US-Financed Egyptian Military Orchestrating Attacks on Protesters

As Mubarak continues to play for time and release statements offering to release protesters who have been – and continue to be – snatched off the streets and tortured in secret prisons, Robert Springborg, professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School and an expert on the Egyptian military, tell us that he believes the military’s leadership is orchestrating the events, allowing attacks against the protesters by pro-Mubarak forces.

Springborg told The New York Times: “Behind the scenes, the military is making possible the various forms of assault on the protesters. It’s trying to secure a transition for itself. There’s lots of evidence that the military is complicit, but for the most part Egyptians don’t even want to admit that to themselves.”

This is the military which, at this moment, is receiving $1.5 billion in US military aid, funds that Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), powerful chairman of the Senate subcommittee that must approve the aid, threatened to cut off until Mubarak leaves. The assistance sits in a US bank account and is used to settle export credits for continuing shipments of military hardware, but can be frozen by President Obama at any time. Also calling for a suspension of aid until Mubarak leaves the country – a step toward democracy protesters have taken up as their central demand – are Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-New York,), Rep. Jim Moran (D-Virginia,) and Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas). Doggett said that the US “must send the unmistakable message to Mubarak and all dictators who are watching our response that we will not continue to waste money propping up his tyranny.” The White House has already declared that it would suspend aid immediately if the military were to crack down on peaceful protesters as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard did in 2009 or as the Chinese military did in 1989. The continuation of military aid has been conditioned on assurances to Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen by his Egyptian counterpart that the military would remain “neutral.”

Meanwhile the repression continues unabated, despite the mainstream media’s focus on Mubarak’s “concession” statements, which are viewed by some as the buying of time before a true crack down can be engineered. BBC News reported on the night of Thursday, February 3 that the government has settled on a low-intensity campaign of dropping protesters – and, apparently, journalists – with snipers from a distance, sometimes using lasers to point targets out, singling out organizers to be dragged from crowds and continuing assaults on peaceful demonstrators. Another journalist died on Friday, February 4, and more than 5,000 people have been injured since the night of Thursday, February 3, according to NPR.

What is happening on the ground belies AP reports that Suleiman has “agreed not to hamper freedom of press and not to interfere with text messaging and Internet.” CNN’s Ivan Watson tweeted a report that journalists are still being rounded up: “3 times Candy Crowley askd Egyptian PM why military police rounding up journos/human rights activists.3 times he didn’t understand question.”

And putting a hollow ring to Obama’s near-daily exhortations to the Egyptian government that it must respect “freedom of expression,” Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin blogged:

I was in the middle of buying some mints from a street vendor on Cairo’s Talat Harb Street – right off Tahrir Square – when the rocks started flying. I had given a 20-cent coin to the vendor. He gave me one pack of mints, and all hell broke loose.

“Run, run,” people yelled at me. I saw a group of men running down the street, carrying a man whose face was streaming with blood. Then I saw the pro-Mubarak thugs, armed with rocks, metal pipes, whips. “Run, Run,” the Egyptians on the street told me. I ran for shelter as fast as I could. This has become a pattern the past few days. Thugs hired by the regime, many of them plainclothes police, try to create chaos on the streets just outside the entrances to Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the Egyptian revolution. They randomly attack people, including us foreigners. Many of us have been beaten, our cameras smashed.

Already there are signs that Mubarak does not intend to leave at all. According to the AP:

Control of the square, or even a return to normal traffic of the area around it, would reinforce the government’s message that it would remain in control of the country for the seven months leading to elections – and that Mubarak need not resign as the opposition demands. Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq said on state television that stability was returning to the country and that large demonstrations like the one that took place at Tahrir Square on Friday would not succeed in forcing a regime change…. Some feared the relative calm was only a prelude to a show of force by the military….

Admiral Mullen’s caution that we should “wait and see” what happens has been answered. The torture continues, even as the television media and most of the major print media look away, and truth comes to us thanks only to instant-message technology and the unbelievable courage of the few. A New York Times article, which CNN’s Watson frantically Twittered on Saturday, February 5, with the appeal, “Must-read blow-by-blow account of how Egyptian secret police are torturing dissidents in the midst of a revolution,” reports that while inside a prison: “During our questioning, a man nearby was being beaten – the sickening sound somewhere between a thud and a thwack. Between his screams someone yelled in Arabic, ‘You’re a traitor working with foreigners.'”

It remains to be seen if an Egyptian national or nationals will pursue another possible avenue of pressure and make a trip to the Hague to file crimes against humanity charges against Mubarak and Suleiman, a move that could throw cold water on Mubarak’s delusion that he and his gang can stay and that could highlight that the door now open for the two leaders may be closing. There are many thousands of Egyptians with torture scars to show a Dutch judge.

Ragui Assaad, an Egyptian and a professor at the University of Minnesota, said on Friday, February 4 that the military would make a cold-blooded decision about Mubarak.

“They are a rational, calculating institution. The moment they see it is not in their interest to retain him, they will usher him out.”

To view a full listing of Defense Department contracts awarded over the past two years for work related to Egypt, click here. This table was created by the Institute for Southern Studies based on the US Department of Defense contract database online at

Members of the Senate Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, which must approve appropriations to the Mubarak government:

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  • Senator Patrick Leahy (chairman) (Vermont)
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  • Senator John Hoeven (North Dakota)

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Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg 202-647-8636

Special Assistant to the Secretary and the Executive Secretary of the State Department Stephen Mull 202-647-5301

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