In Egypt, a New Guard
“There was a revolution, and then we discovered that those in charge of the revolution are not in the least bit revolutionary”–Egyptian newspaper editor, Ibrahim Issa.*
By Stephen Gowans
Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, known to Egyptians as “Mubarak’s poodle,” may be calling the shots in Cairo as head of the country’s military-led government, but the man who sits at his right hand side is the Pentagon’s poodle, and he’s likely to continue to play a key role in Egypt even after a civilian government succeeds the current military one.
Lt. General Sami Hafez Enan, “a favorite of the American military,” according to Elisabeth Bumiller’s piece in today’s New York Times, is second-in-command to Tantawi, the man reviled in Egypt for being a toady to the deposed president Hosni Mubarak.
Bumiller says Enan—who “remains in close contact with Pentagon officials by phone” and is “a crucial link for the United States”–is considered Tantawi’s likely successor as head of Egypt’s armed forces.
And since the military plays a dominant role in Egypt, Enan is likely to continue to exercise considerable influence, a point Bumiller agrees with. “No one disputes,” she observes, “that General Enan will play a central role in Egypt’s future government, more likely behind the scenes, where the country’s powerful and traditionally secretive armed forces are more comfortable.”
Washington showers $1.3 billion in military aid upon Egypt annually, which the Egyptian military uses to buy “American-made arms and equipment – typically F-16 fighter jets and M1A1 Abrams tanks.” None of the money ever leaves the United States. Instead, Enan and other senior Egyptian military officials present their wish list to the Pentagon, which then transfers US taxpayer dollars into the accounts of US arms merchants, who then deliver the goods.
It’s like an annual gift to General Dynamics. And Egypt. Courtesy of the US taxpayer.
Ever since Egypt agreed to become a prop of US imperialism in North Africa and West Asia—and to allow Israel to run roughshod over Arabs in Palestine and Lebanon–Washington has transferred $35 billion of US taxpayer money to the accounts of US arms manufacturers, on behalf of Egypt’s armed forces.
Bumiller reports that the reforms of General Enan and the military government “have so far been mostly cosmetic.”
Cosmetic is an apt description. Egypt’s revolution has amounted to little more that changing the faces of the state. Mubarak is out, because the people demanded it, and now so too is Mubarak’s old prime minister, also at the behest of the people. But Mubarakism—US domination of Egypt through a local military elite – remains.
This won’t change even if and when the current military government is succeeded by an elected, civilian, one.
What would happen if a future government decided to pursue policies at odds with US foreign policy preferences, especially in connection with Israel? Since a break with Washington on key foreign policy positions would likely disrupt the flow of equipment and training to the Egyptian armed forces, the probable outcome is that the government would lose the confidence of the military, and the military would take over to set Egypt back on the prescribed US foreign policy path. Knowing this, a civilian government is unlikely to step outside the boundaries its military’s benefactor is prepared to tolerate.**
And just how independent of the White House and State Department will a future civilian government be? Already, officials in Washington are “discussing setting aside new funds to bolster the rise of secular political parties.” Sure, Egyptians are free to elect anyone they want, but modern elections are major marketing campaigns. Without strong financial backing, you haven’t a chance. How fitting, then, for the continuation of Mubarakism that Washington’s democracy promoters will be furnishing “acceptable” politicians and political parties with money, strategic advice, polling, and whatever other support they need to prevail over alternatives judged to be incompatible with “US interests”, but which, may, on the other hand, represent the interests of the mass of Egyptians.
Westerners would never tolerate foreign powers backing the West’s political parties, even if it was done in the name of promoting democracy. Strange that so many Westerners think it fine for their own governments to meddle in other countries’ elections –and fall for the deception that the imperialist practice of exerting influence abroad by buying foreign politicians is really a laudable exercise in democracy promotion. If foreign governments meddling in our elections means an outside power is trying to gain advantage at our expense, doesn’t Washington’s setting aside new funds to meddle in Egypt’s elections mean Washington is trying to gain advantage at Egyptians’ expense?
Or are Washington’s and the EU’s motives somehow purer? Given their records of backing Mubarak, other dictatorships, and absolute monarchies, to protect Western “interests,” this can hardly be true.
How then–with Egypt’s armed forces being a virtual extension of the Pentagon and Washington’s democracy promoters preparing to boost funding to pro-US political parties–are we to believe that the Egyptian rebellion will bring about anything more than a cosmetic face-lift of Mubarakism?
A real revolution requires more than replacing Mubarak with Tantawi, Tantawi with Enan, and Enan with a civilian government that needs to keep Enan–and the Pentagon officials he’s in close contact with–happy. A revolution is not a changing of the guard.
* Neil MacFarquhar, “Milestone referendum in Egypt just days away”, The New York Times, March 13, 2011.
**”To wild cheers, Ashraf Huweidar of the Union of Popular Socialism told a crowd of several thousand that his new party would cancel the peace agreement (with Israel) if it came to power — something the military leadership has indicated it won’t allow.” (My emphasis). “Egyptian calls for trials of former leaders”, The Associated Press, April 1, 2011.
Below is part of an exchange between The Washington Post and three unnamed members of Egypt’s Supreme Military Council, the body that is currently governing the country. The full interview was carried by the newspaper on May 18, 2011 (“Egyptian generals speak about revolution’).
Q. Do you think that Egypt’s strategic orientation toward Israel will change? Polls show a majority of Egyptians favor abrogating the [1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel]. How does the military view this?
A. Egypt fully respects its commitments. This has to be very clear. The peace treaty is part of our commitments and undertakings. It is not possible that 30 years of good relations with the United States will be easily obliterated or canceled.