422. Special National Intelligence Estimate1
THE SITUATION AND PROSPECTS IN EGYPT
To assess the situation in Egypt and the domestic and foreign factors affecting Egyptian policy, and to estimate probable developments over the next 6 to 12 months.
- Shock waves from the UAR’s humiliating defeat are still spreading, but no drastic political changes have occurred. The top command of the armed forces has been ousted, some senior commanders are reportedly on trial for treason, and there is discontent among many younger officers at their elders’ incompetence. Nasser has, however, been confirmed in office and apparently still enjoys the support of his long time associates.
- The war has placed additional strains on an already troubled economy. Food supplies are assured until early in 1968, but an adequate supply thereafter will require some expenditure of scarce foreign [Page 792] exchange. The loss of foreign earnings will begin to have severe internal effects about the end of 1967. There is unemployment in the cities, and this will probably get worse. A stringent austerity program has been adopted entailing higher taxes, stricter rationing, and reduced availability of consumers goods; pressures for relaxation of these controls could lead to some inflation. Such circumstances are likely to cause some discontent in the cities, but are unlikely to erupt into unmanageable problems of public order.
- Most Egyptians are probably not ready to envisage the UAR without Nasser. Yet economic and political stresses, as well as the difficulties of making progress on a resolution of the Israeli problem, may erode Nasser’s popular appeal and perhaps encourage the growth of opposition, or even weaken the prospects of his remaining in office. All things considered, however, we believe the chances are better than even that he will remain the dominant influence in the regime for at least the period of this estimate.
- The UAR is more than ever dependent on the USSR for military and economic aid and for political support. This gives Moscow a substantial degree of influence, which is partially offset by Egyptian suspicion of foreign advice and a certain resentment of Soviet attitudes. There are increased numbers of Soviet military advisors, though we do not know how far their functions go beyond the technical level. In its political organization, the UAR may develop a sort of regimentation resembling Soviet and East European models. In part at Moscow’s urging, Cairo seems to be following a relatively moderate policy toward Israel.
- Nasser probably believes that the closure of the Canal acts as a lever on the big powers to force Israel to make concessions. Accordingly, the present confrontation along the Canal is likely to persist—perhaps beyond the period of this estimate—despite the economic loss to Egypt and pressures for resolution from both Communist and non-Communist countries.
- In essence, the Egyptians are attempting to regain a degree of flexibility in their foreign policy. They must, in the interest of security, demand and accept Soviet military resupply, but in so doing they will seek to avoid Soviet domination. Nasser is attempting to restore his position in the Arab world, while keeping open the option of making some concessions to Israel. In his dealings with the US, he will remain distrustful and to some degree inhibited by his dependence on the USSR; yet he will not foreclose some improvement in American-UAR relations. Because of these conflicting objectives and the narrowness of the available options, it will probably be some time before he feels able to undertake any very firm policy initiatives.
- The shock waves from Egypt’s defeat are still spreading, and the country’s prospects, both domestic and foreign, are clouded by a number of uncertainties. Many of these uncertainties are inherent in the situation itself; a number of difficult dilemmas have still to be resolved, and longstanding relationships within the regime have almost certainly been strained and unsettled by the traumatic experiences of this summer. Additional uncertainties arise from the fact that the policies of foreign powers—especially the USSR—will inevitably affect Egypt’s outlook, and these external factors are still far from clarified. Finally, some uncertainties arise from the paucity of our information concerning the state of affairs in the UAR.
- In the weeks immediately prior to the fighting, Nasser was riding high in the Middle East. The efforts of the US and other Western Powers to lift the blockade of Eilat had gotten nowhere. Other Arab states were rallying to the UAR’s side. Jordan had signed a defense pact; Kuwait had sent troops to Egypt; an Iraqi force was on the way to Jordan. There was mass enthusiasm within Egypt for the confrontation with Israel. Then, within four days, the Egyptian air force was destroyed, the Egyptian army shattered and routed, and the entire Sinai Peninsula in Israeli hands. Today, the Israelis sit on the east bank of the Suez Canal and have a voice in deciding its future.
- Despite the profound humiliation and shock of defeat, the war has apparently brought no drastic political changes within Egypt. Nasser has been confirmed in office and apparently continues to rely on the same group of senior officials, including two close collaborators of many years standing, Zakariya Muhi al-Din and Ali Sabri. No new blood has been introduced, nor has Nasser recalled any of the half dozen former members of the revolutionary command council who had been edged out of the inner circle in the past decade. Only one of Nasser’s inner circle of advisors, Field Marshal Abd al-Hakim Amir, formerly chief of the armed forces and the senior Vice President, has resigned.
- Beyond this, our information on the political situation in the UAR is very limited. We do not know whether senior officials have a controlling influence on Nasser’s major decisions or circumscribe his authority. Nor do we know in any detail the thrust of their advice. In a general way, Sabri is more doctrinaire and more disposed to work with the USSR, while Muhi al-Din is more comfortable dealing with Westerners and Western concepts. Nonetheless, both of them support Nasser’s Arab socialism at home and his foreign policies of anti-imperialism [Page 794] and Arab nationalism, though they differ in their opinion as to how far and how fast socialization should go, and the extent to which compromise with socialist doctrine and “anti-imperialism” is required by economic and political realities. Both have over the years displayed consistent loyalty to Nasser and neither has shown signs of aspiring to displace him. In the postwar government, Muhi al-Din and others like him have a more prominent role.
- In the military establishment, the changes have been more far-reaching. Not only has Abd al-Hakim Amir departed, but the War Minister and most of the top command of the armed forces have been ousted. The air force chiefs and a number of other high-ranking officers are reported to be on trial for treason, and several hundred officers further down in the military establishment may have been retired. There is severe criticism of those officers with upper and middle class backgrounds for spending more time feathering their own nests than attending to their military duties. Many of the officers who came into the military establishment during the 15 years of the Nasser regime are reported to be unhappy with the wartime performance of their elders. The morale of the armed forces has been impaired, and discipline may be more difficult to maintain.
[Omitted here are Sections II–IV on the economic situation, the domestic outlook, and foreign policy.]
- Source: Central Intelligence Agency Files, Job 79–R01012A, ODDI Registry of NIE and SNIE Files. Secret; Controlled Dissem. Submitted by the Director of Central Intelligence and concurred in by the U.S. Intelligence Board on August 17. The Central Intelligence Agency and the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State and Defense and National Security Agency participated in its preparation. The CIA, State, Defense, and NSA representatives on the USIB concurred; the AEC and FBI representatives abstained, because the subject was outside their jurisdiction. The title on the first page is “The Situation and Prospects in the UAR”; the title used is from the cover sheet.↩