If the protests that began in Egypt on January 25, 2011, resulted in a coup-volution, then what has developed since can only be called a populocracy. The military exploited a genuine popular movement in 2011 to unseat President Hosni Mubarak, who had threatened the military’s primordial place in the state by grooming his son and his coalition of civilian business elites for succession. Once the coup-volution removed this threat, and once Egypt’s first freely elected president was removed from power in 2013, the administration of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi proceeded to lengthen and deepen the military’s hold on power with the veneer of a popular mandate.
The decade between 2011 and 2021 has seen a consolidation of Egypt’s populocracy, where a strongman rules with the military’s backing and the people have no choice but to believe that he is their man. Compared to other countries, Egyptians are worse off in 2021 than they were in 2011, with fewer freedoms, less economic opportunity, and worse human development. Nonetheless, Egyptians who remember the tumult of the Arab Spring are loath to challenge Sisi’s rule, suggesting that a change in Egypt’s populocracy is unlikely any time soon. It may even be a generation before Egyptians forget 2011 and, once again fed up with their dwindling lot, throw off the ruler of the day in favor of whatever or whoever comes next.
The pathway to Egypt’s dismal state over the last ten years indicates how civil-military relations have shaped the country. Historically, the three pillars of the Egyptian state were the military, the police, and the presidency, but in the 2011 coup-volution the military took advantage of popular ire with the police and the presidency to reshape the system in its favor. Former President Mohammed Morsi tried and failed to reassert the presidency as a counterbalance to the military’s influence. Once Morsi was removed, the pathway was clear for the military to consolidate autocracy in the name of populism, resulting in a populocracy that is unlikely to fall for at least another generation.
Unyielding Response to Dissent
Three changes in civil-military relations have corresponded to the consolidation of Egypt’s populocracy. The first is that the military in general, and the Sisi administration in particular, adopted an unyielding stance on dissent. They learned from the failures of the Mubarak administration in the years leading up to January 25, 2011. Under pressure from Western donors and Egyptian businessmen, Mubarak had begun to open the aperture of dissent, tolerating occasional protests and loyal opposition parties. This coincided with a steadily diminishing standard of living. When insurgent protests organized offline grew into large protests organized on social media, they caught police by surprise, and then emboldened protesters marched on Tahrir and lit the tinderbox of revolution.
The lesson to military leaders after 2011 was clear: take an unyielding stance against popular dissent or suffer the same fate as Mubarak. What few protests have arisen have been summarily repressed, and the Sisi administration has not shied away from using military force to do so. Even the fig leaf of loyal opposition parties has been removed. The treatment of prisoners of conscience is woeful, and even Western researchers must fear for their safety while in the custody of the state. This unyielding approach to dissent is a critical piece of Egypt’s populocracy.
Cultivating Regional Allies
The second change in civil-military relations is that the Sisi administration has cultivated an alliance with like-minded states such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, resulting in budgetary, investment, and military support that was crucial in the early days of Sisi’s rule. As of 2021, this external support has allowed Sisi to deflect domestic calls for change and underwrite one of the largest military buildups in Egypt’s history. This external support has extended to border security, basic infrastructure, and military acquisition, and even partners from outside the region have lent their support to Egypt’s security.
There is a populist element to Egypt’s regional alliances, as well. When al-Sisi and other military leaders threw their support behind the effort to remove the Muslim Brotherhood’s Morsi as president in 2013, they reinforced the narrative of Egypt as a secular, anti-Islamist nation.The extent of anti-Morsi protests allowed Sisi to position himself as a defender of the national will while his administration marginalized the Muslim Brotherhood and even criminalized the actions of their leaders. Billions of dollars of fiscal and monetary support from the UAE and Saudi Arabia reinforced this anti-Islamist stance and helped Sisi consolidate Egypt’s populocracy at a critical moment.
Distorting the Economy
A third change in Egyptian civil-military relations that has reinforced populocracy is the Egyptian military’s increasing influence over the economy. Building on a pattern that began in the 1970s under former President Anwar Sadat, military companies and the contractors that serve them have garnered an ever-expanding role in the civilian economy. The military does not control the economy, but the military does distort its transparency and development to a worrying degree. This has allowed the Sisi administration to solidify the support of military officers who benefit from this pattern of economic distortion, and it has given the military pride of place over the commanding heights.
The impact on civil-military relations is hard to overstate. Where civilian businessmen held sway under Mubarak, a new ruling class of military officers has arisen under Sisi. The military’s prominence reinforces its narrative of service to the nation, even though it squeezes out opportunities for genuine economic development and makes it harder for the military to extricate itself from business and power in the future. This influence over the commanding heights is a tool to reward loyalty and punish dissent, with millions of dollars in construction, security, mining, tourism, and other contracts at stake. Much of this capital has been squandered, but this has not stopped the Sisi administration from claiming that it serves all Egyptians.
Simplified Civil-Military Relations
The consolidation of Egypt’s populocracy has had at least one unintended effect: civil-military relations are much simpler in 2021 than they were in 2011. The Egyptian military has no need to worry about an assertive interior ministry or an independent president to challenge its hold on power, but the list of bogeymen on which to blame Egypt’s challenges grows thin. For now, a distortive influence on the economy, the support of regional allies, and an unyielding approach to dissent are sufficient to maintain the military’s hold on power, because Egyptians remember the tumult of the Arab Spring and have little stomach to revisit that uncertain time. In the event that a new generation rises that does not remember this uncertainty, but is intimately familiar with repression and lack of opportunity, then something new—or at least different—will replace Egypt’s populocracy.
 A “populocracy” is an authoritarian form of government with populist aspirations and power centralized in one person (in other words, populist + autocracy). This does not mean that the government in question is popular, only that it aspires to be populist in its appeal. The term populocracy is inspired by Ray Hinnebusch’s “populist authoritarianism,” a term used to explain the persistence of many of the autocratic and oligarchic regimes that arose in the Middle East in the early post-independence period. See Raymond Hinnebusch, “Authoritarian Persistence, Democratization Theory and the Middle East: An Overview and Critique,” Democratization, vol. 13, no. 3 (2006), 373-395.
 Oliver Housden, “Egypt: Coup d’Etat or a Revolution Protected?” RUSI Journal, vol. 158, issue 5 (October 2013): 72-78; Robert Springborg, “The Rewards of Failure: Persisting Military Rule in Egypt,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, vol. 44, no. 4 (2017), 478-496.
 Steven A. Cook, “The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square” (Oxford University Press, 2011),; Bessma Momani, “The Chronic Underperformance of Egypt’s Military Economy,” Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center (October 26, 2020).
 Tawazun, “Egypt: Country Profile,” (accessed January 13, 2021).
 Nathan J. Brown, “Tracking the ‘Arab Spring’: Egypt’s Failed Transition.” Journal of Democracy, vol. 24, no. 4 (2013): 45-58; Mohammad Tabaar, “Assessing (In)security after the Arab Spring: The Case of Egypt.” PS: Political Science & Politics, vol. 46, no. 4 (2013), 727-735.
 Nabil Fahmy, Egypt’s Diplomacy in War, Peace and Transition (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020); Kevin Koehler, “Authoritarian Elections in Egypt: Formal Institutions and Informal Mechanisms of Rule,” Democratization, vol. 15, no. 5 (2008), 974-990.
 Jon Jensen, “Behind Egypt’s Revolution: Youth and the Internet,” The World (February 13, 2011).
 Human Rights Watch, “Egypt: Consolidating Repression under al-Sisi” (January 12, 2017); Amnesty International, “Egypt: Crushing Humanity: The Abuse of Solitary Confinement in Egypt’s Prisons” (May 7, 2018).
 Yezid Sayigh, “Keeping the Bodies Buried,” Diwan (December 8, 2020).
 Middle East Monitor, “UAE Allocates $4bn Grant to Egypt,” (April 23, 2016).
 Robert Springborg, “Directing the Flow of Security Assistance to Arab States,” Tawazun (January 27, 2021); Nathan W. Toronto, “How Militaries Learn: Human Capital, Military Education, and Battlefield Effectiveness” (Lexington Books, 2018).
 Doaa’ el-Nakhala, “Egypt's Diversionary Border Security,” Tawazun (December 9, 2020); Eleonora Ardemagni, Nathan W. Toronto, and Giuseppe Dentice, eds., “Egypt’s Military Under Al-Sisi: Unravelling Factional Politics,” Instituto per gli Studi di Politica Internazionale (ISPI) (December 6, 2020).
 Richard Engel, And Then All Hell Broke Loose: Two Decades in the Middle East (Simon and Schuster, 2017).
 John Waterbury, “The Egypt of Nasser and Sadat: The Political Economy of Two Regimes” (Princeton University Press, 2014); Zeynab Abul-Magd, “Militarizing the Nation: The Army, Business, and Revolution in Egypt” (Columbia University Press, 2017).
 Yezid Sayigh, “Owners of the Republic: An Anatomy of Egypt’s Military Economy” (Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center, 2019).
 Rory Fife, “State Support Hinder’s Egypt’s Private Sector,” MENA Advisors (January 7, 2021).
 Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw, “The Commanding Heights: The Battle for the World Economy” (Simon and Schuster, 2002).
 Shana Marshall, “Egypt’s Emerging Ruling Class,” Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center (October 26, 2020).
 George T. Abed, “The Egyptian Economy: In the Clutches of the Deep State,” Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center (October 26, 2020);
Ishac Diwan, “Armed Forces in Power and in Business,” Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center (October 26, 2020).
 Yezid Sayigh, “Egypt’s Military as the Spearhead of State Capitalism,” Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center (October 26, 2020). https://carnegie-mec.org/2020/10/26/egypt-s-military-as-spearhead-of-state-capitalism-pub-83010
 Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center, “Egypt’s Dead Capital” (August 17, 2020).