THE DOMINANT EXECUTIVE AND THE POWER ELITE
Figure 6. The Presidency, January 1990
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
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.
Data as of December 1990