by John Glaser
In the midst of continuing anti-government protests, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has rejected the Egyptian Army’s 48-hour ultimatum (by now passed) to either call for early elections or step down. On Monday, I noted the acknowledgement of the Morsi regime that the military won’t pursue this effective coup without approval from their American overlords. Here’s Foreign Policy‘s John Reed with more on why that’s true:
Oddly enough, this might be good news for the Pentagon, which largely built the modern Egyptian armed forces. In fact, the Egyptian Army — as the entire military is colloquially known there — may be one of the U.S. government’s best friends in the entire Arab world. American presidents have been encouraging stability in the region for more than 30 years by making the Egyptian military the muscle behind a regional superpower — one built and trained by Washington.
In addition to buying Egypt weapons like 1,200 M1 Abrams tanks and hundreds of F-16 fighter jets, the United States spends millions of dollars annually to train Egyptian troops in war games in the Middle East. Egypt’s current defense chief, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, is an alum of the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania while the head of Egypt’s air force, Reda Mahmoud Hafez Mohamed, did a tour in the United States as a liaison officer, and the recently retired head of the Egyptian navy, Mohab Mamish, did a bunch of tours in the United States . Their cases are hardly unique; more than 500 Egyptian military officers train at American military graduate schools every year. There’s even a special guesthouse on T Street in northwest Washington, D.C., where visiting Egyptian military officials stay when in the American capital.
All this gives the United States quite a bit of leverage when it comes to the Egyptian military, one of the most powerful forces in Egyptian society. (Some estimate that up to 40 percent of the Egyptian economy is controlled by the military.)
Keep in mind that, as Egyptian blogger and activist Mohamed El Dahshan wrote this week, “this is the same army that, just a few months ago, was responsible for the Maspero massacre, that unleashed angry mobs against the peaceful protesters who objected to its rule, that conducted virginity tests on Egyptian women, and that subjected 12,000 civilians to military trials.” Furthermore, if estimates that “up to 40 percent of the Egyptian economy is controlled by the military” are correct, then the military itself is responsible for much of the discontent of the Egyptians in Tahrir Square right now, which is focused almost entirely on economic despair.
Egyptians are largely viewing the military as a temporary bulwark against the loathed Morsi government, so they welcome the Army’s ultimatum, whether it worked or not. The key lesson here, though, is that Egypt is tightly within the grip of the U.S. Empire and while political leaders may change, the people are unlikely to be satisfied with their government so long as it’s Washington – and not them – who control it.