The Egyptian Military and the U.S. Empire

By Kenneth J. Theisen

The fall of Hosni Mubarak is a victory for the Egyptian people. Millions of people have stood up, and a hated dictator is gone.

When Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that Mubarak had decided to step down he also said that Mubarak "has mandated the Armed Forces Supreme Council to run the state." Mubarak was the former air force chief - military support was always critical to his rule, and direct military rule is merely an extension of dictatorship with different faces at the top.

The U. S. imperialist leaders hope their strong ties to Egypt’s military will help them in shaping Egypt’s post Mubarak future. For the last three decades the U.S. has strengthened these ties with vast amounts of military aid, training, and outright bribes. The Egyptian ruling class, especially the military and the intelligence branches, has maintained close ties to U.S. imperialism for decades.

Over the last three decades the U.S. has sent tens of billions of dollars of aid – primarily military aid – to Egypt, making it the second largest recipient of U.S. military support in the world, behind only Israel. This aid has been an important factor in Egypt’s contributions to maintaining U.S. domination in the Middle East. 

Egypt was particularly useful in the extraordinary rendition torture program. Egyptian military and intelligence apparatus has also been utilized to support the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The Israeli blockade of Gaza would not have been possible without the aid of Egypt.  Egypt has also maintained the Suez Canal a key transit point for the imperialists.

As an indication of loyalty to U.S. imperialism, one of the first announcements of Egypt’s “new” government on February 12th was to assure the U.S. and its Zionist partner that the so-called “peace” treaty is safe. The Egyptian military rulers vowed to abide by the agreement. This treaty is one of the keys to U.S. domination of the Middle East.

Another indication of the importance of the treaty is the fact that U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Admiral Mike Mullen was dispatched to Israel and Jordan immediately after the fall of Mubarak to reassure these U.S. allies that Mubarak’s fall would not affect the U.S. imperialist alliance system in the region.

A diplomatic cable from 2009, released by Wikileaks, emphasizes the importance of this alliance to the U.S. The cable indicated that Egyptian military leaders viewed U.S. military assistance as the "cornerstone" of ties between the two militaries and as "untouchable compensation" for keeping peace with Israel. According to the leaked cable, "The tangible benefits to our mil-mil relationship are clear: Egypt remains at peace with Israel, and the US military enjoys priority access to the Suez Canal and Egyptian airspace."

The Egyptian military is also a key player in the economic sector of the nation. The Egyptian military is a giant monopolistic business conglomerate which runs a wide range of commercial enterprises. It runs companies that sell everything from fire extinguishers and medical equipment to laptops, televisions and other consumer products. It has a massive civilian construction sector and an agricultural sector. It owns vast amounts of Egyptian real estate.

This vast military economic enterprise has benefitted for years from the vast exploitation of Egyptian workers as low paid wage slaves. For years it has been a crime in Egypt to even report on the Egyptian military and its vast economic power.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has made clear that the Egyptian military is abiding by Washington’s wishes. Three days before Mubarak resigned he stated, “I think that the Egyptian military has conducted itself in an exemplary fashion during this entire episode. They have acted with great restraint. Frankly, they have done everything that we have indicated we would hope that they would do. ... They have made a contribution to the evolution of democracy and what we're seeing in Egypt.”  But Gates was not always so concerned about an “evolution of democracy.”

In a 2009 visit to Egypt he was praising Mubarak.  On that visit he said, “I first met President Mubarak nearly 20 years ago and over the years multiple American presidents and administrations have benefited from his wise counsel. Our own military has benefited from the interaction with the Egyptian armed forces, one of the most professional and capable in the region." But that was then and this is now. Mubarak had to go to preserve U.S, influence. You can be assured that the U.S. is not doing everything in its power to make sure that the changes in Egypt forced by the Egyptian masses do not jeopardize its domination in the region.

Aside from vast amounts of weapons sales and military aid to the Egyptians, the U.S. also has regularly conducted join exercises with the Egyptian military. In 2009 U.S. Marines stormed Egyptian beaches near Alexandria during an amphibious assault demonstration. If things get out of control for the U.S. these demonstrations could become real.  U.S. military forces have also regularly transited the Suez Canal in making war in places like Iraq and other nations in the region.  But they could just as easily use this route as a means to invade Egypt. The U.S. air force has also overflown Egypt with permission of the Egyptian government to bomb other nations or to support U.S. military operations, but these flights could also result in attacks on Egypt.

As stated in Revolution “Armies are created by certain classes, and they enforce the interests of those classes. In fact, in any and every system, the army is the chief institution through which the ruling class enforces its will. In modern society, armies do not and cannot represent the nation as a whole—they represent those classes who control the nation. In the Middle East, those classes are the imperialist powers of the West, along with the reactionary classes (the bureaucrat-capitalists, those who are based in feudal or semi-feudal exploitation of the peasants, etc.).”

The situation in Egypt remains volatile and demands close observance.  We need to keep a close eye on our own ruling class and expose and oppose any their moves that will oppress the Egyptian people.  Thirty plus years of rule by a tyrant has ended, and the situation remains very much in flux.

Update: As of the writing of this article Egypt's military council issued "Communique No 5", demanding that workers end their strikes.  This includes strikes against enterprises run by the military. The workers are demanding better pay and conditions.  Other pro-democracy protesters in Cairo are being told by the army to leave of they will be arrested. According to Al Jazeera, that media outlet and others have been told to stop filming in the democracy square. These moves all confirm that the military junta is not acting in the interests of the masses or of democracy.