comments_image Comments

The Egyptian Military That's Killing Civilians Right Now Is American-Trained, American-Equipped

America's eagerness to maintain a close relationship with the military and remain relevant in the country has prevented it from taking a clear stand.

As the situation escalates into a full-fledged confrontation between the Egyptian military and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, Washington is once again playing catch-up with its own clients.

Happy to see the back of the Islamists, the US administration refrained from referring to the military overthrow of President Morsi as a coup even when influential members of Congress recognised it as such.

The Obama administration wanted the coup to work; it did not want blood on its hands. But if they hoped to appease and influence the military, they were wrong.

The generals adamant on containing, if not breaking the Brotherhood, saw the political challenges facing Egypt as security problems that require the use of force.

They imposed emergency laws that allows more control, but in reality it led to more escalation.

As they prepared to publicly crackdown on Morsi's supporters through force, Washington remained largely silent.

US calls for restraint, dialogue, and a return to the ballot box seemed more rhetorical than practical or effective.

America's eagerness to maintain a close relationship with the military and remain relevant in the country has prevented it from taking a clear stand. 

Investing in the Egyptian military

Egypt is a "major non-NATO ally" with the military to military liaisons at its core. Egypt's military relationship with the West took off after the 1979 Peace Treaty between Israel and Egypt, rendering Egypt the  second-largest recipient of its bilateral assistance after Israel.

This required, among others, a major military and financial investment that totalled  $66bn since the peace treaty. The American wooing of the Egyptian generals has cost the US  $1.3bn a year since 1987.

Heavy-duty gifts like  1,000 tanks and 221 fighter jets worth billions signified the US's commitment to Egypt.

In 2011 - the year of the revolution - Egypt received  almost a quarter of all of America's Foreign Military Financing funds.

The American-Egyptian courtship has resulted in, among many things, an Americanised Egyptian defence force.

Over 500 Egyptian officers benefit from the American military education system every year. These include top Egyptian officers, including the country's defense chief,  Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who went to the US Army War College in Pennsylvania, as well as the commander of the Air Force,  Reda Mahmoud

The education stints of the Egyptian officers in US military colleges, the training programs, and the joint military exercises have led to enduring ties between the establishments of both countries.

Two positions add to one

The question then is, with the Egyptian military having been an acutely embarrassing partner of late - what was Washington supposed to do? 

Should it have presented it with an ultimatum? Cut aid, after years of lavishing the military with significant funds?

The conventional wisdom among the Middle East policy establishment, especially those allied with Israel is that Washington needs to maintain a close relationship with the military at all times.

Some claim that the Egyptian military is an indispensable and reliable ally in a sea of turmoil, and supporting it serves US national security interests. For them, the emerging civilian forces - popular as they may be- whether Islamists or secular - are neither reliable nor friendly.

Others argue that refraining from criticising the generals allows Washington to exercise some degree of influence over their decision-making.

Washington's newly appointed Middle East "peace envoy", Martin Indyk,  argues that the US should be communicating with the military of the Arab world's "largest, militarily most-powerful, culturally most-influential, and geostrategically most-important country" through private channels, and not work against it.

Reversing roles

Some within the minority of the Washington establishment advocate severing relations with the Egyptian military if it doesn't refrain from violence. They see any perceived complicity between the US and the authoritarian Egyptian military to be harmful for US interests in the long-term, especially since it allows for a backlash among Islamists in the region.

See more stories tagged with: