News / Middle East

US Watches Egypt’s Army as Protests Continue

Supporters of President Hosni Mubarak, foreground , fight with anti-Mubarak protesters, rear, standing on army tanks in Cairo, February 2, 2011
Supporters of President Hosni Mubarak, foreground , fight with anti-Mubarak protesters, rear, standing on army tanks in Cairo, February 2, 2011
Al Pessin

Egypt’s military is playing a pivotal and perhaps evolving role in the demonstrations in Egypt, and U.S. defense leaders are staying in close touch with their counterparts in Cairo.  So far officials and analysts say the army is acting properly, but they also note that the situation is changing constantly.

As crowds of anti-government protesters clashed with government supporters Wednesday, the Egyptian Army units in the streets mostly stood on the sidelines.  To some observers, including Dr. Tawfik Hamid, that seemed to change on Thursday.

“Certainly, they are changing," said Hamid. "It’s not 180 degrees but I can see there is the beginning of a change.  They started today to protect the demonstrators from the Mubarak supporters.”

That change, noted by the senior fellow at the Potomac Institute, coincided with official Egyptian condemnation of the violence instigated by pro-government demonstrators - violence widely believed to have been orchestrated by senior officials.  On Monday, Dr. Hamid predicted the Army would side with the protesters and force President Hosni Mubarak to resign.  That had not happened by Thursday, and Hamid believes the Army leadership is running out of time.

“The more the military is showing delay in taking a clear stand with the people against Mubarak, the more the people will feel they [the soldiers] are part of Mubarak and they will never trust them in the future," he said.

The Egyptian Army leaders are in a delicate position, after decades of following President Mubarak, himself a former military man.  So far, Pentagon spokesman Colonel David Lapan says the troops are doing a good job.

“To date, we have seen them act professionally and with restraint," said Colonel Lapan. "It’s a very fluid situation so we’re watching every single day.”

Retired U.S. Army Major General Paul Eaton agrees.

“What I have seen is an army that is behaving rationally," said Eaton. "I don’t know what their standing orders are, but their conduct seems to be stable, friendly, engaged with the people.”

General Eaton, now a senior advisor to the National Security Network research organization, visited Cairo in 2003 for talks with senior Egyptian military leaders.  He says he was impressed with the level of comfort he found in the U.S.-Egyptian military relationship.

“It was beyond cordial," he said. "There was a warmth associated with it that I would expect has been brought to play here.  We’ve got a strong relationship.  And that has proven very helpful in the past with other armies.  I would expect that it will prove so [in] this case.”

Indeed, the top U.S. military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, has spoken at least twice with his Egyptian counterpart in the last few days, and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has had at least three conversations with Egypt’s defense minister.

The close relationship comes from decades of exchanges, meetings, training courses and military equipment sales following the signing of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty in 1979.  The White House press secretary says some of that could be in jeopardy, depending on how the Egyptian government handles the current crisis.

The Pentagon spokesman, Colonel Lapan, says much of the training these days involves high technology air, sea and counter-terrorism gear.  But he says it also includes officer training at the same U.S. military schools American officers attend.

“It’s leadership," he said. 'It’s military skills.  But it’s really about being a professional military force.  So it’s inculcating in their officers the same thing that happens for officers in our military force.”

That includes values such as respect for civilian authority and for the rights of the people - concepts that could come into conflict in Egypt if the government orders a crackdown on the demonstrators.  When the United States has cut off such training for other countries, such as Indonesia, because of Human Rights violations, analysts say the loss of contact has made those militaries more likely to violate their people’s rights, and made it more difficult for the United States to exert influence.

At least so far, the opposite is true in Egypt, where American officers have extensive contacts and at least the ability to be heard by key military players.  The retired general, Paul Eaton, attended an advanced officer training course with an Egyptian general, and saw other Egyptian officers in action when he supervised training programs.  He calls them “sober” and “professional,” and says the junior officers are in touch with the conscript soldiers who serve under them.

“What I am hoping is that the army retains a role that will not challenge their credibility in the eyes of the Egyptian people and that they will serve as the primary broker for whatever change we now see in the Egyptian leadership," he said.

U.S. officials are using their contacts to do what they can to encourage a governmental transition and to promote restraint by the Egyptian Army.  The next big test will come Friday - traditionally a day for protests after the main mid-day Muslim prayers of the week.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs

Day in Photos

A dog, with his fur dyed green and wearing antlers made out of red fabric, poses for a photograph before participating in the Thanksgiving Day Parade in El Paso, Texas, United States, Nov. 26, 2015.

A dog, with his fur dyed green and wearing antlers made out of red fabric, poses for a photograph before participating in the Thanksgiving Day Parade in El Paso, Texas, United States, Nov. 26, 2015.