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Cairo's Military Is The Best Friend The U.S. Has Got

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

06 July, 2013

Amid violent demonstrations orchestrated by Tamaroud group, Egypt’s pro-US army Wednesday deposed and arrested the elected President Mohammad Morsi. Adly Mansour, the head of the Supreme Constititonal Court, with which Morsi had repeated confrontations, was sworn in as interim president.

Not surprisingly, President Obama expressed concern about Morsi's ouster, but he avoided describing it as a coup, which would trigger automatic cuts in U.S. aid to a longtime ally. Obama did not call for Morsi to be returned to power. He did not openly condemn the Egyptian military. President Obama said: “…..we are deeply concerned by the decision of the Egyptian Armed Forces to remove President Morsi and suspend the Egyptian constitution. I now call on the Egyptian military to move quickly and responsibly full authority back to a democratically elected civilian government as soon as possible through an inclusive and transparent process…..”

However, Martin Indyk, the Director of the Foreign Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, was blunt. Writing in Foreign Policy magazine under the title "It's Time to Work With Egypt's Generals," he advocates that " in a turbulent time, Cairo's military is the best friend the U.S. has got."

The Egyptian military is now the key actor in Cairo -- the one actor that the United States can still influence, he wrote adding: The U.S. military has strong ties, developed over decades of close cooperation, with its Egyptian counterparts. The Egyptian officers are heavily dependent on U.S. military assistance for their all-American equipped forces.

Indyk, best known as the framer of the U.S. policy of dual containment aimed at containing Iraq and Iran during the 1993-97 Iraq-Iran war, says the United States has vital interests (in Egypt) that need to be protected and promoted. "Egypt is the largest, militarily most powerful, culturally most influential, and geo-strategically most important country in the Arab world. Its peace treaty with Israel is the cornerstone of America's five-decade long effort to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict and build a pro-Western coalition of moderate partners in a region in turmoil."

The Egyptian armed forces have been buttressed since 1979 by U.S. military aid, receiving about $1.3 billion annually since 1987. The money has gone to buy fighter jets, tanks, armored personnel carriers, helicopters and more. The aid, which will keep flowing as long as they maintain a peace treaty with Israel, has helped make the military a formidable force.

Egypt has the largest standing military in the Arab world, estimated at 450,000 troops. Most are conscripts and low-ranking officers who have little opportunity for advancement.

The armed forces stepped into the role of state rulers after they nudged Mubarak from power in 2011. They directly ruled over Egypt until Morsi was elected president, a period marked by authoritarianism and human rights abuses.

For six decades before the deposition of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, military men ruled Egypt. For most of his nearly three decades in power, Mubarak, a former air force commander, largely let the military operate as it liked. But after 18 days of a mass uprising in 2011 against his rule Mubarak’s long-serving defense minister, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who had been known as “Mubarak’s poodle,” ousted and jailed him.

Although many in the military distrusted President Mohammad Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood background — the Brotherhood had been outlawed before the revolution — they welcomed his inauguration in June 2012 as an exit from the accountability of governing. President Morsi granted two key demands: squashing the possibility of prosecutions of military officials for Mubarak-era crimes and passing a Constitution that excused the military budget from parliamentary oversight.

The Freedom and Justice Party, established by the Muslim Brotherhood several months ago, was officially recognized on June 7, 2012 by the interim military government that has ruled Egypt since Hosni Mubarak was removed from power. The FJP won the largest number of seats (235) under Egypt's complex electoral system. Egyptians voted in three phases over a six-week period (Dec. 2011 to January 2012) to elect the 498 members of the People's Assembly. Morsi won office with 51 percent of the presidential vote in June 2012.

On June 30, 2012, Morsi took his formal oath of office before the Supreme Constitutional Court and within weeks he tried to consolidate his grip over the powerful military. On August 12, he ordered the retirement of the top Mubarak-era leadership of the military. He announced the retirement of Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, head of the armed forces, and the chief of staff, Sami Anan. Tantawi's retirement was the latest blow in a tussle between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military over control of post-transitional Egypt.

President Morsi also cancelled the complementary constitutional declaration issued by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, announced days before he was declared the victor in June's elections. The addendum had curbed presidential power and kept much of it in the hands of the military council.

Field Marshal Tantawi was replaced by the head of military intelligence, General Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi who on Wednesday seized power and announced Morsi's deposition. Interestingly, General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, did not even utter Mr. Morsi’s name as he announced that the president had been deposed and the Constitution suspended. In a speech on TV General el-Sisi announced that the constitution has been suspended and the Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court will have presidential powers.

On November 22, 2012, Morsi issued a decree that effectively placed his decisions above and beyond any court until a new Constitution and parliament governing the nation were put in place. His reason for doing so was to protect the assembly drafting a new post-Mubarak Constitution from influence from a judiciary with ties to the old regime. But the decree was met with massive protests from the opposition and members of the judiciary. Morsi was forced to back down on some of his power grab.

The Constitution was put to a referendum in December 2012. It was passed easily with 63.83% votes.

All of these crucial decisions by Morsi came as the Egyptian economy continued to implode. Instability has driven away investors and tourists, and unemployment, inflation and debt have increased. A fuel shortage has helped send food prices soaring. For months, the government had been negotiating a $4.8 billion loan on fairly easy terms from the International Monetary Fund. In April, Egypt pressed to increase the loan size, but discussions were pending and won't start again until October.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America (www.journalofamerica.net)





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