Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1360, (14 - 20 September 2017)
Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Issue 1360, (14 - 20 September 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Bright Star

The resumption of the Bright Star joint military manoeuvres, which are currently being staged in the recently opened Mohamed Naguib Military Base, signal a revival in the strategic relationship between Egypt and the United States after a long slump.

The manoeuvres, held every two years, were postponed in 2011 due to the aftermath of the January Revolution, and again in 2013 and 2015 due to the Obama administration’s attitude towards the 30 June Revolution. This attitude, which contrasted strongly to that of the current administration, was informed not just by matters related to conventional US-Egyptian relations but also by US policies towards the region as a whole. Foremost among these were the miscalculated withdrawal from Iraq, leaving a vacuum that was filled by a surge of violent extremism and the spread of IS, and the Obama administration’s support for the Islamist movement and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular. Washington’s policy of backing their bids for power in Egypt and elsewhere in the region precipitated widespread unrest and added momentum to the spread of extremism and terrorism.

Over the past few years, Egypt, which managed to weather the Arab Spring, has succeeded in building its army to a level that enabled Global Firepower to rank it as one of the ten strongest armies in the world. This, moreover, coincides with the US return to the region and the revival of the “alliance of the strong” in the region. Bright Star stood as a symbol of this alliance from 1981 to its last edition in 2009, when 12 countries participated in the exercises. This star has risen again. That Joseph Votel, commander of US Central Command, timed his recent visit to Cairo to coincide with the manoeuvres underscores the significance of this phase in Egyptian-US bilateral relations. Hopefully, this visit will dispel the clouds caused by Washington’s recent action concerning US military aid to Cairo. There is a clear and direct connection between this aid, established in Camp David, and the Bright Star manoeuvres, which were also a by-product of that treaty and intended to affirm and strengthen Egyptian-US strategic relations.

We need to underscore another factor in this context. Egyptian-US relations do not restrict Egypt to one bilateral military relationship. This is why the fact that the Egyptian-Russian “Defence of Friendship” manoeuvres are also taking place at this time is also important to Egypt. It is a sign of Egypt’s ability to pursue a balanced foreign policy strategy towards world powers. In all events, military performance standards and the exchange of expertise — not politics — are the key words behind both manoeuvres. Therefore, the suggestions in the Israeli press that Washington wants to draw closer to Cairo for fear of Cairo’s gradual return to the Russian orbit betray a poor understanding of regional politics. Egypt no longer falls in any “orbit” that dictates subordination to this world power or that.

What should be of chief concern is how the new modes of training reflect a clear awareness of the nature of the threats to this region posed by the evils of terrorism and the professional mechanisms needed to counter them. Bright Star consists of a theoretical component, which offers opportunities to exchange views on major areas of international strategic concern, especially in light of Egypt’s comprehensive strategy to combat terrorism. It also consists of a practical component, as exemplified by the exercises that engage special forces and counter terrorist units in simulated urban warfare scenarios. The fruit of this cooperation is expected to forestall the spread of the terrorist phenomenon after its defeat in Iraq and Syria and yield positive consequences for the security of the region as a whole.

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