WASHINGTON – The United States stands to lose its alliance with Egypt as Cairo turns to Russia for support, a development that would have major geo-political and strategic consequences, according to a team of national security experts who just returned from meeting with Egyptian officials.
While less than half of Egypt’s armed forces’ hardware is Soviet-pattern weaponry, Egypt’s reliance on Moscow and other non-American suppliers may rapidly increase unless Washington lifts its current embargo on U.S. military aid and equipment.
Members of the Council Global Security and London Center for Policy Research were in Cairo April 15-18 to meet with Field Marshal Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, who could become the next president of Egypt when the country holds presidential elections May 26-27.
The group also met with General of Intelligence Gen. Mohammed Farid el-Tohamy, Commander of the Egyptian Armed Forces and Minister of Defense Gen. Sedki Sobhy and Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy, along with other government officials, business leaders, religious clerics and members of civil society.
The group, led by Herb London, president of the London Center for Policy Research, was comprised of retired Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely; Judge Jeanine Pirro of Fox News; Judy Miller, formerly of the New York Times and now with the Manhattan Institute; Tera Dahl of the Council on Global Security; retired Gen. Robert Scales; and former British Ministry of Defense adviser Michael Kay.
The group expressed particular concern about the lack of U.S. support for Egypt’s military, much of whose equipment is from the Soviet era.
This concern has been heightened by the recent visit by Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to Egypt seeking to extend Moscow’s influence through an offer of billions of dollars in military assistance.
The U.S. had suspended some $1.3 billion in funding to the Egyptian military following the July 2013 ouster of democratically elected but Muslim Brotherhood-backed President Mohamed Morsi.
However, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab countries provided $12 billion and basically told the U.S. to keep its $1.3 billion in U.S. military assistance. The Arab monarchies opposed the Muslim Brotherhood Egyptian president and backed his ouster.
The Saudis were especially upset with the U.S. when the Obama administration didn’t back the ouster of Morsi. To this day, the Obama administration opposes his ouster by the Egyptian military.
At the same time, the Russians offered to sell Egypt some $4 billion in jet fighters, anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles, which would effectively give Russia greater influence not only in Egypt, which is the largest Arab country, but throughout the Arab world.
The Egyptian revolution in 1952 by then-Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser, who later became president of Egypt, paved the way for major military assistance from the then-Soviet Union, whose equipment still is being serviced to this day by the Russians.
In an exclusive interview with WND after his return, Vallely said that in his discussions with el-Sisi, the presidential candidate told him that despite offers of Russian military assistance, the “door is not closed” for the U.S. to resume military assistance and maintain its influence in Egypt.
However, el-Sisi said Egypt needs the equipment, along with spare parts for Apache helicopters the U.S. gave Egypt. Vallely said the helicopters are used for anti-terrorism operations which have been underway in the Sinai Peninsula against al-Qaida insurgents.
Vallely said that el-Sisi told him that he was “not necessarily leaning toward Russia but added that he doesn’t “trust” the United States.
“Not one government in the Middle East trusts the U.S. government,” Vallely said. “Russia is kicking our a– all over the place.”
Vallely said, however, that el-Sisi wants to keep the “lines of communication open” with the U.S., but in the background he and other Egyptian officials are “pissed off” at the U.S.
In an example of keeping open the channels of communications with the U.S., Vallely said that el-Tohmay, the Egyptian intelligence chief, stays in phone contact with U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan.
Vallely added that if Egypt sides up ultimately with Russia, it will have profound geo-political and strategic implications for U.S. foreign policy, none of it good.
“The Russians are filling the vacuum left by the United States,” Vallely said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin “knows that the U.S. is weak and will fill in where the U.S. leaves a vacuum,” he said.
In its other observations, the group said that the ouster of Morsi in July 2013 was not a coup but a revolution. Morsi was elected to office in June 2012.
“Among those with whom the delegation met, there was compelling unanimity that the Muslim Brotherhood government had thoroughly betrayed the people’s expectations for democratic rule and were serving solely their own narrow interests,” the statement said.
“After ousting the Muslim Brotherhood from power after the largest protest movement in history, with 33 million Egyptians coming to the streets, a resounding 95 percent majority of the country ratified a new, more secular constitution,” it said.
The group said the any new president will be subject to this constitution rather than being able to “affect the constitutional process from his office, as Morsi did through an Islamist-dominated parliament.”
Since Morsi’s ouster, the interim government has outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood. An Egyptian court recently sentenced some 683 Brotherhood members to death, including its leader, Mohamed Badie. Morsi still awaits a separate trial on charges of terrorism.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the group said, always has been committed to establishing exclusively Muslim regimes “which deny the rights of minorities, especially Jews and Christians, and is defined at its core by its hatred of America and the West.”