Egypt Defense and Foreign Policy

egypt military spending and defense budget

Foreign policy and defense

Egypt is a nation in Northern Africa. Its capital city is Cairo. Egypt has long played a prominent role in the Arab world, including as a partner to the United States. The Arab League headquarters are in Cairo and its secretary general is usually an Egyptian. Egypt also plays a central role in the Arab world’s conflict with Israel, not least in the neighboring country’s protracted peace process with the Palestinians. In recent years, a conflict with Ethiopia over the water of the Nile has come to be perceived as an existential threat.

egypt military spending and defense budget

The popular uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa in 2011 contributed to disintegration and war, and a dramatically deteriorated security situation. In Egypt, the uprising led to the Sunni Islamist movement the Muslim Brotherhood came to power via the ballot boxes but after a year was deposited in a coup, after which the old establishment withdrew power. The development has entailed a number of sharp throws in foreign relations, in the midst of the turbulence that is still ongoing in Egypt’s immediate area.

Nearest to the west lies Libya, which lacks central power with control over the entire country and where fighting is ongoing: a fire paradise for smugglers of weapons, people and drugs. The unstable situation creates concern in Egypt, both in terms of security along the border and for the hundreds of thousands of Egyptians who are normally guest workers in the neighboring country. In 2019, when General Khalifa Haftar, based in the East, launched an offensive against the internationally supported government in Tripoli, Egypt chaired the African Union (AU) – and at the same time supported Haftar.

Several conflicts in the region

The conflict in Syria characterizes the entire region. Egypt is going a certain balance and has not completely cut ties with the Syrian government. The countries have common enemies, mainly in the Islamic State (IS) and other jihadist groups, but also in Turkey who are seen as supporters of the Brotherhood (see Political system) and other Islamists in the region. Egypt and Turkey rarely miss an opportunity to criticize each other. In the war in Libya, they support various camps.

War is also raging in Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula. Egypt has participated in the Saudi-led alliance that since 2015 has been fighting the Shiite Muslim Huthirbels, who have taken control of much of the country. The Huthi rebels are seen as representatives of Iran, which both Saudi Arabia and Egypt view with hostile eyes.

In Saudi Arabia, Egypt has also had an ally in opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood. Saudi Arabia, like the closely allied Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, has terrorized the Brotherhood, which has its foothold in many countries. Saudi Arabia is a major lender and aid provider, as are many of the other oil states on the Arabian Peninsula. However, relations with Saudi Arabia sparked in 2016, when Egypt expressed support for the regime in Syria, which the Saudis actively fought. As a result, Saudi oil deliveries to Egypt were stopped.

In 2015, the Palestinian Hamas movement was labeled a terrorist organization in Egypt, but the decision was not made politically but was formulated in a court ruling. It was torn up in higher court; the Court of Appeal found that the court did not have the formal jurisdiction to give such a decision. But relationships are frosty from time to time. Hamas, who governs in the Gaza Strip, is accused of being in close contact with the Brotherhood and supporting armed Islamists in the Sinai Peninsula. War-like conditions prevail in Sinai, where Egyptian security forces are challenged by jihadists with ties to IS.

Israel has long regarded Hamas as a terrorist organization and supports Egypt’s offensive against Islamists in Sinai as well as the harsh actions taken against the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt has repeatedly mediated in the conflict between Israel and Hamas. In 2014, Cairo contributed to a ceasefire after fighting raged in the Gaza Strip for over a month. The relative friendship with Israel is complicated by the historical hostility. The countries fought several wars between 1948 and 1979, when a historic peace treaty was concluded which, however, caused Egypt great losses of confidence in the Arab world and led to the assassination of an Egyptian president (see below and Modern history).

The first war against Israel was fought when the Jewish state was just proclaimed and became a stinging defeat for the Arab states. However, Egypt occupied the Gaza Strip. No peace was made and the Arab countries refused to acknowledge the existence of Israel. In contrast, the Suez War of 1956 became a major political triumph for President Nasser (see Modern History). The war made Nasser a hero in the Arab world and propelled Egypt into a political, economic and military dependence on the Soviet Union.

Six Day War

In the spring of 1967, Nasser concentrated major forces in Sinai, closed the Tire Strait for Israeli shipping, and urged the UN to withdraw its peacekeeping force from the Egyptian-Israeli border. Israel responded by attacking Egypt, Jordan and Syria. In six days, the Arab forces were totally defeated and Israel occupied, for example, the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip. The Six Day War was a disastrous defeat for Nasser, the “Liberator of Palestine”.

The UN Security Council demanded retreat from occupied areas, but no peace talks were reached. Egypt and Israel were armored by the Soviet Union and the United States respectively, and until 1970 fought a war of exhaustion along the Suez Canal. In October 1973, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel and achieved success initially. Although the war was soon to end and Egypt lost after almost three weeks, it became a triumph for Nasser’s successor Anwar Sadat. The initial successes were of great importance for the self-esteem of Egypt and the Arab world. In negotiations, Egypt recovered the oil fields in western Sinai and the Suez Canal, which had been closed since the 1967 war, could be reopened in 1975.

Sadat approached Egypt with the United States, reducing dependence on the Soviet Union. In 1977, Sadat surprised the outside world by traveling to Jerusalem and presenting a peace proposal to the Israeli parliament. Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin then visited Egypt. With US President Jimmy Carter as mediator, the 1978 framework agreement for peace, the so-called Camp David agreements, was concluded, which was followed by the peace agreement in 1979.

Large parts of the Arab world condemned Egypt’s peace with Israel. The Palestinians were considered betrayed. Egypt was excluded from the Arab League and subject to financial sanctions. When Sadat was murdered in 1981, his death was greeted with cheers by crowds in the Middle East. Iran, which had just been transformed into an Islamic republic, has since then sought to assert itself as the best friends of the Palestinians in the world.

Back in the Arab League

In 1982, Egypt regained the last part of Sinai following the peace agreement with Israel. Gradually, Sadat’s successor Mubarak succeeded in regaining the confidence of the Arab world. In 1989, Egypt resumed in the Arab League, after ten years of freezing.

Since Israel left its settlements in the Gaza area in 2005, a new agreement was signed between Egypt and Israel. Egypt was given the task of monitoring its border with southern Gaza.

Through peace with Israel, Egypt hoped for increased economic exchange with the neighboring country, and peace is a prerequisite for US support, but it has no widespread support among Egyptians. The criticism of the Islamic opposition is harsh and strong anti-Jewish sentiments have characterized Egyptian media. This and Israel’s policy against the Palestinians have cooled Egyptian-Israeli relations.

Relations with the United States have been very central in Egypt since the peace treaty was concluded with Israel. In 1988, Cairo signed a military cooperation agreement with the United States similar to that of Washington with Israel. US military aid amounts to approximately $ 1.3 billion annually; only Israel gets more. In the fall of 2019, the US Department of State stated that the United States’ total military aid to Egypt since 1980 was $ 40 billion and financial aid to $ 30 billion.

Egypt has tried to balance its dependence on the US with increased relations with the EU, which is its largest trading partner.

Relations with the West

Overall, the Western powers cautiously condemned the coup against Muhammad Mursi in 2013 (see Modern History) and have continued to express some criticism of the regime’s human rights violations. At the same time, the West maintains strong ties to Egypt. The US temporarily withheld some of the extensive military assistance but resumed payments in 2014. Germany was swiftly trading after the coup, Britain remains the largest investor after Saudi Arabia and France has sold both helicopter aircraft and fighter aircraft to Egypt since Mursi was divested.

Egypt also maintains good relations with Russia. Relations have improved again following an attack on a Russian passenger plane across Sinai in the fall of 2015, which claimed 224 people’s lives and for which IS took the blame (see Calendar).

Relations with neighboring countries

Some tension exists in the relationship with neighboring Sudan, and not least with Ethiopia, where the Nile has its main source flow. The reason is conflicting interests around water resources, especially as Ethiopia is building a giant dam on the Blue Nile. It has been reported on several occasions that the three countries have reached water sharing agreements to protect the countries downstream and give them priority to electricity, and compensate them for damages. But the suburbs do not want to appear and the turmoil remains great over the dam construction. Egypt points out that 100 million Egyptians depend on the Nile’s water for sustained survival. President Sisi has said that Egypt will build a new large water treatment and desalination plant to secure its water supply. In 2018, a clear approach to Sudan was reported: twelve cooperation agreements were concluded on, among other things, trade in agricultural products. The aim was also to set up resumed rail connections and interconnection of the countries’ electricity networks.

In the summer of 2017, Egypt, together with Saudi Arabia and several other countries in the region, severed all relations with Qatar. They accuse the small country of the Arabian Peninsula of supporting terrorists and of having too close ties to Iran.

Since the 1980s, the Egyptian military has been modernized and old Soviet-built equipment has been replaced with Western, mainly American. Egypt receives extensive military support from the United States (see above). The armed forces are counted as the tenth largest in the world, with over half a million men in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Air Force, National Guard, Coast Guard and Border Force.


Army: 310 000 men (2017)

The air Force: 30,000 men (2017)

The fleet: 18,500 men (2017)

Military expenditure’s share of GDP: 1.3 percent (2017)

Military spending’s share of the state budget: 4.6 percent (2017)