Russia Moves Into Egypt
Since the time of Anwar Sadat, Egypt has been ruled by a solidly pro-American (albeit kleptocratic autocracy) government. Since 2011, however, that has been changing. While demographic, economic, and political trends are all in flux in the Mideast, regardless of what the United States does, the fact of the matter is that the United States (read, the Obama Administration) has seriously damaged America’s place in that vital part of the world, as I have documented here and here. As you all likely know, the Arab Spring consumed Egypt in 2011. In a truly stunning turn of events, the kleptocratic autocracy of Hosni Mubarak was toppled by democratic protesters. The Obama Administration, in a move sadly reminiscent of the Carter Administration’s early support of the Ayatollah during the Iranian Revolution in 1979, decided to “stand on the right side of history” and back the pro-democracy movement against our long-time ally, Hosni Mubarak.
Predictably, of course, the most organized resistance group to Mubarak were not the liberal democrats. Quite contrary, in fact. The most organized group were the Muslim Brotherhood, the sort of mothership organization for all of the Wahhābī terror in the world. This was the group that directly spawned al Qaeda. Indeed, the current head of al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was a pivotal member of the Brotherhood in his early years. Anyway, after over a year of the totalitarian rule of Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi, the pro-Western Egyptian military finally decided to launch a countercoup that toppled Morsi, installed General El-Sisi, and turned the powers of the state against the Muslim Brotherhood once more.
However, for whatever reason, the Obama Administration refused to provide fundamental aid and support for Sisi’s fledgling regime, despite the fact that Sisi was taking the fight to terrorism. Indeed, Sisi gave one of the most moving speeches before a preeminent council of imams in which he castigated the leaders of the Sunni Muslim world for not doing enough to resist Wahhābī extremism. This was the man that the Obama Administration chose to castigate and ignore. Meanwhile, as America under President Obama’s leadership recoiled not only from Sisi’s Egypt, but also from its general fight against Wahhābī terror and the Mideast, Russia stalked at the periphery–waiting to devour whatever scraps America left in the wake of its hasty withdraw from the region.
From Iran to Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, Russia has made grand chess moves in the region designed to amplify its own status as a great power and to further diminish America’s standing in that part of the world. This, even as it makes moves into Eastern Europe, solidifies a frightening military alliance with the Chinese, and interferes with the internal political structure of a critical NATO ally, Turkey. Egypt was once a primary ally in the region for the United States. If not for Egypt, Israel would have likely suffered through another round of warfare with its neighboring Sunni states. the U.S.-Egyptian military alliance has been instrumental also in stabilizing that part of the world. Not only does the U.S. provide scores of weapons systems and training to Egypt, but also Egypt contributes significantly to the global counterterrorism campaign. Now that America has attempted to quietly distance itself from Egypt out of squeamishness over the way that Sisi rose to power and now runs his government, Moscow has loudly moved into Egypt.
What began first as a political meeting of minds has now metamorphosed into a new military-to-military alliance between the Russian military and the Egyptian armed forces. This is something that the world has not seen since the heady days of the Cold War, when General Nasser ruled Egypt and was closely aligned with the Soviet Union. This is a seismic shift in the realm of geopolitics. For, you see, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, Russia was relegated to its part of the world. However, over the last 18 years, Russia under Vladimir Putin and his siloviki has steadily increased its capabilities. They have modernized their military with the wealth generated from their robust natural gas resources. Russia has expanded its military operations into Ukraine and Georgia. It has bullied its neighbors and supported fellow autocracies, not just throughout Central Asia, but also throughout the Mideast. Meanwhile, the Russians have not only intensified their support of anti-American regimes in Iran and Syria, but they have also made moves to goad stalwart American allies like the aforementioned Turkey and now, likely, Egypt to push away from America and toward Russia. What does all of this mean? The further loss of American prestige and influence in a geostrategically vital part of the world, that’s what it means. It also means that Russia gets to increase its standing in the world by flouting the U.S. and bringing new allies onboard its coalition. And, make no mistake, Putin is fast building an international coalition aimed at neutering America’s might and destabilizing the West.
The New Pharaoh and the New Tsar
While I was perusing Alexander Dugin’s YouTube channel, I found a video from earlier this week documenting a massive Russian-Egyptian military exercise in the Egyptian desert. This exercise was directed against unnamed terrorists. However, the implications were clear for all to see: Russia has now become a partner with Egypt at a time when America’s influence with Egypt is on the decline. This decline in influence was entirely America’s fault. It was the result of poor leadership on the part of the Obama Administration and willing ignorance as to the intentions of Vladimir Putin. Egypt finds itself under siege from Wahhābī extremists, notably of late, the Islamic State, but also the Muslim Brotherhood. General Sisi is a staunch counterterrorist. For him, the equation is simple: he must save his country from the scourge of Wahhābīsm and therefore he will work with whatever power will allow him to accomplish his dire task. It used to the United States. Now, however, it seems to be the Russians. For the Russians, they are trying to utterly destroy America’s standing in the Mideast, so as to prevent America’s power projection capabilities into what Russia considers its “Near-Abroad.”
The Russian objective goes back to the Cold War days. During the Cold War, the U.S. successfully managed to contain the old Soviet Union in large part due to America’s robust alliances with critical states surrounding Russia’s periphery. Egypt became a vital component of this strategy. Putin has lived through the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Russia’s loss of prestige and power on the global stage. He is a Cold Warrior in the truest sense. Thus, he followed the lessons of recent history closely. He understands that Egypt is a vital state to countering any American attempt to reestablish the old Containment policy. If he can flip states like Egypt, he can not only generate massive influence for himself in the Muslim world, but he can also deny the United States geopolitical access to a key state in the Mideast.
Russia’s new Tsar, Vladimir Putin, has entered into a sort of “bromance” with Egypt’s new anti-terrorist Pharaoh, General Sisi. This has all been due to the poor leadership of President Obama. This was a scenario which could have been easily avoided. Such an alliance will spell considerable trouble for America in the future. Russia is pro-dictatorship and pro-Iran. An alliance with Egypt means that Russia will have undue influence in the shaping of the Mideast following the conclusion of the War against the Islamic State. Any postwar Mideast will undoubtedly damage America’s standing in the region and it will raise Russia’s preeminence there. America must make a complete reversal in its dealings with Egypt. It must once again support the Egyptian government and it must indicate that it will never again threaten the stability of the regime there. Although, I worry that the damage has been done and Egypt will forever continue to flirt with the Russians. Either way, Egypt has once again become a land torn between the American Eagle and the Russian Bear. So far, Russia is beating America. This can be reversed. It will not be easy. But the reversal must come sooner rather than later. With Egypt commanding the critical Suez Canal (on top of being a critical Mideast state), a Russian-backed Egyptian government could become quite seriously dangerous to the United States over time.
Let us hope that the next administration in the United States will have a keener understanding of Mideast politics and the role that Egypt will play there. Otherwise, we will lose the region to Russia. We may have already.