News Analysis: Trump brings hope for better military ties with Egypt

Huang Panyue
U.S. President Donald Trump walks with his grandchildren Arabella Kushner (R) and Joseph Kushner (L) to board Marine One from the White House in Washington D.C., the United States, March 3, 2017. (Xinhua/Yin Bogu)

CAIRO, March 5 (Xinhua) -- The Egyptian-American military cooperation is expected to improve under the new U.S. administration of President Donald Trump, said Egyptian military experts.

They said that possibility for better military ties grows particularly after the big power has recently announced willingness to resume its annual military aid to Egypt and its biannual military exercise with the North African country,

Commander of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), General Joseph L. Votel, said during a visit to Cairo in late February that his country is willing to resume the massive joint Bright Star military exercise with Egypt, which was cancelled by former U.S. President Barack Obama in 2013 to protest the deadly crackdown on the loyalists of Egyptian ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsi.

"It is my goal to get that exercise back on track and try to re-establish that as another key part of our military relationship," Gen. Votel, the top commander of American military operations in the Middle East, told the Egyptian state TV after his meetings with President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi and top military officials including Egyptian Defense Minister Sedqi Sobhi.

Egyptian military expert Talaat Musallam, a retired armed forces general, said that there is general improvement in the Egyptian-American relations under Trump, which will necessarily be reflected on their military cooperation and the resumption of their joint military exercise as well as the suspended U.S. 1.3 billion-dollar military aid to Egypt.

"Trump's administration tries to maintain its ties with Egypt, which it perceives in a way different from that of Obama's administration that defended Morsi's now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group," the expert told Xinhua, expecting the White House to earnestly work on resolving all issues with Egypt.

During his administration, Obama also suspended the delivery of some major weapon systems including fighter jets, tanks and missiles, but he later decided their resumption over growing regional and international security threats.

"Although the Bright Star military maneuvers serve the United States best, their resumption is good for both the American and the Egyptian sides," said Musallam.

He urged Cairo to ask Washington to increase and develop Egypt's military program after the United States decided last year to unprecedentedly provide Israel with 38 billion dollars over the coming ten years in military assistance.

The major biannual Bright Star joint American-Egyptian military exercise first began in 1980, a year after the United States brokered a peace treaty between its number one regional ally Israel and Egypt, the first and the second largest recipients of U.S. annual military aids.

The 12-state multinational Bright Star was regularly held in Egypt until 2009 with the participation of some 70,000 troops, then it was cancelled in 2011 and 2013 due to Egypt's upheavals that toppled two heads of state then, long-time ruler Hosni Mubarak and the Brotherhood's Morsi.

"I expect the Bright Star to be resumed as soon as possible especially that it is more beneficial to the United States than Egypt. Via the Bright Star, Washington can have troops who are well-trained for the nature of this region," said Gamal Mazloum, a security expert and former chief of the Armed Forces Center for Strategic Studies.

Mazloum does not expect the military cooperation between Cairo and Washington to be that high, due to the strong relations between Washington and Tel Aviv.

"Egypt seeks to maintain a balance in its relations with big powers, while the United States is concerned about the growing Egyptian-Russian approach and it tries under Trump to restore good terms with Egypt," the expert told Xinhua, arguing that Cairo-Washington relations may relatively improve, yet warning against prejudging Trump's administration.

Both the Egyptian and the American presidents have exchanged comments of praise and promises of mutual support and share similar views on various issues including fighting terrorism.

In late January, Trump told Sisi in a phone call that he will continue providing military aid to Egypt and expressed U.S. support for Egypt's fight against terrorism and its struggle to bolster economic growth.

"Trump tries to turn over a new leaf with Egypt and I expect the Bright Star as a form of military cooperation to be resumed soon, especially that Egypt does not decline countries' requests for joint military maneuvers," said Nabil Fouad, professor of strategic sciences at Cairo-based Nasser Military Academy.

The professor believes that Trump is convinced that the Middle East region is the world's strategic center and that it is not in favor of the United States to lose such a partner with a key strategic regional position as Egypt.

"Trump is inclined to work on improving ties with Egypt after they were unfavorable during the time of Obama," the strategic expert told Xinhua.

U.S. President Donald Trump walks to board Marine One from the White House in Washington D.C., the United States, March 3, 2017. (Xinhua/Yin Bogu)


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