This paper analyzes the nonlinear relationship between corporate ownership structure and income manipulation through accrual-based earnings management in the Egyptian context. To do so, we develop a sample of 78 listed non-financial firms, covering the period 2008–2017. Using the dynamic panel threshold analysis approach (Seo and Shin in J Econom 195: 169–186, 2016), we found a nonlinear relationship between ownership structure and earnings manipulations. This proves the presence of an optimal ownership structure threshold below which the ownership structure generates an entrenchment effect on earnings management. However, above this threshold, the ownership structure has an alignment effect. Certainly, these results confirm the theoretical predictions in relation to managerial ownership, governmental ownership, and earnings management (agency, political and development theories, respectively). These results yield important policy implications. It is recommended to set an optimal threshold of ownership structure to control the firm`s managers. This is likely to avoid earnings management.