Sunday, 20 February 2011

More Wikileaks on the Egyptian Military

I spent a few hours today sifting through the latest US diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks, specifically the ones relevant to the Egyptian military and security establishment. The impression the cables give is of a complacent and rather greedy military leadership which believes the $1.3 billion it received from the United States every year is its birthright for maintaining peace with Israel and should in fact be increased. The United States, on the other hand, has been pressing the Egyptian military, apparently with little effect, to take part in 'regional security initiatives' such as helping the Iraqi military, actions against Somali pirates, a greater contribution to peace-keeping in Sudan and vague 'counter-terrorism' activities.

For example:
Major General Fouad Arafa interjected during the discussion to note that the spirit of the Camp David accord was that there would be a 2:3 balance between Egypt and Israel's security assistance. Egypt's role was to keep a certain balance of power in the region that would not allow other parties to go to war. Egypt had fulfilled this role faithfully for the last 30 years. al-Assar added that the current ratio of 2:5 was a violation of the Camp David ratio. 

And again:
Al-Assar encouraged Dr. Kahl to convince the U.S. Congress that Egypt was worth more than $1.3 billion a year. Dr. Kahl mentioned that Egypt receives the second largest amount of assistance in the world, and that during these difficult financial times in the United States, it was unlikely that annual flow of FMF would increase.

And on Defence Minister Tantawi:
In office since 1991, he consistently resists change to the level and direction of FMF funding and is therefore one of our chief impediments to transforming our security relationship. Nevertheless, he retains President Mubarak's support. You should encourage Tantawi to place greater emphasis on countering asymmetric threats rather than focusing almost exclusively on conventional force.

Another interesting detail that emerges is Tantawi's view on the relationship between the military and the civilian government:
Tantawi added that any country where the military became engaged in "internal affairs" was "doomed to have lots of problems." He stressed that countries must clearly stipulate the military's duties in their constitution and militaries should not deviate from those defined responsibilities.

The armed forces chief of staff, Sami Anan, does not appear to be fully on board when it comes to smuggling along the Gaza border:
Enan (Anan) stressed the importance of opening Gaza's borders for regular traffic, referring to the crossing points as "lungs" that must be allowed to breathe. Enan expressed doubt that Israeli air strikes could destroy the tunnels "100 percent" given the enormous financial incentive for individuals on all sides - Gaza, Egypt and Israel - to smuggle.
And here:
Ultimately, Enan said that smuggling would continue as long as Gaza was "besieged" and called on Israel to lift the blockade and open border crossings to provide the Gazans with a "normal life."
It's a little tangential but I can't resist slipping in what Mabahith Amn al-Dawla told the deputy head of the FBI about the Muslim Brotherhood. To his credit, the US ambassador, who wrote the cable, seemed a little dubious:
(State Security Investigative Service (SSIS) head Hassan) Abdul Rahman spoke at length about the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB), terming the group "terrorists, not political oppositionists." During a lengthy heartfelt monologue, Abdul Rahman asserted that, "you just do not understand the MB like we do. It is an extremist group, from which all Islamic extremists have sprung, and even now, despite having changed tactics and not engaging in actual violent operations, it is still providing financial support to Hamas." Abdul Rahman opined that the MB's "weight in the Egyptian street" is actually negligible, noting that, "the strength of the MB is much less than implied by their success in the 2005 parliamentary elections." He did not provide any further information to bolster this assertion.
For an overview of the embassy's assessment of the role of the military in Egypt, you can read this whole cable on the subject, based on local analysts. It doesn't exactly corroborate the narrative of the all powerful military.


  1. Thanks again for a great posting!
    Perhaps also of interest - though now a bit dated but with lots of background info which might put the present developments and leaked statements by the top brass in a historical context:
    Frisch, Hillel. 2001. "Guns and Butter in the Egyptian Army." MERIA 5(2).

    and... any info concerning the way the army was treated in the media up to now would be appreciated. as far as I perceived it, it used to be a taboo even when criticizing Ezz and his ilks became fashionable.

  2. Yes, Ted, criticism of the military remains as taboo as ever. One of the strongest hints of dissatisfaction I have seen yet is in ElBaradei's piece in the Financial Times (, where he says: "So far the army has been leading the “transition” in an opaque and exclusive manner. It has not courted any faction of Egyptian society, other than to meet selectively with a few young people whose names have gained notice. It has not outlined a plan or timeline for how the transition will lead to a democratic state. This has me – like many of my young colleagues – worried. Shaking hands with a couple of young men and billing the result as a youth revolution is far from sufficient."
    Even that is rather tame.