Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has tightened his grip on the military establishment through a package of parliamentary and government decrees. The process dates from mid-2013 when he took power with a military coup and is being extended.
Last Thursday, the Official Gazette published a new law, No. 134 of 2021, signed and sealed by Sisi, which includes amendments to three laws related to the armed forces. The most prominent of these amendments reduces the terms of office of the Chief of the General Staff, the leaders of the branches of the armed forces and assistants to the Minister of Defence to two years instead of the current four unless the president decides to extend their service.
A mechanism for the establishment of new military units or the modification of existing formations was added to the amendments by means of a decision issued by the president with the approval of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).
Last week, the Egyptian parliament approved a bill submitted by the government to amend three laws covering officers' conditions of service and promotion for officers of the armed forces; the command and control of state defence affairs and the armed forces; and the service of non-commissioned officers and the ranks under them. Sisi now has the authority to award monthly stipends to decorated service personnel. Other changes include disciplinary measures that the president can impose on members of the armed forces, including compulsory retirement and loss of rank
The new measures have been criticised by Osama Suleiman, a member of the Defence and National Security Committee of the former People's Assembly. "Sisi is fully aware of the danger presented to his regime by the armed forces," he explained, "especially in light of successive failures in many areas related to national security. The armed forces could pose a direct threat to him."
As such, Suleiman told Arabi21, the president is employing a carrot and stick approach to manage the threat: he both grants privileges and can take them away. "The reduction of the senior officers' terms in office is intended to protect Sisi by not giving them the opportunity to cement their positions and take over, unless he agrees and gives his approval."
This would only be extended to those who prove their loyalty to the system. The greater the loyalty, the greater the rewards.
"These amendments come at the expense of loyalty to the armed forces and the Republic," added Suleiman. "Sisi is well known for prioritising loyalty to himself over competence when it comes to promotion in the armed forces. He wants to stay in power and boost his control over the military establishment."
According to military expert Adel Al-Sharif, the legal amendments send a message from Sisi to the public that he has complete control over the armed forces, which cannot intimidate him." He pointed out that the armed forces are free of sectarian or factional divisions. Their unity enables them to follow positive national trends smoothly. "This does not mean that opposition to Sisi doesn't exist, though. There are groups within the armed forces that are dissatisfied with the performance of the military institution under the leadership of this man."