Monday, January 31, 2011

Golden Oldies: Egypt’s Drive for Military Parity with Israel

Below is an in-depth article I authored for the terrific Journal of International Security Affairs back in 2002 (9/11 occurred while I was working on the article.) The article is dated, but provides some useful background on the Egyptian military which sheds some insight on its role in Egyptian society and politics. In addition there are a pair of other informative articles about the Egyptian military in the Winter 2002 issue that are worth revisiting.

Also, check out the current issue for in-depth discussions on The Next Stage of Proliferation (including an excellent article on Syria's WMD project), The Struggle Against Radical Islam and much more.

Journal of International Security Affairs – Winter 2002

Eye of the Sphinx: Egypt’s Drive for Military Parity with Israel

In 1979, after almost a quarter century of war, after President Sadat’s historic visit to Jerusalem and the negotiation of the Camp David Accords, Egypt became the first Arab country to make peace with Israel. At the same time, it left the Soviet camp and became an important ally of the United States. Egypt’s loca-tion and control of the Suez Canal make its agreement essential for American operations in the Gulf. Its support for American interests in the Arab world, particularly its participation in the Gulf War has been invaluable. Both the U.S. and Israel benefit from Egypt’s commitment to peace with Israel and its cooperation with the U.S.

Egypt has been rewarded amply for becoming an American ally. It is the second largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, after Israel. Since 1979 the United States has granted Egypt over $35 billion in aid, with $25 billion devoted to the military. The annual aid package runs about $1.3 billion in military assistance and $700 million in economic assistance. The United States also rewarded Egypt for participating in the Gulf War by forgiving $7.1 billion in past Egyptian debt. In addition to financial assistance, the American-Egyptian Bright Star exercises, held every 2 years, are the largest military exercises in the world and include 8 other countries. The 2001 exercises included over 40,000 Egyptian and 20,000 American soldiers, sailors, and airmen. The United States sees a strong Egyptian military as the best guarantor that the present moderate Egyptian regime remains in power.

But despite the peace treaty – which has led only to a very frosty relationship – Egypt’s priority is military parity with Israel. Military parity with Israel underpins Egypt’s leadership ambitions within the Arab world. Therefore, planning and training focus on a conflict with Israel. In the Al-Badr exercises, held every 3 years, Egyptian forces practice crossing the Suez Canal to fight a hostile force to the East. These exercises send a message to Israel and highlight Egypt’s primacy in the Arab world. In the words of Cairo Times correspondent Steve Negus, writing about Al-Badr 1996:

Last year’s Badr 96, described as the largest maneuvers since the 1973 war, left Netanyahu squirming in indignation when the Second and Third Armies staged a massive re-crossing of the Suez Canal to confront a ’hostile’ force east of the water-way. Militarily, that’s not too likely a scenario for the near future, but politically, it’s magnificent theater. It’s a way of saying to the Israelis - don’t throw your weight around the Middle East so much, because if you force us into war, we’ll give you a run for your money. How could such a war come about? The defense ministry won’t speculate in public, but the analysts will tell you that if Netanyahu starts a war with Syria, then Egypt might feel it has no choice.(1)
Egyptian officials make conflicting statements about their intentions towards Israel. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and other top leaders proclaim that Egypt is committed to the strategy of peace. But other officials deliver a different message. For example, Osama Al-Baz, Mubarak’s national security advisor recently told Al-Ahram, Egypt’s leading newspaper, that if Israel were to go to war against Syria, Syria would not be alone. Whatever Egyptian intentions, Cairo has worked hard to marry military capability to its rhetoric. The American aid program to Egypt has built a large, well-equipped, modern military force that, on paper, is a match technologically and in numbers to Israel.(2)

Egypt has almost 450,000 men under arms and another 250,000 in reserves, plus para-military forces of 230,000. Israel’s active military is 172,500 with reserves of 425,000. Egypt has 3960 main battle tanks and Israel has 3900. The Egyptian Air Force has 583 aircraft and the Israeli Air Force has 446. Egypt’s navy has 4 submarines, 11 major warships and 25 missile patrol boats to Israel’s 2 submarines, 3 major warships and 12 missile patrol boats. However, much of Egypt’s military hardware is old Soviet era equipment. Surveying a few key systems shows a rough technological and numeric parity between Egypt and Israel.

The backbone of both the Egyptian and Israeli air forces is the American-made F-16. Egypt has 189 F-16s (with others on order for an eventual fleet of 220). Israel has 237 F-16s (and contracts to purchase 102 more – some of which will replace older aircraft, including older F-15s and F-16s). Israel also has a substantial qualitative edge in its 78 F-15s. More maneuverable and capable of carrying a greater payload than the F-16, the aging F-15 remains the premier air superiority fighter in the world. Reportedly Israel will maintain its air superiority by being the first state in the Middle East to receive the F-22 and F-35, which are being developed to replace the F-15 and F-16.

Egyptian tank forces have also become more sophisticated. The M1A1 Abrams is the most lethal heavy tank in the world. Currently 555 M1A1 tanks spearhead Egypt’s tank force, and Egypt has a contract to assemble 200 more. It is heavily armed and armored – but at the same time fast and maneuverable. Egypt has also obtained 10,800 rounds of 120mm smooth-bore KEW-A1 ammunition for the M1A1s. This ammunition is made with depleted uranium and proved extremely effective against Iraqi tanks in the Gulf War. 1200 Israeli-built Merkavas are the core of Israel’s tank force. Tailored to Israeli needs, the Merkava is also a modern, nimble tank, and the IDF has long possessed depleted uranium ammunition.

Egypt also has 1300 M60A3 and 400 M60A1 tanks in service. While the M60 is not completely obsolete (Israel also has 900 in service) the initial design is over 40 years old and was completely phased out of the U.S. military almost a decade ago. The rolled steel armor of the M60 is vulnerable to modern munitions. Nonetheless, the M60s could still be used effectively on a battlefield.

Both Israel and Egypt have the AH-64A Apache helicopters which have proven very effective against armor. Egypt has 36 Apaches to Israel’s 42. Egypt has also acquired an extensive arsenal of advanced Western anti-tank missiles.
Egyptian planning operates under the assumption that Israel will acquire air superiority soon after hostilities begin. Consequently, Egypt has attempted to acquire systems to ameliorate this chronic disadvantage. The Egyptian military places a high priority on air defense and has an air defense force independent of the air force and army. Egypt has over 600 major surface-to-air (SAM) launchers including the Russian-made SA-2, SA-3 and SA-6, and the American made HAWK System. Major SAM systems have an effective range of 25 to 40 kilometers. Egypt recently contracted with a Russian firm to modernize its SA-3s. Egypt is also purchasing another major sophisticated SAM system, the Patriot 3 – which has not yet been sold to Israel. Egypt also has thousands of light SAM systems including the Ayn as Saqr – a homemade version of the Soviet SA-7 hand held system. It has a range of 0.5 to 5.5 kilometers. Egypt is also contracting to buy American Stinger missiles, and possesses several other battlefield SAMs as well as hundreds of anti-aircraft guns. Coordinated effectively, these systems would complicate air attacks on Egyptian forces.

Another Egyptian response to Israeli air superiority has been to acquire long-range artillery systems. Congress, over some Israeli objections, recently approved the sale of 26 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) to Egypt – enough to equip 2 battalions. Israel has had such systems for several years. With a range of 40 kilometers, the MLRS give the
Egyptian army the ability to strike well behind the lines of an opposing force.

The Egyptian navy has been acquiring modern electronics for its submarines and ships. It has also purchased 4 Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates from the United States. The recent Administration decision to sell the Harpoon Block II missile to the Egyptian navy raised concern in Israel, and in the U.S. Congress, which, in the end, may not approve the sale. This version of the Harpoon, which can be launched from ships, submarines, and airplanes, has a range of 175 kilometers and carries a 500-pound warhead. It is superior to the Harpoons possessed by the Israeli Navy and besides potentially changing the balance of power between the Egyptian and Israeli navies, it can also, from far offshore, attack land targets.

One aspect of Egypt’s military build-up, not supported by the United States – and a cause of the current controversy over selling the Harpoon missile - is Egypt’s ongoing effort to build a strategic deterrent. Despite U.S. protests, Egypt is working with North Korea to build No Dong missiles that would put all of Israel in striking distance. Egypt possesses SCUD-B missiles that have a 300-kilometer range, and has cooperated with North Korea in building SCUD-C missiles with 450-kilometer range. The SCUD-C would place greater Tel-Aviv and most of Israel within Egyptian missile range. There are believed to be three hundred North Korean technicians in Egypt working on these projects. Egypt’s cooperation with North Korea led to some sharp statements from several U.S. congressmen. They note that American aid has freed Egyptian resources to pursue these missile programs, which also benefit North Korea. There has been some discussion of halting military aid to Egypt, but congressmen with districts benefiting from the arms sales so far have blocked this move.

Egypt has attempted to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Nasser embarked on a nuclear program, which was unsuccessful and used chemical weapons during the Egyptian intervention in Yemen from 1963-67. Egypt has some chemical weapons production capabilities and may also have the ability to produce and stockpile biological weapons. Currently, Israel’s alleged nuclear weapons are a source of major concern to the Egyptians. High-level Egyptian figures, including Osama Al-Baz and the Sheikh of Al-Azhar University (a position appointed by President Mubarak) Egypt’s highest-ranking religious figure, have stated that it may be necessary for Egypt to pursue WMD capabilities to deter Israel.

Even without WMD, strategic weapons are a major threat. In a July 2000 interview in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Arabi, Field Marshal Abu Ghazaleh, a former Egyptian Minister of Defense states:
…Israel has limited manpower whose morale can be broken [by inflicting] even a few casualties. Secondly, the important strategic targets in Israel are all located in limited and specific areas, which turn them into obtainable targets that are easy to strike… Ballistic surface-to-surface missiles with a reasonable range of 500-600 kilometers can serve as an effective means of deterrence against all types of Israeli forces, whether conventional or nuclear.… There is no defense from a missile attack coming from several directions. No defense system against missiles can deal with more than a [limited] number of missiles in such an attack…. The Israeli military commanders know that. Deterrence is formed from three elements: obtaining a certain means, the resolve to use it, and the enemy’s knowledge of its existence. One may say that the horror caused by 13 Iraqi SCUD missiles whose warheads were reduced to increase their range, is the best proof of this.(3)
Abu Ghazaleh’s statements shed new light on the importance of the Harpoon missile to Egyptian strategy. Most of Israel’s population centers and many of its strategic targets are along its long coastline. The Harpoon, while not usually considered a strategic missile, gives Egypt the capacity to strike these targets quickly, accurately and from the west, while land-based Egyptian missiles would strike from the south.

Between its raw numbers, its sophisticated American equipment, and its growing strategic missile program, Egypt has accumulated sufficient assets to concern Israeli planners. But, these numbers provide an incomplete picture. Military planning is based on worst-case scenarios. In Israel’s case this means assuming that a war with Egypt is part of a broader regional war that includes Syria, missile strikes from Iraq, increased fighting with the Palestinians and along the Israeli-Lebanese border and possibly other Middle East actors joining the fray(4). There is likelihood to this scenario inasmuch as Egypt would be extremely hesitant to abrogate its treaty with Israel and jeopardize its relationship with the United States in something other than a region-wide explosion.

Most of these forces would be operating with technology inferior to Israel. But neutralizing several different sets of air defenses, eliminating ballistic missiles, and establishing air superiority on several fronts would place enormous stress on the Israeli Air Force. Israeli ground forces, also fighting on several fronts, would be outnumbered, albeit with superior equipment, and would have limited air support.

Numbers, however, provide an incomplete picture. The Information Revolution was, in many ways, an outgrowth of the “Revolution in Military Affairs.” Electronic systems allow modern militaries to integrate many different systems, units, and weapons to identify efficiently and locate enemy assets and allocate resources to destroy them. (In the U.S. military the system architecture that underpins this capacity is known as C4ISR, short for command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.) Egypt has acquired modern radar, battlefield computers, and communications systems from the United States and is assets and allocate resources to destroy them. (In the U.S. military the system architecture that underpins this capacity is known as C4ISR, short for command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.) Egypt has acquired modern radar, battlefield computers, and communications systems from the United States and is investing in joint satellite programs with other Arab nations. But Israel has a technical edge based on its sophisticated domestic armament and electronics industry. Israel is familiar with American technology and has developed systems to counter American systems in Egyptian (and Saudi) hands. For example, Israel developed the superior Phalcon system as a response to Egypt’s American-made E-2C Hawkeye Airborne Early Warning, Command and Control craft. Israel’s superiority in battlefield communications and intelligence allows Israel to identify quickly and mass forces at critical points, thereby at least partially countering its overall numerical disadvantage.

The Israeli edge over Egypt in electronics is indicative of the central factor undermining Egyptian military effectiveness. A nation’s military is a reflection of its society. Arab armies in the 20th century have not been terribly successful against Western armies, and the modern Arab nations, for the most part, have been impoverished, corrupt, and unstable dictatorships. Egypt is a poor country with a stagnant economy, a sub par education system, enormous social tensions, and an unstable government. All of these problems are reflected in the military and adversely affect its ability to conduct a modern war.

Egypt’s extreme poverty takes a major toll on military effectiveness. According to World Bank figures, Egypt’s per capita income in 2000 was under $1,500. This has enormous implications on training. Live fire exercises with modern vehicles, munitions and missiles, and flight time for warplanes are extremely expensive. While the purchase of the equipment is primarily funded by the United States, Egypt lacks the resources for extensive training. Israel has a per capita income of $17,000. Israeli soldiers and particularly the Air Force get far more training and are far more proficient than their Egyptian counterparts.

The Egyptian military engages in agricultural and industrial activities to insure the necessary funds to maintain officer privileges and extend the resources available to the military. These endeavors lead to corruption and distract the armed forces from their primary role.

Egyptian poverty expresses itself in other ways as well. Most Egyptians are not computer literate or familiar with modern machinery. As a result, equipment is not well maintained or well understood by its operators. In Israel by contrast the population is broadly familiar with modern technology. This was evident, for example, in the 1973 Yom Kippur war when Israeli soldiers received modern, untested American weapons, and tinkered with them on the battlefield.

Some developing nations have overcome a lack of resources to create effective military establishments. But Egyptian culture, particularly the education and social structure, are not conducive to building effective military organizations. Egyptian education focuses on rote memorization. This has carried over to the military. Egyptian soldiers are rarely given the broader theoretical training that they would need to improvise in combat.

Egypt is also a socially stratified nation. The class difference between officers and enlisted men is enormous. Officers have little interest in the men in their charge, and the troops have no loyalty to their commanders and are poorly motivated. The relationship between leader and led which is essential for an effective combat unit is poorly developed. The result is poorly motivated and trained conscripts led by uninspiring, uncreative officers.

The Egyptian military’s political role exacerbates the economic and cultural challenges it faces. The present Egyptian regime was brought to power by the Free Officer’s Revolt – a military coup - in 1952. Presidents Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak were generals. The military is the ultimate guarantor of the regime and internal security needs detract from its military effectiveness.

Given its importance in maintaining regime stability, extensive measures and checks are necessary in order to ensure the military’s loyalty. The officer corps is kept content through privileges and discouraged from showing initiative. A new idea has to be approved by several layers of command. Promotion is contingent on politics and loyalty, not competence. American efforts to encourage more initiative and greater flexibility have been resisted. In fact, officers receiving American training may face reduced promotion prospects. These policies may help ensure that officer cliques will not plot coups, but they also lead to mediocre officers.

Before becoming an American ally, Egypt was a Soviet client. While the equipment is increasingly American, the military remains in many essential ways a Soviet style, heavily centralized organization. The flow of information is closely controlled. Consequently communication and coordination between units is poor. These doctrines are effective for keeping the military under tight control. But they create large, inflexible structures that are unlikely to react effectively to the fast developing situations that characterize the modern battlefield.

The two strengths of the Egyptian military – its size and its modern equipment – are products of the military’s political role, but to a degree actually detract from its efficiency. The force structure is kept large because a larger military helps diffuse power and complicates conspiracies, but the economic costs are high. The modern equipment builds the military’s domestic and international prestige and keeps it politically satisfied. But Egypt has had difficulty incorporating some items into its arsenal. Egypt’s arrangement for assembling the M1A1 tank is important for its international standing. However, it would actually be more cost-effective to purchase the tanks built in the U.S. For a low-tech military, sophisticated equipment is difficult to maintain, expensive to operate, and consequently reduces combat effectiveness.

This combination of factors has a deleterious effect on the Egyptian military. Some argue that despite its modern equipment, the Egyptian military is a paper tiger. Negus, of the Cairo Times, describing the Al-Badr ’96 and Bright Star ’97 exercises, writes:
…observers don’t think that the military pushes itself to the limit. A fighter plane capable of a tight 9G turn - stressful to plane and pilot, but an essential maneuver to master in a dogfight - is only taken to a leisurely 3Gs. Apache helicopters, equipped with vastly expensive and sophisticated night vision equipment, until recently were only flown during the day. This impression was backed up by Egypt’s Gulf War performance - the divisions assigned to the liberation of Kuwait City accomplished their mission with minimal casualties, but they couldn’t keep to the breakneck schedule demanded by the American planners. The impression that the military says it seeks to give - a force gearing up to accomplish feats such as those of 1973 - isn’t getting through to the outside world.(5)
The Egyptian military leadership is aware of its inferiority to the IDF, but its size gives it a range of muscle flexing options short of open war. The peace treaty limits Egypt to one armored division on the Sinai Peninsula. However Israeli sources have stated that this division is being used as a cover to pre-position equipment for four divisions. Four Egyptian armored divisions in the Western Sinai would be a blatant violation of the Egyptian-Israeli peace, and it would be a substantial threat to Israel. Political considerations would probably prevent Israel from launching a pre-emptive strike. But these forces could not be ignored. Israel would be obligated to build up forces on its southern border and keep them at the ready. This would prove expensive and could tie up resources that might be needed elsewhere.

Should Egypt enter low-level hostilities with Israel, it could, similar to the War of Attrition of the late 1960s and early 1970s, launch commando raids over the Israeli border. Egyptian Field Marshal Abu Ghazaleh stated that Israel’s limited strategic depth and long borders make it an ideal target for commando and terror operations. This strategy could include cooperating with the Palestinians in Gaza. In a possible harbinger of this strategy, underground tunnels connect Egypt to Gaza, bypassing Israeli checkpoints. Arms, contraband, and people are being smuggled through them. Israel has not protested this violation of the peace treaty.

In the unlikely scenario of an open war, the 1973 Yom Kippur War provides a paradigm. Initially, Egypt and Syria overwhelmed vulnerable Israeli positions through a combination of surprise and mass. When Israel recovered and counterattacked, Egypt and Syria suffered devastating defeats. However, the victory was expensive for Israel, while Egypt and Syria celebrated their initial victories and translated the war – for domestic consumption at least – into a political victory.

A repeat of 1973 is unlikely. Egyptian forces could not make the necessary fast dash across the Sinai to catch Israel by surprise. Crossing the Suez and then the Sinai would take several days, which would give Israel substantial warning time, and there are questions as to whether Egyptian logistics would support such an offensive. Finally, the U.S. stations a monitoring force in the Sinai. The dismissal of U.S. monitors would be a prelude to war, giving Israel additional warning.

But the sheer size of the Egyptian forces, particularly in conjunction with other Arab forces, would open certain strategic options. The IDF would have difficulty quickly neutralizing all of the substantial forces and systems (particularly missiles) it would face. Many of the modern systems Egypt has acquired, such as “fire and forget” missiles with built in targeting systems, are very dangerous, even in inexperienced hands. These systems would not prevent an Israeli victory, but they could cause substantial Israeli casualties. This combination of factors could create an opportunity for Egyptian forces to achieve specific goals. These successes could be the basis for claims of a great victory and then be translated into a political victory.

It is important, however, to keep in mind that the Israeli-Egyptian peace has endured, through Israel’s 1982 war in Lebanon as well as the first and second intifadas. Egypt has no outstanding territorial claims against Israel. A war would destroy Egypt’s relations with the United States, and it would probably be militarily disastrous for Egypt. A reasoned analysis indicates that Egypt has nothing to gain, and everything to lose going to war with Israel.

Unfortunately, reason cannot be counted on to prevail. This is the stark lesson of September 11, 2001 – the unthinkable cannot be ruled out as impossible. In the case of Egypt, the very factors that reduce the effectiveness of the military also increase the likelihood of a confrontation with Israel. The military’s central role in Egyptian politics indicates an unstable regime. The poverty and social difficulties facing Egypt make the Egyptian people susceptible to extremist ideologies. This exacerbates Egypt’s political instability, which could result in a takeover by extremist forces that seek a war or could pull a weak leadership into a confrontation.

Since the assassination of Sadat by Muslim extremists in 1981, supporting Mubarak and keeping Egypt in the moderate camp has been a pillar of American policy. Throughout the 1990s Mubarak fought a bloody internal war with Muslim extremists – the Egyptian branch of Islamic Jihad. Thousands were killed by the extremists and by Egyptian security forces. Islamist forces have carried out innumerable terror attacks within Egypt, including the 1997 massacre of 58 tourists at Luxor. Judges, high-ranking officers, and liberal intellectuals have been assassinated. Mubarak himself escaped an assassination attempt in 1995. While the violence has declined, the prominence of Egyptians in al Qaeda’s ranks shows that Muslim extremism remains a major presence in Egypt.

Egypt is often compared with Iran – an American ally that became an enemy after an extremist Muslim revolution. The prospect is worrisome, but there is some question as to whether the present Egyptian regime can truly be considered moderate.

A survey of the Egyptian media shows that it is rife with vitriol, against Israel, Jews, and the United States. Holocaust denial and conspiracy theories are ubiquitous in Egypt’s press. A columnist for a government-controlled newspaper praised Hitler – but wished he had done a more thorough job of killing the Jews. In a foreshadowing of the current rumors that the Mossad masterminded the September 11 attacks, Egyptian journalists rejected the results of the American investigation of the October 31, 1999 EgyptAir crash and insisted that an American or Mossad conspiracy caused the tragedy.

The Egyptian media’s wrath is often directed at the United States. Ibrahim Nafie, the Mubarak appointed editor of Al-Ahram (Egypt’s leading newspaper) and the head of the Egyptian Journalists Association recently accused the United States of dropping poisoned food in Afghanistan.

The government controls most of the major media outlets. But many opposition media outlets are equally extreme. The scholars at Egypt’s government-controlled Al-Azhar University, one of the most prestigious centers of Islamic thought in the world, regularly spout anti-Semitic rhetoric. Extremism and conspiracy theories are also prevalent in the secular universities. This rhetoric distracts Egyptians from the vast problems facing Egypt, and dehumanizes Americans and Israelis.

When questioned about these frequent and outrageous statements, the Egyptian government insists that there is freedom of the press. But, the government has not hesitated to take action against newspapers that challenge the government’s position. When the newspaper Al-Shabaa, which is affiliated with an Islamist party, began a campaign of incitement over the re-release of the novel Banquet of Seaweed, the government closed down the paper and the party. Freedom of the press is selective in Mubarak’s Egypt.

So far, Mubarak has walked a fine line, maintaining a pro-Western façade while tolerating and at times fomenting extremist politics to distract the people from the insoluble economic problems and the lack of freedom. But, the extremist ideas prevailing in Egypt cannot be dismissed as mere rhetoric; nor are they divorced from Egyptian politics. Mubarak is a clever survivor and may be able to continue balancing his domestic extremism with his pro-American international stance. But Mubarak is 73 and has not appointed a successor, though at times he seems to be positioning his son Gamal for the role. In any case, a succession struggle could create an opportunity for the Muslim extremists, or bring either a more confrontational figure to power or a weak ruler who could not maintain Mubarak’s high wire act.

Even Mubarak himself may be challenged to maintain the status quo. The last two decades have seen minimal economic growth and an enormous increase in population. Living standards for the vast majority have stagnated or declined. The government has cracked down on real and perceived challenges to Egypt’s stability. Prof. Sa’ad Al-Din Ibrahim, a leading Egyptian human rights activist and a dual Egyptian-American citizen, was tried, convicted, and sentenced to seven years in prison on dubious charges of embarrassing the regime. Ibrahim had organized a project to monitor Egyptian elections. His previous efforts had led to the 1995 elections being declared invalid. The regime did not want to risk a similar embarrassment and his arrest and imprisonment prevented a similar effort to monitor the 2000 elections. More recently, the Egyptian government has begun cracking down on homosexuals. Fifty-two men were charged with misdemeanors before the Emergency State Security Court – the military courts that try Muslim extremists. These several steps are indicators that the regime finds it necessary to seek enemies to distract the public. Such unstable governments are often tempted by foreign adventures.

Egypt’s military build-up and the growing public hostility toward the United States and Israel raise a number of questions. For Israel, the answers are obvious. An increasing number of Israeli politicians and analysts have come to question Egypt’s intentions. Israeli displeasure with some arms sales to Egypt has been communicated to the United States. Reportedly, Israeli intelligence has upgraded Egypt to being a danger – but not a threat like Syria. But many Israeli officials are reticent to discuss the possibility of renewed conflict with Egypt – fearing the creation of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Undoubtedly, the IDF Intelligence and Planning arms are watching and quietly preparing for the unlikely but far from inconceivable possibility of renewed hostilities with Egypt.

The questions raised for the United States are more complicated. Despite enormous American assistance and its great value as an ally, Egypt often pursues objectives at cross-purposes with American interests. Egypt has taken the lead in rehabilitating Iraq in Arab circles, cooperates with North Korea and Libya, is pursuing closer relations with Iran, and has offered only tepid support for American efforts against terrorism. The Egyptian government incites hatred of the United States, but many Egyptians also hate the United States for supporting the repressive Egyptian government.

When Sadat made peace with Israel he did so in order to refocus Egyptian efforts on the mounting internal difficulties. But Sadat’s vision appears to have died with him. Egypt under Mubarak is not a transformed nation - it is a failed state, an impoverished, unstable, dictatorship.

Egypt’s location and size made it crucial both in the Cold War and in the post-Cold War era. The United States focused on Egypt’s strategic value and provided massive military support to guarantee its stability. Possessing a large, modern, Western equipped military allowed Egypt to claim the mantle of pan-Arab leadership and avoid its internal problems. But now, two decades after Camp David, the repressive Egyptian regime has created a fertile ground for terrorism and extremism both within and without the regime. This extremism will have consequences for Israel and for the United States as well as for the long-suffering Egyptian people. It is the sad, but inevitable result of the Faustian bargain made by the United States, reaping the short-term advantages of alliance with a military dictatorship while failing to promote its own core values - the ideals of liberal democracy.

1. Steve Negus, “Reading between the Tank Treads,” Cairo Times, Vol 1., Iss. 18, October 30, 1997,
2. There are several sources for the size of military forces – each with slightly different figures.
For consistency, all numbers here are from Dr. Anthony H. Cordesman’s Peace and War: The Arab-
Israeli Balance Enters the 21st Century, Center for Strategic and International Studies, available on their website
3. This interview was in the Egyptian weekly Al-Arabi, July 2, 2000. This statement from the
Egyptian media, and other statements cited from Arab language media are available due to the invaluable services of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). MEMRI monitors, translates and analyzes the media of the Middle East. Material cited here, and much more from the Egyptian media, as well as media across the Middle East is all available on their website –
4. An even worse, and less likely, scenario could include a hostile regime taking over in Jordan, Iraqi land forces, Iranian and Libyan ballistic missiles, and the American-equipped Saudi air force.
5. Steve Negus, “Reading between the Tank Treads,” Cairo Times, Vol 1., Iss. 18, October 30, 1997

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Golden Oldies: Egypt Needs a Vice President

The latest news from Egypt is that intelligence chief Omar Suleiman has been appointed vice president. Suleiman is a very capable figure, but it is hard to see how the head of the repressive security apparatus can be recast as a reformer. The vice presidency in Egypt has some significance, because the vice president is the next president (Sadat followed Nasser, who in turn was followed by Mubarak.) There is a political joke in Egypt that the president always appoints someone dumber then themselves to be vice president. So Nasser appointed Sadat and Sadat appointed Mubarak. But Mubarak couldn't find anyone.

Noting the relative importance of the Egyptian VP, I wrote an article for National Review Online during Egypt's last Presidential election, suggesting that the country hold open elections for the vice president in order to restore some sense of constitutionalism. Oddly this was some time before (and perhaps a foreshadowing of) my current obsession with the vice presidency.

September 08, 2005, 8:27 a.m.
What a Wonder
A little Egyptian election could got a long way.

By Aaron Mannes

With a Mubarak victory foreordained, Egypt’s presidential elections — the first allowing multiple candidates — can only be considered a tiny step toward reform in Egypt. Fortunately, there is a chance to take a second step with the approaching parliamentary elections in November. Egyptian reformers hope to build on the experience of multiparty presidential elections to prepare for competitive parliamentary elections and lay the groundwork for more effective election monitoring. But more dynamic change is necessary if the people of Egypt are to be engaged in the reform process. One step, that would have the twin virtues of being an important reform while not directly challenging Mubarak, would be to press for an open election for vice president to be included in the parliamentary elections.

Since taking power after Sadat’s assassination in 1981, Mubarak has not appointed a vice president. While modern Egypt has not been a democracy, it has been a republic. Vice President Anwar Sadat succeeded President Nasser on his death in 1970. Sadat, in turn, was succeeded by Vice President Hosni Mubarak. This is in distinct contrast to the messy succession processes that prevail in the rest of the Arab world. The establishment of a vice president would restore a sense of Egyptian constitutionalism. It would also be prudent. Mubarak’s domination of Egyptian politics is so complete that Egypt (and the world) holds its collective breath whenever Mubarak appears in jeopardy, like in 1995 following an assassination attempt in Ethiopia, and in November 2003 when he collapsed while speaking before parliament. Mubarak appears healthy, but at 77 this status cannot last indefinitely.

A vice-presidential election would open the political system by giving the Egyptians a real stake in their political process, and it would prepare the groundwork for truly contested popular elections. But a vice-presidential election would also have the virtue of not directly threatening Mubarak. The vice president would have no formal power but would set the stage for an eventual transition. Taking Mubarak’s situation into account is essential for any reform. Over $50 billion in U.S. aid to Egypt has produced stability but no political reform or even economic growth. Mubarak is no reformer. His quarter century in power has been a period of stagnation. But Mubarak responds to pressure when it is firmly and carefully applied. He released leading reformer Prof. Saad al-Din Ibrahim from prison after an international campaign, and he has recently appointed some solid technocrats to his cabinet. He has even expanded trade relations with Israel, again under U.S. pressure. It is only when pushed to act against his own core interests that Mubarak will balk.

Incremental steps are necessary because, as Mubarak plausibly argues the immediate alternative to his rule would be a regime run by the Muslim Brotherhood. This would not be not an outcome favorable to the United States or to the prospect of reform in the Middle East. The Muslim Brotherhood seeks, in the words of Egyptian intellectual Tarek Heggy, to establish “a Caliphate, a religious militarized state, as the base to wage war against the ‘infidel’ West.” In interviews, Muslim Brotherhood leader Muhammed Mahdi Othman Akef does little to dispel this impression. In the Egyptian paper al-Arabi, Akef called suicide bombings in Iraq and against Israel a religious obligation. He told the Muslim Brotherhood website that “Islam will invade Europe and America, because Islam has logic and a mission.”

Currently the Muslim Brotherhood is banned but tolerated in Egypt. It is possible that a Muslim Brotherhood-aligned candidate could win the vice-presidential elections. If this issue is faced openly and with international support before the Brotherhood acquires real power, then Egypt could focus on building the checks and balances necessary to maintain an open democracy.

Egypt, the largest Arab state, has been the cradle of the major ideologies of the Arab world. Modern Islamism originated in Egypt with the Muslim Brotherhood and Egyptian President Nasser was the great figure of pan-Arabism. The backbone of al-Qaeda’s leadership is Egyptian. But it was also Egypt that made peace with Israel. In the first half of the 20th century Egypt made important strides toward building a liberal democracy and synthesizing its Muslim past with the modern present. Echoes of this era still exist. Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz helped forge a modern Arabic literature by melding Western and Arab literary forms. A leading Egyptian playwright, Ali Salem, has written and spoken out for reform and peace. He wrote warmly of his travels to Israel. For his trouble he was expelled from the Egyptian Playwright’s Association, but his book was still an Egyptian best seller.

The Nile is deep and while the surface may appear turbulent and dominated by radicalism, there are pragmatic depths. Much of Egypt’s radicalism is fostered by Mubarak’s regime itself. The Egyptian media, which is viciously anti-Semitic and anti-American, is state-controlled. A poll by Egypt’s Education Ministry has shown that Egypt’s best educated harbor the strongest anti-Israeli sentiments. This is a terrible commentary on Egyptian higher education, but it also indicates the potential for popular moderation. Discourse accompanying open elections will help foster this moderation. If these trends can be nurtured, it will encourage reform throughout the Middle East.

By adding an open election for vice president to its November parliamentary elections, Egypt can build on the small step of the recent semi-competitive presidential elections, restore Egyptian constitutionalism, and begin to foster the open political discussions necessary for real reform. This is a unique opportunity that must be seized if the United States is serious about nurturing freedom in the Arab world.

— Aaron Mannes, author of the TerrorBlog and Profiles in Terror: The Guide to Middle East Terrorist Organizations, researches terrorism for the Semantic Web Agents Group at the Maryland Information and Network Dynamics Laboratory at the University of Maryland. Opinions expressed here are his own.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Institutional Weakness & Egypt's Future

Events in Egypt are developing quickly. Predictions are a dangerous business, but even if the Mubarak regime can ride out these protests, something profound has changed. In a region where l’etat c’est moi is the standard for the rulers, ripping down the giant posters of President Mubarak is a profound symbol of the public’s disaffection.

Facts about economic stagnation and reports of human rights abuses can tell the story of Egypt’s decay under Mubarak – but perhaps this newsbrief best encapsulates the situation:
Egyptian security forces detained a schoolboy for several hours after he wrote in an exam that President Hosni Mubarak was a tyrant who ruled over cowards, an Education Ministry official said on Monday. Safwat Hassan, 17, wrote in his end of high school exam in the southern city of Luxor that Mubarak was "a tyrannical leader" and Egyptians were "a cowardly people," the official in Luxor told AFP. The official said the boy wrote the answer in a maths exam because he was convinced that he was going to fail as he comes from a poor family that could not afford treating school staff to the customary meals during exam time. Egyptian teachers are notoriously badly paid and almost always have to take on private classes and accept gifts to make ends meet. Hassan was questioned for several hours by local security forces and "might be charged with defamation," the official said, without being able to say how security services found out about the boy's answer. The teenager has been barred from taking more exams this year and will have to retake them all next year, the official said.
I think this story speaks for itself, shedding light on the Egyptian government’s ability to provide services, the pervasive police state, and the economic prospects for most Egyptians. This revolt was long in coming. The United States should have been pressing for reform in Egypt for decades (as I discuss here in this article discussing the ideas of Egyptian liberal writer Tarek Heggy.) But, in fairness to policy-makers and implementers pressing for reform in other countries is not so easy to do (as I learned while researching the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission.)

Predictions in a situation like this are impossible – but a few observations are in order.

First, there have been innumerable calls for the United States to support the protesters and align its policy with democracy in Egypt. This is probably the least bad course of action. But there should be no illusions on several points. For the vast majority of Egyptians, the United States is inextricably linked to the hated regime. Nothing the White House or Foggy Bottom does can change that in a few days, weeks or months. Also, the ability of the U.S. to influence events is limited. It does appear that Secretary of State Clinton’s call for the Egyptian government to not respond with violence did send a message to Egypt’s generals that the U.S. would not support a violent crackdown. (A not dissimilar message was sent to Iran’s generals as the Shah’s regime was falling.)

Second, it has been observed many times that the protests are secular and the Muslim Brotherhood is not the driver. This is probably true. But there are no institutional mechanisms for a power transfer. If the regime falls, there is no opposition in the wings to take power. Effective institutions and political parties are essential for democracies to function. One of the major failings of the post-war planning for Iraq was that Iraqi institutions were reasonably functional and that there would not be a massive governance vacuum. In that chaos, the Muslim Brotherhood might prove to be the best-organized player and be well positioned to take charge.

Another possibility is that the Muslim Brotherhood is not the organizational weapon that it was when founded in the 1920s. The MB’s banned but tolerated status may have given them enough benefits to take the edge off of their organizational prowess. That is not to say that they have moderated - this question remains open, but there are ample reasons for skepticism. But it could be that the leadership is not terribly aggressive. However, as chaos expands, radical “Young Turks” within the MB may assert themselves.

The Egyptian Army is looked to as a stabilizing force. It may play that role. However, in an >article I wrote several years ago about the Egyptian military for the Journal of International Security Affairs, one fact that came up was that the Egyptian military did not promote officers based on competence. Loyalty was essential. Innovative, creative officers are also officers that can plot coups – thus they were not promoted. Further, steps were taken to reduce cohesion within the officer corps. The military may not be able to run the country and may find itself outmaneuvered if it governs jointly with the MB.

The same goes for El-Baradei. He may appear as a moderate, internationally acceptable figure – his local support is only just beginning to form. He may also be outmaneuvered or isolated in a chaotic situation.

Finally, an important reality is that Egypt is going down the tubes. The population is growing fast, while water supplies are stagnant. The economy has posted strong macro numbers, but that hasn’t translated into new jobs for most Egyptians. There are no policies that can quickly change any of this. Infrastructure and public services are a wreck, and the public has been fed a steady diet of conspiracy theories. When the revolution (assuming it comes – and it probably will, if not now in a few years) cannot address these problems popular frustration will mount. This is when regimes cast about for enemies. No doubt they will find plenty.

Golden Oldie: The MBA as Arab Reformer

Here's another about Egyptian liberal writer (and businessman) Tarek Heggy I wrote for The National Interest.

The MBA as Arab Reformer

June 23, 2004
Aaron Mannes

As the United States is pulled deeper and deeper into the Arab world's dysfunctional morass, questions of reforming Arab culture are becoming paramount. For a unique and powerful analysis of these difficult issues, it is well worth turning to Tarek Heggy. An businessman and prolific writer, Heggy is one of Egypt's most prominent voices for reform and modernization. Heggy's articles appear in Egypt's leading periodicals and he has translated substantial parts of the 13 Arabic books he has authored into English where they can be read on his website - [3] - or in his book Culture, Civilization, and Humanity (Frank Cass, London, 2003).

Heggy's writings touch on the numerous problems facing Egypt and, by extension, the Arab world. His first works, from the late 1970s to the early 1980s, were criticisms of socialism and calls for legal and economic reform. Since then he has discussed the failures of Egypt's education system, lack of women's rights and the need for accountable government. He also calls on Arabs to press the Palestinians to make reasonable compromises with Israel and criticizes the "Goebbels-style media institutions" that shape public opinion in the Arab world. Heggy harshly criticizes Wahhabism, which he calls a "bloodthirsty version of Islam" and notes that it was marginal until the combination of Saudi oil wealth and declining conditions in many Islamic societies gave the Wahhabis the opportunity to begin supplanting the moderate Islam that had prevailed throughout most of the Muslim world for centuries.

These views are all too rare in the Arab world. But what distinguishes Heggy, who was an executive at a major international petroleum corporation for over two decades, is that he views Arab reform from the perspective of modern management - in his words "the mechanism by which an enterprise achieves its desired goals…" In his Essays on the Values of Progress, Heggy writes, "The main problem in our lives in general and our economic life in particular is that the methods and techniques of modern management sciences and modern marketing sciences are virtually absent from government departments, the public sector, the private sector, and all the service sectors." He describes the core values necessary for a society to progress and for a modern enterprise to succeed. These values include effective time management, pluralism, self-criticism and teamwork. These may sound like trite homilies to Americans - a sort of "Values of Highly Effective Nations" - but in fact Heggy is touching on something profound.

Empowered employees working in cooperative teams are the cornerstones of modern corporate success. But in Egypt, and the rest of the Arab world, bosses in every sector of society are primarily concerned with keeping their jobs and squelching any challenges to their authority. Consequently, bosses sow factionalism and encourage loyalty over competence among subordinates. In this environment, initiative and innovation are discouraged and constructive criticism is taken as a personal attack. This organizational culture is a key factor in the stagnation of Arab economies, the inefficiencies of most bureaucracies in the Arab world and even the poor military performances of Arab armies when facing Western opponents.

But there is more to these ideas than raising Egypt's moribund GDP (although after two decades of stagnation that is essential.) The values Heggy describes as necessary for modern corporations to succeed, such as goal-oriented cooperation and individual initiative, are the same values that underpin civil society. While Heggy is passionate about political reform, he recognizes that democratic institutions and civil society are essential to its success. Otherwise, Arab societies will fall prey to leaders who "pay lip service to democracy" but view the "ballot box… as their passport to power." A culture embracing the values of progress that Heggy outlines, would also be encouraging civil society and taking an important step towards democracy.

Heggy has no quick fixes to this issue. His short-term proposal is to foster a cadre of competent management executives who can begin creating an appropriate corporate culture and, in the long-term, to engineer a massive reform of Egypt's educational system. Unfortunately, Heggy admits that in Egypt and most of the rest of the Arab world, the authoritarian regimes block reform and social mobility, breeding incompetence and despair.

However, as the United States finds itself enmeshed in, but also with some influence over, Iraq Tarek Heggy's unique and pragmatic perspective on the intractable but unavoidable issue of cultural reform in the Arab world is worth considering.

Aaron Mannes is the author of the TerrorBlog ( His book "Profiles in Terror" is due out in September from Rowman & Littlefield - JINSA Press.

Golden Oldie: A Reformer in Egypt

Below is an article I wrote for Policy Review several years ago about Egyptian liberal writer Tarek Heggy. I don't know if it sheds any light on current events, but perhaps it is still worth a look.

December 1, 2002
policy review » no. 116 » books
A Reformer in Egypt
by Aaron Mannes
Aaron Mannes on Egyptian Political Essays by Tarek Heggy

Egyptian Political Essays.

IMAGINE AN ARAB voice, based in the region, part of the elite, that calls for self-criticism and massive political and economic reform and that frankly admits the failures of the political ideologies dominating the Arab world. Moreover, this voice calls the conspiracy theories and overblown rhetoric that pervade the Arab media signs of a cultural crisis and insists that Arabs come to terms with political reality. Finally, this voice urges normalization with Israel, castigates the Arab media for their vicious anti-Semitism, and criticizes Al-Jazeera for reintroducing the radical rhetoric of the 1960s that led the Arab world to catastrophe.

Meet Tarek Heggy. He says everything a Westerner, stunned at the depths of Arab societies’ ignorance, tyranny, and rage — revealed in the aftermath of 9-11 — would hope to hear. An exceptionally well-read Egyptian businessman, Heggy has written 12 books of essays in Arabic and translated four of them into English. He has collected most of his work in English into a single, self-published volume, Egyptian Political Essays. Most of his writing in English and Arabic is available on his website,

Heggy’s main themes are the need for economic, political, and cultural reform in Egypt. In his essay, “Why Do I Write?” he explains that his purpose is to encourage self-criticism, to defend the shared values of all civilization, to advocate freedom of belief and a culture of peace, to advance market economics, and to counter the “Goebbels-style propaganda machines operating in Egypt and the Arab world and their dangerous manipulation of public opinion.”

Heggy is mercifully uninterested in the all-consuming Arab obsession with the supposed Zionist conspiracy. He recognizes that the hostility towards Israel promoted in the Egyptian press merely serves to distract Egyptians from their abysmal government. In “Between a Culture of Peace and a Culture of War,” he chastises the state-controlled media for encouraging enmity towards Israel and the United States despite the Egyptian government’s official commitment to peace with Israel. He reminds Egyptians that the several decades of hot and cold war with Israel constituted a period of “arrested development” for Egypt, replete with military and economic failures. Within the Egyptian intelligentsia, it is commonly believed that the West and Israel seek to achieve hegemony over Egypt by destroying Egyptian culture. Intellectual leaders consequently endeavor to limit Western cultural influences in general and virulently oppose normalization with Israel. Yet Heggy retorts, “To believe that our cultural identity will collapse when exposed to other cultures is an insult to our culture and civilization.”

But Israel occupies a small fraction of Heggy’s work. An Egyptian patriot, Heggy’s real dream is a strong, modern, and free Egypt. His earliest work critiques Marxism and socialism, then extends to explorations of Arab society and Arab mindsets. Heggy also addresses Islamist extremism, which springs from the same roots of poverty, ignorance, and oppression — and has similar totalitarian ends. His comprehensive analysis of Egypt’s present situation is devastating.

EGYPT NEVER became strictly communist, but during Gamal Abdel Nasser’s rule from 1952 to 1970, Egypt nationalized industries and built a statist economy. The results have been the massive — and predictable — economic stagnation that has plagued Egypt for the past half-century. Under President Hosni Mubarak, fiscal and monetary policies have been liberalized, but the central problems facing Egypt’s economy have continued to fester.

In his book The Four Idols, Heggy outlines reforms for the agriculture, housing, and public sectors and for the education system. His prescriptions, familiar to advocates of free enterprise, include eliminating loss-making public-sector enterprises and reducing government control over successful units of the public sector. Laws that have created economic disasters also regulate the agricultural sector and the housing market. Egypt, the breadbasket of Mediterranean civilizations for thousands of years, is now a net food importer. Nasser-era housing laws favored the tenant as the exploited party and led to a reluctance to invest in the housing market — and consequently to a deterioration in the quality and quantity of housing. For Egypt’s fast-growing population, the ongoing housing shortage is a central irritant fueling social unrest.

Heggy’s analysis of Egypt’s failed educational system leads him to study the moral and cultural decline of Egyptian society. In the first half of the twentieth century, Egypt underwent a renaissance in which several generations of intellectuals, well versed in Egyptian civilization, absorbed Western culture and attempted to fuse the two traditions to create an Arab modernity. Meeting with Egypt’s present university elite, Egyptian graduate students studying abroad, Heggy finds the exact opposite of these earlier generations:

For the most part, they had been defeated by the challenges of an unfamiliar culture and so had avoided the difficult path of adapting to and absorbing this culture and opted for the easy one of retreating into themselves. . . . The reason for the cultural introversion of our graduate students abroad is, I believe, the poor educational and cultural baggage they carried with them from their country and which was totally inadequate in the face of the cultural and intellectual challenges of the host country. . . . [They became] completely wrapped up in themselves and their own narrow vision, isolated and brewing ideas that belong to the age of darkness and obscurantism.
This sad reversal is in great part due to Nasser’s education policies. The Egyptian education system became just another part of the civil service and fell prey to the corruption and incompetence plaguing all of Egypt’s bureaucracies. Currently, Egypt’s primary and secondary schools focus on rote memorization. Poorly paid teachers use their classes to market themselves as private tutors.

But the greatest disasters Nasser inflicted on Egyptian education fell on the universities. The general repression of Egypt’s intellectuals hampered the free exchange of ideas. But Nasser, in order to bolster Egypt’s prestige, instituted a system of free higher education. Heggy notes that wealthier societies do not provide free universal college education and that Egypt’s attempts to provide what much wealthier societies cannot resulted in a haphazard system that generates many graduates but very few of any quality.

This degradation of Egypt’s educational system was not limited to secular universities. Islamic institutions of higher learning — particularly Al-Azhar University, the leading Sunni religious institution of the Middle East — were also affected. The lowered quality of debate in Islamic institutions allowed extremist versions of Islam to make inroads into the core of the Sunni religious establishment, with ultimately disastrous consequences for Muslim civilization.

Combined with massive economic problems, this cultural calamity created the current atmosphere in Egypt in which extremism (religious and secular) flourishes, outlandish conspiracy theories masquerade as political commentary, and vicious rhetoric replaces reasoned debate.

Heggy pulls no punches in his critique of Egypt’s cultural and political discourse. He observes that Egypt’s obsession with self-praise over the past several decades is a form of escapism that allows the country to ignore the necessity of massive reform. After comparing Egypt’s civic discourse of the 1920s with the present, Heggy concludes that there is a growing fascist trend in Egypt that makes an honest exchange of ideas impossible. In his quest to bring reason to the public debate, Heggy tries to explain how not every event is a European, Zionist, or American plot and that the conspiracy theories pervading Arab media are intended to engender feelings of powerlessness.

IN HIS prescriptions for these problems, Heggy argues that truly accountable government is the only way to enact the necessary reforms. As a businessman, Heggy is schooled in modern management science. He grants the importance of academics developing the framework for reform but suggests that reforms often fail because the theorists remain in control too long. Reforms need to be managed by trained executives who understand how to set realistic goals and achieve them, apply resources, and delegate authority.

These management homilies sound trite to American ears, but such organizational principles may be revelations for Egypt. In the past few decades, several East Asian economies starting from a lower economic base have bounded past Egypt. India, despite being poorer than Egypt, has developed a high-tech sector; Egypt has not. Egypt is clearly missing something.

Egypt’s development has been stymied because its institutions are characterized by careerism and overcentralization. Supervisors view empowered subordinates as threats, so loyalty is valued over competence. (In the Egyptian army, officers who receive American training, which emphasizes initiative, face reduced promotion prospects.) The result is that the employees do not possess the shared sense of purpose necessary for an effective organization. Management science, with its emphasis on teamwork, delegation, and empowerment, may foster these habits. This voluntary cooperation is also the essential building block of civil society. Heggy’s ideas about applying effective management techniques may have implications beyond merely expanding Egypt’s GDP.

Absent from Heggy’s work is a critique of Hosni Mubarak’s two decades as president of Egypt. Heggy criticizes cabinet ministers and proposes policies and objectives the Mubarak administration should embrace, but he does not directly criticize the president of Egypt despite Mubarak’s legacy of economic stagnation and undemocratic practices. Heggy is courageous in his writing. He stands against the prevailing trends in the Arab world; he harshly criticizes the former president Nasser, who is a towering figure in modern Arab history; and he debunks popular conspiracy theories. But, in the Arab world, the prudent do not directly criticize their sovereigns by name.

Heggy offers some arguments that may not sit well with Americans or Israelis. For example, Heggy cites American support for Egypt in the 1956 war with Israel, Britain, and France as an example of American foreign policy at its most visionary and moral. (In fact, American support for Nasser’s position encouraged his foreign adventures and launched him onto the world stage as a leader of the Third World.) But these are quibbles. Heggy is not a Zionist; he is an Egyptian patriot with a compelling vision of a modern, democratic Egypt.

WHILE HEGGY IS music to Western ears, he is not writing for Westerners. His essays appear in major Egyptian publications, including the leading government-sponsored dailies Al-Ahram and Al-Akhbar as well as the foremost opposition daily Al-Wafd. He gives lectures both in Egypt and worldwide. Most important, Tarek Heggy is not alone in his ideas.

Egypt, with its distinct identity, ancient history, and large population, is the heart of the Arab world. The major intellectual trends of the Arab world were cultivated in Egypt. Pan-Arabism reached its zenith in Egypt under Nasser, and Islamist extremism’s roots are with the Muslim Brotherhood, which was founded in Egypt as a reaction to modernity. But Egypt also fostered a generation of intellectuals who wore their Arab and Muslim identities with confidence and sought to engage the West and to fuse its rich cultural legacy with their own.

The heirs to this great tradition remain an important presence in Egypt. Most notable is Nobel laureate and novelist Naguib Mahfouz, who, first through allegory and then explicitly, criticized Nasser and urged Egypt to focus on its own problems instead of foreign adventures. Ali Salem, a leading playwright, drove to Israel and reported on what he found: a normal country full of people trying to lead regular lives. Salem was expelled from the Playwright’s Union for “normalization,” but he has continued to lobby for peace with Israel and for more freedom and tolerance within Egypt.

Beyond this segment of the elites, the Nile may have hidden depths. Salem’s book about Israel was a bestseller. A survey conducted by Egypt’s Ministry of Education revealed that, on the whole, the most educated Egyptians were the most opposed to normalization with Israel. This is a terrible commentary on Egyptian higher education, but it shows that a pragmatic current may be found under the turbulent surface.

This is not to imply that Egypt will soon transform into a liberal democracy. The forces of extremism, fed by repression, economic stagnation, and state-sponsored incitement, are growing in Egypt. More immediately, the reformers are under pressure from the Egyptian government. The arrest and imprisonment in June 2000, on dubious charges, of Professor Saad Eddin Ibrahim (in order to prevent him from monitoring Egypt’s fraudulent elections) was a stunning blow to Egypt’s reformers. The shock was amplified by Ibrahim’s prominence. He is a familiar figure in Egypt’s most elite circles, and the board of his Ibn Khaldun Institute (which includes Tarek Heggy) is a roster of former ministers.

Ibrahim’s incarceration is a signal that Mubarak is prepared to sacrifice the reformers in order to protect his power and secure his son Gamal’s succession. The recent airing on Egyptian state television of a mini-series inspired by the anti-Semitic czarist forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the court-ordered closing of the Cairo Association for Peace, which fostered Egyptian-Israeli relations, are further signs that Egypt’s voices of moderation are being forced aside when they hinder Mubarak’s agenda.

While Mubarak is a professed American ally, it is Egypt’s reformers who truly share core American values. Their silencing would be a grave setback for Arab modernization at a critical juncture. If supported and cultivated, the ideas of Heggy and Egypt’s other reformers have the potential to lead their ancient nation into modernity, and perhaps to pull the rest of the Arab world with it. The people of Egypt deserve no less.

Friday, January 21, 2011

VP as Presidential Peer?

Sometime ago I read Political Animal a fictionalized version of the Chuck Schumer - Alfonse D’Amato Senate race. The main character was a speechwriter and learned that his candidate (the novelized version of Schumer) knew about someone who'd been wrongly convicted for killing a police officer. Even though the campaign opposed it, the main character issued a press release announcing the candidate’s support for a re-investigation. The main character was fired and the candidate, when telling him off, said that he would still convert this to victory but that he was the one who was going to have to attend police benefit dinners and take the heat for this.

Reportedly, Lyndon Johnson once said about the Kennedyite intellectuals, “I wish some of these guys had just once had to run for dog catcher.” Ultimately, politicians have to win elections and do the kinds of things that win elections and take the public heat for their decisions.
A Senator has 99 colleagues who “get” what he or she has to deal with and interacts with them daily. A President has no one. There are long-time friends and advisors but they usually don’t have much direct electoral experience. As close as they may be to the President they are not, as William Kennedy wrote in his novel Roscoe describing the boss of the Albany Democratic machine, “…the main man, the man who forked the lightning, the boss.”

Supposedly, at a lower level, Karl Rove got into trouble on that front. He approached the Republican Congressional leadership as an equal. But in Congress there is a line between members and staff, and Rove was staff.

The Vice President is the one person in the White House who really has comparable experience. They have probably run several major campaigns themselves and went through a national campaign with the President. But unlike the staffers (who certainly share the crazy hours and frustrations) only the candidates have been subject to unbelievable scrutiny where reporters hungry to make a story carefully monitor every word while enduring endless speeches, handshaking, and questions from voters.

Rarely are the White House staffers individuals with national level electoral experience. Howard Baker, Reagan’s last chief of staff and a former Senate Majority Leader, is an exception. But he was pulled in under exceptional circumstances when the Reagan presidency was imploding. The VP is the only person around who might “get” both the substantive and personal aspects of what the President needs to do. In short, are VPs positioned to be a unique type of advisor and sounding board?