Was Egypt's ‘Revolution' a Military Coup and Will U.S. Policy Change?

Was Egypt's ‘Revolution' a Military Coup and Will U.S. Policy Change?

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When Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigned on Feb.11 amid a popular revolt and handed authority over to Egypt's High Council of the Armed Forces there was the perception of victory for pro-democracy advocates worldwide and the masses of Egyptians who filled the streets protesting Mubarak's autocratic rule.

However some observers question the perception of triumph and what the power shift represents and say there is a possibility that Mr. Mubarak's ousting was actually a military coup.

The military is popular in Egypt, but in their new position of increased power, can they be trusted to make true change-even in the interim between now and fall elections?

Mr. Mubarak's unceremonious exit from power after 30 years in office caused uncertainty concerning Egypt's future and his departure's international implications.

The question about “change” is a particular challenge for United States influence and foreign policy objectives in the region where protecting Israel is front and center.

While there was still euphoric dancing in the streets of Cairo, the military high council promised to honor all foreign commitments, abolished the constitution, dissolved parliament and said it would rule for six months—or until the military decides it's ready to hold parliamentary and presidential elections.

These swift decisions could signal to Washington and Tel Aviv that business has not changed between the three nations.

Mr. Mubarak assumed the presidency in 1981 after his predecessor Anwar Sadat was assassinated by elements of the military after signing the 1979 Camp David Peace accords with America and Israel—breaking a unified Arab front against recognizing Israel as a legitimate nation. The close ties between Egypt, the U.S. and Israel in the Sadat years continued with Mr. Mubarak who enjoyed his stature as a regional puppet of the U.S. government.

It was this role Egypt played that kept other Arab nations in check on behalf of its American benefactor.

But ironically it was the contradiction of the U.S. empowering Mr. Mubarak and his regime while he governed the Egyptian people under repression that became the catalyst for his political demise.

The 82-year-old Mubarak was the second dictator to fall recently via popular unrest that swept North African and Middle Eastern governments, starting with Tunisia casting out its president, Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali, who fled to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The overthrow of the unpopular Tunisian government set off a chain of protests in the streets of Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Algeria, Iran, Bahrain and Sudan with expectations protests would spread further throughout the region.

“The events in Egypt will cause a problem for the Gulf States where the governments served as client monarchs for the western world such as Oman and Jordan,” noted Akbar Muhammad, International Representative for the Nation of Islam.

Looking at the age demographics in the Arab world, certainly Egypt specifically, average ages range from 14-25 years old, giving a clue to why the anger was so intense. These young demonstrators only knew autocratic rule and oppression—they were born under it and tired of it.

Furthermore the lack of opportunity for employment and squalid living conditions in comparison to the American-backed life style of Mr. Mubarak and leading members of the National Democratic Party lent more dissatisfaction to the Egyptian masses. Since his resignation, Mr. Mubarak's assets were reportedly frozen and he is believed to be worth $70 billion.

“This man served them (America) best for 30 years and the price of it was $70 billion in his coffers, the people's money, and the regime $200 billion,” said Ali Baghdadi, Middle East analyst and publisher of the Arab Journal.

Egypt is the second largest recipient of U.S. military and foreign aid—only behind Israel. Egypt receives $1.5 billion annually from America and has the tenth largest army in the world. The military is funded, equipped and trained by the U.S. and enjoys popular support among the people of Egypt.

According to a Time magazine special report on the February crisis in Egypt, U.S. tax payers give $3.5 million per day to Egypt's military, buying everything from F-16 jets to M-1 tanks

Mr. Baghdadi opined that the United States wants to contain the situation and bring in a leader and regime it would favor.

“It is the U.S. that is behind the military,” said Mr. Baghdadi, adding, “By the military I mean the generals at the very top; those are in the pockets of the CIA.”

He pointed out that the people's uprising is encouraging, but it's still in motion. “Egypt is at the beginning of a revolution; the revolution didn't end, we have to wait and see what the people of Egypt will be able to do,” he said.

Analyst George Friedman writing in STRATFOR Global Intellegence advanced the possibility that the military, which was divided on support for Mr. Mubarak, saw the inevitable in the protesters' determination to bring the leader down and used that fact to force Mr. Mubarak's removal and preserve their own interests.

“The demonstrators never brought down Mubarak, let alone the regime. What happened was a military coup that used the cover of protests to force Mubarak out of office in order to preserve the regime,” said Mr. Friedman. According to Mr. Friedman, when it became clear that Mr. Mubarak would not voluntarily step down, the military essentially forced his resignation.

For three decades, the U.S. practiced a policy of “see no evil, hear no evil,” financially supporting the despotic ruler Mubarak while he oppressed his own people.

According to Milton Allimadi, America bought Egypt off with foreign aid packages to buy its silence on the Palestinian statehood question and friendship for Israel. “We cannot absolve ourselves of the responsibility and say it was only Mubarak this autocrat; he was our autocrat, America's autocrat,” said Mr. Allimadi.

America was behind the curve on this one, but the Egyptian military appears not to be interested so far at rocking the boat of the power structure. It remains to be seen what changed, if anything at all, say critics.

“The Egyptian regime is still there, still controlled by old generals. They are committed to the same foreign policy as the man they forced out of office. They have promised democracy, but it is not clear that they mean it. If they mean it, it is not clear how they would do it, certainly not in a timeframe of a few months. Indeed, this means that the crowds may re-emerge demanding more rapid democratization,” wrote Mr. Friedman.