A recently discovered paper written in 2005 by General Sedky Sobhi, the new chief of staff to Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), is sure to raise eyebrows in Washington. In this paper, Sobhi argues for, “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.”
On August 17, 2012, the New York Times ran an article dubbing the paper a “sharp rebuke of American policy,” and informing readers that, “[s]cholars say his paper is even more significant in part because many of its themes reflect opinions widely held by Egyptians.” A report by Reuters highlights Sobhi’s assertion that, “the presence of U.S. troops in the region had been used as a justification for armed struggle by radical Islamists.”
Issander El Amrani of the superb blog, “The Arabist,” was the first to draw attention to Sobhi’s paper. General Sobhi is now SCAF’s second-in-command after President Morsi reshuffled Egypt’s top military personnel last week.
What does it mean that these views are held by one of the most powerful men in Egypt’s military? As U.S. officials, both civilian and military, like to emphasize, the U.S.-Egyptian military relationship is close and long-standing. Given the benefits to both sides from this arrangement, I do not expect this fact to change quickly. The Egyptians receive training and new equipment, and practice joint exercises with the Americans. In return, American ships enjoy quick access to the Suez Canal and tacit permission to fly in Egyptian airspace. As I understand it, the much-touted $1.3 billion of American military aid to Egypt is, more than anything, “rent” for American access to Egyptian water and air.
Nonetheless, the Sobhi paper is sure to renew accusations that President Obama has lost Egypt to the Muslim Brotherhood and, with it, the ability to secure Israel’s southern border. For the aforementioned reasons, I doubt, however, that this will be the case. Instead, I hope these developments will encouragement reassessment of the continued value of a militarized U.S. foreign policy in the region.