U.S. tests its influence with Egypt’s military
By ELISABETH BUMILLER The New York Times
Published: Sunday, January 30, 2011 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 29, 2011 at 10:34 p.m.
WASHINGTON – The officer corps of Egypt’s powerful military has been educated at defense colleges in the United States for 30 years. The Egyptian armed forces have about 1,000 American M1A1 Abrams tanks, which the United States allows to be built on Egyptian soil. Egypt permits the American military to stage major operations from its bases, and has always guaranteed the Americans passage through the Suez Canal.
The relationship between the Egyptian and American militaries is, in fact, so close that it was no surprise Friday to find two dozen senior Egyptian military officials at the Pentagon, halfway through an annual week of meetings, lunches and dinners with their American counterparts.
By the afternoon, the Egyptians had cut short the talks to return to Cairo, but not before a U.S. Defense Department official urged them to exercise “restraint,” the Pentagon said.
It remained unclear Saturday, as the Egyptian Army was deployed on the streets of Cairo for the first time in decades, to what degree the military would remain loyal to the embattled president, Hosni Mubarak.
The crisis has left the Obama administration to try to navigate a peaceful outcome and remain close to an important ally, and the military relationship could be crucial in that effort. One fear is the possibility that, despite the army’s seemingly passive stance Saturday, the Egyptian armed forces would begin firing on the protesters — an action that would probably be seen as leading to an end to the army’s legitimacy.
“If they shoot on the crowd, they could win tomorrow, and then there will be a revolt that will sweep them away,” said Bruce O. Riedel, an expert on the Middle East and Asia at the Brookings Institution, who predicts that in any event, Mubarak will step down.