Intermediate Regimes

The Recurring Crisis of Intermediate Regimes: The Case of the Free Officers’ Rule in Egypt


Abstract. “Intermediate regimes,”[1] representing the interests of the middle and lower-middle strata, have almost always played a dual role in the course of social upheavals in the last two or three centuries: on the one hand, willing to unite with the lower strata in the struggle against the upper strata, on the other, anxious to prevent radicalization of the struggle. This has raised significant questions regarding the ideological capacity and political will of these regimes to bring about radical social and economic changes. The controversy has especially become acute in recent decades because of the increasingly important role that these regimes have played in the post-colonial period. This paper is both an overview of the major theories of intermediate regimes as well as a contribution to the underlying debate in light of the Egyptian experience under the rule of the “Free Officers” (1952-1970).


Some Theoretical and Historical Observations

Widespread patterns of state intervention in the economic life of countries headed by intermediate regimes have given rise to considerable controversy regarding the nature of the socio-economic structure of these countries and the character of their nationalist leaders. While a number of these leaders have chosen the term “socialist” to characterize their socio-economic programs (Nkrumah, Nasser, Sekou Toure, Modibo Keita, Sukarno, Assad, and others), many Third World scholars have characterized these socio-economic structures as state capitalism and their nationalist regimes as “Bonapartist” regimes of our time—regimes that ride to power on a wave of social turmoil, enjoy a degree of autonomy proportionate to the balance of class forces on both sides of this wave, but ultimately serve the interests of the upper strata (Bottomore 1964). Third World experts of the former Soviet Union, on the other hand, characterized these socio-economic formations as neither capitalist nor socialist but “non-capitalist,” or “socialist oriented,” and their political leaders as “revolutionary democrats who champion a socialist orientation” (Andreyev 1977: 20-26; Stanis et al. 1976: 34-35).

Although the origin of the notion of a ruling elite as a class in itself (i.e., an elite which rules because of the superior qualities of its members), can be traced as far back as Plato’s “class of disinterested educators,” it remained for the “new Machiavellians”—Pareto, Mosca, Sorel, Michels, James Burnham and others—to systematically formulate the notion in their ideological battle against Marx’s theory of social classes and the state (Bottomore 1964; Burnham 1943). As T. B. Bottomore points out, the main thrust of the theories that ensued—most notably, Pareto’s “governing elite,” Mosca’s “Political class,” and Burnham’s “managerial class”—was primarily


to refute Marx’s theory of social classes on two essential points: first, to show that the Marxist conception of a ‘ruling class’ is erroneous, by demonstrating the continual circulation of elites, which prevents in most societies the formation of a stable and closed ruling class; and secondly, to show that a classless society is impossible, since in every society there is, and must be, a minority which actually rules (1964: 12).


The prominent role that the middle classes and their nationalist representatives have played in the Third World national movements of the last several decades has given rise to impressions of a new type of elitism peculiar to Third World countries. This has led a number of Third World scholars to explore theories of a new middle class (NMC). In contrast to the “old” middle class, these theories maintain, “the new middle class will create leaders; is more numerous; possesses organizational skills; is honest; develops forward-looking ‘new men’; in short, is shouldering, and should shoulder, social and political change” (Perlmuter 1967: 1).[2] These theories were further reinforced by the Soviet theory of “non-capitalist development,”  which characterized the representatives of the middle strata as “revolutionary democrats,” and viewed them as vehicles of socio-economic transformations.

As pointed out earlier, there is an opposite view which characterizes the intermediate regimes as essentially variants of a Bonapartist regime, and thus questions their ideological capacity and political will to carry out programs of radical social change. For example, Michael Kalecki, one of the proponents of this view, states:


History has shown that lower-middle-class and rich peasantry are rather unlikely to perform the role of the ruling class. Whenever social upheavals did enable representatives of these classes to rise to power, they invariably served the interests of big business, often allied with the remnants of the feudal system. This despite the fact that there is a basic contradiction between the interests of the lower-middle-class and big business to mention only the displacement of small firms by business concerns (1967: 1).


The dual role of the so-called petty-bourgeois, democratic parties of the middle and lower-middle strata—willing, on the one hand, to unite with the lower strata in the struggle against the upper strata, anxious, on the other hand, to prevent radicalization of the struggle—has always posed a serious question for Marxists and the radical left. In its discussion of the necessity of a “temporary” alliance with the bourgeois nationalist elements, the Fourth Congress of the Comintern (1922), which hundreds of delegates from colonial and other “peripheral” areas attended, warned that the “representatives of bourgeois nationalism, taking advantage of the political authority of Soviet Russia and adapting themselves to the class interests of the workers, cloth their bourgeois democratic aspirations in a ‘socialist’ or ‘communist’ garb in order…to divert the embryonic proletarian associations from direct tasks of class organization” (as quoted in Claudin 1975: 260).

In his analysis of the provisional government that emerged from the February 1917 Russian revolution—the Kerensky government, a classic example of an “intermediate” regime—Leon Trotsky wrote:


In this connection it must not be forgotten that the question is here of a new capitalist type of petty-bourgeoisie, of industrial, commercial and bank clerks, the functionaries of capital on the one side, and workers’ bureaucracy on the other; that is, of that new middle caste….In order to answer the question how a revolution of workers and peasants came to surrender the power to the bourgeoisie, it is necessary to introduce into the political change an intermediate link: the petty bourgeois democrats and socialists of the Sukhanove type, journalists and politicians of the new middle caste, who had taught the masses that the bourgeoisie is an enemy, but themselves feared more than anything else to release the masses from the control of the enemy. The contradiction between the character of the revolution and the character of the power that issued from it, is explained by the contradictory character of this new petty-bourgeois partition-wall between the revolutionary masses and the capitalist bourgeoisie (1977: 184-85).

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels also grappled with the question of a tactical alliance with the “democratic parties of the petty bourgeoisie” in the course of 1848 revolution in Germany. While they favored an alliance of workers, peasants and petty bourgeoisie—the “democratic alliance,” as they called it—against the ruling alliance, i.e., the alliance of absolutism and the bourgeoisie, they viewed the suggested “democratic alliance” as only a “temporary” partnership; it was only a union of action, neither of common program nor of common organization. For, they pointed out, “while the democratic bourgeoisie wants to bring the revolution to an end as quickly as possible,…it is our interest and our task to make the revolution permanent until all the more or less propertied classes have been removed from their ruling positions….” Therefore, they concluded, “the workers must try to organize themselves independently as a proletarian guard, with elected leaders and with their own elected general staff; they must try to place themselves not under the order of the state authority but of the revolutionary local councils set up by the workers” (1973: 323-26).

Proponents of the theory of a new middle class evoke “new conditions” for their reinterpretation of the role of this class, conditions which, according to these proponents, are “unique to the world historical situation of our era” (Andreyev 1977: 20-26). One such “unique condition,” these theorists contend, is the existence of a “plural” mode of production and a “warped” social structure in most developing countries as a result of the world capitalist system. They argue that the penetration of international capital into these countries creates a tiny layer of big bourgeoisie at the top, a small working class at the bottom, and vast, “undifferentiated” strata in the middle of these social structures. In contrast to the middle classes of the full-fledged capitalist countries, the intermediate strata of these societies are neither content with the status quo, nor hopeful about prospects of upward mobility under the existing social and economic circumstances. These strata thus constitute the backbone of the “anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist” struggle. Since there is not a clear-cut class polarization among these middle layers, their representatives “not only express the interests of small proprietors, but take into account the aspirations of the workers, the working peasants, and the revolutionary intellectuals and officers in their countries” (Stanis et al. 1976: 34-35).

We do not dispute the empirical accounts of the theorists of a new middle class that, in the national movements of Third World countries, the intermediate layers constitute a considerable anti-feudal, anti-comprador, and anti-imperialist force; and that there are indeed conditions in place that favor the rise to power of governments that represent the intermediate strata. Nor do we dispute their account that once in power, representatives of the middle strata embark on widespread patterns of state intervention in the economic life of their countries, which represent significant steps in the direction of economic development and national independence.

We dispute, however, their conclusion that elevates these empirical accounts and observations to the level of universal theoretical explanations and, implying that there is somehow a fundamental change in the class character of the middle strata, declares that therefore their representatives will chart a radical socio-economic program toward “socialism.” We propose, instead, the following hypotheses regarding these empirical accounts.

  1. Contrary to the claims of the theory of a new middle class, the social weight and the political role of the intermediate strata, evinced in recent national movements, are not new, post-colonial phenomena. The intermediate strata have played an important role in almost all social upheavals of the past two or three centuries. Nor does the middle strata’s active participation in these movements signify a qualitative change in their class outlook and a re-orientation toward “socialism.” Envious of (and aspiring to) the social and economic status of the upper strata, the middle strata almost always side with the lower strata in order to acquire the status of the upper strata. But they “fall back into the abject despondency of fear,” as Karl Marx put it in his study of the 1848 German revolution, “as soon as the class below…, the proletarians, attempts an independent movement” (1912: 22).
  2. Extensive patterns of state intervention in the economic life of countries headed by intermediate regimes have evolved not because of these regimes’ interest in socialism but because there is an amalgamation of the interests of the classes they represent, the middle and lower-middle classes, with state capitalism. Active state participation in the process of “primitive accumulation of capital” and “take-off” development strategies has become crucial for many belatedly developing countries. As this will help to bring about these countries’ economic development and national independence, it will also help to strengthen the economic base (and hence the political power) of their intermediate regimes. State capitalism helps intermediate regimes in yet other, more direct ways. To begin with, it places the state bureaucracy at the commanding heights of the economy which, in turn, provides the state with a high degree of independence from social classes. Secondly, it vests the interests of various social classes in the state—either directly through employment or indirectly through consumer relief programs—and hence broadens its social support. And thirdly, it helps to expand middle, lower-middle and small businesses—intermediate regimes hail largely from these strata, represent their interests, and express their aspirations—by generous credit policies and other state-sponsored externalities.
  3. For these reasons, the view that portrays the intermediate regimes as standing above class interests, and therefore capable of leading a peaceful transition to “socialism,” is dubious. Such a view comes very close to elite theories of social change according to which a circulating elite team can bring about social change from above. These regimes, however, can well be characterized as variants of Bonapartist regimes. Two major factors have prolonged and further disguised the Bonapartist character of these regimes, as compared with their earlier counterparts (for example, their French prototype), but have not changed that character in any fundamental way. These two factors are: (a) the economic program of state capitalism which, as was just pointed out, provides these regimes with enormous autonomy from social classes, and (b) the relatively higher pressure from “below,” (i.e., from the lower strata), as a result of unprecedented mass uprisings in “peripheral” countries against foreign domination in the post-colonial period.


The Case of The Rule Of The “Free Officers” In Egypt (1952-70)

The regime of the “Free Officers” in Egypt, headed by the late Gemal Abdel-Nasser, is a good example of an intermediate regime. Let us examine the actual developments that took place under that regime in light of theoretical observations highlighted above.

Although Nasser and his associates forestalled a potential social revolution from below, their coup gradually developed into a revolution from above. In the 18 years of their rule (1952-70), they radically changed the face of Egyptian society. Egypt was transformed during this period from a colony and a pasture of foreign capital into an independent modern country that ranked as one the industrialized countries in the Third World. The economy came under the effective control of central management and operated on a centrally planned basis. The feudal nobility was dismantled, foreign capital was nationalized, and Egyptian private capital was drastically curbed. Many new industries, especially basic industries such as steel, were created by the state in fulfillment of a long-run plan.

The radical changes thus implemented, however, were not preceded by theoretical guidelines or premeditated blueprints. They came about as a series of reflexive reactions to compelling social, economic, and political pressures.

Along with the massive nationalizations of 1961-64, more than half of the industrial labor force and almost 90% of the industrial technicians, foremen, administrators, etc. became employees of the state (Cooper 1982: 25). But the range of individuals and groups whose interests became vested in the state as a result of the expansion of the public-sector was much wider than those directly employed in the public-sector enterprises. These included (a) a huge state-centered white-collar bureaucracy, (b) the mass of urban and rural poor and unemployed that became dependent on the state subsidy for their consumption of essential goods and services, and (c) a wide range of financial and technical advisors, contractors, distributors, etc. who acted as middlemen between the public and private sectors.

The state also brought under its influence a significant number of small private-sector enterprises through the control of both their inputs and outputs. These were thousands of enterprises that were considered too small to be nationalized. In addition, there were “indispensable capitalists” who also became dependent on the state for their inputs, foreign exchange, finance and marketing needs. These were capitalists whose enterprises were not necessarily too small to be nationalized but whose nationalization “appeared to present special difficulties in administration,” while they were considered “indispensable to the execution of growth plans.” While semi-nationalized, these enterprises were therefore “explicitly left in the hands of their owners in order to facilitate their operation” (Ibid.: 26).

Overall, the interests of various social strata were vested in the state through several economic means and channels: the interests of the new ruling elite through control; the interests of “indispensable” capitalists through ownership; the interests of the working class, of the white-color bureaucracy, and of the poor and unemployed “underclass” through either income, or subsidization, or both, i.e., through consumption. A schematic illustration of the relationship between these economic interests and class composition is shown in Table 1. The relationships thus established are not absolutely exclusive of each other. For example, the relationship between the dependent “underclass” and the state subsidization programs does not mean that other strata did not benefit from these programs; nor does the new ruling elite’s controlling role mean that they were not owners as well, etc. But since these overlapping relationships are of minor importance, they cannot impair our classification based on major relationships.

Class maps of Nasser’s Egypt have been worked out by a number of authors. We are here following the map worked out by Mark Cooper (1982: 18). We are aware of the loose class characterizations and definitions presented in this schema. This is because the economic and class relations presented here are not strictly based on Marxian conceptual definitions of class relations, but on tentative, transitional and quantitative notions of social groups. Our intention here is not to base our analysis on a universal framework of class structure—or to try to work out such a framework from a socio-economic formation which is inherently tentative—but to show the degree to which the interests of various social groups became vested in state capitalism, a phenomenon which helps to explain the relative stability of “state capitalist” or “intermediate” regimes of our time, compared with Bonapartist regimes of the past.




























Sources: Mark N. Cooper, The Transformation of Egypt (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982), P. 18; Mahmoud Abdel-Fadil, The Political Economy of Nasserism (1952-72)  (Cambridge University Press, 1980), p. 95.


A detailed analysis of all the social strata whose interests became vested in state capitalism is beyond the scope of this study. We thus limit our analysis to the study of the one stratum whose role, and an understanding of that role, is crucial to an understanding of Egyptian state capitalism, of the theories of a new middle class and intermediate regimes, and of the eventual reversal of state capitalism and the revival of market capitalism in Egypt. That stratum is what we have called here the “new ruling stratum,” the top bureau-technocratic oligarchy of a Bonapartist type. The new ruling stratum consisted of (a) the top state bureaucracy, and (b) the technocratic and managerial elite in charge of the public-sector enterprises.


a. Top State Bureaucracy

The ultimate power in Free Officer’s Egypt rested with the military men who occupied top state bureaucracy: ministerial, vice-ministerial, under-secretary, top security officers, etc. In the first few years of the Officers’ rule, almost all these positions were filled by military men. Although from 1965 on a number of civilians were included in the ranks of the top bureaucracy, the presence and the ultimate power of the Officers remained conspicuous in all key positions until the end of Nasser’s rule (1970). For example, in 1961 an estimated three hundred men of military background were serving in the various ministries. In 1964, twenty-two of the twenty-six provincial governors were active or retired officers of the security forces. Of  the  sixty-five  men who held portfolios  in  the  government between 1962 and 1967, twenty-seven were former officers (Hurewitz 1969: 134; Baer 1962: 246; Baker 1978: 48 & 55). As late as 1968, M. H. Haikal, in an article published during the self-critical period after the 1967 defeat of the Egyptian army in the war with Israel, wrote that in Nasser’s Egypt “the dominant element is the old military element that took part in the operation of July 23, 1952 or were in contact with those who did have a direct part (Al-Ahram, 15 March, 1968).

President Nasser viewed the ruling military men as the “vanguard of the revolution” and “pioneers of Arab socialism.” Calling these military men “revolutionary democrats,” Soviet experts of “non-capitalist development” in Egypt likewise harbored hopes that the “Free Officers” would chart a peaceful transition to “socialism.” These experts assumed or hoped that the patriotic fervor and anti-imperialist struggle would transform the “revolutionary democrats” into disembodied spirits who would, from a plane high above material and/or class interests, lead Egypt to “socialism.” This proved to be too much to expect. The Egyptian “revolutionary democrats” were ordinary citizens whose formal education was military and whose class background and aspirations were those of the petty bourgeois, middle layers of the society they lived in. Prior to their rise to power, they were deeply envious of the economic position and social status of the big bourgeoisie. They opposed the old order and the traditional bourgeoisie not out of socialist convictions but because their petty bourgeois aspirations were thwarted by that order and by the superiority of big capitals.

Thus when they rose to political power and to the commanding posts of the national economy, they did not hesitate to live as lavishly as the previous ruling classes and engage in a material self-enrichment also as greedily as their predecessors. Evidence shows that the state bureaucracy strove to give as little to society as possible and to take as much from it as possible.


Whatever patriotic zeal Officers might feel has also been eroded by very considerable privileges they have come to expect in Egypt….Officers have their own impressive social clubs in Cairo and Alexandria. They have regularly been paid better than their civilian counterparts, and those salaries go even further with a whole network of consumer privileges, including special high-cost living allowances and well-provisioned cooperative stores for their exclusive use (Baker 1978: 59).


The term “special cadres” was coined in order to justify a multitude of privileges for the Officers. The term purportedly meant those cadres whose role was “crucial” for the triumph of the “revolution.” In his study of these privileges, based on official sources, M. Abdel-Fadil concludes, “these allowances were so varied that in the mid-sixties there were nearly 200 kinds.” The author also cites a small sample of these special allowances: the “representation allowance” (balad al-thamthil), which tended to be confined to the top bureaucratic elites; the “attendance allowance” for being present at sessions of consultative bodies or committees; the “nature-of-job allowance,” usually offered to members of special professions such as engineers and medical doctors, etc. (1980: 103).

When the competition for special allowances became very acute during the 1960s, the government’s solution was to broaden the category of “special cadres.” Thus the number of “special cadres” rose from 42,064 in 1961 to 212,028 in 1971, a five-fold increase in ten years.


Disparities in financial treatment between the ‘special’ and ‘general’ cadres are so marked that if two university graduates are recruited to the different cadres at the same time, the salary of the one employed in the ‘special cadre’ could easily be double that of the other in a matter of ten years (Ibid.: 102-103).


The astronomical increase in special allowances that accrued to the top state bureaucracy is shown in Table 2 below. It can be seen from the table that the rate of increase of allowances was much faster than either the rate at which new jobs were created at these levels, or the rate of increase in the total basic salary bill. Yet, these were only the “legitimate” legal and/or institutional privileges. The main source of the top bureaucracy’s accumulation of personal wealth, however, was their illegal and scandalous businesses. The discussion of corruption in the army and of how the Officers viewed their official position as lucrative posts came to the surface after the defeat of the Egyptian army in the 1967 war with Israel. For example, journalist Ahmad Bahaedin published undeniable accounts of corruption, and forcefully argued that the defeat of the Egyptian army in the war was due to the fact that the high-ranking officers had come to treat their military or administrative duties as secondary tasks while their primary concern was material self-enrichment (as cited by Baker 1978: 59).



TABLE 2:  Salaries and Allowances of the State Bureaucratic Elite_______________________________________________________________

1962/3            1966/7             % increase


No. of administrative jobs*                        733                                             1085                            48

Total basic salaries**                                      867150                              1541050               78

Total allowances associated

with these jobs                                                            179556                                           1037469                                  478

Total salaries and allowances       1046706                        2578519                           146


* Includes people in the rank of minister, deputy-minister and under-secretary, as well as the “excellent” and the “first grades.”

** Egyptian pounds


Source: Mahmoud Abdel-Fadil, The Political Economy of Nasserism. Cambridge University Press, 1980, p. 105.

While privately outraged, President Nasser’s public pronouncements were vague and mild:


We could not develop the government machinery up to the revolutionary level….Sometimes this machinery could not convey to the people the feeling of its being a mere servant of their interests but, on the contrary, the interests of the people have been exploited for the service of the government machinery with all defects and drawbacks.[3]


Soviet champions of “non-capitalist development” in Egypt also expressed disappointment at the “revolutionary democrats,” as they so called the military leaders, but only after Nasser had done so, and after the news of “Egyptian Officers Turned Capitalists” became the subject of international news reports:


A part of the Officers assuming supervisory administrative functions were subject to “embourgeoisment”. To the degree that they blended with the society of capital, bourgeois in its essence, to the degree that they advanced to its heights, their former fresh romanticism, revolutionary enthusiasm, and modesty were strongly dimmed (Mirsky 1970: 89).


The disappointment of the “non-capitalist” experts turned occasionally into severe condemnation:


The relation of many officers to their service in the armed forces has significantly changed. They use their privileges for the improvement of their own well-being. Leaving the army after the expiration of their term of service, many generals and colonels receive, as a general rule, high positions in the industrial and state apparatus. The state often addresses itself to the military with a call for help to bring order into one or another state enterprise….In their new positions they receive wide opportunities for the improvement of their well-being. These generals and former officers acquire checkbooks and bank accounts. Cases have been recorded where accounts have been opened in foreign banks to which are transferred sums in foreign currencies. There appeared the type of the officer businessman who was more interested in business than in the military preparation of soldiers and sergeants (Ibid.).


Interesting revelations, indeed. But to use individuals’ greed and deviations to camouflage the sins of a social order that is the breeding ground of those deviations is blatant obfuscation of issues. In a society where private ownership of the means of production is considered legitimate, and where state and military officials had plenty of opportunities to acquire those means and engage in private businesses, it would be naive to expect those officials to abstain from doing so. The military regime and the state they came to represent was neither a spiritual order nor a monastery. Nor did the Officers claim to be pioneers of transition to socialism, as experts of “Arab socialism,” or those of the theory of “non-capitalist development,” had hoped.


b. The Technocratic, Managerial Elite

The military remained Nasser’s power base to the end of his rule. Not only did he diligently prevent any involvement of the popular masses in his revolution, but also that of political institutions in general. Real power did not rest with the officially sanctioned constitutional channels. Crucial to the rule of the Officers was an unofficial network of relationships based on personal loyalty through which the power and directives flew from top to bottom. It was a mandate system proper: key positions of responsibility were delegated to individuals who enjoyed Nasser’s and his lieutenants’ confidence. The “mandated personalities, like Amer, were then given considerable autonomy. Such figures became powerful fixtures in the edifice of Nasser’s rule” (Baker 1978: 55).

The second group (after the army) that Nasser came to view as instrumental to his rule was “Tabakat al-mudirin” (the managerial class), as he put it. This was the category of young, ambitious, and career-oriented individuals of middle class background and of technical skills who suited both Nasser’s political mandate system and his system of economic planning very well. Thus from the early days of their rule, the Officers set out to replace the traditional managers of the public sector (“the old tradition of ministers and managing directors trained in law schools and deeply impregnated with the French tradition”) with those trained in modern management: “technicians, economists and engineers with Anglo-Saxon training—graduates of the London School of Economics and Political Science, Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology….” (Abdel-Malek 1968: 174).

Emphasis on administrative skills and modern management was reinforced, especially after the considerable expansion of the state sector that followed the 1961 nationalizations. Vocational education in sciences and management studies expanded rapidly. The number of students admitted to “trade schools” in 1965, according to Ali Sho’eib, Undersecretary of State for Technical Education, reached 220,000 against 30,000 in 1960; and vocational training alone accounted for 34.5 percent of the total educational budget during the 1960 five-year plan.[4] Administrative hierarchy within the state sector became such a source of prestige that James Burnham’s Managerial Class  became a guide and a source of inspiration for ambitious technocrats (Al-Ahram, April 1, 1961).

Like the military elite, the managerial elite came largely from the middle strata—whereas the Officers came mainly from rural middle strata, the managers came mainly from urban middle strata. The findings of Dr. Sami Qassem who carried out a 1966/7 study of 180 managers (chairmen and members of boards) in public enterprises clearly shows this. The findings indicate (Table 3) that two-thirds of top managers had fathers who were civil servants, professionals, army officers or businessmen and traders. Because of similar social backgrounds, the managerial and military elites shared both the petty bourgeois aspirations for material gains and nationalist sentiments of anti-comprador and anti-imperialism.



TABLE 3: Social background of the top managerial elite (1966/67).


Background                                                                                                                                                                            %


1. Geographical origin

Urban                                                                                                                                                                                                  76

Rural                                                                                                                                                                                                   24

2. Father’s occupation

Civil servant                                                                                                                                                                31

Landlord                                                                                                                                                                                             8

Farmer/peasant                                                                                                                                                            10

Businessman                                                                                                                                                               15

Independent professional                                                                                                       13

Army Officers                                                                                                                                                             7

Non-civil servant (or white collar worker)                  16


Source: M. S. Qassem, The New Managerial Elite in Egypt; as cited in Mahmoud Abdel-Fadil, 1980, p. 103.


Although the civil, non-military graduates from universities and vocational schools constituted the main pool for recruitment into the administrative and managerial apparatus of state enterprises, the young officers also strove very hard to equip themselves with the intellectual and technical means necessary for the managerial levels of the economy. Anouar Abdel-Malek points out:


Those who expressed the desire, and they were numerous, were detached [from military service] to take courses at the universities, especially in the faculties of law, economics, political science and business administration; a great many cadets and cadet candidates enrolled in the new Military Technical Faculty set up on September 10, 1961, whose seven-year curriculum was designed to train managerial staffs both of career officers and of civilian engineers. “Doctors” mushroomed among the officers, even at the ministerial level: wearing the uniform was no longer enough to grant access as of right to economic management (Abdel-Malek 1968: 177).


Another  pool  for the recruitment of the new managerial  elite was the  middle-rank  management  of  the  previously   private enterprises that had been nationalized. According to Mahmoud Abdel-Fadil, these “transferred” managers constituted about one third (31%) of the new managerial group (1980: 101).

An understanding of the evolution of the role and character of the managerial elite is crucial to an understanding of the evolution of Egypt’s social developments under Nasser, as well as under his successor Anwar Sadat. Mahmoud Hussein offers a serviceable account of this evolution. He distinguishes two major phases in the evolution of the managerial elite: the transitional, “formative” phase of 1952-60, and the phase of full-fledged “state bourgeoisie” after 1961. There was a many-fold rise in the number of state managers from the first to the second stage as the state sector rapidly expanded in the second stage. Changes in the character of the technocratic stratum were even more drastic: the inexperienced, shy, heterogeneous and unorganized individuals of the first phase turned in the second phase into bold, cunning and well-organized groups that no longer behaved as cowardly or groping individuals but as a class, or as a group with clear consciousness of its interests. Here is how Hussein describes the change:


This status [the new status] gave the state bourgeoisie, as a class (rather than as randomly privileged individuals), the objective possibility of making capitalist profits. Through its success in taking over the apparatus of mass exploitation—that is, in gaining the absolute control of surplus value created by the working classes…—it was transformed into a full-fledged exploiting class. The individual drive for the biggest profit became the sole dynamic force of this class (1973: 188).


During the “formative” phase, the technocratic elite allied itself with the military elite against the traditional bourgeoisie, and wholeheartedly supported its nationalization and industrialization efforts. This can be explained by the fact that technocrats in charge of the public sector enterprises had been hand-picked by the military men in power, and thus owed their new positions to them. Furthermore, these technocrats unmistakably saw the advancement and consolidation of their new positions in the expansion of the state sector.

However, once the national economy had firmly come under state control and the traditional bourgeoisie had been definitively dismantled, the technocratic elite changed sides. On the one hand, its interests now frequently collided with those of the military elite over the disposition and/or appropriation of the economic surplus; on the other, those interests gradually converged with the interests of the weakened remnants of the traditional bourgeoisie, and of the private sector business community in general. From then on, especially after 1962-63, representatives of state capital, “the new bourgeoisie,” as they were called, no longer feared representatives of private capital, or the traditional bourgeoisie. On the contrary, it was now in the interests of the new bourgeoisie to do business with the old bourgeoisie—as it actually began to do so on an increasing scale. Although, as Hussein points out,


…this did not go so far as to bring into question again the state ownership of the large means of production, it was a tendency which implied the prevention of any new nationalization, the gradual relaxation of centralized control and management, the development of competition among the various sectors, economic units, and regions of the country, and, finally, the continuing expansion of the areas open to private investment, through which fortunes accumulated in a matter of years within the state apparatus through more or less illicit means, could at last flourish in the open (Ibid.).


Representatives of private capital quickly grasped the meaning of the new situation. They came to accept the existence of the new, state bourgeoisie, or indeed its dominance of the national economy. Henceforth their interests lay not in trying to replace but “in influencing the state bourgeoisie, infiltrating it, and winning it over” (Ibid.). The theme thus established under Nasser’s rule came to full swing under the rule of his successor Anwar Sadat. No sooner had Nasser left the scene than the underlying economic mechanism that this wedding of the old and new bourgeoisies (and the ensuing class solidarity between them) set in motion came to the surface.



There are two major theories of intermediate regimes: the theory of a “Bonapartist regime” and the theory of a “new middle class.” Proponents of both theories agree that (a) in the national movements of belatedly developing countries the intermediate social strata constitute a considerable anti-feudal, anti-comprador, and anti-imperialist force; (b) there are indeed conditions in place that favor the rise to power of governments that represent the intermediate strata; and (c) once in power, representatives of the middle strata embark on widespread patterns of state intervention in the economic life of their countries, which represent significant steps in the direction of economic development and national independence.

Theorists of a new middle class conclude from these observations that representatives of the intermediate strata are capable not only to bring about extensive nationalization of major industries and other socio-economic changes, but also to sustain and further deepen the initial revolutionary changes toward a “socialist” society. Theorists of a Bonapartist regime argue, on the other hand, that the intermediate regimes embark on initial revolutionary social and economic changes not due to any ideological blueprints or socialist convictions but because of political expediency; that is, because such radical reforms are perceived to serve two major political purposes: first, they will help to dismantle the old order and disarm the intermediate strata’s political rivals from “above,” and second, they will serve to preempt a deeper revolution from “below.” Therefore, these theorists conclude, that the intermediate strata possess neither the ideological capacity nor the political will to chart a sustained and consistent course toward a “socialist” society, that the initial revolutionary economic changes they implement are primarily tactical and temporary, and that, once firmly in power, they begin to modify or reverse their original radical course, and revert back to the many of the social and economic policies of the regime they replaced.

Our brief study of radical socio-economic changes that the regime of “Free Officers,” a classic model of an intermediate regime, implemented in Egypt in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and the reversal of those changes soon after Nasser left the scene in 1970, clearly shows support for the theory of a Bonapartist regime, and not for that of a new middle class. It shows that the Free Officers and other representatives of the middle strata opposed the old order not out of socialist convictions—Nasser’s occasional references to some kind of “Arab socialism” notwithstanding—but because their nationalist and “petty bourgeois” aspirations were thwarted by that order and by the superiority of “big capitals.” Thus when they rose to political power and to the commanding posts of the national economy, they did not hesitate to live as lavishly as the previous ruling classes, and engage in a material self-enrichment also as greedily as their predecessors. The seeds of Egypt’s free enterprise economy were sown not after but before Nasser left the scene; they simply came to fruition under Sadat. The demise of Nasser was, therefore, nothing but the breaking of the metaphorical dam behind which he had accumulated over the years of his rule all the capitalist potential of the new, state bourgeoisie—small and medium-sized capitalists who had amassed their fortunes under the shadow of state capitalism and were on the lookout for investment outlets of their capitals.



Abdel-Fadil, M. 1980. The Political Economy of Nasserism: A Study in Employment and Distribution Policies in Urban Egypt, 1952-72. Cambridge, Mass. & London: Cambridge University Press.

Abdel-Malek, A. 1968. Egypt: Military Society. New York: Random House.

Andreyev, I. 1977. The Noncapitalist Way. Moscow: Progress Publishers.

Baer, G. 1962. A History of Land ownership in Modern Egypt (1800-1950). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Baker, R. W. 1978. Egypt’s Uncertain Revolution Under Nasser and Sadat. Cambridge, Mass. & London: Harvard University Press.

Blankston, I. G. 1960. In Quest for Middle Sectors. World Politics  Vol. 12. No. 2.

Bottomore, T. B. 1964. Elites and society. New York: Basic Books Inc.

Burnham, J. 1943. The Machiavellians: Defense of Freedom. London: Putman and Co.

Claudin, F. 1975. The Communist Movement: From Comintern to Cominform. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

Cooper, M. 1982. The Transformation of Egypt. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.

Helper, M. 1963. The Politics of Social Change in the Middle East and North Africa. Princeton, NJ.

Hurewitz, J. C. 1969. Middle East Politics: The Military Dimension. New York: Praeger Publishers.

Hussein, M. 1973. Class Struggle in Egypt, 1945-70. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Johnson, J. J. 1958. Political Change in Latin America: the Emergence of Middle Sector. Stanford.

Kalecki, M. 1967. Observations on Social and Economic Aspects of Intermediate Regimes. Co-existence  Vol. 4, pp. 1-5.

Marx, K. 1912. Revolution and Counter-revolution. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Co.

Marx K. and F. Engels, 1973. Surveys From Exile. Harmondsworth.

Mirsky, G. 1970. The Army and Politics in the Countries of Asia and Africa. Moscow: Progress Publishers.

Perlmuter,  A. 1967. Egypt  and the Myth of the New  Middle Class: A Comparative Analysis. Comparative Studies in Society  and History  Vol. 10, No. 1.

Stanis V. F. et al. 1976. The Role of the State in Socio- Economic Reform in Developing Countries. Moscow: Progress Publishers.

Trotsky, L. 1977. The History of the Russian Revolution. London: Pluto Press.



[1].  I have borrowed the term “intermediate regimes” from Michael Kalecki , “Observations on Social and Economic Aspects of Intermediate Regimes, ” Co-existence  Vol. 4 (1967): 1-5.

 [2].  Perlmuter’s article, as its title  indicates, is a critique of the theories of a new  middle class. For some of these theories see the following: Helper 1963; Johnson 1958; and Blankston 1960.

 [3].  United Arab Republic Information Department, Nasser’s Speeches (Cairo, 1961), p. 315.

 [4].  Al-Ahram, August 9 & October 15, 1960, and September 11, 1961; cited in Abdel-Malek: 1968: 177.