The anti-Western policies recently adopted by Egypt’s military government may be spawning a surprising anti-Egyptian backlash in Washington. A movement inside and outside of Congress is calling for re-examination of the $1.3 billion in military assistance the U.S. gives each year to the Egyptian generals.
A call for an end to military aid reverberated throughout Washington last February, when President Hosni Mubarak refused to step down during the height of the “Arab Spring.”
Now, some see Egypt falling into an Arab Winter. Two observers recently noted that all is not well in land of the Nile, writing: “Post-Mubarak Egypt has morphed into a dictatorless tyranny.” Others believe the continuing flow of money is “simply rewarding bad behavior,” as Egypt is now expressing warmth toward Iran, Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood — while spurning Washington.
Since 1979, when former President Jimmy Carter helped to broker a peace agreement between Egypt and Israel, the United States has endowed the Egyptian military elite with a record $27 billion in military assistance — the second largest sum in the world. This largess has been said to have created an “economy within an economy.” And as a result, the Egyptian military is rife with corruption.
Egypt’s military/industrial complex is a topic rarely discussed in the West. Via U.S. aid, Egypt today operates a vast array of state-owned enterprises under the control of a military-run organization called the Armament Authority. This entity has enriched an entire generation of middle- to upper-level Egyptian officers.
The Armament Authority supervises the Arab Organization for Industrialization (AOI), an Egyptian-based Arab military organization established in 1975. The AOI supervises nine military factory complexes, which produce civilian goods as well as military products. They independently run a wide array of for-profit companies ranging from manufacturing cars and jeeps and running auto dealerships to managing hospitals.
The Egyptian web of armament factories is the largest military manufacturing complex in the Middle East, its military industrial base dwarfing all other Middle East countries including Saudi Arabia.
Egypt appears now to be run by a civilian prime minister, Essam Abdel-Aziz Sharaf, who once served as Mubarak’s transportation minister. On March 4 — the day he assumed power — Sharaf appeared on stage with Mohamed Beltagy, a Muslim Brotherhood leader. Sharaf is well-known to hold a strong stance against normalization of relations with Israel.
The balance of power, however, is held by a group of generals who comprise the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. The generals are considered the real power behind the government. The group is secretive and opaque: last month Washington Post associate editor Lally Weymouth interviewed two of the council members — they only agreed to the interview on the grounds that they were not identified.
Lt. General Sami Hafez Enan, the Soviet-trained army chief of staff, is considered the general with the most influence in running Egypt’s affairs. Enan is also reported to be the Muslim Brotherhood’s “favorite general.”
Last month in Bali, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi met with his Egyptian counterpart, Nabil al-Arabi. Both said diplomatic and trade relations should improve now that Mubarak is gone. Tehran had severed ties with Cairo after Egypt signed its peace treaty with Israel.