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Refortifying Egypt’s Military Dictatorship

Egypt’s Militaryby Jacob G. Hornberger

Even while U.S. officials decry the brutal dictatorships in Syria and Iran, the U.S. government is fortifying the military dictatorship in Egypt. A recent attack in the Sinai Peninsula that killed six Egyptian soldiers is the latest excuse that U.S. officials are trotting out to use U.S. taxpayer money to refortify one of the most brutal dictatorships in the world.

Let’s be clear: Egypt is governed by a military dictatorship, one that brutally oppresses its citizens as much as other brutal dictatorships in the Middle East, including the ones in Syria and Iran.

Not surprisingly, some of the statist U.S. mainstream press are now trying to portray Egypt as a democracy, claiming that Egypt’s Islamic president, Mohamed Morsi, was freely elected in a democratic vote.

But that’s just a self-delusion. The military is in charge of the Egyptian government. It dictates how the government is going to operate.

This was also the case during the entire Mubarak regime. Since Mubarak, who was a military official, wore civilian clothes, that caused some in the U.S. mainstream press to conclude that Egypt was run by a civilian government albeit with a powerful military.

Not so. The military was always in control. Mubarak was the person the military establishment permitted to be president. When he was ousted from power, many in the U.S. mainstream press suggested that he “transferred” power to the Egyptian military. Nonsense. He simply left the power where it had always been — in the hands of the military.

The Egyptian system is akin to the military dictatorship in Chile under Pinochet. Even though Pinochet, whose military dictatorship U.S. officials supported as much as they have Egypt’s military dictatorship, oftentimes wore civilian clothes, he was always nothing more than an appointee of the military. The real control of Chile was in the hands of the military establishment.

How can an election be considered free and democratic when it’s conducted under a brutal military dictatorship? It can’t be. People will inevitably factor into their vote-casting process the possibility that the military is monitoring who they are voting for. This is especially true when the military dictatorship is known for rounding up people for political reasons, incarcerating them without trial, torturing them, and even executing them. After all, don’t forget that the U.S. government chose Egypt’s military regime as one of its rendition-torture partners, a testament to its skills at torture and its lack of squeamishness in putting such skills to good use.

Let’s also not forget that just before Egypt’s recent presidential election, the military dissolved the Egyptian parliament. Imagine that: It just disbanded the country’s legislature and sent it home, threatening to punish the legislators if they tried to reconvene the assembly. At the same time, while the military has permitted Morsi to take office, it has strictly limited his powers. Think about that--the military is telling the president of the country what he can and cannot do. Finally, the Egyptian judiciary is totally subordinate to military rule.

The military has also made it clear that it has absolutely no intention of relinquishing its dictatorial control over Egyptian society. Yes, there can be elections but only on the condition that they will always be subject to the power of the military. At the same time, the military has made it clear that it will continue to maintain its longtime privileged economic status in society, one in which its vast assets and expenditures are kept secret from public view.

For decades, the U.S. government has been the principal enabler of this dictatorship, for it’s been the U.S. government that has directly sent to the military the weaponry and money that has helped maintain its brutal dictatorial hold on Egyptian society. Let’s not forget what happens to Egyptians who decide to oust their dictatorship with force, as the rebels are doing in Syria. The Egyptian military will respond with the same brutal force to quell the rebellion that the Syrian dictatorship is employing, only in this cause using the tear gas, guns, bullets, tanks, planes, and other weaponry that the U.S. government has supplied it.

Even to this day, the U.S. government continues to transfer U.S. taxpayer money and armaments directly to the Egyptian military, not even bothering to make the checks co-payable to Egypt’s new president or the Egyptian parliament.

And now the attack on the Egyptian military in the Sinai has provided a new excuse for closer collaboration between the U.S. government and the Egyptian military. As the New York Times put it,

While the American military has long had ties to its Egyptian counterpart, the deeper, more direct effort now under discussion could bind the United States and Egypt more closely against the shared threat of extremism…. The Pentagon is discussing a variety of options for sharing intelligence with Egypt’s military and police in Sinai…. The talks are taking place through military and intelligence channels that the two countries have used for decades.... After talks last week, [Egyptian] officials said they were optimistic that Mr. Morsi’s government would allow greater military-to-military collaboration.

And that’s not all. According to the Times, new U.S. assistance to Egypt’s military dictatorship is now being discussed. That’s on top of the $1.5 billion of annual aid that the U.S. government already gives the military. The Times state that this new assistance would include “military equipment, police training, and electronic and aerial surveillance.” (Never mind that the U.S. government is already spending more than a trillion dollars a year more than what it’s bringing in with taxes and that it will soon be barred by the debt ceiling from piling on any more federal debt.)

In other words, the U.S. government is refortifying Egypt’s brutal military dictatorship with even more cash and more armaments, with full knowledge that this will strengthen the military’s dictatorial hold over Egyptian society. No doubt that U.S. officials will soon be proclaiming how U.S. foreign aid is strengthening Egypt’s “free and democratic society.”

But it will all continue to be a lie. The Egyptian people are no freer than the people of Syria, Iran, and other countries in the Middle East. The difference, however, with Egypt’s situation, is that it is the U.S. government , through its fortification of Egypt’s powerful military dictatorship, that is in large part, responsible for the lack of freedom in Egypt.

Update: New York Times: “Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi forced out the country’s top military chiefs Sunday, in a bold move to wrest power from the armed forces and marginalize key holdovers of ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s reign.... The president also announced that he had suspended a constitutional amendment the generals passed on the eve of Morsi's election giving themselves vast powers and weakening the presidency.... The move appeared to catch U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the Pentagon off guard.”

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of the Future of Freedom Foundation.

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