Thankfully, although Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak has called out the army in response to the mounting protests against his government, so far the tanks have become a meeting place for protesters and the troops, not a tool of repression. Let's hope it stays that way, and that the military throws itself to the side of democracy rather than propping up Mubarak's corrupt regime.
But even as the political situation unfolds on the streets of Cairo, the question of U.S. support for Mubarak's 30-year rule looms large. And much of that support has come in the form of military aid, $1.3 billion per year like clockwork throughout that entire period. And as Middle East expert Juan Cole noted in a recent appearance on Democracy Now!, most of that aid has been simply a pass through that goes to Egypt and then right back into the coffers of U.S. corporations.
According to lists of arms sales notifications compiled by the Pentagon's Defense Security Assistance Agency, in the last decade alone, the Department of Defense has brokered over $11 billion in U.S. arms offers to the Egyptian regime on behalf of weapons makers like Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Boeing, Raytheon, and General Electric. Aside from some leftover Soviet equipment from the pre-Camp David era (before 1979), the Egyptian military is virtually made in the USA. Fighter planes (Lockheed Martin F-16s), tanks (General Dynamics's M-1A1s), missiles (Harpoon, TOW, Hellfire, and Stinger, made by Boeing, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin), howitzers (United Defense), aircraft engines (General Electric) have all been purchased for the Egyptian armed forces with U.S. taxpayer dollars. The biggest winners have been Lockheed Martin ($3.8 billion); General Dynamics ($2.5 billion); Boeing ($1.7 billion); Raytheon ($750 million); and GE ($750 million).
Now that the Obama administration has at least suggested that U.S. aid may be reconsidered based on how harshly the Mubarak regime continues to crack down on democracy protesters, it is possible that this gravy train for contractors could come to an end. Post-Mubarak, the question will arise as to whether a new government wants to keep such close military ties to the U.S., and even if it does, whether it wants to maintain Mubarak's bloated, made-in-the-U.S.A. arsenal. But there will no doubt be efforts by Washington to use its ties to the military in Egypt to shape the potential outcome there, and dangling more weapons deals while selling support services and spare parts to maintain Egypt's existing weapons might become part of that strategy.
Most likely, even after all those years of supplying weapons and training, the Egyptian military will take its own course, independently of what Washington may want. And if an anti-U.S. regime comes into power, it will be extremely well armed with U.S.-supplied weapons. Could the same happen in Saudi Arabia, which Washington is furiously arming as we speak, with a record $60 billion weapons deal in the works? Perhaps the White House and the Pentagon should take a breather from pouring weapons into the region and allow the democratic currents there to play out.