US efforts to reform Egypt’s military fall on deaf ears

US efforts to reform Egypt’s military fall on deaf ears

An article in Newsweek highlights that a recently leaked diplomatic cable reveals that Egypt , America ’s most loyal Arab ally is tenaciously resisting U.S. pleas to reform its military mission to meet 21st-century threats insisting rather on securing additional conventional weapons more fitting for last century’s battles.

According to releases of WikiLeaks’ cables repeated requests were made for the Egyptian military to modernize itself. The cable from U.S. Ambassador Margaret Scobey to Gen. David Petraeus emphasizes that Egypt ’s aging leadership, has resisted efforts and remains satisfied with continuing to train for force-on-force warfare with a premium on ground forces and armour. The message was repeated again in a February 2010 cable.

Analysts ascertain that Egypt’s obstinacy complicates relations with the U.S., thereby creating a potential stumbling block for future cooperation on American policy in the Middle East; this and the possibility of Congress using it as an excuse to cut military aid, which according to the cables, Egypt considers secure. The last decade in fact has witnessed attempts by the congress to cut military funding to Egypt or channel the money as economic aid. However the efforts have been blocked by pressure from both the Bush and Obama administrations.

Observer Steven Cook, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who studies the Egyptian armed forces notes that the Egyptian military is not effective in projecting power. He adds that it is there to ensure the survival of the regime and protect the country’s borders. This is highlighted in the cable ‘Egypt reveals a military deeply reluctant to take part in regional counterterrorism efforts, and the focus on weapons necessary for desert battle is an indication  that its  military is not prepared for modern challenges despite being in  an increasingly unstable region.

Maj. Gen. Mohamed Kadry Saed, a military adviser with Al Ahram Center think tank asserts that Egypt cannot ignore sources of instability in the region because of its regional position.

According to Alex Vatanka, senior Middle East analyst at IHS Jane if Egypt were not preoccupied with internal problems, it could be a more valuable partner in the war on terrorism. US officials acknowledge however that there has been some degree of cooperation when it comes to intelligence. A cable highlights US ambassador Scobey describing Egypt and the US enjoying a long-standing and productive relationship.  Scobey commended in a 2010 cable Egypt ’s construction of a subterranean wall at its land border with the Gaza Strip describing it as a step in the right direction as far as combating the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood
offshoot Hamas. She emphasizes however without military prowess reoriented to counter asymmetrical threats, it is not enough.

Israel however appears concerned about Egypt ’s current appetite for weapons. A leaked cable from political military chief Amos Gilad in Tel Aviv described Egypt ‘s peace with Israel as superficial. A 2009 cable quotes Gilad noting that the Egyptian military continues to train and exercise as if Israel was its only enemy.

Casting aside American frustrations, however Washington has to tread lightly with a government whose cooperation it values in order to project U.S. power in the region, and to maintain access to the Suez Canal .After all, Scobey maintains the US would not like to contemplate complications for U.S. regional interests should the U.S.-Egyptian bond be seriously weakened. Moreover, the U.S. is unwilling to weaken Mubarak’s government if the alternative is a less-friendly regime.