Guarantor of Stability (I)

CAIRO/BERLIN | | aegypten

CAIRO/BERLIN (Own report) - Government advisors in Berlin are considering a transition government for Egypt under the leadership of a general. The military has the decisive power in that country, is "the referee" in the current conflicts between the Mubarak regime and the opposition and could provide, at least temporarily, the president, according to a Middle East expert of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP). A "popular" politician could also be conceivable as prime minister. The SWP expert's proposition takes into account the fact that the West - besides the USA, particularly Germany - has, for decades, been supporting the Egyptian military and has considerably contributed to the stabilization of its enormous political and economic power. The Federal Republic of Germany had, already shortly after the end of the Second World War, begun with training and arming the Egyptian armed forces - using former soldiers of the Wehrmacht and the SS. They had been engaged in Cairo in accord with the USA, until a transatlantic change of course brought an end to these activities.

The Referee

As Asiem El Difraoui, Middle East expert of Berlin's Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), explained, a transitional government under the leadership of a general should be taken into consideration. "The military is the referee," says Difraoui in consideration of the powerful role played by the armed forces in the current conflicts between the Mubarak regime and the protest demonstrators. If the armed forces take on the role of the "guarantor of Stability," then a popular prime minister could be conceivable. "Should the military disintegrate", warns El Difraoui, with an eye on the unusually strong position that the generals have established after decades of western support, "then we will be confronted with a catastrophe."[1]

Two Phases

Over the past few decades, the Egyptian military, as well as the country's other forces of repression, have been receiving massive support from the Federal Republic of Germany, which can be divided into two phases. The first having begun soon after the Second World War and extending up to the mid-1960s. This phase ended because there was a change in the basic coordinates of the western Middle East policy compass, which had been developed in Washington in the aftermath of the Suez Crisis, which Bonn could not but adhere to. The second phase of cooperation, introduced in the 1970s, has been functioning until the present. There are many current indications that this cooperation will not be seriously affected by the current revolts against Cairo's military regime.

Against Great Britain

In the period shortly following the Second World War, the Federal Republic of Germany had a good standing in Cairo because of Egypt's sympathy for the German Reich during the Second World War - as the enemy of the earlier protectorate power Great Britain, whose influence the Egyptian government sought to finally break. King Farouk I had not only maintained contacts to the Nazi Reich, but also disclosed British military strategies to Berlin. In October 1941 he showed his willingness to support the Axis powers, if necessary, also militarily. Anwar as-Sadat - who later had been active in the Free Officers movement that came to power in 1952, and from 1970 to his 1981 assassination, had been president of Egypt - had in the early 1940s conspired with agents of the German Reich to open the route to Cairo for the Axis powers. For a while he had been in contact with the Wehrmacht's command center in Libya. The German-Egyptian cooperation was unsuccessful.[2]

German Fighting Spirit

In the early 50s, building upon the unsuccessful anti-British collaboration period, Cairo hired particularly German military advisors to shape up its army. The advisors were made up not only of German Africa Corps soldiers still in the country, after having been recently released from British POW camps, but also additional military personnel, flown in from the Federal Republic of Germany. They trained Egyptian paratroopers and frogmen, taught military intelligence and the use of anti-tank artillery. "In all, there were about six hundred Wehrmacht and SS personnel" reported the publicist, Erich Schmidt-Eenboom, "who were supposed to infuse German fighting spirit into the ramshackle Egyptian army." "More than a half-dozen generals", who had served in Hitler's military, were among them.[3] The arms trade between Egypt and the Federal Republic of Germany soon began to flourish. Among the weapons salesmen was the former SS colonel ("Standartenführer") Otto Skorzeny, who had misappropriated several hundred M-42 machineguns from SS arsenals, which he was selling to Egypt.

Regime Change

The activities at that time, transacted in part through the CIA controlled "Organization Gehlen" (predecessor of the West German BND foreign espionage agency) under strict USA surveillance, served to support Washington's efforts to obtain a stronger influence on Egypt. The United States had supported the successful 1952 Free Officers' putsch that overthrew King Farouk I, to establish a western-oriented regime in Cairo.[4] Former SS and Wehrmacht personnel's training of the Egyptian military and its arms buildup was reinforced following the putsch and was flanked with US American support. Great Britain, which had rejected these measures, because through them it found itself permanently ousted from an anti-British Cairo, was in no position to defend its interests. For Washington and Bonn this military aid was of great importance because it kept Cairo from establishing closer ties to the Soviet Union. The motives behind the German-American efforts, at the time, were exposed in the mid-1950s with the attempt to closely bind the resources-rich Middle East nations to a western-oriented alliance (the "Baghdad Pact"), whose collapse, already at its inception in 1955,[5] led to developments that decisively shifted the basic coordinates of Washington's Middle East policy compass.

Advisor for German Questions

The development projects provided by former Wehrmacht and Nazi functionaries for the Egyptian forces of repression went beyond the military and arms industry, to include the police, the secret services and propaganda. Otto Skorzeny, for example, had recruited about 100 German "advisors" for these Egyptian repressive institutions, during their development phase, including Hans Eisele, former head doctor of the Buchenwald Concentration Camp, and the SS Major (Sturmbannführer) Alois Brunner, also responsible for the deportation of tens of thousands of Jews to the death camps from Vienna and Paris. According to Schmidt-Eenboom, these German "advisors" in Cairo also included a former official from the Nazi's ministry of propaganda, who, made himself a name as the "author of an anti-Semitic pornographic book, portending to show the sexual habits of Jews."[6] In Egypt, he served as station chief for German agents in operation for the BND-predecessor "Organization Gehlen". Another "advisor," the former SS operative and Nazi author Johann von Leers, was officially listed as a guest professor in Cairo at the end of the 1950s, beginning of the 1960s, when, in fact, he was engaged by the Arab League as a political advisor for German questions and for agitation against Israel on behalf of Cairo's Ministry of Information.

Change of Course

In the early 1960s, German support for Egypt began to falter. Following the Suez crisis, the United States changed course in its relationship to the countries in the Middle East and Germany had to follow suit. Tomorrow, Friday, german-foreign-policy.com will report on this reorientation, initiated by BND assisted assassination attempts on West German rocket experts working in Egypt. The German-Egyptian cooperation, which included numerous Nazi criminals, is still significant for two reasons.

Clandestine Military Activities

On the one hand, the Federal Republic of Germany sought to broaden its foreign political and trade margin of maneuver already before it had achieved sovereignty in 1955. At first, Konrad Adenauer drew on "historical relations, primarily to Arab countries" according to Erich Schmidt-Eenboom. Syria and Egypt had, alongside Saudi Arabia, been the "targeted countries for such initiatives". Already before the re-founding of the West German armed forces, Bonn was simultaneously seeking to strengthen "the nucleus of the Bundeswehr (...) through clandestine activities abroad" - along the lines of the illegal training measures of the Reichswehr, in the 1920s, in the Soviet Union.[7]

Apprentice Years

In addition, the former Wehrmacht and SS personnel had helped to lay the foundation for Egypt's military, the police and the secret service, notorious for its use of torture. While hundreds of German, former Nazi "advisors" were infusing the "German fighting spirit"[8] into the country's repressive institutions in the 50s, current President Hosni Mubarak was not the only one embarking on a military career. Other members of the current government who started out in the military, spent also their apprentice years in that period, not least of all the current Vice President - and the most powerful Egyptian - Omar Suleiman, the long-time head of the Egyptian secret services. The military is considered the decisive factor of influence in Cairo - particularly in the question of how the current democratic rebellion can be brought to an end fully in the interests of the West.

Please read also Beneficiary of Repression, Struggle for Influence at the Nile and Orderly Transition.

[1] Experte: "Das Militär ist der Schiedsrichter"; newsticker.sueddeutsche.de 04.02.2011
[2] Rheinisches JournalistInnenbüro: "Unsere Opfer zählen nicht". Die Dritte Welt im Zweiten Weltkrieg, Berlin/Hamburg 2005
[3] Erich Schmidt-Eenboom: Der deutsche Geheimdienst im Nahen Osten. Geheime Hintergründe und Fakten, München 2007
[4] Tim Weiner: Legacy of Ashes. The History of the CIA, New York 2008
[5] The Arab countries in particular were supposed to join the Baghdad Pact alongside the western countries, which was intended to create "a Middle East basis to the East - West conflict for NATO". But only one Arab country joined the pact - Iraq. See Volker Perthes: Geheime Gärten. Die neue arabische Welt, Munich 2002.
[6], [7], [8] Erich Schmidt-Eenboom: Der deutsche Geheimdienst im Nahen Osten. Geheime Hintergründe und Fakten, München 2007