FIFTY YEARS ago, drawn to the perceived dynamism of fresh, young military leaders, scholars and policy analysts became enamored of the potential role of the military in political, economic and social modernization. The “man on horseback,” as S. E. Finer described it, was seen as best positioned to effect the transition from developing to modern societies. The military, it was believed, could draw on the institutional cohesion and its monopoly of coercive power to marshal the resources and will necessary to push societies forward. Egypt was studied as a prime example.
Things did not quite turn out as the academics expected. After overthrowing the monarchy and seizing power in 1952, the so-called Free Officers in Egypt constricted the political space and monopolized power, driving Islamists underground and marginalizing old-time liberal political elements. Their sweeping modernization programs nearly bankrupted Egypt. Ultimately, the monopoly of power achieved by Egypt’s revolutionists, led by Gamal Abdel Nasser, primarily was used to maintain the military’s dominant position and ensure that its interests were protected and advanced.