How Egypt’s New Top General Sees U.S. Power

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By Joshua Falk

A 7-year-old academic paper that surfaced Monday may shed some light on the views of those now at the head of the Egyptian military.

On Sunday, Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi ousted Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, leader of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and General Sami Anan, chief of staff of the Egyptian Armed Forces. Morsi replaced Tantawi with Abdul Fattah al-Sissi, head of military intelligence, and Anan with Sedky Sobhy, commander of the 3rd Field Army in Suez.

The Arabist, an independent Middle East news website, on Monday discovered a 2005 paper by Sobhy, posted on a Defense Department website. Sobhy wrote the 10,000-word paper while a masters student at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Sobhy recommended "the permanent withdrawal of U.S. military forces from the Middle East and the Gulf" and "the pursuit of U.S. strategic goals in the region through socioeconomic means and the impartial application of international law."

Although the permanent United States military presence in various Arab countries of the Gulf was designed as an instrument of U.S. containment policies against Iraq and Iran, this military presence in itself was generating its own political and ideological cultural-religious dynamics that would later manifest themselves in the terrorist attack against the U.S. on September 11, 2001.

He argues that the U.S.'s commitment to Israel's security conflicted with other policy objectives in the region, including safeguarding oil supplies.

A new United States strategy in the Middle East that will impartially focus on the application of principles of justice and international law in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and other Middle East issues will go a long way in dramatically changing Arab popular perceptions about the U.S. in the region of the Middle East.

Although many in the Arab world are critical of American foreign policy -- a June Pew Research Center poll shows only 11 percent of Egyptians think President Barack Obama has dealt fairly with Israelis and Palestinians -- it is rare to hear criticism of American foreign policy in the Middle East from such a senior military official. Egypt is a key American ally and the recipient of more than $1.3 billion in U.S. military aid annually.

Sobhy also lamented the lack of communication between the U.S. foreign policy establishment and actors in the Middle East, citing the difference in the role of religion in government:

Although many Arab governments operate on the basis of legal civil codes, the Islamic religion still exercises a parallel and strong influence on governmental institutions.

He highlighted U.S. socioeconomic engagement with the Arab world in the 1950s and 1960s as a model to follow, noting that the European Union has gained socioeconomic influence in the region as U.S. influence has waned.

Significantly, Sobhy criticized the involvement of the ruling elite in the domestic economy in the Arab world.

More often than not, United States policy makers fail to address the issue that political liberalization threatens the economic and business interests of ruling elites in various Arab countries in the Middle East, and that these interests are often embedded in the heavy institutional involvement of the government in the domestic economies ...

The United States possesses the capabilities to provide socioeconomic assistance that can be conditioned on structural economic reforms within these societies.

The Egyptian military holds vast economic power -- last year it made a $1 billion loan to Egypt's central bank. The total value of its economic holdings is unknown -- it is considered a state secret -- but the army's empire includes everything from factories to beach resorts. Under Field Marshal Tantawi, the military seemed to believe that economic reform and the lessening of government control over production and prices were threats to social stability. It's unclear what the new balance of power between Mursi and the Supreme Council of Armed forces will be, but Sobhy's thesis offers a relatively anti-establishment outlook from someone now at the reigns of the Egyptian military.

(Joshua Falk, an intern at Bloomberg View, recently graduated from Stanford with a degree in Middle Eastern history. Follow him on Twitter.)

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-0- Aug/17/2012 19:46 GMT