Five cents to anyone who can recall when the leader of an army that was once considered brutal and corrupt by many, opted to call the people to take to the streets!! Even more mind-binding: they are calling for the masses to support them against a group--the Muslim Brotherhood-- that was once considered the standard bearer of popular opposition to decades of tyranny by the military .
something almost obscene about the announcement
out of Washington that the U.S. is going ahead with plans to deliver more
sophisticated military equipment to Egypt, despite the military coup that
overthrew President Mohammed Morsi.
With Egypt in meltdown, its economy in tatters, food prices soaring, land and water resources disappearing, unemployment rampant, the government a shambles, what is the United States offering in the way of aid to this basket-case nation?
Four F-16 fighter jets.
This despite that fact that, by law, the Obama administration is supposed to cut off aid to regimes that seize power via military coups. But not this coup.
In the wake of the bloody shootings in Cairo last week, and even as the military continues to arrest hundreds of Moslem Brotherhood members, the Obama administration, in a hair-splitting fashion befitting a president who once headed the Harvard Law Review, has used every semantic trick in the book to avoid calling the coup that took place in Egypt--a coup.
The shipment of those F-16’s is also justified as the continuation of an on-going program of 20 planes—eight of which were sent to Egypt in January. The final eight will be shipped later this year.
Who will benefit by that American “aid”?
Mostly, America’s own Lockheed Martin, which sells those jets at $15 million a copy. Add a few million more for spare parts, training, and ammunition, and you’ve got a half billion dollar deal.
Who will those jets be used to defend Egypt against? Years ago, the Egyptians might have said Israel. But you can be sure that there is no way the U.S. would give F-16’s to an Arab country unless Israel had already signed off on the deal—usually in return for assurances that U.S. equipment furnished to Israel would be far superior.
In fact, those planes are part of a $1.5 billion annual package of aid that the U.S. began giving Egypt after President Sadat signed the Camp David Peace accords with Israel in 1974. By far the largest part of that aid—$1.3 billion a year—has been going to the Egyptian military, in effect an on-going bribe to convince the generals not to ruffle waters with Israel.
What purpose that sophisticated American equipment serves Egypt—other than burnishing egos of the Egyptian military—is anyone’s guess. Similarly, since the only ones with oversight over Egypt’s military budget are Egypt’s military, no one can really be sure exactly how and where all those billions have been spent.
But again, who really cares--as long as they don’t rock the boat with Israel….
On the other hand, it’s only natural that America’s largesse should take the form of military aid. So much of America’s foreign policy over the past two decades —from Iraq to the Gulf to Afghanistan--has been defined in trillions of dollars in military equipment, sprawling bases and futile campaigns.
The other recent announcement of aid to Egypt, which dwarfs Americas, is also laced with hypocrisy. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have pledged a massive package totaling 12 billion dollars.
That sum, of course, is vastly greater than any financial aid those Arab states actually delivered to the Palestinians over the past many decades, despite all their rhetoric about supporting the Palestinian cause.
Which makes sense: As the Arab leaders of those three Gulf states see it the Muslim Brotherhood and the Arab Spring are a much greater existential threat to their corrupt regimes, than Israel ever was.
Indeed, they have long detested and feared the Muslim Brotherhood. Not so much the Brotherhood’s religious fervor, as their calls for reform --for an end to the corrupt ruling cliques which have treated the vast natural resources of their states as their personal property.
Their current hope of the leaders of those three Gulf states is that, backed by their $12 billion dollars, Egypt’s generals will somehow be able to squelch the Muslim Brotherhood in what is by far the most important of Arab countries--and turn back the threat of the Arab Spring.
Finally, an intriguing question: Was that huge Arab aid package quickly cobbled together after the coup? Or Isn’t it highly likely that, in the frantic maneuvering that preceded the military’s move, the Gulf rulers were already dangling those billions as a carrot before Egypt’s generals--to encourage them to overthrow Mohammed Morsi?
Probably with the knowledge—and approval?--of the United States.
In ousting Egypt’s first freely elected president, Mohammed Morsi, the Egyptian military have certainly not acted to preserve democracy. They’ve never shown much interest in that. They’re determined to put a break on the mounting political and economic chaos that is ripping the country apart. That turbulence was threatening not just the survival of Egypt, but, more to the point, it was menacing the vast state within a state that Egypt’s military presides over.
Of course, the Egyptian Army is not monolithic. Its lower ranks are very much of the people: filled with hundreds of thousands of conscripts, drawn from the most humble ranks of society—and has a strong identity with the Egyptian people.
It has traditionally been the most important means of socializing and educating the lower classes, in theory, inculcating them with a sense of pride and patriotism.
Indeed the 1971 Constitution says that the Egyptian Army shall “belong to the people”
Thus, as I have previously blogged, in 1977 when the army was called in to quell riots after President Sadat announced cuts in basic food subsidies, the generals refused to intervene unless the subsidies were reestablished. Sadat restored the subsidies.
The top ranks of the army, however, have other concerns—beginning with personal survival. They certainly will never forget the lurid spectacle of Iranian generals being publicly executed in the aftermath of Khomeini’s revolution in Iran. Iran also demonstrated that a radical revolution also means a radically transformed military. (Egypt’s generals have a constant reminder of that lesson nearby: The Shah is buried in a Cairo mosque.).
But since the fall of Mubarak, the military have feared not just a takeover by radical Muslims. There is also the fact that real civilian rule could spell an end to the system of massive military corruption and patronage that has gone on for decades in Egypt, a system that has given the military unimpeded control over an estimated 40% of the Egyptian economy--"a state within a state" as a well-informed Egyptian friend of mine puts it.
For years, Egypt's top military ranks have enjoyed a pampered existence in sprawling developments such as Cairo's Nasr City, where officers are housed in spacious, subsidized condominiums. They enjoy other amenities the average Egyptian can only dream of, such as nurseries, bonuses, new cars, schools and military consumer cooperatives featuring domestic and imported products at discount prices. In other areas, top officers are able to buy luxurious apartments on generous credit for 10 percent of what those apartments are actually worth.
But we're not just talking about sensational official perks. Many of Egypt's brass are notoriously corrupt. Vast swathes of military land, for instance, were sold by the generals to finance some major urban developments near Cairo -- with little if any accounting.
Other choice military property ran on the Nile Delta and Red Sea coast boasted idyllic beaches, and exquisite coral reefs. In return for turning the land over to private developers, military officers became key shareholders in a slew of gleaming new tourist developments.
The generals also preside over 16 enormous factories that turn out not just weapons, but an array of domestic products from dishwashers to heaters, clothing, doors, stationary pharmaceutical products, and microscopes. Most of these products are sold to military personnel through discount military stores, but large amount are also sold commercially.
The military also builds highways, housing developments, hotels, power lines, sewers, bridges, schools, telephone exchanges, often in murky arrangements with civilian companies.
The military are also Egypt's largest farmers, running a vast network of dairy farms, milk processing facilities, cattle feed lots, poultry farms, fish farms. They've plenty left from their huge output to sell to civilians through a sprawling distribution network.
The justification for all this non-military activity is that the military are just naturally more efficient that civilians. Hard not to be "more efficient" when you are able to employ thousands of poorly paid military recruits for labor.
Many civilian businessmen complain that competing with the military is like trying to compete with the Mafia. And upon retiring, top military officers are often rewarded with plum positions running everything from factories and industries to charities.
Whatever the number, Robert Springborg, who has written extensively on Egypt, says officers in the Egyptian military are making "billions and billions and billions" of dollars."
But there's no way to know how efficient or inefficient the military are, nor how much money their vast enterprises make, nor how many millions or billions get skimmed off since the military's operations are off the nation's books. No real published accountings.
No oversight. Even Mohammed Morsi when he became president, was obliged to agree to the military’s demand that there would be no civilian oversight of the military budget.
Of course none of the above is a surprise to U.S. officials who dole out some 1.3 billion dollars a year in military aid to the Egyptian Army, and hope that sum and the neat weapons it provides will keep the army in line. [One of the most detailed studies of the military's non-military activities was done by a U.S. military researcher at Fort Leavenworth.]
The U.S. also has a 1.3 billion dollar carrot dangling in front of the Egyptian Army. That annual American military aid to Egypt has allowed the Egyptian officers to get their hands on some of the most sophisticated of modern weapons—as we’ve seen over the past couple of years in downtown Cairo.
The generals realize there is no way the U.S. will continue paying for those goodies if a new regime more hostile to Israel takes power in Cairo.
A perceptive look into all this came via a 2008 U.S.diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks.The writer in the U.S. Embassy in Cairo ticked off the various businesses the military was involved in, and considered how the military might react if Egypt's then president, Hosni Mubarak, were to lose power.
The military would almost certainly go along with a successor, the cable's author wrote, as long as that successor didn't interfere in the military's business arrangements.
But, the cable continued, "in a messier succession scenario, it becomes more difficult to predict the military's actions."
No scenario could be “messier” than the mounting chaos in Egypt over the past few months.
The military acted.
ONE MORE THING:
Please like the Facebook page for my new novel, “The Watchman’s File”. And, if you feel it merit’s attention, please pass it on to your friends.