In 2015 Egypt became the 4th largest arms importer in the world. This despite the fact that Egypt has little oil, a large population and an economy crippled by corruption and Islamic terrorist attacks on the tourism industry. How does Egypt manage to do this? It gets billions from foreign nations, mainly oil rich Arab oil states who note that Egypt has the largest population of any Arab state and one of the best military reputations in the Arab world. That is not saying much, but the Middle East is in the midst of an arms race because of growing hostility between Arabs and Iran. Egypt also gets $1.3 billion a year in military aid from the United States, which is contingent on maintaining peaceful relations with Israel. That is less of a problem now because Israel has become an unofficial ally of the Arabs in their effort to prevent an Iranian invasion. Egypt other reasons for buying lots of weapons. Egypt has an Islamic terrorist problem because the 2011 Arab Spring uprising went wrong with another general ending up (in 2013) the replacement for the long-time former general Mubarak who was ousted in 2011. The 2014 coup replaced an elected president who was backed by Islamic conservatives and radicals. That turned into government proposals to enforce Islamic law and lifestyle rules. That plus preparing for war with Israel. Most Egyptians decided those policies were not what they voted for and there was broad popular support of this coup. But that also brought back a lot of the corrupt officials that had served Mubarak. It was seen as prudent to buy new weapons and thus rent some new allies (the nations that sell this stuff).
For most of the last decade the Arab Persian Gulf states have altogether had annual military purchases of over $60 billion a year and most of it has gone to the six oil-rich members of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council). Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait are the big buyers and the main reason for that is fear of Iran. Now Egypt has become a major weapons importers mainly because of GCC fear of Iran and growing hostility between Egypt and Iran.
Until 2016, when international arms embargoes on Iran were lifted, Iranian military procurement was less than 10 percent of what their Arab neighbors were spending. Now it is more like 20 percent and that is going to get worse for the Arabs. That’s because the Iranians have a long tradition of doing much with little when it comes to military equipment. In addition, the Arabs have a much less impressive combat record, especially in the last century. So the oil-rich Arabs are trying to equip their troops with a lot of the best stuff available and hope for the best.
The U.S. continues to be the leading arms exporter followed by Russia, France, Britain, China, Germany, and Italy. The sharp growth in arms exports is largely because in the past decade global defense spending has increased nearly 50 percent to over $1.4 trillion. That's about 2.5 percent of global GDP. After the Cold War ended in 1991, defense spending declined for a few years to under a trillion dollars a year. But by the end of the 1990s it was on the rise again. The region with the greatest growth has been the Middle East, where spending has increased 62 percent in the last decade. The region with the lowest growth (6 percent) was Western Europe. The 2008 recession had global defense spending stalled for a few years but then the spending growth has resumed in many parts of the world.