Below is an in-depth article I authored for the terrific Journal of International Security Affairs back in 2002 (9/11 occurred while I was working on the article.) The article is dated, but provides some useful background on the Egyptian military which sheds some insight on its role in Egyptian society and politics. In addition there are a pair of other informative articles about the Egyptian military in the Winter 2002 issue that are worth revisiting.
Also, check out the current issue for in-depth discussions on The Next Stage of Proliferation (including an excellent article on Syria’s WMD project), The Struggle Against Radical Islam and much more.
Journal of International Security Affairs – Winter 2002
Eye of the Sphinx: Egypt’s Drive for Military Parity with Israel
In 1979, after almost a quarter century of war, after President Sadat’s historic visit to Jerusalem and the negotiation of the Camp David Accords, Egypt became the ﬁrst Arab country to make peace with Israel. At the same time, it left the Soviet camp and became an important ally of the United States. Egypt’s loca-tion and control of the Suez Canal make its agreement essential for American operations in the Gulf. Its support for American interests in the Arab world, particularly its participation in the Gulf War has been invaluable. Both the U.S. and Israel beneﬁt from Egypt’s commitment to peace with Israel and its cooperation with the U.S.
Egypt has been rewarded amply for becoming an American ally. It is the second largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, after Israel. Since 1979 the United States has granted Egypt over $35 billion in aid, with $25 billion devoted to the military. The annual aid package runs about $1.3 billion in military assistance and $700 million in economic assistance. The United States also rewarded Egypt for participating in the Gulf War by forgiving $7.1 billion in past Egyptian debt. In addition to ﬁnancial assistance, the American-Egyptian Bright Star exercises, held every 2 years, are the largest military exercises in the world and include 8 other countries. The 2001 exercises included over 40,000 Egyptian and 20,000 American soldiers, sailors, and airmen. The United States sees a strong Egyptian military as the best guarantor that the present moderate Egyptian regime remains in power.
But despite the peace treaty – which has led only to a very frosty relationship – Egypt’s priority is military parity with Israel. Military parity with Israel underpins Egypt’s leadership ambitions within the Arab world. Therefore, planning and training focus on a conﬂict with Israel. In the Al-Badr exercises, held every 3 years, Egyptian forces practice crossing the Suez Canal to ﬁght a hostile force to the East. These exercises send a message to Israel and highlight Egypt’s primacy in the Arab world. In the words of Cairo Times correspondent Steve Negus, writing about Al-Badr 1996:
Last year’s Badr 96, described as the largest maneuvers since the 1973 war, left Netanyahu squirming in indignation when the Second and Third Armies staged a massive re-crossing of the Suez Canal to confront a ’hostile’ force east of the water-way. Militarily, that’s not too likely a scenario for the near future, but politically, it’s magniﬁcent theater. It’s a way of saying to the Israelis – don’t throw your weight around the Middle East so much, because if you force us into war, we’ll give you a run for your money. How could such a war come about? The defense ministry won’t speculate in public, but the analysts will tell you that if Netanyahu starts a war with Syria, then Egypt might feel it has no choice.(1)
Egyptian ofﬁcials make conﬂicting statements about their intentions towards Israel. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and other top leaders proclaim that Egypt is committed to the strategy of peace. But other ofﬁcials deliver a different message. For example, Osama Al-Baz, Mubarak’s national security advisor recently told Al-Ahram, Egypt’s leading newspaper, that if Israel were to go to war against Syria, Syria would not be alone. Whatever Egyptian intentions, Cairo has worked hard to marry military capability to its rhetoric. The American aid program to Egypt has built a large, well-equipped, modern military force that, on paper, is a match technologically and in numbers to Israel.(2)
Egypt has almost 450,000 men under arms and another 250,000 in reserves, plus para-military forces of 230,000. Israel’s active military is 172,500 with reserves of 425,000. Egypt has 3960 main battle tanks and Israel has 3900. The Egyptian Air Force has 583 aircraft and the Israeli Air Force has 446. Egypt’s navy has 4 submarines, 11 major warships and 25 missile patrol boats to Israel’s 2 submarines, 3 major warships and 12 missile patrol boats. However, much of Egypt’s military hardware is old Soviet era equipment. Surveying a few key systems shows a rough technological and numeric parity between Egypt and Israel.
The backbone of both the Egyptian and Israeli air forces is the American-made F-16. Egypt has 189 F-16s (with others on order for an eventual ﬂeet of 220). Israel has 237 F-16s (and contracts to purchase 102 more – some of which will replace older aircraft, including older F-15s and F-16s). Israel also has a substantial qualitative edge in its 78 F-15s. More maneuverable and capable of carrying a greater payload than the F-16, the aging F-15 remains the premier air superiority ﬁghter in the world. Reportedly Israel will maintain its air superiority by being the ﬁrst state in the Middle East to receive the F-22 and F-35, which are being developed to replace the F-15 and F-16.
Egyptian tank forces have also become more sophisticated. The M1A1 Abrams is the most lethal heavy tank in the world. Currently 555 M1A1 tanks spearhead Egypt’s tank force, and Egypt has a contract to assemble 200 more. It is heavily armed and armored – but at the same time fast and maneuverable. Egypt has also obtained 10,800 rounds of 120mm smooth-bore KEW-A1 ammunition for the M1A1s. This ammunition is made with depleted uranium and proved extremely effective against Iraqi tanks in the Gulf War. 1200 Israeli-built Merkavas are the core of Israel’s tank force. Tailored to Israeli needs, the Merkava is also a modern, nimble tank, and the IDF has long possessed depleted uranium ammunition.
Egypt also has 1300 M60A3 and 400 M60A1 tanks in service. While the M60 is not completely obsolete (Israel also has 900 in service) the initial design is over 40 years old and was completely phased out of the U.S. military almost a decade ago. The rolled steel armor of the M60 is vulnerable to modern munitions. Nonetheless, the M60s could still be used effectively on a battleﬁeld.
Both Israel and Egypt have the AH-64A Apache helicopters which have proven very effective against armor. Egypt has 36 Apaches to Israel’s 42. Egypt has also acquired an extensive arsenal of advanced Western anti-tank missiles.
Egyptian planning operates under the assumption that Israel will acquire air superiority soon after hostilities begin. Consequently, Egypt has attempted to acquire systems to ameliorate this chronic disadvantage. The Egyptian military places a high priority on air defense and has an air defense force independent of the air force and army. Egypt has over 600 major surface-to-air (SAM) launchers including the Russian-made SA-2, SA-3 and SA-6, and the American made HAWK System. Major SAM systems have an effective range of 25 to 40 kilometers. Egypt recently contracted with a Russian ﬁrm to modernize its SA-3s. Egypt is also purchasing another major sophisticated SAM system, the Patriot 3 – which has not yet been sold to Israel. Egypt also has thousands of light SAM systems including the Ayn as Saqr – a homemade version of the Soviet SA-7 hand held system. It has a range of 0.5 to 5.5 kilometers. Egypt is also contracting to buy American Stinger missiles, and possesses several other battleﬁeld SAMs as well as hundreds of anti-aircraft guns. Coordinated effectively, these systems would complicate air attacks on Egyptian forces.
Another Egyptian response to Israeli air superiority has been to acquire long-range artillery systems. Congress, over some Israeli objections, recently approved the sale of 26 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) to Egypt – enough to equip 2 battalions. Israel has had such systems for several years. With a range of 40 kilometers, the MLRS give the
Egyptian army the ability to strike well behind the lines of an opposing force.
The Egyptian navy has been acquiring modern electronics for its submarines and ships. It has also purchased 4 Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates from the United States. The recent Administration decision to sell the Harpoon Block II missile to the Egyptian navy raised concern in Israel, and in the U.S. Congress, which, in the end, may not approve the sale. This version of the Harpoon, which can be launched from ships, submarines, and airplanes, has a range of 175 kilometers and carries a 500-pound warhead. It is superior to the Harpoons possessed by the Israeli Navy and besides potentially changing the balance of power between the Egyptian and Israeli navies, it can also, from far offshore, attack land targets.
One aspect of Egypt’s military build-up, not supported by the United States – and a cause of the current controversy over selling the Harpoon missile – is Egypt’s ongoing effort to build a strategic deterrent. Despite U.S. protests, Egypt is working with North Korea to build No Dong missiles that would put all of Israel in striking distance. Egypt possesses SCUD-B missiles that have a 300-kilometer range, and has cooperated with North Korea in building SCUD-C missiles with 450-kilometer range. The SCUD-C would place greater Tel-Aviv and most of Israel within Egyptian missile range. There are believed to be three hundred North Korean technicians in Egypt working on these projects. Egypt’s cooperation with North Korea led to some sharp statements from several U.S. congressmen. They note that American aid has freed Egyptian resources to pursue these missile programs, which also beneﬁt North Korea. There has been some discussion of halting military aid to Egypt, but congressmen with districts beneﬁting from the arms sales so far have blocked this move.
Egypt has attempted to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Nasser embarked on a nuclear program, which was unsuccessful and used chemical weapons during the Egyptian intervention in Yemen from 1963-67. Egypt has some chemical weapons production capabilities and may also have the ability to produce and stockpile biological weapons. Currently, Israel’s alleged nuclear weapons are a source of major concern to the Egyptians. High-level Egyptian ﬁgures, including Osama Al-Baz and the Sheikh of Al-Azhar University (a position appointed by President Mubarak) Egypt’s highest-ranking religious ﬁgure, have stated that it may be necessary for Egypt to pursue WMD capabilities to deter Israel.
Even without WMD, strategic weapons are a major threat. In a July 2000 interview in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Arabi, Field Marshal Abu Ghazaleh, a former Egyptian Minister of Defense states:
…Israel has limited manpower whose morale can be broken [by inﬂicting] even a few casualties. Secondly, the important strategic targets in Israel are all located in limited and speciﬁc areas, which turn them into obtainable targets that are easy to strike… Ballistic surface-to-surface missiles with a reasonable range of 500-600 kilometers can serve as an effective means of deterrence against all types of Israeli forces, whether conventional or nuclear.… There is no defense from a missile attack coming from several directions. No defense system against missiles can deal with more than a [limited] number of missiles in such an attack…. The Israeli military commanders know that. Deterrence is formed from three elements: obtaining a certain means, the resolve to use it, and the enemy’s knowledge of its existence. One may say that the horror caused by 13 Iraqi SCUD missiles whose warheads were reduced to increase their range, is the best proof of this.(3)
Abu Ghazaleh’s statements shed new light on the importance of the Harpoon missile to Egyptian strategy. Most of Israel’s population centers and many of its strategic targets are along its long coastline. The Harpoon, while not usually considered a strategic missile, gives Egypt the capacity to strike these targets quickly, accurately and from the west, while land-based Egyptian missiles would strike from the south.
Between its raw numbers, its sophisticated American equipment, and its growing strategic missile program, Egypt has accumulated sufﬁcient assets to concern Israeli planners. But, these numbers provide an incomplete picture. Military planning is based on worst-case scenarios. In Israel’s case this means assuming that a war with Egypt is part of a broader regional war that includes Syria, missile strikes from Iraq, increased ﬁghting with the Palestinians and along the Israeli-Lebanese border and possibly other Middle East actors joining the fray(4). There is likelihood to this scenario inasmuch as Egypt would be extremely hesitant to abrogate its treaty with Israel and jeopardize its relationship with the United States in something other than a region-wide explosion.
Most of these forces would be operating with technology inferior to Israel. But neutralizing several different sets of air defenses, eliminating ballistic missiles, and establishing air superiority on several fronts would place enormous stress on the Israeli Air Force. Israeli ground forces, also ﬁghting on several fronts, would be outnumbered, albeit with superior equipment, and would have limited air support.
Numbers, however, provide an incomplete picture. The Information Revolution was, in many ways, an outgrowth of the “Revolution in Military Affairs.” Electronic systems allow modern militaries to integrate many different systems, units, and weapons to identify efficiently and locate enemy assets and allocate resources to destroy them. (In the U.S. military the system architecture that underpins this capacity is known as C4ISR, short for command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.) Egypt has acquired modern radar, battleﬁeld computers, and communications systems from the United States and is assets and allocate resources to destroy them. (In the U.S. military the system architecture that underpins this capacity is known as C4ISR, short for command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.) Egypt has acquired modern radar, battleﬁeld computers, and communications systems from the United States and is investing in joint satellite programs with other Arab nations. But Israel has a technical edge based on its sophisticated domestic armament and electronics industry. Israel is familiar with American technology and has developed systems to counter American systems in Egyptian (and Saudi) hands. For example, Israel developed the superior Phalcon system as a response to Egypt’s American-made E-2C Hawkeye Airborne Early Warning, Command and Control craft. Israel’s superiority in battleﬁeld communications and intelligence allows Israel to identify quickly and mass forces at critical points, thereby at least partially countering its overall numerical disadvantage.
The Israeli edge over Egypt in electronics is indicative of the central factor undermining Egyptian military effectiveness. A nation’s military is a reﬂection of its society. Arab armies in the 20th century have not been terribly successful against Western armies, and the modern Arab nations, for the most part, have been impoverished, corrupt, and unstable dictatorships. Egypt is a poor country with a stagnant economy, a sub par education system, enormous social tensions, and an unstable government. All of these problems are reﬂected in the military and adversely affect its ability to conduct a modern war.
Egypt’s extreme poverty takes a major toll on military effectiveness. According to World Bank ﬁgures, Egypt’s per capita income in 2000 was under $1,500. This has enormous implications on training. Live ﬁre exercises with modern vehicles, munitions and missiles, and ﬂight time for warplanes are extremely expensive. While the purchase of the equipment is primarily funded by the United States, Egypt lacks the resources for extensive training. Israel has a per capita income of $17,000. Israeli soldiers and particularly the Air Force get far more training and are far more proﬁcient than their Egyptian counterparts.
The Egyptian military engages in agricultural and industrial activities to insure the necessary funds to maintain ofﬁcer privileges and extend the resources available to the military. These endeavors lead to corruption and distract the armed forces from their primary role.
Egyptian poverty expresses itself in other ways as well. Most Egyptians are not computer literate or familiar with modern machinery. As a result, equipment is not well maintained or well understood by its operators. In Israel by contrast the population is broadly familiar with modern technology. This was evident, for example, in the 1973 Yom Kippur war when Israeli soldiers received modern, untested American weapons, and tinkered with them on the battleﬁeld.
Some developing nations have overcome a lack of resources to create effective military establishments. But Egyptian culture, particularly the education and social structure, are not conducive to building effective military organizations. Egyptian education focuses on rote memorization. This has carried over to the military. Egyptian soldiers are rarely given the broader theoretical training that they would need to improvise in combat.
Egypt is also a socially stratiﬁed nation. The class difference between ofﬁcers and enlisted men is enormous. Ofﬁcers have little interest in the men in their charge, and the troops have no loyalty to their commanders and are poorly motivated. The relationship between leader and led which is essential for an effective combat unit is poorly developed. The result is poorly motivated and trained conscripts led by uninspiring, uncreative ofﬁcers.
The Egyptian military’s political role exacerbates the economic and cultural challenges it faces. The present Egyptian regime was brought to power by the Free Ofﬁcer’s Revolt – a military coup – in 1952. Presidents Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak were generals. The military is the ultimate guarantor of the regime and internal security needs detract from its military effectiveness.
Given its importance in maintaining regime stability, extensive measures and checks are necessary in order to ensure the military’s loyalty. The ofﬁcer corps is kept content through privileges and discouraged from showing initiative. A new idea has to be approved by several layers of command. Promotion is contingent on politics and loyalty, not competence. American efforts to encourage more initiative and greater ﬂexibility have been resisted. In fact, ofﬁcers receiving American training may face reduced promotion prospects. These policies may help ensure that ofﬁcer cliques will not plot coups, but they also lead to mediocre ofﬁcers.
Before becoming an American ally, Egypt was a Soviet client. While the equipment is increasingly American, the military remains in many essential ways a Soviet style, heavily centralized organization. The ﬂow of information is closely controlled. Consequently communication and coordination between units is poor. These doctrines are effective for keeping the military under tight control. But they create large, inﬂexible structures that are unlikely to react effectively to the fast developing situations that characterize the modern battleﬁeld.
The two strengths of the Egyptian military – its size and its modern equipment – are products of the military’s political role, but to a degree actually detract from its efﬁciency. The force structure is kept large because a larger military helps diffuse power and complicates conspiracies, but the economic costs are high. The modern equipment builds the military’s domestic and international prestige and keeps it politically satisﬁed. But Egypt has had difﬁculty incorporating some items into its arsenal. Egypt’s arrangement for assembling the M1A1 tank is important for its international standing. However, it would actually be more cost-effective to purchase the tanks built in the U.S. For a low-tech military, sophisticated equipment is difﬁcult to maintain, expensive to operate, and consequently reduces combat effectiveness.
This combination of factors has a deleterious effect on the Egyptian military. Some argue that despite its modern equipment, the Egyptian military is a paper tiger. Negus, of the Cairo Times, describing the Al-Badr ’96 and Bright Star ’97 exercises, writes:
…observers don’t think that the military pushes itself to the limit. A ﬁghter plane capable of a tight 9G turn – stressful to plane and pilot, but an essential maneuver to master in a dogﬁght – is only taken to a leisurely 3Gs. Apache helicopters, equipped with vastly expensive and sophisticated night vision equipment, until recently were only ﬂown during the day. This impression was backed up by Egypt’s Gulf War performance – the divisions assigned to the liberation of Kuwait City accomplished their mission with minimal casualties, but they couldn’t keep to the breakneck schedule demanded by the American planners. The impression that the military says it seeks to give – a force gearing up to accomplish feats such as those of 1973 – isn’t getting through to the outside world.(5)
The Egyptian military leadership is aware of its inferiority to the IDF, but its size gives it a range of muscle ﬂexing options short of open war. The peace treaty limits Egypt to one armored division on the Sinai Peninsula. However Israeli sources have stated that this division is being used as a cover to pre-position equipment for four divisions. Four Egyptian armored divisions in the Western Sinai would be a blatant violation of the Egyptian-Israeli peace, and it would be a substantial threat to Israel. Political considerations would probably prevent Israel from launching a pre-emptive strike. But these forces could not be ignored. Israel would be obligated to build up forces on its southern border and keep them at the ready. This would prove expensive and could tie up resources that might be needed elsewhere.
Should Egypt enter low-level hostilities with Israel, it could, similar to the War of Attrition of the late 1960s and early 1970s, launch commando raids over the Israeli border. Egyptian Field Marshal Abu Ghazaleh stated that Israel’s limited strategic depth and long borders make it an ideal target for commando and terror operations. This strategy could include cooperating with the Palestinians in Gaza. In a possible harbinger of this strategy, underground tunnels connect Egypt to Gaza, bypassing Israeli checkpoints. Arms, contraband, and people are being smuggled through them. Israel has not protested this violation of the peace treaty.
In the unlikely scenario of an open war, the 1973 Yom Kippur War provides a paradigm. Initially, Egypt and Syria overwhelmed vulnerable Israeli positions through a combination of surprise and mass. When Israel recovered and counterattacked, Egypt and Syria suffered devastating defeats. However, the victory was expensive for Israel, while Egypt and Syria celebrated their initial victories and translated the war – for domestic consumption at least – into a political victory.
A repeat of 1973 is unlikely. Egyptian forces could not make the necessary fast dash across the Sinai to catch Israel by surprise. Crossing the Suez and then the Sinai would take several days, which would give Israel substantial warning time, and there are questions as to whether Egyptian logistics would support such an offensive. Finally, the U.S. stations a monitoring force in the Sinai. The dismissal of U.S. monitors would be a prelude to war, giving Israel additional warning.
But the sheer size of the Egyptian forces, particularly in conjunction with other Arab forces, would open certain strategic options. The IDF would have difﬁculty quickly neutralizing all of the substantial forces and systems (particularly missiles) it would face. Many of the modern systems Egypt has acquired, such as “ﬁre and forget” missiles with built in targeting systems, are very dangerous, even in inexperienced hands. These systems would not prevent an Israeli victory, but they could cause substantial Israeli casualties. This combination of factors could create an opportunity for Egyptian forces to achieve speciﬁc goals. These successes could be the basis for claims of a great victory and then be translated into a political victory.
It is important, however, to keep in mind that the Israeli-Egyptian peace has endured, through Israel’s 1982 war in Lebanon as well as the ﬁrst and second intifadas. Egypt has no outstanding territorial claims against Israel. A war would destroy Egypt’s relations with the United States, and it would probably be militarily disastrous for Egypt. A reasoned analysis indicates that Egypt has nothing to gain, and everything to lose going to war with Israel.
Unfortunately, reason cannot be counted on to prevail. This is the stark lesson of September 11, 2001 – the unthinkable cannot be ruled out as impossible. In the case of Egypt, the very factors that reduce the effectiveness of the military also increase the likelihood of a confrontation with Israel. The military’s central role in Egyptian politics indicates an unstable regime. The poverty and social difficulties facing Egypt make the Egyptian people susceptible to extremist ideologies. This exacerbates Egypt’s political instability, which could result in a takeover by extremist forces that seek a war or could pull a weak leadership into a confrontation.
Since the assassination of Sadat by Muslim extremists in 1981, supporting Mubarak and keeping Egypt in the moderate camp has been a pillar of American policy. Throughout the 1990s Mubarak fought a bloody internal war with Muslim extremists – the Egyptian branch of Islamic Jihad. Thousands were killed by the extremists and by Egyptian security forces. Islamist forces have carried out innumerable terror attacks within Egypt, including the 1997 massacre of 58 tourists at Luxor. Judges, high-ranking ofﬁcers, and liberal intellectuals have been assassinated. Mubarak himself escaped an assassination attempt in 1995. While the violence has declined, the prominence of Egyptians in al Qaeda’s ranks shows that Muslim extremism remains a major presence in Egypt.
Egypt is often compared with Iran – an American ally that became an enemy after an extremist Muslim revolution. The prospect is worrisome, but there is some question as to whether the present Egyptian regime can truly be considered moderate.
A survey of the Egyptian media shows that it is rife with vitriol, against Israel, Jews, and the United States. Holocaust denial and conspiracy theories are ubiquitous in Egypt’s press. A columnist for a government-controlled newspaper praised Hitler – but wished he had done a more thorough job of killing the Jews. In a foreshadowing of the current rumors that the Mossad masterminded the September 11 attacks, Egyptian journalists rejected the results of the American investigation of the October 31, 1999 EgyptAir crash and insisted that an American or Mossad conspiracy caused the tragedy.
The Egyptian media’s wrath is often directed at the United States. Ibrahim Naﬁe, the Mubarak appointed editor of Al-Ahram (Egypt’s leading newspaper) and the head of the Egyptian Journalists Association recently accused the United States of dropping poisoned food in Afghanistan.
The government controls most of the major media outlets. But many opposition media outlets are equally extreme. The scholars at Egypt’s government-controlled Al-Azhar University, one of the most prestigious centers of Islamic thought in the world, regularly spout anti-Semitic rhetoric. Extremism and conspiracy theories are also prevalent in the secular universities. This rhetoric distracts Egyptians from the vast problems facing Egypt, and dehumanizes Americans and Israelis.
When questioned about these frequent and outrageous statements, the Egyptian government insists that there is freedom of the press. But, the government has not hesitated to take action against newspapers that challenge the government’s position. When the newspaper Al-Shabaa, which is afﬁliated with an Islamist party, began a campaign of incitement over the re-release of the novel Banquet of Seaweed, the government closed down the paper and the party. Freedom of the press is selective in Mubarak’s Egypt.
So far, Mubarak has walked a ﬁne line, maintaining a pro-Western façade while tolerating and at times fomenting extremist politics to distract the people from the insoluble economic problems and the lack of freedom. But, the extremist ideas prevailing in Egypt cannot be dismissed as mere rhetoric; nor are they divorced from Egyptian politics. Mubarak is a clever survivor and may be able to continue balancing his domestic extremism with his pro-American international stance. But Mubarak is 73 and has not appointed a successor, though at times he seems to be positioning his son Gamal for the role. In any case, a succession struggle could create an opportunity for the Muslim extremists, or bring either a more confrontational ﬁgure to power or a weak ruler who could not maintain Mubarak’s high wire act.
Even Mubarak himself may be challenged to maintain the status quo. The last two decades have seen minimal economic growth and an enormous increase in population. Living standards for the vast majority have stagnated or declined. The government has cracked down on real and perceived challenges to Egypt’s stability. Prof. Sa’ad Al-Din Ibrahim, a leading Egyptian human rights activist and a dual Egyptian-American citizen, was tried, convicted, and sentenced to seven years in prison on dubious charges of embarrassing the regime. Ibrahim had organized a project to monitor Egyptian elections. His previous efforts had led to the 1995 elections being declared invalid. The regime did not want to risk a similar embarrassment and his arrest and imprisonment prevented a similar effort to monitor the 2000 elections. More recently, the Egyptian government has begun cracking down on homosexuals. Fifty-two men were charged with misdemeanors before the Emergency State Security Court – the military courts that try Muslim extremists. These several steps are indicators that the regime ﬁnds it necessary to seek enemies to distract the public. Such unstable governments are often tempted by foreign adventures.
Egypt’s military build-up and the growing public hostility toward the United States and Israel raise a number of questions. For Israel, the answers are obvious. An increasing number of Israeli politicians and analysts have come to question Egypt’s intentions. Israeli displeasure with some arms sales to Egypt has been communicated to the United States. Reportedly, Israeli intelligence has upgraded Egypt to being a danger – but not a threat like Syria. But many Israeli ofﬁcials are reticent to discuss the possibility of renewed conﬂict with Egypt – fearing the creation of a self-fulﬁlling prophecy. Undoubtedly, the IDF Intelligence and Planning arms are watching and quietly preparing for the unlikely but far from inconceivable possibility of renewed hostilities with Egypt.
The questions raised for the United States are more complicated. Despite enormous American assistance and its great value as an ally, Egypt often pursues objectives at cross-purposes with American interests. Egypt has taken the lead in rehabilitating Iraq in Arab circles, cooperates with North Korea and Libya, is pursuing closer relations with Iran, and has offered only tepid support for American efforts against terrorism. The Egyptian government incites hatred of the United States, but many Egyptians also hate the United States for supporting the repressive Egyptian government.
When Sadat made peace with Israel he did so in order to refocus Egyptian efforts on the mounting internal difficulties. But Sadat’s vision appears to have died with him. Egypt under Mubarak is not a transformed nation – it is a failed state, an impoverished, unstable, dictatorship.
Egypt’s location and size made it crucial both in the Cold War and in the post-Cold War era. The United States focused on Egypt’s strategic value and provided massive military support to guarantee its stability. Possessing a large, modern, Western equipped military allowed Egypt to claim the mantle of pan-Arab leadership and avoid its internal problems. But now, two decades after Camp David, the repressive Egyptian regime has created a fertile ground for terrorism and extremism both within and without the regime. This extremism will have consequences for Israel and for the United States as well as for the long-suffering Egyptian people. It is the sad, but inevitable result of the Faustian bargain made by the United States, reaping the short-term advantages of alliance with a military dictatorship while failing to promote its own core values – the ideals of liberal democracy.
1. Steve Negus, “Reading between the Tank Treads,” Cairo Times, Vol 1., Iss. 18, October 30, 1997, www.cairotimes.com.
2. There are several sources for the size of military forces – each with slightly different ﬁgures.
For consistency, all numbers here are from Dr. Anthony H. Cordesman’s Peace and War: The Arab-
Israeli Balance Enters the 21st Century, Center for Strategic and International Studies, available on their website www.csis.org.
3. This interview was in the Egyptian weekly Al-Arabi, July 2, 2000. This statement from the
Egyptian media, and other statements cited from Arab language media are available due to the invaluable services of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). MEMRI monitors, translates and analyzes the media of the Middle East. Material cited here, and much more from the Egyptian media, as well as media across the Middle East is all available on their website – www.memri.org.
4. An even worse, and less likely, scenario could include a hostile regime taking over in Jordan, Iraqi land forces, Iranian and Libyan ballistic missiles, and the American-equipped Saudi air force.
5. Steve Negus, “Reading between the Tank Treads,” Cairo Times, Vol 1., Iss. 18, October 30, 1997