I have been off the blogosphere this month because of foreign travel and poor internet connectivity. Ironically, two of the countries I visited were Egypt and Israel. The current crisis broke out a couple of days after I returned home. As I write this blog a ceasefire announced last week by Egyptian Foreign Minister Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appears to be holding. Whether it will continue remains undetermined.
As I watched the crisis unfold I was primarily looking at how would Egypt respond? I don’t think most Americans are aware of how close the military ties are (or should I say were) between the U.S. and Egypt. Not counting the money spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, only Israel receives more money from the U.S. According to a Congressional Research Service Report written in September
“The United States has provided significant military and economic assistance to Egypt since the late 1970s. U.S.policy makers have routinely justified aid to Egypt as an investment in regional stability, built primarily on long-running military cooperation and on sustaining the March 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. Successive U.S. administrations have viewed Egypt’s government as generally influencing developments in the Middle East in line with U.S. interests. U.S.policy makers are now grappling with complex questions about the future of U.S.-Egypt relations, and these debates and events in Egypt are shaping consideration of appropriations and authorization legislation in the 112 th Congress…For FY2013, President Obama is requesting $1.55 billion in total bilateral aid to Egypt($1.3 billion in military aid and $250 million in economic aid). The aid levels requested are unchanged from FY2012 appropriations.”
Since Egypt’s new President Mohamed Morsi is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas is an offshoot of that organization; I wondered what if any role Egypt would play in the crisis. Additionally it became pretty clear during my recent brief time in the region the new government was still having massive growing pains.
Because I’m still recovering from back surgery, I chose to travel by sea instead of my favored mode of bicycling around countries. The cruise ship offered multiple shore excursions. An Egyptian tour I signed up for was cancelled because of protests in Tahrir Square by thousands demanding that Egypt’s new constitution be based on rulings of Islamic law. As reported in Al Jazeera:
“The rally was called for by a number of minority Salafi groups, but neither the Muslim Brotherhood nor the main Salafist Al-Nour party backed the protest.
The writing of the constitution has been fraught with controversy since last year’s political uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak and ushered in the rise of formerly repressed Islamists to power.
But Islamists themselves are not in agreement over the interpretation of Islamic law and its place in the document.
Demonstrators in Tahrir Square demanded …that the panel tasked with writing the constitution override liberal and secular objections and include language that could see religious scholars influencing legislation.
The panel is led by the Muslim Brotherhood, the powerful group from which the country’s new President Mohammed Morsi hails.
‘Sharia [Islamic] is our constitution’ and ‘The people demand the application of God’s law,’ protesters chanted.”
Additionally, as I write this, thousands have rioted in several Egyptian cities and occupied Tahrir Square in response to President Morsi’s declaration last week that his Presidential decrees are above judiciary oversight. According to a report in Al Jazeera:
“Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi is set to meet senior judges on Monday to try to ease a crisis over his new powers which has set off protests reminiscent of the revolution last year that brought him to power.
Activists on Sunday were camped in Cairo’s Tahrir Square for a third day; blocking traffic with makeshift barricades to protest against what they said was a power-grab by Morsi. Nearby, riot police and protesters clashed intermittently.
One Muslim Brotherhood member was killed and 60 people were injured late on Sunday in an attack on the main office of the movement in the Nile Delta town of Damanhour, the website of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party said.
More than 500 people have been injured in clashes between police and protesters worried Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood is trying to consolidate power.
The country’s highest judicial authority hinted at compromise to avert a further escalation, though Morsi’s opponents want nothing less than the complete cancellation of a decree they see as a danger to democracy.”
If this situation isn’t resolved, potentially the U.S. could lose a powerful ally in maintaining the cease fire and hopefully eventually finding a solution to the long standing problem between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Some might say was Egypt really helpful to U.S. policy in the region or were we just throwing money away all those years. I’ll end this blog with a story from my past. I’ve written many times about “The Forgotten War,” U.S. military operations enforcing U.N. sanctions against Iraq during the 1990’s. At times that war got pretty hot.
In the mid 1990s, I spent several months in Egypt as the Acting Naval Attache for the U.S. The Iraq situation went hot and the U.S. wanted to move an additional aircraft carrier into the Persian Gulf. The closest available ship was the USS Theodore Roosevelt which was operating in the Mediterranean Sea. In order to get to the Persian Gulf it would have to transit through the Suez Canal. There was a problem. First it was a nuclear powered ship, many nations to include Egypt are very cautious when it comes to ships with nuclear power. Much to the chagrin of sailors, many places won’t even let a nuclear powered ship pull into port.
The rule at the time in Egypt was in order to arrange for a nuclear powered aircraft carrier to transit the Suez it required 30 days notice and the personal approval of the Egyptian President Mubarak. It was part of my job as Acting Naval Attache to make that happen. The Egyptians were not being uncooperative. They wanted the advance notice in order to be able to provide increased security for the transit. I explained the situation to my counterparts and the need to get the forces in place as soon as possible in support of our operations against Iraq. The Egyptians arranged all the necessary security and other procedures in just three days. Since President Mubarak was hosting a conference of African nations as I was trying to arrange this, it was pretty remarkable we were able to get his attention. This is just one of many things the Egyptians did over the years in support of our military objectives in the region.
Think I’ll end here. I’ll continue to watch the events with interest. As always my views are my own.