Jaisal Noor, TRNN Producer: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.
The United States is, at least reportedly, preparing to curb some military aid to Egypt. It will maintain aid for counterterrorism operations in the Sinai and other critical military aid. This news comes as Egypt is again consumed with violence, with dozens being killed in clashes between security forces and supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, who was announced to go on trial November 4 for charges of inciting the killing of opponents while in office.
Now joining us to discuss this is Mohamed Elmeshad. He’s an independent journalist from Cairo currently based in London, and he contributed to the Egypt Independent.
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Thank you so much for joining us, Mohamed.
Mohamed Elmeshad, Independent Journalist: Thanks, Jaisal.
Noor: So, Mohamed, what’s your response to this latest news? This isn’t the first time that the U.S. has at least announced or it’s been rumored or reported that the U.S. is cutting back some military aid to the Egyptian military. But it would seem like this may be the greatest cutback we’ve seen so far, in recent months at least.
Elmeshad: And my response is a simple wait and see. I mean, the United States has threatened. There’s been talks. But whenever the U.S. discusses the situation in Egypt or discusses certain violations or what it views to be violations, certain atrocities, there’s always a wait and see aspect.
I think what’s become clear more than anything is that the U.S. is not willing to lose Egypt in any case as a strategic ally in the region. And I think that the if the U.S. does in fact decrease aid to the military especially, in any way, shape, or form, it would indicate a significant shift in the U.S.’s views regarding the power structure in the region.
Having said that, I mean, as early as a year ago, McCain was talking about the importance of military aid to Egypt, even when the military were in theory far from the seats of power. So it doesn’t seem like this would be like what happened over the past few months is any different from, for example, having Egypt be the second largest recipient of aid during the Mubarak years, when atrocities were happening, where human rights violations were happening on a daily basis.
Noor: And what could the implications be for the Egyptian-Saudi Arabian relationship? Saudi Arabia’s already pledged $5 billion in aid to the new regime in Egypt, and they’ve said they’ll make up any shortfalls in military aid that may result from a cutback in U.S. aid.
Elmeshad: Well, I mean, there is the simple symbolic implication that if Egypt is taking money from Saudi, then Egypt is no longer the main—I mean, it hasn’t been the main broker in the region for a while. But accepting such a significant package from Saudi is an indication that perhaps the U.S. and Saudi have had an agreement that Egypt would answer politically—I guess this should be said so explicitly—but to Saudi rather than—along with the U.S., or admit to Saudi Arabia’s role as one of the main powers in the region if in fact what it’s doing is filling the gap left by the U.S. I mean, Saudi has pledged, as you said, significant aid to Egypt already. We’ve yet to see whether this includes political implications. But, I mean, the symbolism’s there. And if the U.S.’s relationship to Egypt is any indication, then yes, we can see a sort of shift in so-called patronage.
Noor: And the role of Israel and this, the decades-old Egyptian-Israel peace treaty which was brokered by the U.S. is contingent on that military aid to Egypt. And Israeli officials reportedly have been involved in these talks, and they appear to be pushing back against the cutting of aid to the Egyptian regime.
Elmeshad: Well, Israel needs the Egyptian Army now more than ever. Sinai is exploding, quite literally. Today some—today soldiers were killed, soldiers and security personnel were killed. I think nine in total was the figure I heard recently, and through a series of explosions, attacks over the past few weeks. And Israel needs Egypt to help it regulate the Rafah border crossing. Now with the military in power, Israel has someone it can trust and Israel has someone who will cooperate, because the Egyptian military has stated and Egyptian sources have stated that there is an issue, a security issue in Egypt from opening the Rafah border crossing. There was some talk about Egypt potentially engaging in attacks within Gaza if it’s proven that certain attacks in Sinai happened with the assistance of tunnel smuggling, smuggling of weapons or terrorists.
Noor: And finally, we touched upon the violence that’s been continuing to sweep across Egypt in the last week. Dozens have been killed both in the Sinai and places like Cairo. Is there any end in sight to this ongoing violence that’s continuing, that’s been continuing since the ouster of Mohamed Morsi and even before that?
Elmeshad: Sure. Well, I think this week kind of highlights a very important element of the military rule in total. On one hand, you have the military that is celebrated by a vast number of Egyptians as being responsible for maintaining peace, that has been responsible for what is perceived in Egypt to be an absolute victory in the 1973 October 6 war with Israel, which indeed led to Israel leaving Sinai.
On the other hand, fast-forward—what would it be?—35 years, 38 years to 2011, October 2011. You have a massacre in Maspero, which is the big state government building, when a group of Coptic Christians went out to protest the burning of the church. Back then, the military council was in charge, Egypt’s—basically the head of the Armed Forces. They were in charge. And what ended up—what started out as a peaceful protest in front of a government building ended up being the worst massacres to have happened to Coptic Christians basically in recent histories. Over 38 Coptic Christians were killed, almost all of them reportedly by military. There are videos of military armored vehicles literally stampeding crowds of protesters. I was there. I went to the morgue. It was horrible. And it’s definitely a black mark in the history of the military.
So these clashes over the past few days involves first of all the Muslim Brotherhood, who use October 6 as a way to protest, well, to say this isn’t the military that we believed had been our victorious saviors. Meanwhile, three days later you have a lot of activists reminding everyone that just a few years ago there was something significant that happened that reminded us that maybe this isn’t—these aren’t the best rulers to have. Meanwhile, you have Morsi’s—former president Morsi’s trial scheduled to start, I think, November 3. He’s on trial for inciting to kill protesters while in office. And the Muslim Brotherhood had not forgotten that they have many who died over the past few months. Definitely their presence on the streets is a testament to that. On the other hand, you have many anti-Muslim Brotherhood civilians and security for sure, like, who make sure to show them every day that their presence isn’t welcome after the—I think everyone would agree that it was a less than exemplary tenure of Mohamed Morsi.
So, you know, Morsi’s trial will be a sight to see. All the indications from the Brotherhood leaders, all of the leaks coming from them in prison show that this is far from over.
Noor: Mohamed Elmeshad, thank you so much for joining us.
Elmeshad: Thank you, Jaisal.
Noor: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.