By David D. Kirkpatrik and Kareem Fahim
NY Times: August 17, 2012
His sharp rebuke of American policy is especially striking because he now oversees the military institution that has been the closest United States ally in the Arab world, relied on by American officials as a critical bulwark in support of Israeli security and against Iranian influence. Despite decades of military collaboration, he urged a full pullout of American forces from the region.
Scholars say his paper is even more significant in part because many of its themes reflect opinions widely held by Egyptians, their new president and people throughout the region an increasingly potent factor in regional foreign policy, as Egypt and other countries struggle toward democracy.
American officials said their confidence in Egypt was unshaken, while analysts argued that despite the changes in the nation's military and civilian leadership, any realignment in relations with Washington could be slow in part because of Egypt's urgent need for assistance from the United States and the West.
"For sure there are going to be big changes in Egypt's relationship with Washington," said Shibley Telhami, a political scientist at the University of Maryland and a scholar at the Brookings Institution who has studied Arab and Egyptian public opinion.
In surveys across the Arab world for more than a decade, he said, about 70 percent of the public has named the United States as the second greatest threat to regional security, after Israel even in Egypt, where Washington provides $1.3 billion in annual military aid, and in Saudi Arabia, another close American ally.
As General Sobhi argued, Professor Telhami said, "there were always two central issues driving Arab and Egyptian anger with the U.S., the Palestinian question the prism of pain through which Arabs see the West and the U.S. military presence."
General Sobhi's paper, first reported by the Cairo independent journalist Issandr El Amrani, offers a rare look into the foreign policy thinking of a military institution often considered all but impenetrable to outsiders.
For decades under President Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian military, and the nation's foreign policy, had been closely allied with the United States and its regional interests. There was concern in Washington after Mr. Mubarak's ouster that the relationship might not survive an anxiety that was revived when Mr. Morsi was elected president.
But Washington knew that the longtime defense minister, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, and his chief of staff, Sami Hafez Anan, still wielded considerable power and were reliable allies.
Then after an embarrassing terrorist attack in northern Sinai this month, Mr. Morsi appeared to consolidate his power by announcing their replacement, while keeping them on as presidential advisers. The shake-up raised for the first time the possibility that Mr. Morsi might begin to exert some real sway over Egyptian foreign policy, and General Sobhi's paper suggested that at least some of the younger cadre of generals might share an interest in more independence from Washington.
In his paper, General Sobhi spells out a position that fits well with the campaign vows of many Islamist and secular politicians in Egypt to chart a course more independent of Washington. "If the relationship is between equals, with mutual respect and mutual interest, then nothing changes," Mahmoud Hussein, the secretary general of the Muslim Brotherhood, said this week of the Egyptian relationship with the United States. "But if the U.S. thinks the relationship with Egypt is of a master and a follower, then this will never be."
Samer Shehata, a professor of Arab politics at Georgetown University, said that American policy makers would be naïve to think that the positions held by Mr. Morsi and the Brotherhood including criticisms of the United States and strong support for the Palestinians represented fringe thinking.
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