Home Page


Background and Services

Defense & Foreign Affairs Group

Defense & Foreign Affairs Publications

Global Information System

Strategy Conferences

ISSA Policy Councils

Balkan and Eastern Mediterranean


Order form for ISSA products

Membership Application

Career and Internship Openings

External Links

Future Directions International

Contact us









Special Reports

Selected Archival Reports from the International Strategic Studies Association's Defense & Foreign Affairs Group:

April 28, 2015: The Ending of the Arab-Israel War, and What it Means in Strategic Terms

March 2, 2015: A Strategic Link Now Possible Between Egypt and Ethiopia

February 17, 2015: The Proposed Djibouti Reunion With Ethiopia: Global Impact, and a Transformation of the Regional Balance

January 9, 2015: Egypt Strengthens Its Alliances, Economy, and Opposition to Extremism

April 12, 2014: Islamist Escalation of Violence in Egypt to Occur in Run-Up to Elections; Ikhwan, al-Qaida, Qatar, Turkey, Iran Engaged

August 2, 2013: Egypt Stares Open-Eyed into its Future, and it May Not Be All Bad

July 17, 2013: Why the Ikhwan Has Not Lost the Battle for Egypt, and Why the Challenge is Just Beginning

July 8, 2013: Egypt Strategically Penalized by US Semantics Over Power Change, But is Still Better Prepared to Face Future

June 7, 2013: Egypt’s Instability Triggers a New Proxy War Against Ethiopia and its Allies

September 20, 2012: The New 9/11 Attacks: A Self-Fulfilling Prophesy, But a Drama Which Obscures the Domestic Power-Plays in Libya

July 27, 2012: Can Libya Repel the Invaders and Survive?

June 25, 2012 (an update of the June 21, 2012, report): Egypt’s Election of an Islamist President Seen as Likely to Hit the Stability of Vital Trade SLOCs, Libya

June 21, 2012: Egypt’s Dilemma Likely to Hit Vital Trade SLOCs

July 29, 2011: Egypt Reconsiders its Nile Strategy, Which Underpins Red Sea Security and Horn of Africa Stability

February 7, 2011: The Long Preparation of the Ikhwan, and Their Links to Iran, Are Now Paying Dividends in the Egyptian Turmoil; and Suez, Energy Links are Unquestionably Targeted

January 30, 2011: Some Possible Strategic Ramifications of the Current Egyptian Unrest

August 21, 2009: President Hosni Mubarak’s Fateful Pilgrimages to Paris and Washington, DC 

September 18, 2000: Ethiopia's Meles Confirms Strategic Goal of Federation With Djibouti; Attempts to Rally Relationship with US 

April 28, 2015

2015: The Ending of the Arab-Israel War, and What it Means in Strategic Terms

Analysis. By Gregory R. Copley, Editor, GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs. It is probable that history will mark early 2015 as the end of the Arab-Israeli war, a conflict which has lasted since 1948, when the modern State of Israel was proclaimed.

However, the end of “the Arab-Israeli war” by no means marks the end of the conflict being waged for the creation of a separate Palestinian state, or the ongoing conflict against Israel by non-Arab Turkey, non-Arab Iran, Qatar, and, to a strong degree, with the support of the US White House (albeit not the US Government per se).

The end of the general Arab-Israeli war is the result of a growing closeness of purpose between a number of Arabian Peninsula states and Israel, particularly over issues related to the containment of jihadist forces, and, more significantly, to the containment of Iran’s growing dominance of the region. This has been developing over several decades, largely beginning with the very discreet Israel-Oman exchanges of contacts in the late 1970s, but blossoming particularly when the late Saudi Arabian monarch, King ‘Abdallah bin ‘Abd al-’Aziz al Sa’ud and the Israeli Government had common, or overlapping, concerns over Iran. The UAE largely followed Saudi Arabia in this regard. Jordan had consistently been pragmatic in its relations with Israel, and vice-versa.

The “Arab” hostility toward Israel was not reversed, or did not decline, in a uniform manner. The Egyptian Government of Pres. Anwar as-Sadat normalized relations with Israel, beginning with the Camp David Accords in 1978, but Israeli-Egyptian relations were formal but cool during the era of Pres. Hosni Mubarak (1981-2011), and became more pragmatic during the interim Government of Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi Soliman (2011-12), but moved back to outright hostility — albeit with continued normal diplomatic relations — during the Muslim Brotherhood Government of Pres. Mohammed Morsi (2012-13). It not only reverted to a warm relationship with the removal of Pres. Morsi by the Egyptian plebiscite of 2013 [the Egyptian Movement for Change collected 22-million signatures calling for Morsi's resignation, ultimately led to installation of the Government of Pres. Abdul Fatah Saeed Hussein Khalil al-Sisi]; it led to an Israeli-Egyptian relationship based on a multi-dimensional set of mutual strategic interests.

The ending of the US-Egypt special relationship, with the election of the al-Sisi Government in Egypt1 in 2014 and the rejection of the US by Saudi Arabia that same year2, helped re-established the profound Saudi and UAE (and Kuwaiti) support for Egypt, given that all those Arab states shared Egypt’s rejection of US Pres. Barack Obama’s (and Turkish Pres. Reçep Tayyip Erdoğan’s and Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani’s) favored option in the region, the Muslim Brotherhood.

What has emerged is now a solid bloc of newly-allied states: Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the UAE, and, to a degree, Kuwait. Oman and Morocco have their own separate relationships with Israel. They are not all of one mind on all things. Oman is cautious, as ever, of Saudi Arabia, particularly at present, on Riyadh’s handling of the Yemen situation (and, indeed, the Ibadi Muslim Omanis act as a bridge to Iran on many issues; Ibadism pre-dates Sunnism and Shi’ism). Morocco is wary of Saudi Arabia’s history of support for radical, Wahhabist ideology. And so on.

Significantly, in the “anti-Israel camp”, Iran is firmly at odds with Turkey and Qatar, and wary of the Obama Administration on all issues. Iran’s hostility toward Israel was, in any event, a recent issue, and not one which — as with the “Arab-Israeli war” — sprang forth in 1948. Iran/Persia has had a profoundly important relationship with Israel going back some 2,500 years. It is likely to do so again, once the present unpleasantness passes: Iran has always sought a strong foothold on the Mediterranean and managed this through what is now Israel, while also maintaining strong links with the Jews of the region, dating back to the sacking of the First Temple of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II after the Siege of Jerusalem of 587 BCE. Captive Jewish tribes were gradually assimilated Eastward into the Persian Empire.

On the periphery of this is the strong Israeli relationship with Ethiopia, coming at a time (a) when Djibouti is seeking to re-join Ethiopia (to which it belonged until it was leased by Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia to France for 99 years)3; and (b) a cautious working relationship is beginning to emerge between Ethiopia and Egypt over the sharing of the waters of the Blue Nile4. Thus, Ethiopia seems logically set — re-emerging as a Red Sea maritime factor — to join this new bloc.

What is emerging in this new strategic framework is creation of a newly empowered region, in which mutual investment and trade is already beginning to blossom. The loans and investments of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait into Egypt in 2014-15 marked the start of true commercial investment in Egypt which would likely include the financing of the “new Cairo”, built between the existing old city of Cairo and the Suez Canal in the coming few years, also at a time when the Suez Canal’s great expansion is occurring: the broadened and more capable Suez Canal — which will be even more important in global shipping terms — is set to open in August 2015. Such a trading bloc, should it occur, would be stabilizing to the region, as well as to the Eastern Mediterranean as a whole, and to the Indian Ocean/Pacific sea linkages. And it may occur without a strong Western (ie: US) influence.

Within all this, too, is the ongoing Turkish-Iranian mutual (but carefully subdued) hostility. How that plays out will determine the extent to which a surviving Turkey decides (almost certainly post Erdoğan) to re-join the region, or not.


1. See: Copley, Gregory R.: “Sic Transit Gloria: Sunset, Sunrise on the Suez Canal”, in Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, February 21, 2015.

2. See: “Saudi Arabia Seeks New Course After Rift With Washington”, in Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, May 9, 2014.

3. See: “The Proposed Djibouti Reunion With Ethiopia: Global Impact, and a Transformation of the Regional Balance”, in Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, February 17, 2015. And Copley, Gregory R.: “Ethiopia Pursues Federation With Djibouti”, in Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, 9/2000. Also in Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, September 18, 2000, as “Ethiopia's Meles Confirms Strategic Goal of Federation With Djibouti; Attempts to Rally Relationship with US”.

4. See: “A Strategic Link Now Possible Between Egypt and Ethiopia”, in Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, March 2, 2015.

March 2, 2015

A Strategic Link Now Possible Between Egypt and Ethiopia 

Analysis. By Gregory R. Copley, Editor, GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs. Egyptian concern over the flow of Nile waters now focuses not on Ethiopia but on Sudan. The growing commitment of the Sudanese Government of Pres. Umar Hasan Ahmad al-Bashir to supporting — including basing, arming, and in all ways assisting — the exiled Egyptian Muslim Brothers (Ikhwan al-Muslimin) is strategically aimed at toppling the elected Egyptian Government of Pres. Abdul Fatah Saeed Hussein Khalil al-Sisi. Gen. Bashir is, in this endeavor, working closely with other forces hostile to Egypt, including (in particular) Qatar, Iran, and Turkey. The US White House, hostile to Pres. Sisi, tacitly supports Sudan in this. 

There is, however, probably little which Sudan can do to impede the flow of Nile waters to Egypt, which enter Sudan mostly from the Blue Nile origins in Ethiopia, but also the White Nile passing up through South Sudan, without also impeding Sudanese interests. But this has not stopped Sudan from moving away from its former position of an ally of Egypt (and Egypt often protected Sudan from pressures from the international community), and now placing itself implacably in a position of opposition to Cairo. Within this, given the linkages between the Ikhwan and the Islamic Caliphate and other jihadist organizations, Sudan has aligned itself with a process which is strongly anti-Christian, and has already demonstrated its intent against Egyptian Christians.

Nile water flow is an existential strategic question for Egypt, but post-Meles Zenawi Ethiopia has shown itself open to discussions with Egypt aimed at ensuring that the flow of Blue Nile waters is not impeded by the construction of Ethiopia’s Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam being built in the Benishangul-Gumuz Region of Ethiopia, some 40 km (25 mi) east of the Sudanese border. The Dam promises to provide significant hydro-electricity for Sudan, although the Ethiopian-Sudanese relations have become increasingly fractious for a number of reasons. 

The Sisi Government in Egypt, immediately on taking office less than one year ago in 2014, despatched officials to Addis Ababa to begin the process of reconciliation, which had been interrupted by the former Muslim Brothers Government of Pres. Mohammed Morsi. Pres. al-Sisi was also in Addis Ababa for the African Union summit on January 30, 2015, but cut that visit short to return to Cairo after the Islamic Caliphate’s Egyptian wing killed at least 30 soldiers and police in four separate attacks in the Sinai. [The most active group, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, changed its name in 2014 to Sinai Province, swearing allegiance to the Islamic Caliphate.] 

Sudan’s now unambiguous support for the Muslim Brothers and that group’s links with Qatar and Turkey (in particular) and their support for the Islamic Caliphate places Khartoum on a collision course with Cairo. The Ethiopian Government, while cautious (and in the throes of settling down politically after the Meles Zenawi era), has strong reasons to support Cairo, and not just because it is a predominantly Christian country. Egypt, when it took a hostile stance toward Ethiopia over fears of Ethiopian control of the headwaters of the Blue Nile, actively worked to keep Ethiopia as a landlocked power. As a result, it also assisted Eritrea in supporting subversion and terrorism operations against Ethiopia. 

Those days have passed. A strong Egyptian-Ethiopian capability — not seen as unfavorable by Israel, which has good links with Addis Ababa — can counter Sudan and its external allies in ensuring the stability of the Suez Canal/Red Sea sea line of communication (SLOC). Saudi Arabia and Jordan also need this. Sudan’s external allies include not only Qatar and Turkey, but Iran, which sees a strategic need to encircle the Arabian Peninsula for a number of reasons. One reason would be to minimize a potential Israeli or US seaborne threat [Israeli submarines operate out of the Red Sea with nuclear-armed land-attack cruise missiles], but also to support Shi’a empowerment on the Peninsula, particularly in Yemen. 

Egypt and Ethiopia, then, are emerging as natural allies, and Cairo and Tel Aviv are likely to support the reunion of Djibouti with Ethiopia, which the Djibouti President has been seeking.

See: “The Proposed Djibouti Reunion With Ethiopia: Global Impact, and a Transformation of the Regional Balance”, in Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, February 17, 2015.

February 17, 2015

The Proposed Djibouti Reunion With Ethiopia: Global Impact, and a Transformation of the Regional Balance

Analysis. From GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs in Addis Ababa and Djibouti. The long-simmering discussions between Djiboutian and Ethiopian leaders about creating a political union have now reached critical mass1. The outcome would have profound impact on the regional balance and the Suez-Red Sea sea lines of communication (SLOC). But, despite the fact that this might be the most opportune time for the two countries to reunite (and to restore Ethiopia’s historical rôle as a Red Sea power), there will still be a major regional panic by some leaders who will be disenfranchised by the move. Nonetheless, the President of Djibouti, Ismaïl Omar Guelleh (widely referred to as IOG), has taken the lead in bringing the matter into public debate, while Ethiopian officials have cautiously been attempting to determine whether IOG’s statements reflect Djiboutian public opinion. 

The parallel to the UK-Hong Kong-China situation is apposite. Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia leased Djibouti to France for 99 years, from around 1894, after the French had (in 1885) established a presence among the Issa and Afar peoples and built a port city on land acquired from Issa notables. But Djibouti’s fortunes have always been linked to Ethiopia, and the city-state serves as an entrepôt for Ethiopian trade. Ethiopia has, in recent years, leased farmland to Djibouti to assist Djiboutian food supply. 

But Djibouti, like Ethiopia, is the constant target for Eritrean hostility and would find security in rejoining Ethiopia. Indeed, the historical path of Djibouti, and the lease situation, makes reunion legally relatively easy. Egypt, once strongly allied with Eritrea in order to check the economic and strategic flexibility of Ethiopia, no longer — with the Egyptian Government of Pres. Abdul Fatah al-Sisi moving to a diplomatic resolution with Ethiopia on Nile water issues — seeks to threaten Ethiopia militarily. Indeed, Cairo is aware of the fragility and danger of collapse of the Eritrean Administration of Pres. Isayas Afewerke. A move now to consolidate ties with Ethiopia would help Egypt’s new regional vision. 

Similarly, Egypt is no longer so strongly concerned about the possible ramifications of Ethiopian ties with Israel, given that the new strategic alignment in the region links Egypt with Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE (with, among other things, their shared concerns over stability on the opposite shores of the Red Sea, in Yemen, as well as Iranian activities). There is every reason to believe that Yemen may fracture in the near future, and revert to “north” and “south” poles as the situation was until the Republic of Yemen was proclaimed — merging the Yemen Arab Republic (North Yemen) with the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen) — on May 22, 1990. 

There is reason to believe that France, which operates a major defense base in Djibouti, and the US (which functions out of the leased Camp Lemonnier facility at Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport, housing the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa [CJTF-HOA] of the US Africa Command [USAFRICOM]), would be nervous about a change of sovereignty of Djibouti. Japan also maintains a naval facility in Djibouti. However, US and French ties with Ethiopia are positive, and the basing arrangements could be strengthened, not weakened, especially as Djibouti would be more secure back under Ethiopia’s umbrella. Investment in the Djibouti-Dire Dawa railway would be easier, and Ethiopian trade would flourish. 

It is more than probable that the Ethiopian Navy would be re-born. 

All of this would cause significant alarm in Eritrea, and with Eritrea’s key backer, Qatar, which is hostile to both Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The neighboring Republic of Somaliland could also stand to lose some of the trade linkages it was starting to provide Ethiopia through the port of Berbera, which largely went unexploited because Somaliland’s change of government in in 2010, away from the moderate Unity of Democratic Alliance (UDUB) to the radical Hisbiga Kulmiye (Solidarity Party). But, ultimately, Ethiopia would want to bring Somaliland into a closer alignment, too, and protect it from renewed Somalian attempts to control it. 

A Djibouti-Ethiopia reunion would also greatly relieve the Republic of South Sudan, which needs a new and separate outlet to the Red Sea rather than the route through Sudan, particularly as Sudanese pressures grow on South Sudan.

Returning Ethiopia to the Red Sea would significantly change the regional strategic dynamic, and aid stabilization of the Red Sea/Suez SLOC. Djibout Pres. Guelleh, who was born in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia, seems to have popular support for the reunion of the two societies, and particularly from the Affar peoples, who are resident in Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Eritrea.  


1. See: Copley, Gregory R.: “Ethiopia Pursues Federation With Djibouti”, in Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, 9/2000. Also in Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, September 18, 2000, as “Ethiopia's Meles Confirms Strategic Goal of Federation With Djibouti; Attempts to Rally Relationship with US”.

January 9, 2015

Egypt Strengthens Its Alliances, Economy, and Opposition to Extremism

Analysis. From GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs station, Cairo. The Egyptian Government has begun making major strides in rebuilding the Egyptian economy, but its relations with the US remain cool and cautious. Egyptian officials have made it clear that they intend to start to limit their dependence on the US for defense technology, and would soon begin buying defense systems elsewhere: Russia, Pakistan, the PRC, and so on. And possibly from Europe. 

Egyptian Pres. Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has — with the support of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Israel, and other regional states — reinforced his opposition to the Muslim Brothers. 

Speaking at Al-Azhar University — Egypt’s premier center of Islamic teaching — and the Awqaf Ministry on New Year’s Day, 2015, in connection to Prophet Mohammed’s upcoming birthday, Pres. al-Sisi made his most forceful plea to date on the subject, noting: “It is inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire umma [Islamic world] to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world. Impossible!” 

“That thinking — I am not saying ‘religion’ but ‘thinking’ — that corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the years, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible, is antagonizing the entire world. It’s antagonizing the entire world!” 

“Is it possible that 1.6-billion people [Muslims] should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants — that is seven-billion — so that they themselves may live? Impossible! I am saying these words here at Al Azhar, before this assembly of scholars and ulema: Allah Almighty be witness to your truth on Judgment Day concerning that which I’m talking about now.” 

“All this that I am telling you, you cannot feel it if you remain trapped within this mindset. You need to step outside of yourselves to be able to observe it and reflect on it from a more enlightened perspective.” 

“I say and repeat again that we are in need of a religious revolution. You, imams, are responsible before Allah. The entire world, I say it again, the entire world is waiting for your next move ... because this umma is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost; and it is being lost by our own hands.” 

Significantly, Pre. al-Sisi attended Coptic Christmas mass at Abbasiya Cathedral in Cairo on January 6, 2015, Orthodox Christmas Eve, making history as the first Egyptian president to attend a Christmas ceremony. Pres. al-Sisi made an impromptu speech calling upon Egyptians to unite as “one hand", put aside sectarian divides and set an example for the rest of the world. "It is very important that the world sees us as Egyptians. And you have noticed that I never use any other word but the word “Egyptians”. It’s not acceptable for anyone to tell anyone else anything different. We are Egyptians. Nobody should say: What kind of Egyptian are you? ... We are setting an example from right here in Egypt. That is why it is not acceptable to say anything except that we are Egyptians. We must be Egyptians only. Yes, Egyptians. Yes, we are one hand."

Meanwhile, in late December 2014, Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab launched the National Anti-Corruption Strategy. The same month, Transparency International released its annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) in which Egypt moved up 20 places from the previous year. And on December 22, 2014, Fitch Ratings Agency upgraded Egypt’s rating to “B”, saying its outlook was stable. Fitch noted: “The Government has embarked on a policy course designed to tackle some of the serious structural weaknesses that have emerged or intensified in recent years. Fuel subsidy cuts and tax hikes have been implemented as part of a clear five-year fiscal consolidation strategy. Power shortages are being tackled, overdue payments to oil companies reduced, investment laws revised and disputes with foreign investors settled. The measures appear to have strong political backing.”

April 12, 2014

Islamist Escalation of Violence in Egypt to Occur in Run-Up to Elections; Ikhwan, al-Qaida, Qatar, Turkey, Iran Engaged

Analysis. By Yossef Bodansky, Senior Editor, GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs. The struggle for Egypt is on the verge of a major escalation as the key sponsors of the jihadist cause in Syria are now committed to a similar campaign against Egypt.

The overall strategic objective is to prevent the emergence of an inward-looking regional order based on the Arab heartland, shielded by the Fertile Crescent of Minorities, and thus excluding the external forces. A strong and stable Egypt is considered a cornerstone of such a regional posture. Since Russia is the primary supporter and sponsor of the emerging regional order, the sponsors of the jihadists are convinced the US Barack Obama Administration supports them just as Obama is supporting their jihad in Syria.

Jihadist sources directly involved in the sponsorship of jihadist causes in Syria and Egypt just reported on the comparable effort against Egypt. According to these jihadist sources, “attempts to create a Free Egyptian Army in Libya have been identified, with the participation of the Muslim Brothers and al-Qaida and under Qatari-Turkish-Iranian patronage, in addition to plans to target vital installations, including Cairo International Airport, the storming of prisons to free Muslim Brothers detainees, and spreading chaos to sabotage the presidential elections.”

The Libyan intelligence services allegedly permit — or at least cannot control or constrain — the advance preparations. “Factories in Libya are making Egyptian Army uniforms and distributing them to members of the Free Egyptian Army, in preparation to enter the country in the future and implement those schemes and awaiting the zero hour, which will be set by the intelligence agencies that control them,” the sources said. Large quantities of weapons, vehicles and other equipment are being delivered to the Egyptian groups and stored in the Darna self-declared “Emirate” in Libya’s Cyrenaica region, pending dispatch into Egypt. Most of the combatants engaged were reported to be experienced jihadis, mostly not of Libyan citizenship, but including a considerable number of Sudanese and other fighters who had gained experience in Syria and elsewhere.

The Emir (Commander) of the Free Egyptian Army is Sharif al-Radwani. He is currently running the training camps and weapon storage site of the Free Egyptian Army in Libya. In recent years, Sharif al-Radwani participated in the jihads in Syria, Lebanon, and Afghanistan-Pakistan. The key commander responsible for coordination with foreign sponsors and intelligence services is Ismail al-Salabi. He is a senior member of the al-Qaida high command. Significantly, Ismail al-Salabi is a friend and confidant of the head of Qatari intelligence, Ghanem al-Kubaisi, and both meet frequently.

The senior commanders are also coordinating with the supreme leaders of the clandestine arm of the Muslim Brothers the launch of terrorist operations inside Egypt. The jihadist sources specified that “Kami al-Saifi and Ismail al-Salabi, who are both in al-Qaida, were in contact with the Muslim Brothers’ (Ikhwan) Deputy Supreme Guide Khairat al-Shater and have a special rôle to play in creating instability prior to the upcoming presidential elections”.

The overall activities in the training camps in Libya suggest that the Free Egyptian Army is comprised of a few distinct elements, each of which joined after building expertise and cohesion in other jihadist fronts, mainly Syria and Libya. The best organized and best trained are the “al-Qaida elements” under the command of Sufian al-Hakim. They joined the training camps as a cohesive unit with well-defined cells and networks, including inside Egypt. They receive weapons, ammunition and other sophisticated equipment in the camps.

The first cells are already being smuggled across the Libyan borders. The largest element of the Free Egyptian Army is comprised of Egyptian students who fled to Libya. The military commander of these forces is Abu-Fahd al-Zaz, a veteran of the fighting in Syria who returned to Libya to help launch the jihad in Egypt. The liaison officer with the Qataris in the training camps is Abu-Ubaida, a veteran al-Qaida commander who had worked with the Qataris in Libya, Syria and other sensitive projects. Qatari intelligence and military officers are present on Libyan soil and visit Abu-Ubaida frequently to inspect the camps and get progress reports.

Significantly, the Free Egyptian Army is being organized and run separately, but parallel, to the ongoing expansion of the armed jihadist groups in and out of the Sinai, particularly the Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (Supporters of Jerusalem) forces. The Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis started as Sinai-based and Egyptian offshoots of the HAMAS forces in Gaza affiliated with the Egyptian Muslim Brothers (of which the HAMAS is an extension). [The US Department of State has announced the designation of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) under Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act and as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity under section 1(b) of Executive Order (EO) 13224.]

In mid-July 2013, soon after the Egyptian military overthrew the Morsi Administration and saved Egypt from collapse, the Muslim Brothers established a command post at the Gaza Beach Hotel in the Gaza Strip. The primary mission of the command post is to organize and run the Islamist resistance and, should the need arise, a civil war in Egypt. The Muslim Brothers cooperate closely with the HAMAS and the various al-Qaida-affiliated neo-salafist and jihadist forces in Sinai.

The Gaza Beach Hotel command post is run by Mahmud Izzat Ibrahim, a senior deputy of the Supreme Guide, known as “the Iron Man”. HAMAS sources claim that he is Muslim Brothers senior leader Khairat al-Shater’s right-hand man and deputy for special projects in the underground/clandestine apparatus. Initially, there were at least six Egyptian senior operatives in the Gaza Beach Hotel, as well as a few HAMAS and other Arab jihadist leaders help the Egyptians. In mid-August 2013, the number and seniority of the Egyptians at the Gaza Beach Hotel command post rose markedly.

Most important was the arrival of the supreme leader of the clandestine arm of the Muslim Brothers. Both the real name and nom-de-guerre of the commander are unknown. The most senior HAMAS officials are referring to him as “Mr X” and hold him at great reverence. The key to the power of “Mr X” is that he received his “takfiri” (ie: a Muslim who accuses another of apostasy) education from Sheikh Abdul Meguid al-Shazli, the mentor of both Shater and Supreme Guide Muhammad Badei. Some 20 senior commanders and operatives of the Muslim Brothers’ clandestine apparatus arrived with “Mr X”, bringing the total of Egyptians at the Gaza Beach Hotel command center to more than 30, on top of the few dozen Palestinians and other Arab jihadists who assist in running operations not only in Egypt but also throughout the Middle East.

The Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis in its current structure and rôle was funded in late-August 2013 by the Muslim Brothers leadership. The turning point was a deal between Deputy Supreme Guide Khairat al-Shater and Muhammad al-Zawahiri -- Ayman’s brother and leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad – which brought the HAMAS special operations command and numerous takfiri networks inside Egypt into the deal. As part of the agreement, the Muslim Brothers committed to supplying both Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis and HAMAS with weapons from Libya which would be delivered through the Gaza tunnels.

Qatar agreed to fund these weapons and both Qatari and Turkish intelligence officials coordinated the weapons purchase and delivery with their Libyan counterparts. Little wonder that HAMAS officials often refer to Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis as “the military wing of the Muslim Brothers” in Egypt. However, the Muslim Brothers’ supreme leadership remained apprehensive about their dependence on the Gaza Strip and the Sinai, and therefore, explained the jihadist sources, “kept planning to form its own militia”: the Free Egyptian Army.

Meanwhile, according to jihadist sources, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis was being converted into an élite jihadist force “made up of HAMAS militants, youth of the Brothers, and fighters trained in Afghanistan”. Indeed, the Gaza Beach Hotel command post is coordinating closely with Ramzi Mowafi – the Egyptian al-Qaida leader known as the Chief of Sinai – and the jihadist army in the Sinai. The first manifestation of the new cooperation is the emergence in the Sinai of a new jihadist group – “The Communicators with the Mahdi” – which, although comprised mainly of Palestinian members of the HAMAS and Islamic Jihad from the Gaza Strip, is focused on fighting the Egyptian Security Forces.

Autumn 2013 saw the beginning of sustained operations at the heart of Egypt.

The first strikes were amateurish and caused extensive harm to bystanders. The Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis apologized and explained that the attackers “did their best in terms of monitoring and planning so as to avoid injuring any innocent Muslim”. Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis stressed that the ultimate objective of the mujahedin was “attacking [the Government] without inflicting harm in the ranks of the Muslims” and called on all Egyptian Muslims “to come together around their mujahedin brothers in their war against” the security forces. An individual identified as Abu-Osama al-Masri emerged as the chief spokesman of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis.

In Winter 2013-2014, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis became sufficiently strong and stable to escalate operations throughout the heart of Egypt, from Cairo to the Delta and Suez Canal cities. The Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis networks have since carried out numerous car-bombings, shooting attacks and assassinations of senior security personnel. The jihadist commanders consider this the beginning of a long jihad which would ultimately restore Islamist government to Egypt. The jihadists are escalating their jihad to destabilize Egypt through “the battle for avenging the Muslims of Egypt.” According to the jihadist sources, the primary objectives of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis are “to target vital installations, mainly the bombing of the Aswan High Dam, which was at the top of their target list, in addition to targeting a number of churches, places of worship, and police and army facilities”.

The jihadist sources stressed that once the Free Egyptian Army, the new forces of the Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, and a myriad of localized jihadist-takfiri networks are unleashed, Cairo would be shocked by the spread and magnitude of the violence. The jihadist leaders and their sponsoring states were convinced that “Egypt is in a real crisis” and that Cairo was incapable of meeting the new challenge. “The ignorance of the security forces and intelligence services of these new elements of terrorism is disastrous,” the jihadist sources claimed.

August 2, 2013

Egypt Stares Open-Eyed into its Future, and it May Not Be All Bad

Analysis. By Gregory R. Copley, Editor, GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs. Egypt’s military leadership entered August 2013 without any illusions as to the magnitude of the challenges facing the Egyptian Armed Forces, the Egyptian Government, and all of Egypt, in the coming months and years.

The decision by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to act as the instrument to replace the Government of former Pres. Mohammed Morsi with a civilian Interim Administration on July 3, 2013, was taken in the full certainty that it would lead to a new age of armed protest and insurgency by supporters of the Ikhwan al-Muslimin (the Muslim Brothers).1 The SCAF officers all recall when Islamist insurrection led to the assassination of Pres. Anwar as-Sadat in 1981.

That expected new process of revolt has already begun.

 Images of conflict in Egyptian cities dominate the international media, but there are many more dimensions to the transformation than that. Many of these facets focus around the impact of a declining economy, dwindling agricultural production, and exhausted food stocks. These factors would, in any event, have led to a collapse in national cohesion had Morsi stayed in power longer because the Morsi Government was, if anything, compounding the causes of these trends of decline.

So, as analyst Yossef Bodansky pointed out2, had Morsi stayed in power, he and the Brotherhood would have taken the full brunt of criticism for the total collapse of the economy and food supply. The military leadership was aware of that, too, but felt that it had to act to stave off the collapse as much as possible, even if it took Morsi “off the hook” for the collapse, when it came.

Equally, in understanding the consequences of the action to support the documented demand — the 22-million signature petition organized by the Tamarod movement — by a vast swathe of the Egyptian public for Mr Morsi’s removal, the Egyptian Armed Forces leadership had considered and planned what it needed to do to hold Egypt together over the coming years.

Some of the key factors considered by the Egyptian SCAF include:

  1. The necessity to make decisions, insofar as possible,  which might be disapproved by — or incur the wrath of — Washington, even at the risk of a short-term suspension of US financial and military technology aid;

  2. The necessity to bring in urgent infusions of cash and food from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE);

  3. The necessity to stop further deterioration in relations with Israel and, if possible, to resume income from the sale of gas to Israel;

  4. The necessity to stop external support for the Ikhwan from escalating and involving weapons importation, even at the risk of alienating Turkey;

  5. The necessity to immediately stop Morsi’s “distraction war” which was being generated by the former Government against Ethiopia3, and returning dealings on Nile water useage back to the diplomatic track which interim leader Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi had begun before Morsi assumed the Presidency;

  6. The  necessity to build an image of the new Interim Government of Pres. Adly Mansour as being secular and pro-business, as well as liberal, to reassure both domestic audiences as well as the international media; and

  7. The necessity to continue/resuscitate the pace of foreign direct investment, and ensure ongoing confidence in the use of the SUMED (Suez-Mediterranean) pipeline and the Arab Gas Pipeline (to Israel and Jordan), in order to diversify the economic base, given the virtual total loss of tourism revenues, as well as agricultural exports (cotton, in particular)4.

Again, these are by no means the sum of concerns for the Government. Day-to-day security is critical, and sources at the very highest levels in the Egyptian Ministry of Defense have indicated privately that there will be no compromise or delay in suppressing Islamist militancy, and in ensuring cooperation with allies internationally to ensure that foreign-supported agitation does not gain traction.

Of primary importance will be the initiation of attempts to revive agricultural output and food production, even if it means artificially supporting purchase prices for produce. This would assist in maintaining optimism (or restoring it) in the rural areas which have often been the source of support for the Ikhwan. Agriculture’s revival is also a slow process, but unless begun immediately the challenge of rural unemployment will be multiplied dramatically in the coming year, not only in terms of political unrest, but in terms of the highly-destabilizing tendency for even more rural citizens to migrate to Cairo, where little economic relief can be promised in the short-term.

In this regard. the new Government can be assumed to delay or modify the plan of the 2012-13 budget to dramatically reduce the subsidy on consumer petroleum. Some subsidies have already been eliminated, and that would not be reversed, in all likelihood, but future subsidy removal would be done with extreme care over the coming year.

Egypt, with the single act of ending the Morsi “experiment” on which the Obama White House had insisted, has rebuilt optimism in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the UAE, Israel, Syria, Libya, Morocco, and probably Tunisia. Certainly, there is a sense of relief in Addis Ababa and the Upper Nile riparian states. This, clearly, is a time for Egypt to build new intelligence and diplomatic relationships with all of the states mentioned. The Turkish and Qatar governments, the regional administrations most averse the the change in Cairo, are not in a strong position to act against the new Government in Egypt.

The Iranian Government, although wary at the example of popular revolt which removed Morsi in Egypt, see the broader framework as now being more favorable to a revived balance of “traditional” powers in the greater Middle East: with Iran and Egypt as the principal cultural poles.

The threat which the new Egyptian Government faces is that the Islamist insurrection could take on the shape of the Algerian civil war which ran for a decade at the end of the 20th Century. Indeed, the Islamist-jihadists have threatened such a visitation on Egypt. But in Algeria, the Government, with some heavy-handedness, prevailed over the Islamists, and the prospect is that the Egyptian Government could also cope with such an insurrection.

Can Egypt, in the meantime, begin to rebuild tourism revenues, as Tunisia began to do after its change of government? It is possibly too early to begin a marketing campaign to achieve this, given that the first step is to ensure calm at locations frequented by tourists. But that process could begin within six to nine months, even though foreign tourists would be seen as an early target for Islamist militants.

In the meantime, the primary task is to ensure that the substantial emergency aid promised by Saudi Arabia and the UAE is managed to best effect in terms of ensuring immediate food supplies and stimulated employment.

The incoming Vice-President, Mohamed ElBaradei, meanwhile, is hoping to parlay his new position — which he could hardly have expected, having polled so poorly in the 2012 Presidential election race — into a real chance at the Presidency. He has already told his US confidants that “when I am President, I will broaden the implementation of the Camp David Peace Accords with Israel to give greater security to Israel, and I will reduce my links with Iran”. That sounded like a mixed signal, in some respects, but ElBaradei asked a major Washington law firm, which has dealings with Israel, to pass on that message to Jerusalem.

Vice-Pres. ElBaradei equally plays on the fact that, absent the restoration of Morsi, he has grudging approval from the Obama White House. This may have given Dr Elbaradei some cause for optimism, but it still remains to be seen whether the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces will ever again blindly follow the wishes of the White House, given that so many of the problems Egypt faces today were the result of bad advice — or demands which had undesired outcomes — from Washington to earlier Cairo administrations.


1. See Bodansky, Yossef: “Why the Ikhwan Has Not Lost the Battle for Egypt, and Why the Challenge is Just Beginning”, in Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, July 17, 2013. Also see: Copley, Gregory R.: “Egypt Strategically Penalized by US Semantics Over Power Change, But is Still Better Prepared to Face Future”, in Defense & Foreign Affairs Special analysis, July 8, 2013.

2. Bodansky: op cit.

3. See: Copley, Gregory R.: “Egypt’s Instability Triggers a New Proxy War Against Ethiopia and its Allies”, in Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, June 7, 2013.

4. The Egyptian change of government — the deposing of Pres. Hosni Mubarak — in 2011, and the installation of the Morsi Islamist Government, led the country to experience significant capital outflows and a sharp drop in tourism revenue and foreign direct investment. Annual GDP growth in Egypt slowed to 1.8 percent in 2011 from 5.1 percent in 2010.

July 17, 2013

Why the Ikhwan Has Not Lost the Battle for Egypt, and Why the Challenge is Just Beginning

Analysis. By Yossef Bodansky, Senior Editor, GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs. In a perverse way, both the supreme leadership of the Ikhwan and al-Azhar University consider Egypt’s military removal of the Ikhwan Government of Pres. Mohammed Morsi on July 3, 2013, a great victory for the Ikhwan: the Muslim Brothers. Paradoxically, they are right.

Indeed, if permitted to continue with their current propaganda and indoctrination campaign, the Ikhwan should be expected to be able to transform the coup into a profound victory for the entire Islamist trend.

Historically, the Ikhwan has seen itself as the perpetual victim of persecution and stifling: first the British colonial authorities, and, since the mid-1950s, the Egyptian military. The Ikhwan has been the defiant victim and pious survivor of endless conspiracies and crackdowns by their “apostate” nemeses. The popular face of the Ikhwan has been that of victimhood and perseverance. The Ikhwan as an organization has portrayed itself as the protector of the Islamic fiber of society against campaigns by the military and their westernized allies to impose Pharaonic modernity on Egypt, from economic reforms, westernized education, to the encouragement of tourism.

Under such circumstances, the clandestine apparatus and underground cadres have become the most important elements of a movement claiming to be public-populist. While attention has been focused on the imams affiliated with the Ikhwan — their public defiance and their repeated confrontations with the security authorities — “everybody” in Egypt knows that the Ikhwan’s underground really controls its activities. Indeed, the Ikhwan’s ability to survive several cycles fierce crackdowns by the military — particularly Gamal Abdel Nasser’s in the mid-1960s and Hosni Mubarak’s in the mid-1980s — only added to the luster of the Ikhwan’s clandestine apparatus.

Under such circumstances, the electoral victory of the Ikhwan and Mohammed Morsi’s ascent to power (as a last minute substitute for Khairat Shater who has had clandestine cadre affiliations) have shattered the entire ethos and myth of the Ikhwan as the tip of a largely unseen underground movement. Suddenly, the Ikhwan had to operate publicly and under the scrutiny of others. Because of the prevailing legal circumstances (which also kept Shater from power), the overt cadres became the prominent elements of the Ikhwan and the holders of power and governance.

Simply put, the Ikhwan was no longer the victim of government but actually the Government itself. The Ikhwan had to formulate policy, reach decisions, and implement them. Moreover, the Ikhwan was to be held accountable to the outcome of its own actions. The Ikhwan could no longer shield behind the perpetual victimization by others.  

And herein were the roots of the great catastrophe to come.

Since late 2010, the vast majority of Egyptians of all backgrounds were led to believe in the Islamists’ ability to turn around Egypt’s decay. Simply put, in voting for the Ikhwan and other Islamist parties, the vast majority of Egyptians were voting for those who would be able to bring about the urgently-needed miracle.  

But the Egypt of the early-21st Century was beyond salvation, even by Biblical-size miracles. The economy is — in the near-term — beyond sustenance, let alone salvation. The Egyptian population of 92- to 93-million is difficult to control. Slightly over 70 percent of Egyptians live in rural areas, yet they produce well below half of Egypt’s food. Normally, about half of all Egyptians were surviving on highly-subsidized food imports. Even before the ascent of the Ikhwan, the global rise in food prices sent Egypt’s trade deficit out of control.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian population is ill-prepared for the modern world economy.

Egypt’s real unemployment rate is well above 40 percent for the 51-million Egyptians between the ages of 15 and 64, and well over 60 percent for the more than 30-million Egyptian males between 15 and 30. Remedy through modernization of the economy, including agriculture, is impossible because 45 percent are illiterate. While 30 percent of college-age Egyptians start college, only 12 to 15 percent of Egyptians graduate and only a small minority of them are qualified for employment under contemporary conditions. Other social patterns prove that Egyptian society is moribund and incapable of breakout from the socio-economic ills holding it down. For example, about 35 percent of marriages are between cousins and virtually all married women suffer genital mutilation. These have been traditional hallmarks of Egypt’s rural-tribal society, and these statistics haven’t changed since the turn of the 20th Century (when statistic began to be collected by the British authorities), attesting to the socio-economic stagnation at a time of global surge and modernization.

In the Summer of 2013, the food situation became critical.

Egypt has two months’ supply of imported wheat, when Egypt had normally kept more than six months’ supply at hand. According to the World Food Organization, the country’s poor have had little to eat except bread for the past year or so. Significantly, during the Mubarak era some 40 percent of Egyptian adults were already physically deficient because of endemically poor diet. It is therefore no wonder that 18 million hungry Egyptians came out to demonstrate and riot.

Significantly, although Morsi and the Ikhwan were elected to miraculously cure Egypt’s hunger and destitute — they paid little attention to alleviating the grassroots plight. Instead, Morsi embarked on a major campaign to consolidate the Ikhwan’s institutional hold over the country and its system of governance. In the process, the Ikhwan destroyed the few lingering sources of foreign-currency revenues — from tourism to the production of cotton-made lingerie — because they were un-Islamic. Cairo proved as impervious to the plight of the new unemployed as to the economic ramifications of these undertakings.

The growing dichotomy between the grassroots’ original aspirations and hopes and between the priorities and undertakings of the Morsi Government were having their effect. Doubts about the ability and readiness of the Ikhwan to rule Egypt spread throughout urban Egypt. For the first time, the grassroots started doubting the honesty and reliability of the entire Islamist leadership. Intellectuals who had been Ikhwan stalwarts for decades openly doubted the ability of political Islam to tackle the challenges of governance in the modern world.

Starting in April 2013, Islamist intellectuals began addressing the possibility of the military — Egypt’s only proven modern organ — being the only entity capable of saving and ruling the country as the military did between 1952 and 2011. These increasingly loud doubts petrified the supreme leadership of the Ikhwan. With Morsi focused on the rapid institutional consolidation of Ikhwan dominance of governance and government institutions, it was impossible to redirect the Government’s priorities (not that such redirection would have helped solving Egypt’s economic woes).

In early Summer 2013, the Ikhwan and Islamist leadership were facing public discontent and growing doubts even among their most stalwarts in urban Egypt. Egypt was on the verge of implosion which the public at large would have attributed to the Ikhwan’s endemic failures at governance and skewed self-serving priorities. The aura of the entire Islamist trend as would-be saviors would have been destroyed.

At this very delicate yet explosive time, Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Fatah Saeed Hussein Khalil al-Sisi had the Armed Forces remove Pres. Morsi and his Government from office, naming the civilian head of the Constitutional Court as Interim President. The military had to act. With the catharsis of Ramadan starting on July 8, 2013, the late-June heated and incitement of the Tamarod (Rebellion) movement would have evolved into widespread violent insurrection which Egypt could not endure.

Hence, the military moved on the eve of Ramadan, and toppled Morsi.

Consequently, however, the Ikhwan — rather than be seen as responsible for the catastrophic consequences of their year in power — once again became the victims of military persecution and oppression. The Ikhwan can now blame the military coup for the unfolding economic calamities, insisting, as they already do, that the Morsi Government was on the verge of resolving Egypt’s socio-economic woes had the military not intervened. Indeed, the Ikhwan’s spiritual guides are now calling for a violent intifada against the military: a confrontation where the military’s superior firepower would create numerous martyrs, thus reinforcing and affirming the Ikhwan’s own claim of victimhood.

The distance to an Algerian-style civil war is very short. 

The US Barack Obama Administration decided to publicly intervene in Egypt’s internal affairs at this delicate and explosive moment.

First came the demand from Washington that Sisi releases Morsi from his detention, a move which would have enabled Morsi to lead and exacerbate the Ikhwan’s escalating street confrontations with the military. When Cairo would not budge, two of the State Department’s most pro-Islamist senior officials — Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and US Ambassador Anne Patterson — arrived in Cairo to demand that the military-installed government conduct a “serious and substantive dialogue” with the Islamists and reinstate the Ikhwan to some degree of power on account that the Ikhwan had won the previous elections.

The irony of the US intervention is that neither the military-supported new Government nor the Ikhwan leadership themselves want the Ikhwan to return to power. The Ikhwan leadership prefers at this point to reinforce anew their traditional image as the military’s victims rather than be held accountable for their failures while in power. The military-supported Government seeks to base its authority on westernized technocrats rather than be paralyzed by disputes with the theology-driven Islamists.

But the Obama Administration remained committed to salvaging the ascent of political Islam and the Islamist trend which Washington had initiated, sponsored, and facilitated.

The will and survival of most Egyptians matter not in Obama’s Washington. Thus, laments George Semaan in the July 15, 2013, issue of Al-Hayah, “the blow suffered by the Egyptian Muslim Brothers at the hands of the people first and the army second did not only represent a setback for the political Islam in this country alone. The blow was felt by all the similar movements, including the Tunisian An-Nahda, the Islamic Republic, Gaza’s HAMAS, Lebanon’s HizbAllah, and Turkey’s [Prime Minister Reçep Tayyip] Erdoğan as indicated by these parties’ reactions. Thus, the future developments in Cairo will leave some major marks on the situation in the entire Middle East. Will the Obama administration be able to revive political Islam under its own terms? The US success in rescuing the Egyptian Brothers against its will represents a challenge and a test.”

Meanwhile, the Ikhwan leaders are actively preparing at the highest level for a rather imminent escalation of the fighting. On July 14. 2013, the Ikhwan’s supreme leadership issued a formal guideline for the struggle against the military toward the restoration of Islamist governance.

The document urges “shedding blood and dividing the army”. The document states that “emerging victorious over the enemy requires patience, faith and determination.” The main undertaking to attain the Ikhwan’s ultimate goal are “disbanding the Egyptian army, dividing it and distorting its image”. The document stresses the importance of “sparking bloodshed” in the upcoming phase of the confrontation, with emphasis on encouraging “martyrs” and “sacrifices” from among the Islamist masses.

The document then provides guidelines on how to restore “the collective consciousness” and original goals of Egypt’s Islamic revolution. The document urges all Islamists to continuously propagate and indoctrinate “the concept of struggle” against “the rapists” of authority in Egypt; that is, the army and its westernized supporters.

The document concludes with analysis of “why did the Americans push Abdelfattah Sissi towards a coup?” The Ikhwan’s objective is to portray the military coup as a US conspiracy against Muslim Egypt. “They [the Americans] based their moves on the view that Morsi and the Brothers have essentially become the ones destabilizing the country,” the document explained. “But the Americans have once again proved their historical foolishness. The Egyptian army in its current situation will not be able to provide stability.”

The imminence of the threat was clarified in a decree issued the same day by the Ikhwan’s spiritual leader, Muhammad Badie, which permitted all Islamist protesters to break the fast of Ramadan since they are in a “state of jihad” and are “waging a battle for the control of Egypt.” Badie compares the struggle against the Egyptian army to the Battle of Badr (the decisive battle waged between the forces of Prophet Mohammed and the Jewish tribe of Quraish in 624). Badie compares Cairo’s Rabia al-Adawiya Mosque — the Ikhwan’s center — to Prophet Mohammed’s camp in Medina. “The ruling against those who leave Rabia al-Adawiya Square is akin to the ruling against those who flee the battle and jihad against the infidels,” Badie wrote. On the basis of the decree, Badie ordered Ikhwan leaders to prepare for “the second Battle of Badr” on the battle’s anniversary on Ramadan 17 (July 26. 2013).

According to Muslim traditions, the followers of Mohammed and Islam suspended their Ramadan fast during the Battle of Badr in order to be combat ready.

Meanwhile, although Badie and other Ikhwan leaders insist that “the resistance to the military coup is peaceful, encompassing the masses who cannot forego their freedom and sovereignty”, this is not the case. The Ikhwan dispatched several leaders — both religious and former military — to Arab countries with strong jihadist traditions in order to recruit jihadist volunteers for the Ikhwan’s “Free Egyptian Army” to fight the Egyptian military, reverse Morsi’s ouster, and unleash a jihad against Israel and for the liberation of al-Aqsa.

Algerian security officials warned that the Egyptian recruiters had already signed up a few thousand Algerian volunteers. Among the recruited Algerians are dozens street leaders and commanders of the Algerian civil war.

July 8, 2013

Egypt Strategically Penalized by US Semantics Over Power Change, But is Still Better Prepared to Face Future

The Egyptian decision to remove Pres. Morsi was demonstrably no less “democratic” than the decision to remove Pres. Mubarak, but the latest events showed that the US could no longer determine outcomes in the region ... and yet the Egyptian change not only may have saved Egypt’s fortunes, it may well have been the best outcome for the US and the West.

Analysis. By Gregory R. Copley, Editor, GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs. The new Egyptian Government of Interim Pres. Adly Mansour faces major strategic challenges from internal conflict and economic crisis, but this has been substantially exacerbated, and to some degree caused, by the fact that the US Obama White House has refused to sign off on language which would call the power change anything other than a military coup. That terminology would automatically terminate US military and economic aid.

But what is striking  by comparison is the fact that the White House — which favored military action on February 11, 2011, to replace Pres. Hosni Mubarak with a transition to the Muslim Brotherhood leadership of Mohammed Morsi — did not in 2011 invoke the “coup” terminology which would have cut off the aid provisions to Egypt under the 1978 Camp David Accords.

Several factors are strategically significant when assessing the outlook for Egypt and the region over the coming months:

1. The removal of Pres. Morsi may have been no more “illegal” in US terms than the removal of Pres. Mubarak, given that on both occasions the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces acted in response to widespread public disorder and protests (more in the case of Morsi than in the case of Mubarak), and in each instance committed to an independent civil interim Presidency, as well as to constitutional talks, and new elections within a reasonable timeframe;

2. The actual election of Pres. Morsi (June 23-24, 2012) following the 2011 military removal of Pres. Mubarak may have been “less than democratic” than has been claimed by the White House, given that US Pres. Barack Obama made it absolutely clear to the Egyptian military leadership and the electoral commission that any result other than the election of Mohammed Morsi would not be recognized as legitimate by Washington. This may have caused the vote count to be curtailed, and the “acceptable” (to Washington) decision announced. The very strong prospect that this situation prevailed, along with the reality that the 2013 protest-led transition was little different in substance to the 2011 transition, could allow US Congressional officials to maneuver themselves dialectically to sustain US aid to Egypt over the critical months of hardship which Egypt now faces. The initial Obama rush to legitimize the Morsi election now fuels the belief among Morsi supporters and the Muslim Brothers (Ikhwan) that they have now been robbed of a democratically-earned presidency, thus fueling ongoing protest;

3. Armed insurrection against the new interim Government is likely to continue to escalate, given the sense of a “stolen right” and by the fact that supporters of the Ikhwan outside the country were providing economic, political, and weapons support for the pro-Morsi faction. This response was entirely anticipated by the Egyptian Armed Forces, as demonstrated by the rapid and harsh suppression of Ikhwani violent protests such as the one outside the Republic Guard barracks (where Mr Morsi was believed to be held) on the morning of July 8, 2013, with the loss of 42 lives and 232 wounded. This military determination to constrain violent opposition, however, has a political cost. The Republican Guard incident, for example, meant that the conservative al-Nour party, which had supported the removal of Morsi, withdrew from talks to form an interim administration. Nonetheless, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) cannot afford to relax its policy of rapid and comprehensive suppression of such protests, for fear that they would spread with the onset of worsening economic and food conditions;

4. There will possibly be a temptation for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the Presidency, as the economic conditions continue to worsen due to the crisis, to make gestures as sops to various international and domestic audiences. The nomination on the morning of July 8, 2013, of former UN nuclear regulator Mohamed ElBaradei to serve as Vice-President, was one such gesture, this time to placate international audiences, given that ElBaradei had wide global publicity and was seen as a “Westernized” leader, when in fact he is not. Moreover, ElBaradei’s popular appeal in Egypt is virtually non-existent, given his extremely low voter approval during the incomplete June 2012 Presidential elections. [At the same time, lawyer Ziad Bahaa el Din, 48 (Social Democratic Party), was nominated to become Prime Minister, again largely as a sop to international audiences and secular urban audiences in Egypt.] To appease or distract domestic audiences, it has been suggested by some external observers that the SCAF could raise again the specter of foreign threats to Egypt’s vital Nile waters from Ethiopian dam-building operations1, and to support a revival of anti-Israeli activities via HAMAS in the Palestinian Gaza territories. Significantly, the Nile distraction was attempted by former Pres. Morsi (and by former Pres. Mubarak), and this failed to get widespread resonance among the Egyptian population. Moreover, two other factors apply: the first is that the Egyptian Armed Forces could do little other than make some saber-rattling overflights of the Ethiopian dams with Egyptian Air Force F-16s (flown out of Sudanese bases) and there is no question of Egypt being able to sustain a full military campaign against Ethiopia, which is of equal population and, arguably, in a slightly more resilient economic position at present than Egypt. Secondly, Ethiopia has amply demonstrated, along with other Nile riparian states, that it is anxious to cooperate with Egypt and Sudan on Nile water management. On the question of revived hostility toward Israel, much of the same argument applies as to the resurrection of the “threat” from Ethiopia: it is an expensive ploy and would still not sufficiently distract from domestic economic issues, which, at the moment, are paramount for most Egyptians. Actually, although Israel is now moving along the path of its own domestic gas (and possibly oil) exploitation, there does exist some prospect for short-term revival in Egyptian gas trade with Israel, perhaps on a commercially-viable basis for Egypt;

5. Saudi Arabia is likely to continue, within its own now-constrained economic conditions, to offer maximum support for the new Egyptian Government. For Saudi Arabia, the restoration of a stable, secularly-managed Egypt would represent a significant reversal of the Ikhwani trend which, although neo-salafist, actually also threatened the Saudi fundamentalist Wahhabist movement. The Egyptian reversal also helps offset the Qatari support for the Ikhwani movements of Turkey and in some of the Syrian opposition. The Saudi Government essentially recognizes that the attempts to overthrow Syrian Pres. Bashar al-Assad have failed, and it was more in Saudi Arabia’s interest to build some stability vis-à-vis Iran (as Syria’s principal backer) rather than see rampant Ikhwani movements which would ultimately threaten the House of Sa’ud. Bottom line is that Saudi Arabia wants a strong and stable Egypt as its major ally in the region, and this could only be achieved by the removal of Morsi. Thus, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are likely to do what they can to help ease Egypt’s short-term food and economic problems. Ongoing violence from the Ikhwani in Egypt, however, would continue to drive tourists away from Egypt, protracting the Egyptian ability to earn foreign exchange. What remains to be seen is whether the Egyptian Ikhwan, supported by foreign state allies, would attempt to undermine security of the Suez/Red Sea sea lanes (as Libya did in 1984), and in this regard Qatar and Turkey should be observed carefully;

6. The events in Egypt take a considerable amount of the focus, internationally, away from the Syrian crisis, and this could well allow the situation there to stabilize around what has already become a clear dominance of the territory as a whole by the Assad Government and Iran. At the same time, the military action in Egypt — where Morsi felt that he had cut off independent thought in the Armed Forces — served as a sober caution for the Turkish Government of Prime Minister Reçep Tayyip Erdoğan, who, equally, has thought his military neutered (indeed, to a far greater extent than Egypt, that is the case). But to some extent, the focus on events in Egypt have taken pressure off Mr Erdoğan and his Ikhwan-based Government’s attempts to build a monolithic Islamist society and a neo-Ottomanist rôle in the Levant, the Arabian Peninsula and the Red Sea regions. Given the aggregate of events, the removal of Morsi is probably seen on balance in Tehran as being beneficial for Iran’s long-term strategic interests, although, as with Turkey, the image being projected of mass protests to change a government can be also seen as applicable to Iran, threatening the clerical rule there. Thus, the Iranian Government should be expected to be muted in its comments. Ultimately, however, Iran is competitive with Egypt for influence in the Horn of Africa and sub-Saharan Africa;

7. Again, in the aggregate, there was considerable relief in most parts of the US Congress and the US Defense Department with the activities which followed the June 30, 2013, uprising in Egypt. But the White House and State Department continue to favor the Ikhwani line as the “inevitable” vanguard of change in the Arab portions of the Middle East. In fact, there is no such inevitability about the Ikhwani approach, which does not, in fact, reflect a regional consensus, as post-Qadhafi elections proved in Libya, and as the Egyptian situation itself demonstrated. The Saudi Government, albeit weakened economically (and with the age and poor health of King ‘Abdallah bin ‘Abd al-’Aziz al Sa’ud), was likely to press US Pres. Obama not to disrupt the process underway in Egypt. Now, with the Egyptian affair, the clear split between Saudi Arabia and the UAE on the one hand, and Qatar and Turkey on the other, is becoming evident. This leaves Iran geo-strategically a weak but dominant power. The People’s Republic of China (PRC), having been unable to gain confidence in Turkey, Iran, or Sudan as regional partners, may well reinforce its diplomacy with Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and, like Russia, stay firm in not approving US-led efforts to undermine the Syrian situation further;

8. Finally, in all of this, the actions of Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces demonstrated that even though Egypt has been absolutely dependent on the US for economic and military aid and support, Egypt was equally-absolutely prepared to do what it had to do regardless of the views of the White House. The SCAF’s actions vindicated the belief that the US could not determine the regional outcomes and, ultimately, would need Egypt more than Egypt needed Washington. That has now been demonstrated to be the result of the Obama Administration’s psychological (if not physical) removal of US hard power from the region — and, more importantly, the removal of the perception of US military-strategic invincibility — and equally a result of the failure of the US George W. Bush Administration’s poorly-conceived military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. These two major wars demonstrated US tactical success but strategic failure. The question now is how the US and the West can rebuild credibility. In the short-term, however, the decision by the SCAF to defy the US White House was almost certainly the only decision which could have been made in Cairo (and to the long-term benefit, as well, of the US). Former Egyptian Pres. Mubarak did not have the nerve to break with Washington.

Meanwhile, because of the ruinous year-long Presidency of Pres. Morsi, the Egyptian economy is in worse shape than at any time in recent decades, and it is entering the fasting month of Ramadan without, it is believed, the necessary reserves of food for observant Muslims to break their fast each evening. There is some suggestion that food shortages over Ramadan and succeeding months will keep public unrest on the boil, forcing the new Government — essentially the administration of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces — to be particularly strict in suppressing unrest which could be exploited by pro-Morsi elements within the Muslim Brothers (Ikhwan).

By early 2013, it was becoming increasingly clear that the Egyptian economy was continuing to slow substantially, and that Pres. Morsi had becoming increasingly determined to increase the hold which the Muslim Brothers held over political power. Unrest, and anti-Government demonstrations, became more frequent, not just in the more secular Cairo urban area, but in cities around the country. On May 1, 2013, secular and opposition groups announced that they would begin collecting signatures for a petition demanding that Pres. Morsi resign, and that they hoped to have 15-million signatures on it by June 30, 2013. At that point, they called for a rally outside the Presidential palace in Cairo on June 30, 2013, to present the petition and demand the President’s resignation. Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, one of the movement’s organizers, said: “Whoever wants the revolution to prevail must rebel; whoever wants to achieve bread, freedom and social justice must rebel. Let 30 June be a decisive day for the revolution.” The press conference was attended by several opposition figures, including lawyer Hamdi El-Fakharani, member of the National Salvation Front Hussein Abdel-Ghani, former MP Gamal Zahran and former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi.

By May 29, 2013, the petition organizers of the movement, now officially called Tamarod (“rebellion”) said that they had already collected 7,540,535 signatures.

By June 29, 2013, the day before the planned mass rally in Cairo — and after a period of mounting anti-government protests and violence — Tamarod indicated that it had gained 22,134,465 signatures on the petition, and Tamarod spokesman Mahmud Badr announced that the number of signatures was higher than the number of people who had voted for Mohamed Morsi during the 2012 elections, at which he won 13.23-million votes (51.7 percent of the votes cast).

The Presidency and the Muslim Brothers attempted to paint the petition as a fraud, with forged signatures, but the growing scope of the opposition made it clear that the Government was likely to face a substantial protest on June 30, 2013. Through the first months of 2013, Pres. Morsi had attempted to raise external threats to Egypt’s Nile waters — as a result of Ethiopia’s new dam project — as a major rallying call for Egyptians to support the Government. But this campaign, although backed by Egyptian support for anti-Ethiopian rebel movements, did not win widespread traction in Egypt, and public discontent with the Government continued to mount.

The protests began in Cairo, and other cities, on June 30, 2013, a full year after Pres. Morsi took office. Hundreds of thousands of protestors gathered, but so, too, did thousands of supporters of the President, organized by the Muslim Brothers (Ikhwan). At least 16 people died and at least 340 were injured in the clashes on and around the June 30, 2013, protests. Pres. Morsi resisted the demonstrations, even though the headquarters of the Ikhwan was attacked and burnt, and said on July 2, 2013, that he would not stand down. On July 3, 2013, however, Minister of Defense and Minister of Military Production, and Chairman of the Supreme Military Council, Gen. Abdul Fatah Saeed Hussein Khalil al-Sisi, who had been appointed by Pres. Morsi because of his support for the Islamist approach to governance, announced that the military had decided that the Morsi Government had not fulfilled its mandate and was being removed.

Gen. al-Sisi said that the Islamist-dominated Constitution would be suspended and would be re-written, and that an Interim President, the new President of the Constitutional Court, Adly Mansour, 67, would oversee the re-drafting of the Constitution, and would then call for new Parliamentary and Presidential elections. That process was expected to take nine months to a  year, but, in reality, would probably take more time. Int. Pres. Mansour had been Vice-President of the Constitutional Court since 1992, before taking over the Presidency of the Court on July 1, 2013. The announcement was met with widespread popular demonstrations on the night of July 3, 2013, with fireworks being let off all over Cairo, but also with supporters of Mohamed Morsi saying that he would be restored, in subsequent elections, as President. Meanwhile, former Pres. Morsi was being held by the Presidential Guard incommunicado under house arrest in Cairo, and the Ikhwani Freedom and Justice Party chief, Saad el-Katatni, and his deputy, Rashad Al-Bayoumi, were arrested, with warrants out for other Ikhwani leaders. Significantly, Muhammad Rabee al-Zawahiri, the younger brother of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the al-Qaida leader, had said immediately after the June 30, 2013, demonstrations that he would launch a jihad if Morsi was toppled and Ikhwanis were arrested.

The Qatar-based broadcaster, al-Jazeera, broadcast a taped message, prepared in advance by Pres. Morsi, after the military intervention was announced, and the Cairo studio of the broadcaster was immediately raided by security forces and several al-Jazeera staff were detained.

The US White House, which had thrown its full weight behind the election and administration of Mohammed Morsi, was noticeably displeased with the military intervention, and began circulating proposals to cut US aid to Egypt on the basis of the “coup”. Reports from Cairo indicated that the new Administration and the Government of Saudi Arabia were preparing to coordinate an improvement in ties, especially given the fact that the Egyptian economy was in poor shape and needed an injection of financial aid if there was not to be unrest during the forthcoming Ramadan period. The governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates issued statements of support for the Egyptian action. The Egyptian pound continued to decline in value against the US dollar and euro during the first half of 2013.


1. See, in particular: “Egypt’s Instability Triggers a New Proxy War Against Ethiopia and its Allies”, in Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, June 7, 2013.

June 7, 2013

Egypt’s Instability Triggers a New Proxy War Against Ethiopia and its Allies

Analysis. By Gregory R. Copley, Editor, GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs. Egypt’s Morsi Government has initiated a return to covert war against Ethiopia, which controls the source of the Blue Nile, Egypt’s and Sudan’s principal source of water. 

The result will almost certainly lead to an increased level of insecurity in the strategic Red Sea/Suez sea lane and in the upper Nile riparian states, such as South Sudan, with some impact on global energy markets. Certainly it promises to see greater instability in the Horn of Africa at a time when Western media portrayals hint at a return to stability in, for example, Somalia. 

Significant, mounting public unrest in Egypt during May and June 2013 (with more promised), expressing discontent with the economic and social policies of the Ikhwani Government of Pres. Mohammed Morsi caused the President to search for a major foreign distraction — a perceived threat to Egypt — to turn public attention away from the worsening domestic social and economic climate. The campaign includes a major media offensive at the alleged threat, and also included the commitment of major political, intelligence, and military resources to  a trenchant reversal of Egypt’s brief period of rapprochement with Upper Nile riparian states, particularly Ethiopia. 

This amounts to a full — even expanded — resumption of the indirect war to isolate Ethiopia politically and economically and to ensure that it cannot attract foreign investment and political support. It also attempts to ensure that Ethiopia’s main avenues for trade, through the Red Sea ports in Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somaliland, become closed to it. This, in particular, means that the Egyptian campaign to prevent recognition of independent Somaliland (former British Somaliland) has been reinvigorated, and military aid given to Somalia (former Italian Somaliland) to help overrun the Republic of Somaliland, thus cutting Ethiopia’s trade link through Somaliland’s port of Berbera. 

The discontent in Egypt — and Morsi’s search for a foreign distraction — coincided with the start of work on Ethiopia’s major Great Millennium Dam (aka the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam), which some Egyptians have claimed, without evidence, would take Nile waters away from Egypt. The coincidence of the timing has proven explosive, although the Morsi Government had already initiated discreet steps to re-escalate indirect hostilities against Ethiopia. 

The Egyptian military knows that Egypt is not in a position — even allied with neighboring Sudan — to take direct military action against Ethiopia, but Pres. Morsi had begun returning to the confrontational approach with Ethiopia which had characterized the former governments of Pres. Hosni Mubarak. The move away from this approach, which had failed to gain any traction against Ethiopia or other upstream riparian states, began under the post-Mubarak military Government of Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi with an initiative aimed at achieving negotiated results. 

Pres. Morsi, on assuming power in Egypt, discovered during his visit to Addis Ababa for an African Union summit in 2011, that the Great Millennium Dam project would proceed, although Ethiopian officials assured Egypt that this would not interfere with the flow of water to Egypt. The dam was expected to produce 6,000 megawatts of power, and its reservoir was scheduled to start filling in 2014. 

An independent panel of experts concluded that the dam would not significantly affect downstream Sudan and Egypt, but Younis Makhyoun (Zakaria Younis Abdel-Halim Makhyoun), leader of the ultraconservative Salafist al-Nour party, said on June 3, 2013, that Egypt should back rebels in Ethiopia or, as a last resort, destroy the dam. The Morsi Government, in fact, had already begun that action, using the allied Sudanese Government of Pres. Umar Hasan Ahmad al-Bashir to support Ethiopian radical Islamist leaders sitting in exile in Khartoum. These leaders prompted major anti-Government demonstrations to take place in Addis Ababa in the first days of June 2013. One, on June 1, 2013, involved some 10,000 demonstrators, mostly Muslim, calling for increased religious freedom, the release of political prisoners, and so on. [Reports claiming that there were 100,000 demonstrators dramatically overstated the reality.] 

What was significant was that the demonstrations attracted the support of urban, Christian youth, who saw the demonstration as a chance to protest against the Government. But it was the extreme Islamist elements which, with considerable Egyptian backing through the Khartoum connection, made the protests significant. The rally was formally organized by the secular Semayawi (Blue) Party, which received official permits for the rally, but the event was co-opted by the Islamists, making it just the event which Cairo had sought. 

Not coincidentally, a senior Egyptian Ministry of Defense delegation arrived in Mogadishu, Somalia, on June 4, 2013, officially to begin discussions on an Egyptian project to rebuild the headquarters and offices of the Ministry of Defense of Somalia. However, the Egyptian delegation made it clear to its hosts that it also intended to equip, train, and rebuild the Somali Armed Forces, with the intent to support a Somalian move to assume control of the Republic of Somaliland, to its North. The independent and internationally-recognized Republic of Somaliland had joined with the former Italian Somaliland to create Somalia, on July 1, 1960. Following a massive brutalization of Somaliland by southern “Somalian” forces, Somaliland on May 18, 1991, withdrew from the union. 

The Egyptian Government, however, has, since that time, ensured that the African Union (AU) and Arab League did not recognize the return to independence of Somaliland, largely in order to ensure the isolation of, by now, landlocked Ethiopia, and to limit Ethiopia’s economic viability and therefore its ability to engage in major projects on the Blue Nile headwaters. Egypt’s pressure within the (then) Organization for African Unity (OAU), later the AU, the Arab League, and on its US ally, ensured that no bid for recognition of Somaliland made headway. 

That process was beginning to be reversed when elections in Somaliland on July 26, 2010, installed Pres. Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo and  the Kulmiye party. Significantly, Silanyo, beset by advanced diabetes and probable dementia, has relied increasingly on Minister of Presidency Hersi Ali Haji Hassan (Somali: Xirsi Xaaji Xasan), who is essentially an ally and front for the salafist jihadi movement, al-Shabaab. He has essentially taken control of the Government. Thus, progress by the outgoing Somaliland Government with the governments of the US, Britain, and Germany for de facto recognition ended. 

Egypt, then, is now advancing on several fronts in its campaign to isolate Ethiopia: through Somalia; through Sudan; through its sponsorships via a number of channels of Ethiopian Islamist and other opposition movements (including the Oromo Liberation Front: OLF); and via Eritrea (although the Eritrean option has become limited because of the paralysis of the Government there, under the ailing President, Isayas Afewerke). 

Significantly, Cairo actually has no real national security case on which to base its new war. There is no evidence that the Ethiopian dam would constrain Nile water flow to Sudan and Egypt, and, anyway, there is little Egypt could do, either legally or militarily if the flow was threatened: other than to bring Ethiopia into a state of chaos. 

But the major reason for the Egyptian initiative was, according to sources in Cairo, to mobilize Egyptian public opinion around Pres. Morsi. Significantly, however, by posing such a threat to Ethiopia, Egypt risks actually galvanizing Ethiopian public opinion around the Government in Addis Ababa, and perhaps creating a reason for Ethiopia to consider using water flow as a weapon against Cairo. 

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn, who was elected as a stop-gap leader following the death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in mid-2012, has only a modest power base of his own. But his one option now may be to do what Meles had been dissuaded from doing before: to formally recognize the sovereignty of Somaliland. Hailemariam, in May 2013, promised in Parliament to defend Somaliland. Other African states have promised to recognize Somaliland, but did not want to be the first. Somaliland’s senior military officials, meanwhile, flew to Addis for talks on June 5, 2013.

The war has begun, but it may not save Pres. Morsi from the collapsing Egyptian economy, even bigger demonstrations of unrest, and even opposition to his policies of antagonizing upper Nile states.

September 20, 2012

The New 9/11 Attacks: A Self-Fulfilling Prophesy, But a Drama Which Obscures the Domestic Power-Plays in Libya

The surge in jihadist attacks on US diplomatic missions in September 2012 largely obscured the complex realities around a number of individual incidents and locales, particularly the Libyan situation.

By Gregory R. Copley, Editor, GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs. Embassies and diplomatic missions of the United States — and those of some other Western states — began to come under attack in Muslim states from Islamist-led mobs beginning on September 11, 2012, the 11th anniversary of the al-Qaida-led attacks on major US targets in 2001. Contrary to US Government official statements, these attacks were carefully planned, coordinated in many respects, and were predictable. But they also reflected local conditions and political developments not necessarily related to the overall condition of the “Muslim world”. Nowhere was this more the case than in Libya.

The attacks in themselves need not necessarily lead to major strategic consequences, but were, more importantly, the anticipated outcome of the US decline in influence. They were very much symptomatic of conditions which evolved following the creation of a strategic vacuum in the world — and particularly the Middle East — caused by the scaling back of US global power.1

Quite apart from the fact that there appeared to be hard tactical intelligence warning of the impending initial attacks — against the US Embassy in Cairo and the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya — there were other clear, longer-term indicators. These included the logical reality that September 11 — the anniversary of the initial attacks — provided an iconic rallying point, as did the fact that a US “drone attack” on June 4, 2012, killed Abu Yahya al-Libi (born Mohamed Hassan Qaid), the Libyan-born number two man in the al-Qaida terrorist group, in Mir Ali, in Pakistan’s Waz- iristan tribal region. Abu Yahya was linked to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (Al-Jama’a al-Islamiyyah al- Muqatilah bi-Libya: LIFG), which was itself built from the core of Libyan Islamists who had fought in Afghanistan.

What is significant is that LIFG was supported substantially by the US Government when it allied itself to the bid to overthrow then-Libyan leader Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi in 2011. It is not an overstatement to note that this group, which took a key rôle in the September 11, 2012, attacks on the US Consulate in Benghazi, was empowered and enabled by the US Government itself, with the pro-Islamist policy of US Pres. Barack Obama. Moreover, the coordination of the attacks in Cairo and Benghazi (and other sites) implies strongly a linkage between some of the al-Qaida franchise members, such as LIFG, and the Muslim Brothers (Ikhwan), now governing in Egypt, despite nominal disavowal of the attacks by the Ikhwani Egyptian Government of Pres. Mohamed Morsi.

There was much more to the situation than that, however.

Firstly, there was the element of revenge in the attack by LIFG on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Cyrenaica, resulting in the humiliation and then killing of the US Ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, 52, and three other US Embassy employees, on September 11, 2012. The nominal excuse for the attack — Muslim anger over a US-made film said to demean the Prophet Mohammed — was just that, an excuse. Indeed, there is considerable evidence to show that the excerpts of the amateur film shown on YouTube had the sound-track altered to make the dialog of the film clip, entitled The Innocence of Muslims, more inflammatory to Muslims. This took time, preparation, and purpose, and the purpose included building up a rationale for attacks to be staged against US targets on the 9/11 anniversary. There was also an indication that al-Qaida and other Islamist elements applied pressure on LIFG to make the Benghazi attack part of the 9/11 “uprising”.

Significantly, there were pressures on Amb. Stevens to ensure that he was in Benghazi, rather than at the US Embassy in Tripoli, on that date. Why was the attack specifically intended for Benghazi and not Tripoli?

Benghazi, the capital of Cyrenaica (the key area for oil and gas production), was the key to the anti-Qadhafi uprising in February 2011, when moderate Libyan Muslims of the Sanussiyyah sect sought to restore the 1951 Constitution, which would have wrested control of Libya from Tripoli, and made Libya, once again, a balanced confederation of the three regions: Cyrenaica, Fezzan, and Tripolitania. This original impetus for the uprising, however, was usurped by Islamist elements, strongly supported by the United States, and by envoy (and later ambassador) Stevens. Even following the ouster of Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi as the power in Libya, the Cyrenaican leadership under the moderate Sheikh Ahmed Zubair sought to rid the region of armed, foreign Islamist fighters, particularly those from Qatar.2 These radical Islamists were essentially supporters of the former Qadhafi minister who became Chairman of the National Transitional Council (NTC), Mustafa Mohammed Abdul Jalil.

Jalil, after the elections of July 7, 2012, failed to favor the Tripoli faction (despite Tripolitania having 101 seats in the new, 200-seat General National Congress (GNC), returned to Cyrenaica — his power base, even though he is not of the moderate Sanussiyyah sect which dominates the area — to attempt to maneuver against Sheikh Ahmed Zubair, and to stop Ahmed’s moves against the non- Libyan Islamist elements which support Jalil.

The question must be asked, then, as to how much Jalil, or his followers, were involved in attempting to get US Amb. Stevens to Benghazi on September 11, 2012, to position him for demonstrations, ostensibly over the US film, by Jalil’s crowds. These “spontaneous protests” — such as they were; they were fairly insignificant — were used as a cover for the well-planned LIFG attacks, which specifically addressed LIFG’s desire for revenge for the killing of Abu Yahya al-Libi. But they also served a strong purpose of Jalil in trying to discredit Sheikh Ahmed and the traditional Cyrenaican leadership.

It was not insignificant that the interim President of Libya, the newly-elected Dr Mohammed Yussef al-Magariaf, a strong supporter of the Sanussi movement, and — in keeping with the modernist and pro-Western Sanussiyyah movement — Western- style governance, condemned the Benghazi attacks on the US Embassy, and issued a formal apology to the US for them. But he also made it clear that the attacks were not about protests against the so-called anti-Muslim film clip, but more about internal Libyan politics and the engagement of foreign-backed jihadists.

The great irony of the September 11, 2012, attack on Amb. Stevens and the Consulate is that Amb. Stevens and the US State Department had so strongly supported the Islamists who ultimately conducted the attack, using them as allies to take control of the anti-Qadhafi movement through 2011 and 2012. This pro-Islamist support took the form of working with the Government of Qatar in fielding and arming what has amounted to a Qatari “Foreign Legion”, which aimed at supporting the Islamist Muslim Brothers (the Ikhwan) in Libya, in particular, and then — and currently — in Syria, fighting against the Syrian Government of Bashar al-Assad, and providing support, too, to the Ikhwan in Egypt. This has been the policy line from the Barack Obama White House, but it led directly to the killing of Amb. Stevens and his colleagues.

It begs the question as to whether the original intent of the uprising against Qadhafi — to restore the 1951 Libyan Constitution — would have been in the interests of a stable and prosperous Libya, and therefore Libya’s Mediterranean and international trading partners. And why the Obama White House felt that it could replace US pragmatism, and US strategic projection into the Middle East, with a power vacuum and appeasement of the forces which specifically oppose the US and Westernism?

Clearly, the results of the US Obama Doctrine are now clear. There is a power vacuum which will lead to increasing instability in the Middle East.


1. This condition and outcome was forecast specifically in this journal in its 10/2008 edition, which noted: “Now, with the election of Sen. Obama, and his implicit promise to revive US military/strategic isolationism, the threat felt from the US has been dramatically removed for many societies, whether in Western Europe or in, say, Iran. The US is now an economic power, but its power — already in decline in real terms for the past two dozen years — can now be ignored in many respects. The states of the world are going their own way. They will play with the US when it suits them. They will look Washington in the eye, and turn away when they wish. As the US ability to build security coalitions (or to retain them in, say, Afghanistan or Iraq) declines, US diplomats will become more strident, and yet more ineffective, in their pressures on onetime allies and foes. Their coercive powers will be seen, increasingly, as having been vacated.” — Gregory Copley, in the “Early Warning” column, Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, 10/2008. The report, which also appeared in Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis on November 7, 2008, also noted: “ The ostensibly non-belligerent Obama Administration will attempt to utilize coercion and naïve guile to retain US strategic credibility and power. Within hours of the Obama election, for example, it had already been discussed that a senior ‘special US envoy’ would be named to the Palestinian Authority so that Obama could be seen to be foresaking Israel, thereby winning support from the Muslim world. It was also suggested, for much of the same reason and in order to retain US access to Afghanistan through Pakistan, that a “special envoy”, perhaps even former US Pres. William Clinton, would be appointed to help resolve the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan. This is akin to offering a lollipop to bribe billionaire Warren Buffet into a slick investment. It will prolong the talkfests, but ultimately highlight the vacuity of US understanding of these regional problems. And US credibility will continue to slide; its relationships with its allies will become less fruitful; and the restiveness of its foes grow more bold.”

2. See: “Can Libya Repel the Invaders and Survive?” in Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, 7/2012 (also in Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, July 27, 2012). See also: “The Predictable Libya Conundrum”, in Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, 4/2012.

July 27, 2012

Can Libya Repel the Invaders and Survive?

Analysis. From GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs correspondents in Tripoli and Benghazi. Libyans went, on July 7, 2012, into their first national elections in decades, and foreign observers hailed the fact that the event took place so well, and that democracy had returned to the Maghreb state. What went unsaid — because most external observers failed to comprehend the complexity of the situation — was that the actual basis of the electoral structure had been shaped by external forces.

Yes, there was widespread voting for a slate of candidates. But the parliament for which the Libyans voted had already become a body which had broken the carefully-balanced structure created by the 1952 Constitution. Indeed, the Libyan civil war of 2011-12 had been fought expressly to reinstate the 1952 Constitution, and the fighting had taken place under the 1952 Constitutional flag, now adopted as the flag of post-Qadhafi Libya.1

What was created as a framework of governance in Libya by the internationally-sanctioned National Transitional Council (NTC) bears little resemblance to the Constitutional structure demanded by the Libyans. It is a structure which was hijacked and re-purposed by key interest groups inside and outside Libya. The result is that the new structure in Libya actually enables the resurrection of the system — if it can be called that — of Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi, whose four decades of autocratic rule had been overthrown by the civil war.

The 1952 Constitution guaranteed that no tribe of the 140 or so Libyan tribes could dominate any or all of the others; it also guaranteed that none of the regions (Fezzan, Cyrenaica, and Tripolitania) which had agreed to federate to create Libya after World War II would be able to dominate the other. The new parliamentary structure which the international community sanction, and for which candidates stood on July 7, 2012, broke the careful balance of the 1952 Constitution and gave dominance to Trip- olitania, ironically the region with the least natural resources but the largest population. This paved the way for “demography-based democracy”, el- iminating the historical protections for the regions and tribes, and allowing Tripoli to take all decisions in the name of all Libya and ignoring the reality that regional cultures and assets are well-entrenched. Thus, as a result, Tripoli — as it was under Qadhafi — is empowered to take the resources from the two most resource-endowed regions, Fezzan and Cyrenaica.

The new parliament, significantly, has 200 seats, 101 of which were allocated (by the stage-managed preparations) to Tripolitania. This means that, on key issues, including the defining of the proposed new Constitution, Tripolitania could — and almost certainly would — continue to vote itself dominance over the Fezzan and Cyrenaica. Under this premise, in the past (under Qadhafi and under the successor, unelected National Transitional Council: NTC), Tripoli has consistently removed major assets, and control over all revenues and resources, from the two other regions, and arrogated these to Tripoli.

Despite these careful preparations to shape the outcome by shaping the representational balance in Parliament (while steadfastly refusing to acknowledge the 1952 Constitution which the United Nations had worked with the tribes to achieve), the Libyan voters may have rejected the “external model”. The vote was clearly against the foreign-backed Islamists, and essentially against the Muslim Brothers. This is discussed in greater detail, below.

So where was the backing for the Tripoli-dominant and Islamist-dominant new “democracy” originating?

1. Qatar: There were strong efforts by the Government of Qatar, using its “Qatari Foreign Legion” of “deniable” assets to take control of the Libyan revolt against Qadhafi from an early stage in 2011. Many Qataris were literally thrown out of the Cyrenaican region by the local Government under Sheikh Ahmed Zubair, of the moderate and modernizing Sanussiyyah sect of Islam. Only in Tripoli do the Qataris still have some sway with the Islamist Chairman of the Interim National Transitional Council (NTC), Mustafa Mohammed Abdul Jalil. Jalil, a former Minister of Justice in the Qadhafi Administration, claims to be a Sanussi, but in fact acts against the Sanussiyyah tenets by advocating for the more neo-salafist elements.

Sources in Doha, the Qatari capital, have confirmed that Qatar’s interest in proselytizing on behalf of — essentially — the Muslim Brothers has been very much at the behest of the Barack Obama White House in the US. Qatar has been even more active in supporting the interests of the Muslim Brothers in the ongoing Syrian dispute, as a means of helping to remove what is seen as a pro-Iranian, pro-Shi’a Government and replacing it with a Government essentially dominated by the Muslim Brothers (and therefore more oriented toward neo-salafist Sunni sects, such as the Wahhabis, as well as toward the Turkish “secular” or modern Islamists).

Qatar, delicately placed in the Persian Gulf within arm’s reach of Iran, has its own reasons for attempting to limit the Shi’a clerics in Iran, but in this instance has strong support from the Obama White House for its free- wheeling support of the Muslim Brothers and related groups in Syria, Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere.

2. Egypt’s Muslim Brothers. Egypt has always been sensitive to what happens in Libya, with which it shares a long land border, and contiguous seas. Now, however, with the Muslim Brothers taking electoral power in Egypt, the momentum which began in early 2011 from Cairo by the Brothers to support their colleagues in Libya (and particularly NTC Chairman Jalil) has been compounded.

There is reason to believe that the Egyptian Armed Forces may oppose this extension of the Muslim Brothers network into Libya, but at present the military itself in Egypt is under siege and has more important pressures with which to contend. In the meantime, the porous Egypt-Libya border means that a free flow of weapons and cadres can occur (including a flow of weapons from Libyan stockpiles to Egyptian supporters of the Brothers).

3. Turkey. The Turkish Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (Justice and Development Party: AKP), led by Prime Minister Reçep Tayyip Erdoğan, sees the Muslim Brothers as the natural extension of its new brand of Islamist politics. It also has a strong commitment to a pseudo-Ottomanist new Turkish strategic policy which would revive Turkish reach into the Mediterranean (and elsewhere). It has taken a strong stand to support the Libyan Muslim Brothers party, the Justice and Construction Party (sometimes translated as the Justice and Development Party: Hizb Al-Ad- ala Wal-Bina).

In this, as with US support for Qatari actions, Washington has supported Turkey. Indeed, Turkish-Qatari cooperation in proselytizing a line of Islamist political solutions has extended over a number of areas, and particularly with regard to Syria and Libya.

The extent to which Turkey is trusted as an ally of the Islamist leadership in the NTC is the demonstrated by the fact that direct flights to Cyrenaica (Benghazi) from outside Libya are only possible from Turkey, and Tripoli trusts that only foreign travelers with visas issued in Tripoli can board such aircraft.

4. The United States of America. The US Barack Obama White House and the US State Dept. are committed to supporting the Muslim Brothers’ expansion through the Middle East because they believe that the Islamist surge in the region was inevitable and irresistible, while at the same time it was perceived to counter Iranian adventurism in the region.

What is significant is that the US has placed the European Union governments, and particularly the United Kingdom, under literally extreme pressure to support the Tripoli-based approach to a Libyan solution. British, French, and Italian energy companies, in particular, have basically gone along with the approach, even though there is strong recognition that they are channeling all power into the hands of a Tripoli bureaucracy, which has great capacity to act as Qadhafi did with such centralized power, keeping the funds away from the regions. The present transitional council has, in fact, already gone beyond the Qadhafi Administration in centralizing bureaucracy in Tripoli. And to ensure that this monopoly is not challenged, the NTC has enforced a process whereby visas are not given to foreigners who wish to travel to Cyrenaica and Fezzan to meet with the regional leaders (who happen to be opposed to Tripolitanian control).

The Elections

Libyans, even those angered by the blatant gerrymandering of the structures of the election, turned out in significant numbers on July 7, 2012, to vote. Nationally, some 62 percent of registered voters turned up at the polls, a total of some 2.8-million registered voters, deciding between 2,639 candidates. Political parties competed for only 80 out of 200 seats in the General National Congress (GNC). Significantly, the Muslim Brothers party, the Justice and Construction Party, won only 17 of the 80 party seats. What seems to have emerged, as well, is that — despite the large bloc of seats reserved for Tripolitania — there was such a fracturing of ideological fault-lines that a very strong voting bloc, perhaps even a majority, could be formed by those more traditionally-oriented politicians who do not accept the Qadhafi-style consolidation of power.

There have, indeed, already been partnerships forming between nationalist-traditionalist Libyans and elected parliamentarians from Cyrenaica and Fezzan. Clearly, the National Forces Alliance, led by former Interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, will be a factor: it won 39 of the 80 party-designated seats. But even the liberal (ie: pro-Sanussi) National Front Party, led by the elder statesman, Mohamed el-Magariaf, won two of the 80 party seats, but has a strong commitment to working with individual parliamentarians committed to avoiding a consolidation of power in Tripoli’s hands.

The question is, however, whether the NTC and the entrenched bureaucracy in Tripoli will relinquish power, or whether they will have brought all of the elements (the national oil company, the national bank, etc.) into Tripoli and irrevocably away from Benghazi. And whether such moves and resistance to the demands of the regions will lead to a further outbreak of civil war.

Sheikh Ahmed Zubair, the Cyrenaican regional leader, has significant appeal and moral authority throughout Libya; he spent more than three decades as a prisoner in Qadhafi’s gaols. He had, until the election, protested Tripoli’s attempt to isolate Cyr- enaica and remove its assets (as well as controlling all foreign contracts on the extraction of oil and gas from Cyrenaica) by quarantining Cyrenaica from Tripolitania. All Tripoli could do was to attempt to prevent the world media from focusing on what was happening, and why.

What Sheikh Ahmed does is of critical importance. He could physically cut off access to the Libyan oil and gas fields in Cyrenaica, despite his commitment to promoting a healthy energy export regime for the region. But if the revenues from Cyrenaica continue to flow only to Tripoli — which has not shared them with any degree of equity — then Sheikh Ahmed would have enormous popular support to cut off the flow of oil and gas. He began, in 2012, steps toward building a Cyrenaican National Guard to help safeguard regional interests. Indeed, it was because of him, and his fellow Cyrenaicans, that the revolt against Qadhafi began and gained any traction at all.

This emerging prospect comes at a time when the major powers have shown an increasing reluctance to intervene again in a conflict, whether in Syria or a return to Libya. Properly handled, Cyrenaica and its ally, Fezzan, could easily decide to remove Tripoli from the Libyan federation. What outside observers have failed to acknowledge is the reality that Libya remains a federated structure, even if, as a result of Qadhafi’s four decades in office, it is now only a de facto federation. The underpinning regionalism, and separate identities of the regions ensures that Tripoli can now only go back to a unitary state by force, or by a compromise which ensures that the regions — whether formal or informal — get fair recompense for their resources and efforts. The parallels between that flexing of frustrated muscles and the similar anger expressed in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region are clear to Libyans.

Libya has the largest proven oil reserves in Africa, and large gas reserves as well. Most of them are in Cyrenaica. Fezzan, too, has energy and a range of other mineral resources ready for exploitation. Ironically, Cyrenaica and Fezzan are culturally strongly disposed to trade and contacts with Europe and non-Muslim cultures; that is the basis of the Sanussiyyah sect which dominates those regions. The Tripolitanians are less Sanussi in orientation, and the present Islamists in power in Tripoli are more fundamental in their Islamic interpretation, and therefore less inclined to regard Westerners with the same hospitality as the Cyrenaicans and Fezzan citizens.

Where does this leave the situation?

It is likely that the GNC will begin to evolve into blocs which will help calm tendencies for either Tripoli or Cyrenaica to act aggressively. The strong anti- Islamist vote helped ensure that.

On the other hand, it should be expected that the actual power structure in Tripoli, as long as it can be dominated by the Chairman of the NTC, would attempt to gather real power (control over revenues), and to starve the regions. During this period, it seems likely that it would be difficult for Tripoli to rebuild a military structure which could be used against the regions (particularly Benghazi), but should Tripoli go too far, then Sheikh Ahmed should be seen as ready to take strenuous measures to safeguard his region’s interests. Then, as now, Tripoli would attempt to isolate the Sheikh from international eyes.

Unless Sheikh Ahmed takes his own steps to open the eyes of the international community. But now, and for the foreseeable future, he remains a prisoner in his own territory.

The balance is delicate, and the US, Turkey, Qatar, and the Egyptian Islamist leadership are not helping Libya to remain stable.


1. See: “The Predictable Libya Conundrum”, in Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, 4/2012. This report, including a report by the International Strategic Studies Association (ISSA) on Libya’s election preparations, noted: “Libya is set for a continuation and expansion of its civil war if the 1951 Constitution is bypassed and artificial elections are held. Indeed, Western intervention overlooked the fact that the February 2011 revolt against Qadhafi was done in the name of the 1951 UN-drafted Constitution — and under its flag — and yet now the international community has set the stage for a new, Qadhafi-like era for Libya.”

June 25, 2012 (an update of the June 21, 2012, report)

Egypt’s Election of an Islamist President Seen as Likely to Hit the Stability of Vital Trade SLOCs, Libya

Analysis. By GIS Staff in Cairo, Washington, and other locations. The announcement on June 24, 2012, of the election to the Egyptian Presidency of the pro-Muslim Brothers (Ikhwan al-Muslimin) Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) (Hizb al-Hurriya wa al-’Adala) candidate Mohammed Morsi, began to hint at the impact of the United States’ effective withdrawal in the past three years from its earlier pre-eminent position in the Middle East, and the subsequent support by the US Obama White House for Islamist politicians. The shape of potential strategic consequences for US, Western, and regional interests is now beginning to show.

The most immediate major negative impact on the US, Europe, and global traders will almost certainly be the the start of a trend — among other trends — toward the loss of predictability for the major global trading nations over the Suez Canal and Red Sea sea-lanes of communications (SLOCs).

See Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, April 28, 2012: “Now the Debate on the Future Stability of the Red Sea-Suez SLOC and the Horn of Africa Begins: As Eritrea’s Post-Isayas Era Dawns”.

It is now difficult to see how the six decades of military dominance of Egypt can now be sustained in the wake of the election of Mohammed Morsi, despite the sweeping decree made by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) on June 17, 2012, dissolving the Parliament and giving the Armed Forces substantial new, and over-arching powers. It is unlikely that the Islamist groups — or the incoming President — will accept this, and it is equally unlikely that the Egyptian Armed Forces would allow themselves to be used to fire on Egyptians to suppress any new rebellion.

See Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, June 21, 2012: “Egyptian Maneuvering Continues”.

It is now likely, then, that Egypt would, at its most stable, emulate a Turkish-style Islamist governmental pattern, perhaps even — as Ankara has been promoting — in concert with a Turkish-led bloc in the Eastern Mediterranean. This may not, in the short-term, lead to any major disruptions in the management of the Suez Canal Authority, although the present Chairman of the Authority, VADM (rtd.) Ahmed Aly Faddel, the former Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, is coming up for retirement, after seeing the Canal through a major period of improvements. His replacement, and the entire Egyptian policy toward the Canal and traditional alliance structures, will likely be increasingly beyond the influence of the SCAF.

But more important than this, given the reality that even an Islamist Government of Egypt would wish to sustain the Canal revenues, is the fact that Egyptian policy toward the Red Sea and Horn of Africa (as well as the Arabian Peninsula) seem set to change. There have been no indications as to what this might mean, but it is clear that even Saudi Arabia, with its strongly religious governmental character, is concerned. Indeed, Saudi King ‘Abdallah bin ‘Abd al-’Aziz reportedly made it clear to Egyptian SCAF head — and de facto Egyptian leader until the installation of the new President — Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, when they met at the funeral on June 17, 2012, in Jeddah of Crown Prince and Deputy Prime Minister Nayif bin ‘Abd al-’Aziz al Sa’ud, that Saudi Arabia would support the SCAF in taking a strong line to retain control and stability in Egypt. But this may not be enough, particularly if — as threatened — the Islamists insist on widespread rioting and armed confrontation if the SCAF does not relinquish control of the Government.

It remained to be seen by June 24, 2012, whether Pres. Morsi would be able to sustain a good working relationship with the SCAF and its new “governmental” arm, the National Defense Council. The new President may be seen as the “moderate face” of the Muslim Brothers, but there was little doubt that a profound process of change had begun with his election. What is significant is that the changes would, possibly for as long as a year or more, take the form of “disguised change”, with Pres. Morsi gradually attempting to achieve a dominance over the Armed Forces which the Turkish Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (Justice and Development Party: AKP) achieved under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Indeed, at the very least, Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan would be expected to attempt to take advantage of the Morsi election to develop an alliance in the Eastern Mediterranean, particularly geared against Israel, Cyprus, and Greece. This would be particularly important as those three Eastern Mediterranean states work together — in many areas with Egypt — to develop contiguous or neighboring offshore gas fields to provide a base of exports to the European Union (EU).

See Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, June 21, 2012: “Greece’s New Centrality — and Dilemmas — in Energy”.

There is no indication that Pres. Morsi would work to limit Egypt’s interests merely to accommodate Turkey, or even the Palestinian Authority, but there can be no doubt that the mood has changed in Egypt, and with it much of the secular nature of Egyptian society. The influence and flexibility of the Egyptian Coptic Christian community, officially put at just under 10 percent of the population (although some estimates claim a higher percentage). Equally, the new Islamist/Islamic nature of the Egyptian Presidency will impact to some degree how Cairo deals with the delicate situation in neighboring Libya, where Ikhwani influence on the Chairman of the Interim Transitional National Council (NLC), Mustafa Mohammed Abdul Jalil, is already profound. This comes at a time when equally-profoundly anti-Ikhwani sentiments are being demonstrated by the Senussiyah Muslim society of the Libyan region of Cyrenaica, which abuts the Egyptian border.

By early June 2012, there were already reports of a massive inflow of small arms and medium weapons to Egypt from the Libyan caches built up by the late Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi. Numerous Egyptian Islamists who received asylum in Sudan but were prevented from returning to Egypt under an agreement originally reached between Mubarak and Hassan al-Turabi are now being permitted to return and bolster the ranks of the jihadist movements. At the same time, as noted, the Egyptian Armed Forces are reluctant to suppress the Egyptian population, while, indeed, there is an unknown Islamist-supporting group of personnel within the Armed Forces. The repeated “we are brothers” celebrations conducted for Egyptian troops, NCOs and junior officers in Cairo and other major mosques since early 2011, in which the attending military personnel vowed not to shoot on their brethren civilians under any circumstances, should — and do — unnerve the SCAF.

There are many potential ramifications from the trend which now sees the Armed Forces “giving ground” to the Islamists. But for the time being, the Armed Forces, during June 24, 2012, in particular, began quietly moving into positions to constrain any possible eruptions of unrest. Port Said, for example, a key location at the Mediterranean end of the Suez Canal, was under lock-down.

One, for example, could impact the cooperative architecture which has been developed between Egypt, Greece, and Cyprus on the exploitation of the Eastern Mediterranean gas fields, which are the key to South- Eastern Europe’s economic recovery. Any cooperation between an Islamist Government in Egypt and an Islamist Government in Turkey would — and with Washington’s support — put significant limitations on Greece and Cyprus, as well as on Israel (which hopes to link its gas fields into an export chain to Europe).

The other is Egyptian policy toward the Red Sea littoral states, including the Horn of Africa. This would, under an FJP Government, be more ideologically than strategically motivated, and could well include renewed support for destabilization activities against Ethiopia, Somaliland, and Somalia. Equally, the potential exists for a worsening of relations between Egypt and Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia — which could set the stage for long-term security issues. These, too, would have ramifications for the safety and viability of the Suez Canal.

Certainly, although some in Washington believe that an Islamist Government in Egypt would be favorably accepted by the Iranian Government, it is more likely that Tehran would view an Ikhwan (Muslim Brothers)-leaning Egyptian Government as merely an extension of the anti-Iranian/anti-Shi’ite bloc built around Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, which aims to contain Iran’s dominance of the Persian Gulf and its overland reach to the Mediterranean. [There are ongoing discussions between the Ikhwani leadership and Tehran on the joint formation of an anti-Western/anti-Zionist Islamic bloc, and while Tehran is not happy about some of the anti-Shi’ite positions of the Ikhwani, the Iranian clerics view the overall situation positively.]

One factor cannot yet be determined, however: the experience and maneuvering ability of Field Marshal Tantawi. His rôle in the past two years has been to manage the departure of former Pres. Hosni Mubarak and to attempt to salvage what could be saved of the military’s management of Egypt. No-one has been more angered by the Mubarak excesses than Field Marshal Tantawi over the years, and it was he who ultimately forced Mubarak to resign before full-scale civil war erupted. But Tantawi now finds himself ostracized by the US, which has placed all its hopes on building a relationship with the Muslim Brothers and their allies, not just in Egypt, but also in Libya, Syria, and Turkey.

The question is whether a more pragmatic administration may take over in the US with the November 2012 elections, and whether Washington would then try to recover its prestige and influence in the Middle East, as Pres. Ronald Reagan did after Pres. Jimmy Carter?

June 21, 2012

Egypt’s Dilemma Likely to Hit Vital Trade SLOCs

The impact of the United States’ effective withdrawal from its earlier pre-eminent position in the Middle East, and the subsequent support by the US Obama White House for Islamist politicians is now beginning to show strategic consequences. The most immediate major negative impact on the US, Europe, and global traders will almost certainly be the loss of control over the Suez Canal and Red Sea sea-lanes of communications (SLOCs).

It is now difficult to see how the six decades of military dominance of Egypt can be sustained in the wake of the election of Mohammed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) (Hizb al-Hurriya wa al-’Adala), despite the sweeping decree made by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) in June 2012, dissolving the Parliament and giving the Armed Forces substantial new, and over-arching powers. It is unlikely that the Islamist groups — or the incoming President — will accept this, and it is equally unlikely that the Egyptian Armed Forces would allow themselves to be used to fire on Egyptians to suppress any new rebellion. [Transitions, p17.]

It is now likely, then, that Egypt would, at its most stable, emulate a Turkish-style Islamist governmental pattern, perhaps even — as Ankara has been promoting — in concert with a Turkish-led bloc in the Eastern Mediterranean. This may not, in the short-term, lead to any major disruptions in the management of the Suez Canal Authority, although the present Chairman of the Authority, VADM (rtd.) Ahmed Aly Faddel, the former Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, is coming up for retirement, after seeing the Canal through a major period of improvements. His replacement, and the entire Egyptian policy toward the Canal and traditional alliance structures, will likely be increasingly beyond the influence of the SCAF.

But more important than this, given the reality that even an Islamist Government of Egypt would wish to sustain the Canal revenues, is the fact that Egyptian policy toward the Red Sea and Horn of Africa (as well as the Arabian Peninsula) seem set to change. There have been no indications as to what this might mean, but it is clear that even Saudi Arabia, with its strongly religious governmental character, is concerned. Indeed, Saudi King ‘Abdallah bin ‘Abd al-’Aziz reportedly made it clear to Egyptian SCAF head — and de facto Egyptian leader until the installation of a new President — Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, when they met at the funeral on June 17, 2012, in Jeddah of Crown Prince and Deputy Prime Minister Nayif bin ‘Abd al-’Aziz al Sa’ud, that Saudi Arabia would support the SCAF in taking a strong line to retain control and stability in Egypt. But this may not be enough, particularly if — as threatened — the Islamists insist on widespread rioting and armed confrontation if the SCAF does not relinquish control of the Government.

By early June 2012, there were already reports of a massive inflow of small arms and medium weapons to Egypt from the Libyan caches built up by the late Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi. Numerous Egyptian Islamists who received asylum in Sudan but were prevented from returning to Egypt under an agreement originally reached between Mubarak and Hassan al- Turabi are now being permitted to return and bolster the ranks of the jihadist movements. At the same time, as noted, the Egyptian Armed Forces are reluctant to suppress the Egyptian population, while, indeed, there is an unknown Islamist-supporting group of personnel within the Armed Forces. The repeated “we are brothers” celebrations conducted for Egyptian troops, NCOs and junior officers in Cairo and other major mosques since early 2011, in which the attending military personnel vowed not to shoot on their brethren civilians under any circumstances, should — and do — unnerve the SCAF.

There are many potential ramifications from the trend which now sees the Armed Forces “giving ground” to the Islamists.

One, for example, could impact the cooperative architecture which has been developed between Egypt, Greece, and Cyprus on the exploitation of the Eastern Mediterranean gas fields, which are the key to South- Eastern Europe’s economic recovery. Any cooperation between an Islamist Government in Egypt and an Islamist Government in Turkey would — and with Washington’s support — put significant limitations on Greece and Cyprus, as well as on Israel (which hopes to link its gas fields into an export chain to Europe). [See report, Page 20: “Greece’s New Centrality and Dilemmas”.]

The other is Egyptian policy toward the Red Sea littoral states, including the Horn of Africa. This would, under an FJP Government, be more ideologically than strategically motivated, and could well include renewed support for destabilization activities against Ethiopia, Somaliland, and Somalia. Equally, the potential exists for a worsening of relations between Egypt and Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia — which could set the stage for long-term security issues. These, too, would have ramifications for the safety and viability of the Suez Canal.

Certainly, although some in Washington believe that an Islamist Government in Egypt would be favorably accepted by the Iranian Government, it is more likely that Tehran would view an Ikhwan (Muslim Brothers)-leaning Egyptian Government as merely an extension of the anti-Iranian/anti-Shi’ite bloc built around Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, which aims to contain Iran’s dominance of the Persian Gulf and its overland reach to the Mediterranean. [There are ongoing discussions between the Ikhwani leadership and Tehran on the joint formation of an anti-Western/anti-Zionist Islamic bloc, and while Tehran is not happy about some of the anti-Shi’ite positions of the Ikhwani, the Iranian clerics view the overall situation positively.]

One factor cannot yet be determined, however: the experience and maneuvering ability of Field Marshal Tantawi. His rôle in the past two years has been to manage the departure of former Pres. Hosni Mubarak and to attempt to salvage what could be saved of the military’s management of Egypt. No-one has been more angered by the Mubarak excesses than Field Marshal Tantawi over the years, and it was he who ultimately forced Mubarak to resign before full-scale civil war erupted. But Tantawi now finds himself ostracized by the US, which has placed all its hopes on building a relationship with the Muslim Brothers and their allies, not just in Egypt, but also in Libya, Syria, and Turkey.

The question is whether a more pragmatic administration may take over in the US with the November 2012 elections, and whether Washington would then try to recover its prestige and influence in the Middle East, as Pres. Ronald Reagan did after Pres. Jimmy Carter?

July 29, 2011

Egypt Reconsiders its Nile Strategy, Which Underpins Red Sea Security and Horn of Africa Stability

Analysis. From GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs in Cairo, Hargeisa, and elsewhere. The transitional Egyptian Government under Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, Chairman of the Supreme Military Council (SMC), has quietly begun changing some of the strategic policies of the former Mubarak Administration which had increasingly been leading Egypt into confrontation with its Nile River regional neighbors. This discreet policy transformation, which involves Egypt’s vital national interests, could have a significant impact on security through the Horn of Africa.

It may also spell an change to the massive and expensive covert Egyptian military and financial aid to the Eritrean Government of Pres. Isayas Afewerke, who had acted on the Mubarak Administration’s behalf — as well as on his own — to destabilize Ethiopia and the Republic of Somaliland.

It is uncertain whether the Egyptian changes will come fast enough, or sufficiently strongly, to reverse the collapse of Somaliland which, under the Government put in place in July 2010, has moved Somaliland toward a pan-Somalist integration with neighboring Somalia. As well, there is an enormous legacy of distrust which built up in those Nile riparian states which signed the Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) on Nile water usage in Entebbe, Uganda, in May 2010 (and others signed later).

Sources within the Supreme Military Council indicated that they had been aware for some time that the Mubarak Administration’s approach to handling the Nile issue was leading not to solutions but to the creation of a regional polarization with security consequences. Even after the so-called “Egyptian Revolution” of February 25, 2011, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry was operating on the momentum of the past policies, and had, in fact, continued to stoke fears among the Nile states.

The SMC sources indicated that the Tantawi Government was now beginning to send emissaries to the Upper Nile states, such as Ethiopia, with more conciliatory messages. Ethiopia’s Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile, which provides 59 percent of the volume of water of the Nile which reaches Egypt [the Blue Nile joins the White Nile near Khartoum]. As a result, the Egyptian Government’s fears about a possible interruption to Blue Nile flow have reached the point, described by several sources in Cairo, of “near paranoia”, with concerns that Ethiopia would divert large volumes of the water for irrigation purposes, thereby restricting the volume reaching Egypt. By April 2011, Cairo was reportedly considering forming a “White Nile Coalition” which could act as an Egyptian-supportive bloc within the greater Nile community.

Of primary concern to Egypt, however, is the Blue Nile, and the development on it by Ethiopia of the Great Millennium Dam (officially the Millennium Hydroelectric Power Project), which Egypt fears would hold up Nile flow while the dam was filling1. This has particularly caused Cairo to take a softer stance with the White Nile states, and governs Cairo’s particular sensitivity toward the newly-independent South Sudan. Even by April 2011, the Tantawi Government — despite battling major preoccupations on the home front — had made strides in winning support from Uganda.

Clearly, the Egyptian concerns over the Nile water flow have not diminished, but have now taken on a more cooperative, rather than threatening tone. Indeed, even though Egypt (pop. 83-million+) has long considered interruptions to the Nile water flow as the only automatic casus belli — cause for war — it has recognized that it lacks the ability to seriously mount a direct military challenge to Ethiopia (pop. 85-million+). As a result, for the past few decades, Egypt had been mounting an indirect security challenge to Ethiopia via Eritrea and Somalia. It had also mounted a very direct diplomatic campaign to isolate neighboring Somaliland because Somaliland was a key Red Sea littoral state capable and willing to help give Ethiopia the trade access to the Red Sea.

The campaign to destabilize Somaliland succeeded profoundly, ensuring that a pan-Somalist Government replaced the Government of Pres. Dahir Riyale Kahin with the radical Islamist and pan-Somalist Administration of Pres. Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo in July 2010. The Egyptian Government successfully and consistently blocked the recognition of the sovereignty of the Republic of Somaliland by the African Union (AU) and by the Arab League, even though Somaliland — former British Somaliland — fulfilled all the AU (and United Nations) criteria for recognition.

The collapse of Somaliland has indeed begun to hurt Ethiopia and has contributed to the support for the Islamist forces in Somalia, but it is by no means clear that this has resulted in a strategic gain for Egypt. Certainly, Egyptian-backed efforts — mostly undertaken by the Eritrean Government — have successfully deterred foreign investment in Ethiopia’s emerging natural gas resource exploitation, but, again, this has merely fueled anti-Egyptian sentiments in Addis Ababa. Significantly, it is Addis Ababa which may hold greater sway in the new Republic of South Sudan than Cairo or Khartoum. Indeed, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda are the great hopes as allies for South Sudan, and Cairo will need to reassure the Meles Zenawi Government in Addis Ababa that Cairo is on a less confrontational path if it expects the Meles Government to do other than encourage South Sudan in its own White Nile dam-building efforts.

The Mubarak Administration’s support for Eritrea and for instability in Somalia — all aimed at keeping Ethiopia weak and the Red Sea under total Egyptian dominance — backfired. The Somalian chaos spawned major piracy activity in the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean approaches to it, thus causing a real consideration by shippers to seek to re-route trade around the Cape of Good Hope. This, plus fears of unrest in Egypt itself, severely impact the prospect for Suez Canal revenues for Egypt, which have represented almost half Egyptian hard-currency earnings.

And, at the end of the day, Eritrea is still weak and, arguably, unviable as a sovereign state, despite decades of financial support by Egypt, Iran, and some Persian Gulf states. Across the Red Sea, Yemen is also less than stable.

Moreover, the piracy and instability in the Red Sea region has caused a major influx of foreign naval presence, marginalizing Egypt’s sway over the area.

There is no indication as yet as to whether Cairo has the will, or the means, to begin active reversal of some of the Mubarak-era policies which have contributed to the instability of the Horn of Africa, or the diminished security of Red Sea maritime traffic. Moreover, there has been no indication that, apart from making economic progress more difficult for Ethiopia, the Egyptian efforts have had any influence on Addis Ababa in how Ethiopia has shaped its dam-building on the Nile, and particularly the Great Millennium Dam. It is possible that Cairo’s attempt to threaten Ethiopia and other Upper Nile states has, in fact, reinforced a determination by those states to understand the importance of the Nile to them, and for them to reassert that the Nile is not, in fact, solely the property of the downstream riparian states of Sudan and Egypt.

Several factors remain unclear in Cairo, including the extent to which the Foreign Ministry has taken aboard the extent of its failure over recent decades to shape African issues — and particularly those of the Horn of Africa — to Egypt’s true strategic benefit. Another uncertainty is whether the Tantawi Administration has the time or the resources (and freedom from distraction) to consolidate a transformation of the African policies before it hands power over to a new Government. There has been a reluctance by the Tantawi Government to interfere too deeply in some of the bureaucratic institutions of Egypt, which have in many respects been less than pliable.

One senior Egyptian military official replied recently to a question as to why the new Administration had failed to completely reorganize and re-shape the Interior Ministry and Police, in the wake of criticisms over abuses during the “revolution”, by saying: “We have dismissed large numbers of senior police officials, but does the international community want us to fire all the police force and start afresh, all at once? How are we supposed to have stability and order under such circumstances. We cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater; there are many good people in the Police, and we cannot do everything immediately. It would be disastrous to have a vacuum of law and order in the country.”

With regard to Somaliland, which is one of the cornerstones of the Horn of Africa security situation, the US has essentially gone quiet since the election a year ago of the Silanyo Government. Indeed, as the US State Department feared, and as GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs forecast, the Silanyo Administration has precipitated the “loss” of Somaliland to pan-Somalists, and to Islamist groups using it to launder funds for illegal activities in Somalia (the former Italian Somaliland area).

However, there is still Western concern about the rôle which Somaliland could play in stabilizing the region, and, as a result, the Silanyo Government has not been entirely cut off from contact. The British Government, according to sources in Hargeisa, took “some unusual and daring steps” toward Somaliland in early July 2011. A British Royal Navy frigate came very close to Berbera port, on the Somaliland coast, and the RN took Pres. Silanyo to the ship and hosted him and his entourage for lunch. Then, according to informed sources, he was flown to Addis Ababa in a small aircraft which had brought the UK military attaché to Ethiopia to Berbera the night before. The British military team took Pres. Silanyo to the UK embassy in Addis Ababa for dinner where he was reportedly met by UK Foreign Secretary William Hague.

The question now is whether Cairo will resist pressures from the UK, US, and others to step aside from its objections at the AU to allow recognition of Somaliland. In essence, the Mubarak policy has already done its job: the current Government of Somaliland is no longer capable of sustaining the country on the viable and modernist path which its predecessor had embarked.

But Cairo’s Foreign Ministry cannot yet grasp — even if Field Marshal Tantawi’s Supreme Military Council can — that it cannot dictate all of the events of the Horn. Israel’s formal exchange of diplomatic relations on July 28, 2011, with South Sudan was greeted with great hostility by the Egyptian diplomatic leadership. Part of this reflects the fact that South Sudan, being non-Muslim and African, is yet another vote in the United Nations which will not necessarily vote along Egyptian-dictated lines. Similarly, there were concerns in Cairo that a sovereign Somaliland in the UN would vote in support of Israel, and possibly offer support to Israeli deployments in the Eastern Red Sea, despite the fact that Somaliland is a Muslim and ethnically part-Arab society. However, Egypt’s implacable hostility toward Somaliland has meant that a number of Somalilanders have taken a far more sympathetic view of Israel in direct reaction to the Mubarak policies.


1. Officials of the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCo) have said that the 5,250 MW hydro-electric dam would lessen evaporation in downstream areas and save close to eight-billion cubic meters of water in and with only a slight reduction in the Aswan Dam in Egypt/Sudan. This would, they say, benefit not only Ethiopia but also other riparian countries in the basin through efficient use and a reduced risk of flooding and siltation. According to EEPCo, completion of the civil engineering work was scheduled for January 2017 while the commissioning of all 15 generating units would be completed by June 2017. The first two units of the project were, however, scheduled to start generating electricity by September 2014. It was projected that it would take three to five years to fill the dam to full capacity.

February 7, 2011

The Long Preparation of the Ikhwan, and Their Links to Iran, Are Now Paying Dividends in the Egyptian Turmoil; and Suez, Energy Links are Unquestionably Targeted

Analysis. By Yossef Bodansky, Senior Editor, GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs. The path of the Ikhwan al-Muslimin (Muslim Brothers) to dominating the populist riots in Tahrir Square, Cairo, started in June 2007.

Toward the end of that month, the Ikhwani leadership contrasted two major events: the abuse which the Ikhwan suffered in the parliamentary elections in Egypt (two rounds on June 11 and 18, 2007, respectively) and the concurrent (June 10-14, 2007) clear victory of the HAMAS in its military coup in the Gaza Strip.

Earlier, in Spring 2007, the Ikhwan’s supreme leadership decided to participate in the forthcoming parliamentary elections in order that the organization would not be seen as an anti-democratic obstructionist force. Moreover, pre-elections polls suggested that the Ikhwan enjoyed the support of about two-thirds of the would-be voters. Hence, cognizant that Egyptian Intelligence would never permit any other party to gain majority over Mubarak’s NDP (National Democratic Party: Hizb al Dimuqratiyah al Wataniyah), the leadership nevertheless expected to secure a sizable presence in the new parliament. Elections, therefore, were considered an instrument of expediency for furthering the Brothers’ quest for establishing an Islamic Republic in Egypt.

The Brothers’ platform stated that the party was participating in the elections because “the Muslim Brothers preach the path of Allah” and therefore its participation in the electoral process was intended “to fulfill Allah’s commands in peaceful ways, using existing constitutional institutions and a decision determined by the ballot box”. Under present conditions, democracy was to be Islam’s best way to power. The 2007 platform stressed that “the rule in [Egypt] must be republican, parliamentary, constitutional and democratic in accordance with the Islamic sharia” because “the sharia ensures liberty for all”. According to the platform, the Brothers would not accept the principle of the separation of mosque and state because sharia-based Islamic rule was the sole legitimate way for the realization of a true democracy.

By late June, the official results found that the Muslim Brothers won only 88 seats — 20 percent of the total 508 seats.

Also in mid-June 2007, HAMAS — itself a branch of the Egyptian Muslim Brothers — seized power in the Gaza Strip after four days of intense fighting against the Palestinian Authority (PA). The HAMAS effectively transformed its electoral success in the January 25, 2006, US-sponsored elections into a complete control through a military coup. The HAMAS decided to act after an 18-month relentless campaign by the US, Egypt, the PA and Israel to deprive the Islamists-jihadists of their electoral victory.

If HAMAS could do it, the Ikhwan’s frustrated Guides concluded, so could the far better-organized and more influential Egyptian Ikhwan. The Ikhwan’s decision was commonly known in Cairo. On June 23, 2007, for example, Tariq Hassan warned in the Government-owned Al-Ahram that the Muslim Brothers was already preparing a violent takeover of Egypt. The Ikhwan’s “masked militias” were being readied “to replicate the HAMAS seizure of power in the Gaza Strip,” Hassan wrote.

Indeed, the Ikhwan started comprehensive preparations to seize power by force. On the advice of senior Egyptian jihadists operating in Iran since Summer 2005 — most notably Sayf-al Adel (one of Ayman al-Zawahiri’s closest confidants and strategic advisers), Shawqi al-Islambuli (the brother of Pres. Anwar as-Sadat’s assassin, Khalid) and Abu-Muhammad al-Misri (a veteran of East Africa operations and a Sudan-based trainer of Egyptian jihadists) — the Ikhwan sent numerous operatives to study in Iran under the auspices of al-Quds Forces. As well, starting late-2007, Ikhwan-affiliated underground networks actively assisted HAMAS, HizbAllah, and Iranian intelligence in setting numerous espionage and sabotage networks throughout Egypt aimed to strike key government facilities and such strategic objectives as the Suez Canal, as well as smuggle weapons to HAMAS in the Gaza Strip.

One of these networks was exposed in late-2008, demonstrating the sophistication and lethality of this Iran-sponsored undertaking. However, the exposed network was not the only one then operating throughout Egypt. (On January 30, 2011, a HizbAllah-HAMAS joint special operations team unit stormed the Wadi Natrun prison north of Cairo and freed the 22 members of the captured Iran-sponsored network. Several thousand security prisoners — most of them jihadists and Ikhwani — also escaped. Most of the 22 freed operatives have already made their way to the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, and Iran.)

Petrified by the discovery of the Iran-sponsored network, Hosni Mubarak instructed Omar Suleiman, his chief of intelligence, to make the deal with Hassan al-Turabi and the jihadist leadership in Khartoum. The deal stipulated that Egypt would tacitly permit the uninterrupted supply of weapons, funds, and jihadist cadres to HAMAS in Gaza via Sinai in return for the Sudan-based jihadists not exacerbating the Ikhwani cells and networks along the Nile Valley. In early 2009, Israel bombed convoys carrying Iran-made Fajr-3 SSMs in north-eastern Sudan as a reminder to both Khartoum and Cairo that Jerusalem was both cognizant of, and dissatisfied with, their deal to help HAMAS. Nevertheless, Israel elected to not interfere with the Egyptian-sanctioned smuggling operations in order to reduce the jihadist pressure on Egyptian intelligence at the heart of Egypt.

Meanwhile, while the jihadist leadership indeed reduced the level of militant activities along the Nile Valley, the Ikhwan-affiliated underground networks intensified their preparations for an Islamist uprising in Egypt. The leaders prepared a set of electronic (PDF-format) instruction booklets and manuals under the title “How to Protest Intelligently: Important Information and Tactics”. The Ikhwani networks distributed these manuals by direct e-mail chains to avoid monitoring by the security forces. The manuals were written in straight-forward language and in non-Islamist terms in order to appeal to the widest possible audience. The manuals included instructions for organizing protests, choosing their location, holding demonstrations and responding to various actions by the security forces, as well as plans for attack on key government installations (accompanied by illustrations and satellite images downloaded from Google Earth).

The Ikhwan-affiliated underground networks also organized several redundant command centers with computers and mobile-phones. Most significant was the emergency communications network made of satellite phones acquired in the Gulf States by Islamist supporters to be ready in case the mobile-phone and internet systems were brought down by the security forces, as was indeed the case. Consequently, since late January 2011, the leadership of the rioters has been able to sustain communications and effective control despite repeated and drastic efforts by the government to silence them by shutting down the entire internet and phone system. (By coincidence, Naguib Sawiris, the Egyptian chairman of and chief executive officer of Orascom Telecom Holding, which provided most of the fall-back communications systems, arrived in Pyongyang on January 21 for a meeting with Kim Jong-Il.)

In late 2010, Egypt had another cycle of parliamentary elections. (The first round was held on November 28 and the second was held on December 5, 2010.) The Ikhwan were now led by Supreme Guide Muhammad Badie, who, since his nomination in January 2010, had been taking increasingly hard-line and assertive stands on international affairs. He repeatedly declared that “Jihad is the only path to restoring the Muslim Ummah to its former glory”. On September 23, 2010, Badie stressed the Ikhwan’s principled position regarding the political process in Egypt. “The noble Quran is the constitution that sets out the laws of Islam.” The Brothers, he stated, insist that Cairo establish the Quran as “the basis for the constitution and the first source of legislation, the scales of justice in the courtrooms and one of the bases of the [school] curricula at all levels [of education] ... All clauses of the [state] constitution which Islam and its precepts do not permit must be removed,” Badie warned on the eve of the elections.

For the supreme leadership of the Ikhwan Muslimin, the behavior of the Egyptian Government and the intelligence services during and after the 2010 parliamentary elections constituted the turning point and provided the justification for the decision to launch the Islamic intifada against the Mubarak Government.

The spontaneous outbreak in Tunisia in mid-December 2010 of the intifada — which is also supported and sustained by the Ikhwan-affiliated Hizb-ut-Tahrir — only provided the Egyptian Islamists with the impetuous to expedite their own. As well, the venomous incitement by Al-Jazeera TV radicalized and incited the region’s youth, making the Ikhwan’s need to mobilize the masses almost superfluous. Thus, it was the publication of the official results in mid-December 2010 which propelled the Ikhwani leadership to decide to activate the plans for the intifada.

According to the official results, Mubarak’s NDP won 440 of the 508 parliamentary seats. The Muslim Brothers had only ONE seat, and that would be Muhammad Ashour who had broken ranks with the Ikhwani leadership over boycotting the elections. Simply put, the Brothers were prevented from winning even a single constituency. The Muslim Brothers now formally called the elections rigged. “Egypt doesn’t have a parliament that represents the will of the people,” Ikhwani senior official Essam El-Erian wrote. “It represents the will of the riggers and the thugs who have kidnapped the will of the nation.” 

The growing political tension in Egypt starting in the Autumn of 2010 attracted tremendous international and expert attention. Several foreign intelligence services sponsored thorough and large-scale opinion polls and studies of the Egyptian public (mostly in the cities). The findings of these polls and studies — which closely overlapped — provide the best explanation for the events of late January 2011.

According to these foreign polls, had the parliamentary elections been free and fair, then the “pro-Western”, liberal-progressive opposition would have won five percent of the votes. The polls which narrowed further on the identity of specific aspirant leaders found that Muhammad ElBaradei would have won only 1.5 percent of the votes (or about a third of the opposition’s votes). Many of these voters were the old communists, al-Wafd activists, and other old-time opposition activists.

Mubarak’s NDP would have won about 10 percent of the votes. The vast majority of the NDP voters are government functionaries, security personnel, and business people who benefit/profit from their relations with the Government. Simply put: The NDP’s voters had distinct personal stake — power and/or money — in the sustenance of the Mubarak Government.

The rest of the voters — that is, 85 percent of the total — would have voted for the Muslim Brothers. Significantly, the vast majority of Egypt’s youth — 52.3 percent Egyptians are under 25 — said they would have voted for the Ikhwan. This, however, was a most diverse population of voters which can best be divided into three subgroups:

·         35 percent of the total voters — mostly in the urban slums and rural areas, but also surprisingly many in the upper middle class — would have voted for the Ikhwan because they genuinely believe in the Islamic orthodoxy they preach.

·         30 percent of the total voters — mostly the bazaaries, the entire middle class, some intellectuals, and many in the military and security services — would have voted for the Ikhwan because they believe that the Ikhwan leaders are the most qualified to run the country (given the failures of the NDP).

·         20 percent of the total voters — mostly the educated westernized youth, engineers and intellectuals — would have voted for the Ikhwan because they believe that the endemic corruption of the Mubarak coterie is the greatest threat facing Egypt, and that only the Ikhwan can ruthlessly and efficiently cleanse the country. Significantly, these youth acknowledged that their personal way of life is adamantly contradictory to the Islamic ways advocated by the Ikhwan. They were, however, willing to sacrifice their personal convenience for the common good. These computer-savvy youth would play a decisive rôle in making the January 2011 intifada happen.

Indeed, westernized progressive intellectuals were noticing the trend. They began warning of the impending radicalization and chaos in Egypt unless the travesty of the parliamentary elections was quickly reversed. In early December 2010, Bahey El-Din Hassan, the director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, wrote in the independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm that a radical eruption was inevitable. “Say hello to radicalism...!” He predicted that the NDP’s “scandalous actions” would soon unleash “radical political trends” throughout Egypt. “Election fraud has consequences and the NDP could experience a political backlash,” Hassan warned. Also writing in Al-Masry Al-Youm, Amr El-Shoboki admonished the NDP leadership for “playing with fire” which would soon consume the country.

In the first days of the Egyptian intifada, the Ikhwani remained quietly in the background, letting the incited and enraged mob dominate Al-Jazeera and win over the sympathies of the West. For example, on January 23, 2011, Essam El Erian stated that Brothers would “support any group which has [political] demands and is seeking change in Egypt”. He asserted that the Ikhwani youth “will certainly take part in the protest slated for January 25th, however, they will be following numerous conditions, primarily adhering to peaceful methods and abstaining from any violence”. The large number of members, he added, “will join the other political groups in the scheduled Day of Rage and will respect the guidelines, calling for respect of private property in addition to abstaining from any violence”. There was no reason to unduly alarm the West with indications that the unfolding intifada would soon be transforming into the forthcoming Islamic revolution.

The Ikhwan started asserting their central rôle on January 28, 2011. Sheikh Yussuf al-Qaradawi, the Qatar-based spiritual leader of the international Muslim Brothers movement and the world’s most prominent Sunni cleric, devoted his Friday Sermon, which sets the tone not only for the Ikhwan but most devout Sunnis worldwide, to the situation in Egypt. He called for the overthrow of Mubarak and the establishment of an Islamic State in Egypt. “President Mubarak ... I advise you to depart from Egypt ... There is no other solution to this problem but for Mubarak to go,” al-Qaradawi declared. He accused Mubarak of turning “blind, deaf and dumb” during his decades in power. “He doesn’t live in our world. He doesn’t feel the anger and hunger of this people,” al-Qaradawi charged. “He’s detached from reality. Mubarak must give up his position and leave Egypt. There is no other solution, except for Mubarak’s departure.”

Al-Qaradawi then appealed directly to Hosni Mubarak. “On behalf of hundreds of thousands of religious clerics in Egypt and in the Muslim world I’m calling on you to leave your country. There is no staying longer, Mubarak, I advise you [to learn] the lesson of Zine El-Abidine Ben ‘Ali” and leave Egypt before disaster struck. “Go Mubarak, have mercy on this people and leave so as not to increase the destruction of Egypt,” al-Qaradawi advised. There is no escape from justice, al-Qaradawi warned Mubarak. Should you stay and attempt to hold onto power, “you will be tried before a court for the oppression”, al-Qaradawi warned. “Get up, leave Egypt, and let the people decide.”

Al-Qaradawi concluded by appealing to all Egyptians to “continue the intifada” but cautioned against unnecessary fratricidal violence and “attack on state institutions”. The intifada “must come through peaceful means,” al-Qaradawi said. He concluded by predicting that Egypt was on the verge of an Islamic Revolution, and stated that “nobody can stop history from being made.”

On the same day, the Islamists in Cairo and other cities also launched a concentrated outreach campaign to the troops, NCOs and junior officers. They were invited to participate in the mid-day prayers in the neighborhood mosques. They were offered food and drinks. The prayers ended with both sides — the civilians and the soldiers – swearing brotherhood to each other. The soldiers also vowed not to harm the people and resist all orders to use their weapons against the crowds. With that, Mubarak’s army was no more.

Starting Saturday, February 5, 2011, there was been a discernable increase in the number of the Islamists in the forefront of the rioting on Cairo’s Tahrir Square and elsewhere. The Ikhwani now appeared en-masse — with their distinct Islamist clothes, white head caps and beards. They led the crowd in shouting “Allah hu Akbar” in addition to the usual abuses of Mubarak and his family. The mob chanting was no longer devoted to merely urging Mubarak and his ilk to leave. The loudest chants were now thanks to Allah and his support, as well as vows to implement Allah’s ways; that is, establish an Islamic state. Significantly, there were no protests in the mob — even from the few Christian Copts — about the overt Islamicization of their populist intifada.

On February 2, 2011, the Muslim Brothers articulated their political demands.

They did so in a circumspect way so as to not unduly alarm the West and thus reduce the international pressure on Mubarak to leave. Badie insisted that “Mubarak resign immediately if there was to be any constructive dialogue” with the Ikhwan. Moreover, there was no substitute for “the abolition of the state of emergency, and the dissolving of both the Shura council and the parliament” because they are “both illegitimate institutions who forced their way ignoring the people’s will after forfeiting elections”. Badie noted that “the regime imposes only violence and does not understand the concept of mature and civilized dialogue where its only solution to the people’s uprising is violence”. Hence, the Brothers “welcomed dialogue with all political opposition” having “agreed on uniting in the call for peaceful political reform that would serve Egyptians as a whole”. Badie added that “the current uprising is not an Islamic Revolution but an Egyptian People’s revolution that included all Egyptians from all sects, religions and political trends”, and reiterated that the Muslim Brothers “do not seek power and have no intention in [their] agenda in nominating any of its members for presidency or being part of the interim government”.

Concurrently, however, both the jihadist leadership and the Ikhwan supreme leadership outside Egypt issued warnings about the prospects of escalations should the Ikhwani’s demands were not met.  Most outspoken, was Muhammad Ghanem, the Muslim Brothers’ representative in London. In a January 30, 2011, interview with Al-Alam TV of Iran, for example, he anticipated the escalation of the intifada into a violent Islamic Revolution if the political negotiations with the regime did not deliver the opposition’s demands. Under such circumstances, Ghanem warned: “I am absolutely certain that this revolution will not die, and that the next step must be one of civil disobedience. This civil disobedience will generate strife among the Egyptians. This disobedience must include halting passage through the Suez Canal, stopping the supply of petroleum and natural gas to Israel, and preparing for war with Israel.” On February 5, 2011, the main pumping station of the natural gas pipeline delivering Egyptian gas to both Israel and Jordan was blown near El-Arish, northern Sinai. Egyptian gas constitutes 30 percent of the Israeli requirements for electricity production and 80 percent of Jordan’s. Cairo announced that it might take two weeks before supplies are resumed. The huge flames shown on both Al-Jazeera and Egyptian TV ensured that the message was not lost.

On February 6, 2011, the Ikhwan’s supreme leadership relented and agreed to join the rest of the opposition in talks with Vice-President Omar Suleiman. “We are starting a round of talks to know how serious they are about responding to the demands of the people,” the Ikhwan’s spokesman Gamal Abul Nasser said. “The demands of the people are clear. Mubarak has to step down.” The mere beginning of negotiations does not guarantee success. “We will join the talks today,” El-Erian explained. “We have been invited. We will go. But our participation is conditional on giving the youth representation. If the demands of the youth are not met, we have the right to reconsider our position.”

At the insistence of the Ikhwan, the meeting was started by a moment of silence to the memory of the intifada’s “martyrs”. The Ikhwan then demanded the formation of a national coalition transitional government to be run by “The Council of Wise Men” which is comprised of distinguished and largely apolitical Egyptians. Suleiman was only interested in assuming presidential powers for an interim period pending elections. This was not ruled out provided Mubarak left Egypt immediately. Meanwhile, Rashad al-Bayumi, the Ikhwan’s second-in-command, told Al-Hayat that the Ikhwan would agree to join a transitional government on condition it immediately cancel the peace treaty with Israel because it “offends the Arabs’ dignity and destroys the interests of Egypt and other Arab states”.

On the night of February 6, 2011, there were growing indications that the intifada and the threat of escalation were far from over. In a series of bright political maneuvers, Suleiman pitted the US- and EU-supported liberal opposition movements and parties (who have zero grassroots support) against the Ikhwan and the street groups’ representatives. In return for promise of a prominent rôle in the Government, this group agreed to Mubarak remaining in power until the end of his term in September 2011. Meanwhile, “the peaceful transition of power should be achieved in accordance with constitutional stipulations. ... According to the agreement, a committee of judicial experts and political figures will recommend the necessary constitutional and legislative amendments by the end of the first week of March.” The consequent postponement of the elections would enable these minuscule movements and parties to attempt and build electoral support on the basis of their international support and fear-mongering of the Ikhwan.

Immediately, the military — led by Suleiman’s arch-rival, Defense Minister Muhammad Hussain Tantawi — rallied to attempt and defuse the conflict with the Ikhwan. The military high command argued that given Mubarak’s rôle as commander in the wars against Israel he must not be humiliated by the same kind of overthrow and flight which Tunisia’s Ben Ali had to endure. “We can on no account permit an Egyptian general, hero of the October War against Israel, to be humiliated, whatever the political price may be,” the high-command’s statement read. Tantawi seemed convinced, and not without reason, that the Ikhwan would be sympathetic to respecting Mubarak’s wartime rôle. Tantawi further suggested that Mubarak would not serve out his term, and instead step down in June 2011 “on grounds of ill health” and with an all-encompassing immunity to himself and his family. By that time, Mubarak would have unconditionally signed into law all the constitutional amendments to be proposed in March 2011. Reportedly, the street groups refuse to consider giving Mubarak even one day in office, while the Ikhwan were pondering the offer.

Ultimately, this is the beginning of a lengthy and a tortuous process.

The results, however, can already be discerned. With the military opposed to firing on the crowds filling Tahrir Square, the perseverance of the mob seem likely to determine the endurance of the crisis. The Ikhwan seem in no hurry to leave the scene, and the street groups were rallying behind the Ikhwan for they have the mature skillful leaders, and the Ikhwan have now emerged as the sole source of food, drinking water, medical support, and tents.

Hence, it seems clear that the supreme leadership of the Muslim Brothers will wait patiently for the conducive conditions to emerge. Unlike Mubarak’s parliamentary elections, this time the Ikhwan will not be cheated out of their effective hold onto power.

January 30, 2011

Some Possible Strategic Ramifications of the Current Egyptian Unrest

Analysis. By Gregory R. Copley1, Editor, GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs. The prospect of an imminent, uncontrolled change in the leadership of Egypt, or other political paralysis in the state, as a result of growing popular unrest which began in the country in earnest on January 25, 2011, has clear strategic ramifications, dependent on how the matter resolves itself.

By January 30, 2011, the key to the transition of power in Egypt was the Army. The domestic intelligence service under the Interior Ministry had failed to anticipate, or deal with, the crisis; the foreign intelligence service, from which the new Vice-President emerged, lacks a power base. So, as the matter progressed, only the Army could maintain stability. Pres. Mubarak’s health is now so poor that it was considered surprising that he did not take steps in 2009 to begin a transition of power, but his son and named heir, Gamal, himself had developed no meaningful power base other than in certain financial and political sectors. That “base” provided no power in the context of popular discontent.2

Pres. Hosni Mubarak, 82, on Saturday, January 29, 2011, dismissed his entire Cabinet, but it was likely that Defense Minister Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawy Soliman, 75, will be called back into a new Cabinet, given the fact that he has effectively managed the Armed Forces as head of the Operations Authority (effectively head of the Army and joint services) and, since 1993, as Defense Minister. Field Marshal Tantawy is solid, discreet, modest, and has a strongly loyal following within the military. He had also been Commander of the Presidential Guard, Minister for Defense Production, and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces (1991). Many in the military consider that he should have acted earlier to cause Pres. Mubarak to retire, and to put a stop to the President’s belief that he could make his son, Gamal Mubarak, 47, into a leader to succeed to the Presidency.

The fact that the President, on Friday, January 28, 2011, called on the Armed Forces to essentially replace the Police and the Security Police essentially put Field Marshal Tantawy in command of the situation. The rivalry between the Defense Ministry and the Interior Ministry — which controls the General Directorate for State Security (the Security Police, a national paramilitary gendarmerie) — has been endemic in Egypt for decades. The Interior Ministry manifestly failed to anticipate the level of frustration throughout Egyptian society, and neither did it plan an effective response to any large-scale unrest.

The Armed Forces under the legendary then-Defense Minister, Field Marshal Mohamed Abdel-Halim Abu-Ghazala, during the Anwar as-Sadat Presidency (1970-1981) and later, were used to put down a mutiny, in February 1986, by 17,000 Security Police. A colleague and friend of this writer (and the likes of US Secretary of State Alexander Haig) from 1974 until his death on September 6, 2008, Field Marshal Abu-Ghazala was awarded the International Strategic Studies Association (ISSA) Gold Star Award for Outstanding Contributions to Strategic Progress in 1986. Abu-Ghazala, like his friend, Field Marshal Tantawy, was seen as a Presidential contender, but both of them chose — for the sake of stability in Egypt — not to challenge Mubarak’s lackluster Presidency.

The measure of Pres. Mubarak’s understanding that Egypt is moving rapidly toward political transition came when he named, on January 29, 2011, a Vice-President, the first he has appointed since he took office in 1981. He had promised the post to then-Defense Minister Abu-Ghazala, and later it was reported he would offer it to current Defense Minister Tantawy. But Mubarak was full of fear that he might be removed and succeeded. Now he has named Omar Suleiman, the chief of the Mukhabarat el-Aama — the general intelligence and security service, responsible for foreign intelligence — to the Vice-Presidency. He also named retired Air Chief Marshal and former Air Force commander and head of civil aviation Ahmed Shafik, 69, as prime minister, replacing Ahmed Nazif, who had been Prime Minister since 2004, and who was forced to resign with the entire Cabinet during the current unrest.

One commentator remarked, after the start of the rioting in Egypt on January 25, 2011, that “repression” of Egyptian society was not the reason for popular unrest, but rather the frustration was finally boiling over because Mubarak failed to offer Egyptians “a dream”. What was remarkable about Pres. Mubarak’s tenure was his absolute failure to project any personal charisma or to paint a “dream” for the Egyptian people, in stark contrast to his predecessor, Anwar as-Sadat, whose 1978 autobiography, In Search of Identity, expressly outlined to the Egyptian people who they were, and what they sought.

In the Preface to the Defense & Foreign Affairs Handbook on Egypt, in 1995, I noted: “If Egypt remains strong, and in all senses a ‘power’ in its regional contexts, then world events will move in one direction. If Egypt’s strength is undermined, then world events (and not merely those of the Middle East) will move along a far more uncertain and violent path.”

It is significant that Egypt began to fail to be “strong”, internally, within a few years of that 1995 book. It became less resilient as Pres. Mubarak became more isolated and the inspiration offered by Sadat began to erode. This resulted in the rise in Egypt of the Islamists who had killed Sadat, and the growing empowerment of the veteran Islamists from the Afghan conflict, including such figures as Osama bid Laden (who had spent considerable time living in Egypt), and Ayman al-Zawahiri, et al. The reality was that Mubarak’s management-style Presidency could not offer the requisite hope — because “hope” translates to meaning and identity — to Egyptian society as it was transitioning from poverty and unemployment to gradually growing wealth. Hope equates to patience.3

What are the areas of strategic concern, then, as Egypt transforms? The following are some considerations:

  • Security and stability of Suez Canal sea traffic: Even temporary disruption, or the threat of disruptions, to traffic through the Suez Canal would disturb global trade, given that the Canal and the associated SUMED pipeline (which takes crude oil north from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean) are responsible for significant volumes of world trade, including energy shipments. Threats of delays or closure of the Canal and/or the SUMED, or hints of increased danger to shipping, would significantly increase insurance costs on trade, and would begin to have shippers consider moving Suez traffic, once again, to the longer and more expensive Cape of Good Hope seaway.

  • Disruption of Nile waters negotiations and matters relating: Egypt’s support for the emerging independence of South Sudan was based on that new state’s control over a considerable stretch of the White Nile, at a time when Egypt has been attempting to dominate new treaty discussions regarding Nile (White and Blue Nile) water usage and riparian rights. Already, Egyptian ability to negotiate with the Nile River states has entered an hiatus, and unless the Egyptian Government is able to re-form quickly around a strong, regionally-focused model, Egypt will have lost all momentum on securing what it feels is its dominance over Nile water controls. In the short term, the Egyptian situation could provide tremors into northern and South Sudan, and in South Sudan this will mean that the US, in particular, could be asked to step up support activities to that country’s independence transition.

Such a sudden loss of Egypt’s Nile position will radically affect its long-standing proxy “war” to keep Ethiopia — which controls the headwaters and flow of the Blue Nile, the Nile’s biggest volume input — landlocked and strategically impotent. This means that Egypt’s ability to block African Union (AU) and Arab League denial of sovereignty recognition of the Republic of Somaliland will decline or disappear for the time being. Already Egypt’s influence enabled an Islamist take-over of Somaliland, possibly moving that state toward re-integration with the anomic Somalia state. Equally importantly, the interregnum in Egypt will mean a cessation of Cairo’s support for Eritrea and the proxy war which Eritrea facilitates — but which others, particularly Egypt, pay — against Ethiopia through the arming, logistics, training, etc., of anti-Ethiopian groups such as the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), etc.

  • Overall security of the Red Sea states and SLOC: Egypt has been vital to sustaining the tenuous viability of the state of Eritrea, because Cairo regarded Eritrean loyalty as a key means of sustaining Egyptian power projection into the Red Sea (and ensuring the security of the Red Sea/Suez Sea Lane of Communication), and to deny such access to Israel. Absent Egyptian support, the Eritrean Government of Pres. Isayas Afewerke will begin to feel its isolation and economic deprivation, and may well, on its own, accelerate new pressures for conflict with Ethiopia to distract local populations from the growing deprivation in the country.
  • The Israel situation: A protracted interregnum in Egypt, or a move by Egypt toward Islamist or populist governance could bring about a decline in the stability of the Egypt-Israel peace agreement, and provide an opening of the border with the HAMAS-controlled Gaza region of the Palestinian Authority lands. This would contribute to the ability of Iran to escalate pressures on Israel, and not only further isolate Israel, but also isolate Jordan, and, to an extent, Saudi Arabia. The threat of direct military engagement between Israel and Egypt may remain low, but a move by Egypt away from being a predictable part of the regional peace system would, by default, accelerate the growth of the Iran-Syria-HizbAllah-HAMAS ability to strategically threaten Israel. Moreover, the transforming situation would also inhibit the West Bank Palestinian Authority Government.
  • Eastern Mediterranean stability: The instability, and the possible move toward greater Islamist influence, in Egypt reinforces the direction — and potential for control of the regional agenda — by the Islamist Government of Turkey. It is certainly possible that the transformed mood of the Eastern Mediterranean could inhibit external investment in the development of the major gas fields off the Israeli and Cyprus coasts. This may be a gradual process, but the overall sense of the stability of the region — particularly if Suez Canal closure or de facto closure by any avoidance of it by shippers due to an Islamist government in Cairo — would be jeopardized if the area is no longer the world’s most important trade route.
  • Influence on Iran’s position: It should be considered that any decline in Egypt’s ability to act as the major influence on the Arab world enhances Iran’s de facto position of authority in the Greater Middle East. It is true that Egypt’s position has been in decline in this regard for the past decade and more, and that even Saudi Arabia has worked, successfully to a degree, to compete with Egypt for regional (ie: Arab) leadership. Without strong Egyptian leadership, however, there is no real counterweight to Iran’s ability to intimidate. During the period of the Shah’s leadership in Iran (until the “revolution” of 1979 and the Shah’s departure, ultimately to his death and burial, ironically, in Cairo), Iran and Egypt were highly compatible strategic partners, stabilizing the region to a large degree. The Shah’s first wife was Egyptian. Absent a strong Egypt (and, in reality, we have been “absent a strong Egypt” for some years), we can expect growing Iranian boldness in supporting such groups as those fighting for the so-called “Islamic Republic of Eastern Arabia”.
  • US interests: A stable Egypt is critical for the maintenance of US strategic interests, given its control of the Suez; its partnership in the peace process with Israel; and so on. Why, then, would the current US Barack Obama Administration indicate that it would “support the masses” in the streets of Egyptian cities at this point. There is no question that Washington has supported moves to get Pres. Mubarak to provide for a smooth succession over recent years: that would have been beneficial for Egypt as well as for the US. But for the US to actively now support — as Barack Obama has done — “the street” over orderly transition of power lacks strategic sense. It is true that the State Dept., and even the strategically-challenged US Vice-President, Joe Biden, have urged caution on the Egyptian people, but Pres. Obama has effectively contradicted that approach, as he did in Tunisia, where he literally supported the street revolution against its President earlier in January 2011.4 If Egypt moves to anti-Western, anti-US governance, the US will be required to re-think its entire strategic approach to the Middle East, Africa, and the projection of power through the Eastern Mediterranean and into the Indian Ocean. It would give a strong boost of importance to the US Pacific Fleet, which is responsible for US projection the Indian Ocean. CENTCOM (Central Command) would need to be re-thought, as would USAFRICOM (US African Command).
  • Impact on the US positions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan: The “loss” of Egypt and the questionable ability which the US could have over projection through the Suez Canal — if it came to that — would certainly impact US ability to support the final military operations it has in Iraq, and Afghanistan. A loss (or jeopardizing) of US military access via Egyptian-controlled areas such as the Red Sea/Suez would absolutely fragment the way in which the US can project power globally. Even the accession of an Islamist state in Egypt, as opposed to closure of the Suez Canal, would achieve much of this. What is clear is that the US did not adequately prepare for the end of the Mubarak era, even though it was absolutely obvious that it was coming. Now, only by luck will the US see the Egyptian Armed Forces reassert control over Egypt and introduce a new generation of leadership to bridge the transition until the re-emergence of a charismatic leader.
  • Concern over governance transition in “republican dynasties”: The recent street moves against states with protracted – ie: essentially against normal constitutional viability – power being held by autocratic leaders over long periods has become a clear message that Western democracies succeed by arranging orderly transitions of power, whether among their constitutional monarchs as heads-of-state, or among their elected governments. States which rise and fall with each successive and uneasy – often violent – transfer of power from one leader to the next, or in which autocrats attempt to impose their children as their successors without the legitimacy of a nationally-evolved monarchy or tradition, are in increasing peril as to their long-term stability. Syria, for example, in the region continues to founder although it achieved the transfer of one Assad to the next, but it does not prosper. Libya, Algeria, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Yemen, and North Korea, for example, all must consider that extended governance without legitimate options for the future encourages decline and instability.
  • Issues of Military Technology and Equipment Relations: Any move by Egypt away from its pro-US position – including, and particularly, the prospect of an administration headed by self-styled “opposition leader” Mohamed Elbaradei, would result in a major compromise of US military technology. The Egyptian Armed Forces have a major defense supply relationship with the US, particularly with high-profile systems such as late-model Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Block 50/52 fighters, M1A1 main battle tanks, AH-64A/D Apache and Apache Longbow attack helicopters, UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, a wide range of surface- and air-mounted missile systems, and so on. The reality is that further north in the Mediterranean, the defense supply relationship with Turkey is already compromised, by the US Government will not recognize that. Firstly, the supply relationship with Turkey means that the technology itself may be compromised to other states (Iran, Russia), to some extent, and now will almost certainly not be used to support US/NATO initiatives. In Egypt, a similar situation could prevail if the Armed Forces do not take control and exclude Elbaradei and/or other anti-US Islamists or populists.

Pres. Gamal Abdel Nasser was charismatic and transformative, but not necessarily a leader who delivered a strong new architecture to Egypt. Anwar as-Sadat gradually emerged as charismatic, and he was transformative in a very meaningful way for the country. It took three decades of Mubarak’s invisible presence for so much of Sadat’s vision to erode, and yet Sadat’s national architecture remains intact if someone would be able to pick up the reins of real leadership. What is significant is that the Egyptian Royal Family has not re-emerged from exile to offer some hope of a restoration of traditional Egyptian values.

If the populist and vehemently anti-US ally of Iran, Mohamed Elbaradei, seizes control of the Egyptian mob — because that is his goal: to position himself at the front of a mob not of his own making — he would certainly re-introduce a great element of instability to the region, and bolster Iran’s position. Even without directly working with Iran, merely by pushing Egypt into an investment-averse situation, Iran’s regional power would grow, and Egypt would be under the grip of a vain and shallow man far more detrimental to the nation’s long-term interests even than Mubarak the Manager. Not insignificantly, when US left-leaning television news network CNN interviewed – and essentially played softly with – Elbaradei, the former UN official was wearing a green tie, meant to be a clear signal to Iran and the Islamists.

There are other populist factors to consider, including the prospect of a junior- or mid-level officer putsch in the style of the Free Officers Movement which propelled Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser, its founder (after first putting up a staging horse, Gen. Muhammad Naguib, into office as a figurehead), to power in 1952, launching the system which is now under pressure with the decline of Mubarak.

There are many more factors to consider, but these are a few on which thinking should focus.


1. Gregory Copley is the author of the 1995 book, the Defense & Foreign Affairs Handbook on Egypt, the 2009 book, Such a Full Sea, a study on the Indian Ocean strategic framework, which includes the Red Sea and Egypt, and is Chairman of the International Strategic Studies Association’s Balkan & Eastern Mediterranean Policy Council.

2. Pres. Mubarak’s failing health, and the US pressures to appoint a Vice-President, were discussed in detail in the report entitled “President Hosni Mubarak’s Fateful Pilgrimages to Paris and Washington, DC”, in Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, August 21, 2009.

3. See, particularly, Chapter 15 of The Art of Victory, “The True Leader”. Copley, Gregory R.: The Art of Victory. Simon & Schuster’s Threshold Editions. New York, 2006.

4. See “Ramifications of the Tunisian Social Revolt” in Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, January 19, 2011.

August 21, 2009

President Hosni Mubarak’s Fateful Pilgrimages to Paris and Washington, DC 

Analysis. By GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs Staff. Egyptian Pres. Mohammed Hosni Mubarak, 81, on August 17, 2009, began what may well be his last significant visit to the US. It was, from his perspective, a vital mission: to ensure US support for the succession of his son, Gamal Mubarak, to the Egyptian Presidency. Pres. Mubarak undertook the mission when it became clear that his health was failing. As expected, his visit to Washington, DC, ended with no substantive public statements, other than the reports that he had worked toward an Arab-Israeli peace settlement. That, however, was merely the cover for the visit.

The path toward winning Obama Administration support for Gamal Mubarak's Presidental candidace was not expected to be smooth. Pres. Mubarak recognizes that there is strong opposition to Gamal’s candidacy within the Egyptian power structures, but particularly within the Arab world. Of prime concern to Pres. Mubarak is the support being given to the candidacy of Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, a former Egyptian Foreign Minister, by Saudi Arabia’s King ‘Abdallah bin ‘Abd al-’Aziz al Sa’ud, who is now locked into some key favors with US Pres. Barack Obama [see lead story, beginning on page four of this edition: “Declaring Victory, and Going Home: The Pre-Military Phase of the US Withdrawal from Afghanistan Has Begun”]. 

That, in part, is why Pres. Mubarak hastened to Washington for his first visit in five years. 

Significantly, Gamal’s accession to the Presidency has the support of French Pres. Nicolas Sarkozy, and the French President is keenly aware of the urgency of the Mubarak mission. Pres. Mubarak’s health has been declining significantly since the death of his grandson in May 2009. That tragedy, although it profoundly affected the President, was not the sole reason for his decline in health, but that decline prompted the President to undertake his first “pilgrimage”, before his Washington trip. On this mission, he was to slip away from formal meetings in Paris, in late July 2009, with Pres. Sarkozy, so that the Egyptian leader could undertake a battery of medical tests at a French military hospital. 

His back is already in bad shape, and getting worse, and his mobility is beginning to be severely impaired. The cause of the deterioration is not known — unless it has been determined, and kept secret by his Paris doctors — but it is not believed to be good for the President’s long-term ability to stay in office. His focus and ability sustain his heavy workload have also disappeared suddenly since May 2009. 

Meanwhile, Amr Moussa has garnered the support not only of King ‘Abdallah of Saudi Arabia, but much of the Arab world, who are convinced that the international community — and even the Arab “street” — will not accept another leadership succession from father to son, particularly in Egypt. This may or may not be the case, but Pres. Mubarak cannot afford to take chances if he is to see Gamal succeed him, possibly before the end of 2009. 

Gamal, 45, is presently deputy head of the governing National Democratic Party. 

Just before the Italian and French visits which the President undertook in late July 2009, he participated in the G8 summit in Rome. There he was seen visibly weak and pale, often need assistance to climb stairs. 

Amr Moussa, during his period as Foreign Minister from 1991 to 2001, was critical of US policy and its relationship with Israel. For that reason, in particular, he has broad support through the Arab world, quite apart from the overarching contacts his position as Secretary-General of the Arab League has given him. 

The Israeli DEBKAfile website, which is often well-informed, said on August 17, 2009: “In the last two weeks, our sources report that that the ruling party’s secretary Safwat El-Sherif has summoned party branch secretaries for rallies on Gamal’s behalf in Egypt’s main cities and getting them organized for a snap election.” The next Egyptian presidential election are scheduled to take place in 2011, but clearly the President’s resignation on medical grounds, or his demise, would trigger an earlier election. Meanwhile, DEBKAfile also received reports on Pres. Mubarak’s French medical treatment, saying that the President’s condition was “untreatable”. 

It is now becoming increasingly significant that Pres. Mubarak has refused entreaties in recent years to appoint a Vice-President to succeed him, or represent him, when he is incapacitated, or should he die in office. It is known that Defense Minister Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi Soliman was long promised the position of Vice-President, and the understanding that he would succeed Mubarak. That, clearly, was swept out of consideration when Pres. Mubarak acknowledged his son, Gamal, as heir. 

The choices facing the US Obama Administration are by no means easy, even though Pres. Mubarak has been keen to make concessions to Washington to get Gamal approved. Does Washington support the Amr Moussa candidacy, advocated by Saudi Arabia, and win Saudi friendship for the act, but gain a new Egyptian leader who is less friendly to Washington? Or support Gamal Mubarak, who remains an unknown factor?  

September 18, 2000

Ethiopia's Meles Confirms Strategic Goal of Federation With Djibouti; Attempts to Rally Relationship with US 

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, visiting the US for the United Nations Millennium Summit, and then extending his visit to Washington DC for more substantive meetings, told GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily that an overarching political union between Ethiopia and Djibouti was "vital". 

In response to a question about possible federation or confederation between the two countries, Ato Meles said: "Economic consolidation in the region is essential, and might require political integration." After pausing, he said that this was "vital", as a matter of principle.

This would further solidify Ethiopia's revived trading relationship with and through Djibouti's Red Sea port, bypassing the need to resume trading through Eritrean ports, particularly Assab, just up the coast from Djibouti, and in territory controlled by the Afar people who, with the Issas, make up the population of Djibouti.

Prime Minister Meles, at a press conference at the Washington National Press Club on September 15, 2000, responded to a question as to why his Government did not push forward during the recent war with Eritrea to seize Assab, given that "99 percent of Ethiopians feel that Assab belongs to Ethiopia, not Eritrea". Prime Minister Meles said that the 1908 Treaty which Ethiopian Emperor Menelik II had signed with the Italian Government had ceded the area around Assab — historically part of Welo, not Eritrea, or the region controlled by the Bar Negus [King of the Ocean], subordinate to the Emperor — to Italian control, for a distance of 60km from the Red Sea coast. 

Mr Meles conceded that most Ethiopians, some 85 percent of which live in rural areas, may not have been aware of that legal fact, but said that Ethiopia, "as a law-abiding country" had to reject the seizure of land by force, which was just "thuggery". In any event, he said, "port access is just a service which can be bought or sold. We have the money and we are going to shop around", and in the case of Eritrea [and its control of Assab], we want to know if the "shop" is run by a law-abiding owner. "If we do not use Assab," he said, "it will be a watering hole for camels", noting that there were 10 ports in the Horn of Africa which Ethiopia could potentially use to overcome its landlocked status.

He said that settlement of a final border demarcating the Eritrea-Ethiopia boundary would be based solely on colonial-era treaties, not on colonial-era maps, as well as in line with current international law.

He said that access to the port of Assab was not an item for negotiation in the peace talks with Eritrea, "and we do not intend to make it one". He said that access to the ports of Eritrea, by Ethiopia, was already guaranteed by the peace process. 

Prime Minister Meles, who officially opened the new Ethiopian Embassy in Washington DC on September 14, 2000, said that he had held talks with the US Secretaries of State and the Treasury, National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, Defense Department officials, the World Bank, and Congress. However, there were few US officials at the official, and lavish, opening of the new Embassy, reflecting the continued caution by the US Administration and Congress over the Meles Administration. There were, on the other hand, many hundreds of pro-Meles Ethiopians flown into Washington DC from Ethiopia and elsewhere in North America to ensure a positive reaction at the Embassy opening. Hundreds of strenuously vocal Ethiopian opponents of Meles were across the street for several hours during the opening, protesting the Prime Minister's visit and policies.

Ethiopian-born Saudi businessman Sheikh Mohammed al-Amoudi, who owns more land in Ethiopia than anyone else and who has become wealthy by supporting the Meles Administration, donated the lavish catering at the Embassy opening. He had also donated the Ethiopian stone used for the new building's facing. The opponents of the Administration protested that it was wrong to entertain so lavishly when many Ethiopians were starving (even Mr Meles said that the next great challenge for the country was poverty), but Embassy officials, trying to reason with the protestors, said that Ethiopia had to reverse its world image as an inherently poor "victim", and had to show that it was on the move.

There were also protestors at each venue Prime Minister Meles appeared.

In a bid to improve his Administration's standing in Washington DC, the Meles Administration hired former US Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Robert Strauss to act as its lobbyist. Strauss's fees are known to be extremely high, and the Meles Administration's coffers were, at least until August 2000, believed to be empty, with civil service salaries being paid-for directly by Sheikh al-Amoudi. There has been speculation that Mr Strauss's fees, too, were now being paid by Sheikh al-Amoudi.

So far, however, hiring Mr Strauss has not helped. Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Jesse Helms, earlier in September 2000, reportedly said privately that he would ensure that neither Eritrea nor Ethiopia received any financial support from the US after wasting billions of dollars on the "senseless war" which they conducted during the previous two years.

GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily asked Prime Minister Meles — whose background in the Tigré People's Liberation Front (TPLF) had a decidedly Albanian-style marxist aspect — whether he felt that the proposed November 5, 2000, final interment of the late Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I would be a unifying event for Ethiopia. Meles equivocated. It would not, he said, be a "disuniting event", but it would not be a "uniting event". Nonetheless, he said that it would be "an event worth noting". Significantly, however, although Government handling of the matter had been delegated to Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin — ostensibly the second most powerful figure in the Government — it is known that Sheikh al-Amoudi had donated US$100,000 to the funeral organizing committee. This would not have occurred had the Government been unmindful of the potential for problems if the funeral did not go well.

The Crown Council of Ethiopia, the last remaining Ethiopian Imperial institution, in exile in Washington DC, is also known to be concerned about the funeral arrangements, being undertaken by a group of infighting private Ethiopians who (based on GIS' knowledge of the participants) seem bent on making personal capital out of the event. Nonetheless, Emperor Haile Selassie's grandson, Prince Ermias Sahle-Selassie Haile-Selassie, President of the Crown Council, will attend the funeral.

Meanwile, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously on September 15, 2000, to authorize the proposed 4,200-strong UN peacekeeping force (UNMEE) to monitor the ceasefire between Eritrea and Ethiopia and oversee the redeployment of troops from the disputed border. The vote came as Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles said at the Washington press conference that negotiations on reaching an overall peace settlement with Eritrea will start at the end of September or in early October. However, it is understood by GIS sources that negotiations could start, possibly with Saudi Arabian official involvement, as soon as September 19 or 20, 2000.

The peacekeeping force is planned to supplement the UN observer mission of 100 military personnel approved by the Security Council on July 31, 2000. The first seven observers arrived in the border area on September 13, 2000. The agreement to end the hostilities was signed June 18. 

Prime Minister Meles said that the final list of peacekeeping donor countries had to be approved by both Eritrea and Ethiopia, but reports from Tokyo indicated that the United Nations had already asked Japan to contribute personnel the UNMEE from the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force. 

Mr Meles was asked at the press conference whether the Ethiopian Government planned to end its practice of ethnic separation of Ethiopia's 70 or so main ethnic groups, especially in light of the murder recently of a number of Amhara farmers who had gone into areas occupied by Oromo peoples. Meles said: "We have had armed conflicts based on ethnic differences. I know that we have taken a different approach to handling this [matter]." However, he said, "ethnicity is not a sickness; it should not be the cause of conflict". As a result, the Government did not plan to allow the ethnic groups to move from region to region. He blamed earlier attempts by Ethiopian governments to create an Ethiopian identity, and to end ethnic differences, as the cause of conflict.

Mr Meles, in fact, was himself instrumental in such conflict, as a leader of the TPLF, which had been fighting for Tigrean secession from Ethiopia until it won control of all Ethiopia in 1991 as a result of the collapse of the former Dergue Government when the collapse of the Soviet Union ended foreign military and economic support to it.

He also said that his Administration would not end the process of land nationalization. He said that land reform had been "distorted" after 1975 when the Dergue had forcibly collectivized farmlands. "We have preserved since 1991 the rational elements of [the post-1975 collectivization]," he said. "[Today] the peasants can do everything with the land except sell it." They can, he said, lease it, leave it to their children or farm it. "In the famine, the first thing people would do with their land is sell it," forcing some 10-million people onto the urban job market. Ethiopia could not possibly hope to sustain such a situation, he said, and added that there was therefore no intention to change the land nationalization situation.

He did say, however, that nationalized properties and factories would not be returned to their former owners, but compensation would be paid to all, as a matter of policy. Some compensation claims were still being processed, he said.

© 2015 International Strategic Studies Association. ISSA does not warrant or assume any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information, apparatus, product, or process disclosed.