The Dominant Executive and the Power Elite
The presidency is the command post of Egypt's dominant executive branch of government and the linchpin of the political elite. Nasser established and assumed the office, endowing it with broad legal powers and with his personal charisma. He made it the most institutionalized part of the political system, against which all other elite institutions--party, parliament, press, even the military--have proved impotent. The Constitution of 1971 gives legal expression to this reality, vesting vast executive authority in the president.
Succession procedures for the transfer of presidential power appeared relatively institutionalized since Nasser. The incumbent vice president has twice succeeded to the presidency. In each case the vice president was a military officer; thus, the line of succession stayed within the institution that founded the republic. Formally, a single presidential candidate was nominated by parliament and confirmed by (unopposed) national plebiscite. In practice, behind-the-scenes intraelite politics determined the outcome. Sadat was expected to be nominal head of a collective leadership and had to defeat a coalition of Nasser's left-wing Free Officer lieutenants to assume full control of the office. The backing of most of the professional military and of senior bureaucrats recruited from upper-class families was important. But the legality with which Nasser had endowed the office itself was critical to Sadat's victory; it was Sadat's legal prerogative that allowed him to purge his opponents from their state offices and that rallied the army's support of him. Sadat made Husni Mubarak, an air force officer who had distinguished himself in the October 1973 War, his vice president. Although politically inexperienced, Mubarak grew in the job. On Sadat's death, the political elite closed ranks behind him, and a smooth succession took place. Mubarak's 1987 reelection manifested the continued institutionalization of presidential authority. Mubarak did not appoint a vice president, perhaps reluctant to designate a successor and possible rival so early in his presidency. Had a succession crisis arisen, there would have been no obvious successor.
The president has broad constitutional powers. The president appoints vice presidents, prime ministers, and the Council of Ministers--the cabinet or "government." He enjoys a vast power of patronage that makes legions of officials beholden to him and ensures the loyalty and customary deference of the state apparatus. Presidential appointees include army commanders, the heads of the security apparatus, senior civil servants, heads of autonomous agencies, governors, newspaper editors, university presidents, judges, major religious officials, and public sector managers. Through the Council of Ministers, over which he may directly preside, the president commands the sprawling state bureaucracy and can personally intervene at any level to achieve his objectives if the chain of command proves sluggish. Because the levers of macroeconomic policy--banks, the budget, and the large public sector-- are under government control, broad responsibility for running the economy is within the presidential domain. This responsibility carries with it heavy burdens, because as head of the state the president is expected to provide for the welfare of the vast numbers of people dependent on it.
A large presidential bureaucracy, managed by a ministerial level appointee, is a personal instrument of control over the wider bureaucracy. It is made up of personal advisers, troubleshooters, and lieutenants with specialized supervisory functions. Under Nasser it had bureaus for intelligence, economic planning, presidential security, administrative control, and foreign affairs. Under Sadat it swelled into a small bureaucracy in its own right made up of about 4,000 functionaries, many of them supporting the elaborate entourage and presidential household he created. Stretching out from this presidential bureaucracy are a multitude of presidentially appointed specialized national councils for production, social affairs, science, and the like, which bring the state and interest groups together under presidential patronage and expand presidential influence into every branch of society.
The president bears primary responsibility for defense of the country and is the supreme commander of the armed forces. Having, to date, always been an ex-officer, he typically enjoys personal influence in the military. He presides over the National Security Council, which coordinates defense policy and planning, and he may assume operational command in time of war. He may declare war with the approval (in practice automatically given) of the parliament, conclude treaties, and issue decrees on national security affairs. Foreign policy is a "reserved sphere" of the presidency. Presidents have typically been preoccupied with foreign policy and have personally shaped it.
Finally, the president is chief legislator, the dominant source of major policy innovation. The president can legislate by decree during "emergencies," a condition loosely defined, and when parliament is not in session. He can also put proposals to the people in plebiscites that always give such propositions overwhelming approval. Finally, the president normally controls a docile majority in parliament, which regularly translates his proposals into law. His control of parliament stems from his ability to dismiss it at will and from his leadership of the ruling party that dominates parliament. He also enjoys a legislative veto.
|Country Studies main page | Egypt Country Studies main page|