammad Ali Pasha’s forces would not remain this strong. They understood the risk they faced from him, and attempted to reverse course (Hashim, 2011).
Hashim, A.S. (2011). The Egyptian Military, Part One: From the Ottomans through Sadat. Middle East Policy Council. Fall 2011, Volume XVIII, Number 3. Available Online: http://www.mepc.org/journal/middle-east-policy-archives/egyptian-military-part-one-ottomans-through-sadat
Laits.utexas.edu (ND). Muhammad Ali’s Cairo. Available Online: http://www.laits.utexas.edu/cairo/history/mohali/mohali.html