US historical ties to the army threaten Egypt's democracy

Egypt revolution

Magdy Samaan

When Egypt's military regime marked the anniversary of the military coup of July 1952, which it invariably propagates as a "revolution", the observance was different. This was because it came after the June 30 uprising, in which the military toppled the Muslim Brotherhood's president, Mohammed Morsi.

The propaganda machine of the military is trying to replicate the legacy of Gamal Abdel Nasser by portraying the defence minister, Gen Abdel Fattah Al Sissi, as a popular hero who is "protecting the people".

To understand the current situation, we need to return to what happened 61 years ago, when the army turned against the democratic parliamentary system for the first time in Egypt to install a dictatorial regime endorsed by the United States and which still dominates Egypt with a network of influence and interests that it built up over decades.

In the period preceding July 1952, Egypt was showing signs of a genuine revolution by trying to usher in reform and establish democracy.

This anticipated uprising came at a time when the British occupation was on its way out. America was concerned that the void resulting from Britain's departure would either lead to a reformation of the existing parliamentary democracy or the adoption of a noncompliant system of government or an outbreak of a communist revolution in a region of strategic importance to the West.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was created in 1947 to help the US to implement its ambition to lead the world after the Second World War. Since then, it planned and executed a large number of military uprisings, some of which were kept secret. Among the coups that remained a secret for a long time is that of July 1952 in Egypt. Preserving relations with the officers was crucial for the CIA to make the coup a success.

In his book The Game of Nations, Miles Copeland, a US intelligence agent who contributed to the coup, wrote that a committee of specialists headed by Kermit Roosevelt, then CIA director for the Near East, developed the first serious planfor a revolution in Egypt.

During the many reconnaissance visits to Egypt, the CIA agents became acquainted with a sleeper cell in the army. The head of this group, Gamal Abdel Nasser, was the man the CIA was looking for, as he would make a charismatic leader who could be controlled by the CIA. Through him, the US would be able to realise its objectives in the Middle East. In March 1952, Mr Roosevelt visited Egypt and held a series of meetings with Nasser. In July that year, King Farouk was ousted. The two parties also agreed on the broad outlines that would determine relations between the executors of the coup and the US. The format for the Egypt-US relations adopted then remains roughly the same now.

According to Copeland, it was agreed that future relations between Egypt and the US would openly take the form of "re-establishing the democratic process ... But in reality there was to be an understanding because the right circumstances for a democratic government were not available".

The US established and trained the Egyptian general intelligence apparatus that became the main route to steer the bilateral relations. This explains the lack of response from the US to repeated demands to cut aid to Egypt. However, the real relationship between the two countries is run by the secret apparatuses that neither acknowledge the moral values of the American people, nor pay any attention to the people seeking freedom.

The course of events since January 2011 indicates that this secret relationship between the Egyptian military and the US - on the basis of which the July regime was built - is as strong as ever.

If the 1952 coup was an American project to abort a possible popular revolution, then what has happened since January 2011 is an attempt to make the rise of a popular revolution fail.

The US uses its established network of power within the Egyptian state, particularly within the army, to influence Egyptian decisions so as to ensure a democratic transition that will surely affect the independence of Egypt and the Egyptian subordination to the United States.

The US interest in manipulating the democratic transition matched those of the army top brass as well as Egypt's ruling elite who defend tremendous interests built on corruption and feudalism. The military regime used a non-democratic political power - the Islamists - to reach this aim, which will make any talk of a democratic transition in the future elusive.

Magdy Samaan is a journalist working at the Daily Telegraph's Cairo bureau. He was a visiting fellow at the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and worked as a correspondent for the Egyptian independent newspapers Al Shorouk and Al Masry Al Youm, reporting on politics, religious minorities and US-Egypt relations.

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