The Egyptian military’s capabilities have “decayed” and must be modernised to counter new threats, but the country’s ageing leadership has resisted change, according to US diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks.
The cables, dating from 2008 to 2010, reveal that Washington wants Egypt — the second-largest recipient of US aid after Israel — to fashion a more modernised military, but with Cairo insisting on a more conventional approach.
“The United States has sought to interest the Egyptian military into expanding their mission in ways that reflect new regional and transnational security threats, such as piracy, border security, and counterterrorism,” said a December 2008 cable.
“Egypt’s ageing leadership, however, has resisted our efforts and remains satisfied with continuing to do what they have done for years: train for force-on-force warfare with a premium on ground forces and armor,” that cable said.
The same cable also identifies long-time Defence Minister Mohammed Hussein Tantawi as “the chief impediment” to change.
“Field Marshall Tantawi, in office since 1991, has resisted any change to usage of FMF (foreign military financing) funding and has been the chief impediment to transforming the military’s mission to meet emerging security threats,” the cable read.
“During his tenure, the tactical and operational readiness of the Egyptian Armed Forces (EAF) has decayed.”
A February 2010 communication said the United States had told Egyptian officials that “a modern military should rely on quality equipment rather than a large quantity of outdated armaments.”
But “Egyptian defense officials continued to stress that the threats facing the United States were different from Egypt’s, and Egypt needs to maintain a strong conventional military to counter other armies in the region,” the cable said.
It added that Egypt’s priority was to defend Egyptian territory and the Suez Canal.
Cairo had also complained about increased US military aid to Israel, arguing that this created an imbalance in the region.
“The military still remains a potent political and economic force. The military helps to ensure regime stability,” said another cable from September 2008.