YouTube video

Gilbert Achcar: If intervention needed in Saudi Arabia or Arab countries, US could rely on Egyptian military

Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. Joining us again now from London is Gilbert Achcar. He is the professor of development studies and international relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Most recent book is The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives. Thanks for joining us again, Gilbert.


JAY: So we left off, if we step back again and sort of take a big-picture look, again it’s about oil and strategic control of the Middle East, such an important piece of the puzzle if you want to have the dominant position in the globe. And the US strategy essentially, in most of the Arab world, is to ally with kings, and where there aren’t any, create them and make sure you sort of do a bargain, oil for we’ll keep you and your family in power. And I guess in Egypt, in a sense they’ve created another form of monarchy, you know, with a bit of a democratic front. But, essentially, whoever is the head of the military or gets maneuvered to be elected president becomes like a king, and you have a 30-year reign and what amounts to King Mubarak. Do you think that’s a fair enough description?

ACHCAR: Yes. But I should say that this isn’t exactly or necessarily what the United States would prefer. I mean, they would prefer, you know, [inaudible] of circulation of power, one could say, where you don’t get into such situations as the one you have now in Egypt. And they have been having some trouble with Mubarak for a few years. There have been some tensions between the US administration and the Mubarak regime. Already in 2005, you know, after the Bush administration invaded Iraq and when the big lie of the weapons of mass destruction was revealed, they had to, you know, put forward some different rationality for the invasion, and that’s where they brought this idea of democracy promotion in the Middle East. And so in the year 2005 they put some pressure on their allies in the region to do some changes, and the result was, in Egypt, that under US pressure Mubarak opened some space in the parliamentary election for some degree of freer elections than the previous repeatedly completely fraudulous elections that existed in the country, and also turn the presidential contest into one through popular vote and a plurality, so-called, of candidates, although here he was much less generous in the opening than what he did at the level of the Parliament. But in 2005, as a result of that, the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the most important organized opposition force in Egypt, managed to get the 88 seats, that is, 20 percent of seats in the Egyptian Parliament. In the next election–I mean, that was, for Mubarak, a way of telling the United States, if you keep harassing me on wanting to get more, you know, cosmetic changes and all that–. I mean, the 2005 election was, in a way, I mean, Mubarak’s message to the United States, in saying, if you keep exerting pressure on me for more democratic opening and more democratic space, that’s what you get; that is, the Muslim Brotherhood will seize power through elections, because they are–I mean, they have a strong popular support. And as a result of that, indeed, the Bush administration stopped its pressure, the kind of pressure–even, you know, statements and the like–they were exerting until then over Mubarak in that direction.

JAY: I mean, is there any question that–whether or not the United States wanted the military to remain the dominant power or not?

ACHCAR: No. I mean, for the United States, the military control of power in Egypt is crucial. It’s absolutely crucial. The fact that they fund the Egyptian army is there to prove it. That is, for them it is through the Egyptian army that they control the country, that Egypt is firmly in the US camp, is a firm US ally in the region, one of the countries on which the United States can rely in case, for instance, you have–and that’s a major worry for Washington. Imagine you have some upheaval in the Saudi Kingdom. It will be very difficult for either Israeli or American troops to go in the kingdom because of religious reasons and the rest. And here comes the importance of the Egyptian army as an ally.

JAY: Yeah. I think–it seems to me this is a critical point that doesn’t get talked about very much. You know, $1.5 billion or more to the Egyptian army if it’s only to quell domestic dissent doesn’t make any sense. It’s just way too much firepower. I mean, you can’t use fighter jets against your own people. So that kind of military, the size of the Egyptian military, which I think is the tenth biggest army in the world, it’s mostly pointed at Saudi Arabia, isn’t it?

ACHCAR: It is absolutely pointed at securing the stability of US-dominated regimes in the region. It’s a kind of force by proxy for the United States. And the same could be said about the state of Israel, which gets even more money for its military from the United States than Egypt.

JAY: Right. But as you say, it’s a lot more acceptable for an Arab Muslim army to march into an Arab country. It’s totally unacceptable for Israel, or for that matter the United States, as we’ve seen in Iraq.

ACHCAR: Or to march in the Saudi Kingdom. But to strike at regimes, as we have seen when we discussed 1967, the Israeli army can be absolutely efficient, and the Israeli army dealt the two most radical regimes of the time, in 1967, a very heavy blow, Syria and Egypt. We mentioned that. So Israel is very important. And ever since the mid ’60s, when the United States was compelled to evacuate the base it had in the Saudi Kingdom under the pressure of Arab nationalism, and of Egypt, mostly, in the early ’60s, gradually Israel became the key strategic asset for Washington that we know now. But this started in the mid ’60s. It’s not something that–I mean, that wasn’t the case in the ’50s or in the early ’60s. And in the ’70s, Egypt was added to that. And its importance was enhanced by the Iranian Revolution, which toppled another of the key allies of Washington in the region in 1979, the Shah of Iran. And he was replaced by one of the most, you know, radically anti-American regimes in the region. So this enhanced the importance of Egypt and this explains why whatever Washington pays to Israel and to Egypt is considered, from Washington’s view, extremely well-invested money. Well, think [inaudible] one second, Paul. I mean, when you think of the US military budget, which is some–you know, close to six hundred, and depending on what you take into consideration even more (it can get to $800 billion), these few billion dollars that they pay to Israel and Egypt are peanuts, are just peanuts. And, actually, their effectiveness is way higher than the equivalent amount of money being added to the US military budget. So how–that’s how they look at it. I mean, they see these countries as /sVp."lE.tIvs/ of the United States, as forces by proxy able to intervene in cases where the United States cannot do it by itself.

JAY: And with Egypt, not only the Middle East, but you get the potential of intervention in Africa to boot with Egypt.

ACHCAR: Yes, yes, but that is rather secondary. I mean, the importance of Egypt is as a key strategic country for the Middle East, for this whole area where you have the oil. Two-thirds of the oil world reserves are there. This is extremely important. And you have, also, huge natural gas resources. So strategically speaking, economically speaking, this is an absolutely vital, crucial part of the world, and therefore this huge, you know, priority that it is given by the United States. And also this explains the adventure of the Bush administration in invading Iraq. They miscalculated completely, but we shouldn’t forget that the invasion itself, the principle of the invasion itself, had, you know, a kind of almost total bipartisan support, with maybe one exception. That’s because at the level of the American establishment there is a consensus about the strategic importance for the United States of control over this part of the world. Now, it backfired with Iraq. It was a big failure. But that’s another story. So the importance of Egypt is here. And, actually, with the United States failing in Iraq in the way we have seen and we are still witnessing, Egypt’s importance was enhanced. And that’s why also Washington, well, moderated the kind of pressure it used to exert on Egypt over the last few years, and Mubarak felt free in the last Parliamentary election that was in November and December, just very recently, to go back to the previous pattern–and even worse, actually, of completely rigged elections, completely fraudulent elections. And, well, I mean, one very obvious indication is the fact the Muslim Brotherhood went down from 88 seats in the previous Parliament to one in the present one.

JAY: Yeah, we had a story we ran on The Real News that depicted one area where the election took place, and they simply wouldn’t let pro-Muslim Brotherhood people vote, they wouldn’t let candidates run, and the whole thing was rather a farce, which I guess was one of the things that helped lead to this current explosion. So please join us for the next segment of our interview with Gilbert Achcar, and this time we will get to the most recent explosion. Thanks for joining us.

End of Transcript

DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Gilbert Achcar grew up in Lebanon, and is currently Professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) of the University of London. His books include The Clash of Barbarisms: The Making of the New World Disorder, published in 13 languages, Perilous Power: The Middle East and U.S. Foreign Policy, co-authored with Noam Chomsky, and most recently the critically acclaimed The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives.