Why Is Egypt's Military Using Strong-Arm Tactics?

Uploaded by PBSNewsHour on 02.01.2012

bjbjLULU JEFFREY BROWN: We look at the situation now with Samer Shehata, a professor at the
Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University, and Steven Cook, senior fellow
for Middle East studies with the Council on Foreign Relations. Both have recently been
in Egypt. Welcome to both of you. STEVEN COOK, Council on Foreign Relations: Thank you. JEFFREY
BROWN: Steven Cook, if you look generally, what is going on? Picking up off that piece,
what is going on to motivate the military with these strong-arm tactics? STEVEN COOK:
Well, I think the piece touches on three things that the military wants out of the transition
period, none of which conform to the democratic demands from Tahrir Square last year. The
military wants to hold on to its economic interests, which are vast, as the piece pointed
out. It has a different view of stability and social cohesion in Egypt than the kind
of cantankerous debate free-for-all that you're seeing in Egypt right now. And, most importantly,
Egyptian armed forces wants to retain its role as the source of legitimacy and authority
in Egypt. In a democracy, the people are the source of authority and legitimacy. So, it's
clear that what they're trying to do is salvage as much as they can from the previous regime,
while taking account of some of the demands from Tahrir. JEFFREY BROWN: And, Samer Shehata,
is there a way, is there path to do that, in other words, to hold on to some power,
but to cede to some of these things that people seem to be demanding? SAMER SHEHATA, Georgetown
University Center for Contemporary Arab Studies: Well, people in Egypt right now are talking
about this. And they're talking about a deal possibly being done by the civilian political
forces with, not the military overall, but really the 24 or 22 -- we don't know how many
-- generals who are really in charge, what's called the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces,
a deal that would essentially provide them three things, as Steve mentioned, first, lack
of accountability for financial crimes and other crimes that were possibly committed
in the many years they have been in power. There have been over 150 people who have been
killed since Mubarak stepped down on their watch by regime violence against domestic
protesters. They don't also want, as Steve mentioned, civilian control of the military.
They don't want a civilian as the minister of defense. JEFFREY BROWN: They are not going
to cede that. SAMER SHEHATA: They are not going to cede that. And I think that's probably
unlikely in the short term. And the third thing they don't want is economic transparency,
because clearly they control significant segments of the Egyptian economy, and they benefit
from that. So a deal is being talked about right now, of course, not openly, that would
provide these kinds of -- some guarantees for them to exit. And, of course, time is
running out. RAY SUAREZ: Now, what of these raids last week on these international organizations,
particularly American organizations? First, tell people what these organizations do in
Egypt. And why would the military go after them? STEVEN COOK: Well, the three most prominent
that were raided, the American ones that were raided were the National Democratic Institute,
the International Republican Institute, and Freedom House. And they are there to, one,
observe the elections that are ongoing -- we're in a prolonged election period in Egypt right
now -- and also to carry out training programs, election observing, party formation, capacity
building, all those kinds of things that these groups are well known to do well around the
world. And they are actually in part federally funded. They get their money from the National
Endowment for Democracy, which is funded in part by the Congress. The military undertook
raids against these organizations, as well as a number of others, arguing that they are
operating illegally in the country and that the Egyptian ones are illegally taking foreign
funding. The irony is, of course, as your lead-in piece pointed out, the military takes
$1.3 billion from the United States on an annual basis. It's hard to figure out exactly
what the military strategy is here, to be completely honest with you. The military has
said over and over again that it is preparing the way for democracy. They should then see
these organizations as asset, rather than as foes. JEFFREY BROWN: Well, is there a strong
anti-U.S., anti-foreign sentiment that they're trying to play to? I mean, is there the possibility
that they play to the people in that sense? And might it work? SAMER SHEHATA: Well, before
we go there, some of these organizations are Egyptian organizations. JEFFREY BROWN: Right.
SAMER SHEHATA: Right, Egyptian organizations that try to ensure the independence of the
judiciary, for example. But getting to your question, yes, there is a serious skepticism
towards foreign organizations operating in Egypt among some segments of the Egyptian
population, not everybody. And many believe or see this as potentially foreign meddling
in Egyptian domestic politics. Now, it needs to be said that this is an old tactic of the
Mubarak regime that was, you know, on display for many, many years and used for political
benefit. So, I think less and less people believe that, but, nevertheless, as a result
of Egypt's past and history, there is this concern or sensitivity to foreign intervention.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, the U.S. government expressed outrage right away. And you mentioned the
$1.3 billion that the U.S. gives every year to the military. Is that leverage? I mean,
clearly there's leverage, but how strong -- how much power does the U.S. have to control things
there? STEVEN COOK: We are in a situation where we have diminished leverage over the
Egyptian armed forces, because, first of all, that $1.3 billion is the same $1.3 billion
that we started giving the Egyptians in 1985. If you do the math, it's worth 40 or 50 percent
of what it once was. The Egyptian armed forces has been angry at Congress' repeated attempts
to dock that aid for human rights abuses, bad elections, the kind of crimes that went
on during the Mubarak period. And, finally, there is a significant lack of trust between
the United States and Egypt, despite all of the talk about a strategic relationship. So,
what this actually in a broader perspective represents is part of the long goodbye between
Egypt and the United States. JEFFREY BROWN: The long goodbye, meaning? STEVEN COOK: The
long goodbye, meaning that, ultimately, however things play out in Egypt, whether it's a blossoming
democracy or some kind of reconstituted authoritarian regime, there is going to be a divergence
between the United States and Egypt over the long term. JEFFREY BROWN: Both sides? Both
sides? STEVEN COOK: Both sides, absolutely. JEFFREY BROWN: Do you see that? SAMER SHEHATA:
Well, I think that a democratic Egypt, certainly, that's -- policies, foreign policies and regional
policies, reflect the wishes of the Egyptian people, and not Mr. Mubarak, is certainly
going to be much more pro-Palestinian, for example, much more critical of U.S. policy
in the region, whether it's boots on the ground or a hostile policy towards Iran and so on.
So, yes, a democratic Egypt will have an independent foreign policy. And that will cause some friction
with the United States. The United States has gotten a great deal -- quote, unquote
-- over the last 30 years, the only country whose nuclear vessels have had passage through
the Suez Canal, intelligence-sharing, military cooperation and essentially a pliant Egypt.
And, of course, that is going to change if there's democracy. And it should change. JEFFREY
BROWN: So, what kind of discussions are going on here in Washington among U.S. policy-makers?
STEVEN COOK: Well, overall, there is a determination to see this through in the hope that Egypt
ends up a more democratic and open place. But there is a tension at the heart of this,
because our primary interlocutors are the military. The military has served Washington's
interests over... JEFFREY BROWN: They're the people we still know best. STEVEN COOK: And
they're the people we still know best and they're the people that we're continuing to
work with, because those interests have not gone away. I don't think policy-makers have
exactly worked out the tension between these two things. And that's why we are kind of
being taken along with the news cycles in Egypt, rather than having a specifically proactive
policy towards achieving certain goals. JEFFREY BROWN: Final last word on that? SAMER SHEHATA:
Well, I think there's also a realization that American influence in the Middle East more
generally, in Egypt specifically, has declined significantly. There's no question about that.
You can feel it in Egypt. I mean, when Mr. Obama made a statement criticizing the use
of violence a week ago or so, it appeared on page three of the Egyptian papers. In the
past, that would be above the fold and so on. So, it's Egyptian actors who are the primary
people shaping Egypt's future. And that's also as it should be. JEFFREY BROWN: All right,
Samer Shehata, Steven Cook, thank you both very much. STEVEN COOK: Thank you. SAMER SHEHATA:
You're welcome. gd:B gd:B urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags PlaceType urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags
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place urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags State JEFFREY BROWN: We look at the situation
now with Samer Shehata, a professor at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown
University, and Steven Cook, senior fellow for Middle East studies with the Council on
Foreign Relations Normal Microsoft Office Word JEFFREY BROWN: We look at the situation
now with Samer Shehata, a professor at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown
University, and Steven Cook, senior fellow for Middle East studies with the Council on
Foreign Relations Title Microsoft Office Word Document MSWordDoc Word.Document.8