Barack Obama, like his predecessors, has supported Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to the tune of $1.3 billion annually, mostly in military aid. In return, Egypt minds U.S. interests in the Middle East, notably providing a buffer between Israel and the rest of the Arab world. Egypt collaborates with Israel to isolate Gaza with a punishing blockade, to the consternation of Arabs throughout the Middle East. The United States could not have fought its wars in Iraq without Egypt’s logistical support.
Now with a revolution against Mubarak by two million Egyptians, all bets are off about who will replace him and whether the successor government will be friendly to the United States.
Mubarak’s “whole system is corrupt,” said Hesham Korayem, an Egyptian who taught at City University of New York and provides frequent commentary on Egyptian and Saudi television. He told me there is virtually no middle class in Egypt, only the extremely rich (about 20 to 25 percent of the population) and the extremely poor (75 percent). The parliament has no input into what Mubarak does with the money the United States gives him, $300 million of which comes to the dictator in cash each year.
Torture is commonplace in Egypt, according to Korayem. Indeed, Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s intelligence chief whom Mubarak just named Vice-President, was the lynchpin for Egyptian torture when the CIA sent prisoners to Egypt in its extraordinary rendition program. Stephen Grey noted in Ghost Plane, “[I]n secret, men like Omar Suleiman, the country’s most powerful spy and secret politician, did our work, the sort of work that Western countries have no appetite to do ourselves.”