Walk like an Egyptian


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A geo-political intro to Egypt’s security forces, navy and air force — Part 1

1. Egypt as a country of 102 million people, shares long porous borders with the failed states Libya, and Sudan; and at its eastern border with Israel, it has to manage the added issue of terrorists operating in Gaza. Egypt is torn between its multiple identities: between swathes of its identity that it derives from its geographical position, and its identity markers that it derives from its socio-economic-political history. This tension is amplified by neighborhood turbulence. The geopolitical forces that give Egypt its geographical position and its historical experience fundamentally contain clear vulnerabilities.

2. The 2013 military overthrow of Egypt’s first democratically-elected president Mohammed Morsi, capture the sentiment of King Farouk’s last words to those who overthrew him in 1952: ‘It isn’t easy, you know, to govern Egypt.’ The IISS estimated in 2020 that the Egyptian Army numbered over 310,000, along with 397,000 paramilitary forces. The current President uses the paramilitary forces for repression to bolster his efforts to combat the deteriorating security in Egypt caused by an Egyptian branch of the Islamic State Wilayat Sinai (WS). He is trying to create an image of the enemy in order to strengthen the national unity through ‘rally around the flag effect’. Giuseppe Dentice argues this is one of the reasons behind El-Sisi’s mass arrests, suppression of the opposition, and growing media-oppression, as he is trying to divert the attention from stagnating economy and poor security.
(a) US assistance to Egypt is intended to reinforce US regional strategic interests, and these include helping Egypt defeat Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists and other extremist groups, strengthening governance and respect for human rights, and fostering economic growth. For FY 2020 and FY 2021, the Trump Administration requested a total of US$1.38 billion in foreign assistance for Egypt, over 90% of which comes as Foreign Military Financing (FMF). Biden has vowed a tougher stance on human rights after his predecessor Donald Trump courted Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, whom he reportedly called “my favourite dictator”, in part for his cooperation with Israel.​
(b) In Feb 2021, the US State Department announced the sale of nearly US$200 million of weapons to Cairo — the first substantial arms transfer to the Middle East in Biden's young term. Despite the large size of Egypt’s security forces and the continued inflow of FMF and arms from the Americans, the security situation in Egypt is unpredictable; and certain regions, for instance, North Sinai, and the Western Desert, are particularly volatile. Egypt is trying to maintain control over the Palestinian issue and is facing competition from other countries in the region, including Turkey and Qatar. This challenge was clear during the last Israeli war against the Gaza Strip.​
(c) In Nov 2020, the Egyptian Army carried out a joint ground and air exercise dubbed Saif Al-Arab with the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan and Sudan. It also carried out the joint air training exercise Nile Eagles-1 with Sudan.​

3. In terms of bodies of water, Egypt is surrounded by the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, for which it ensures the junction through the Suez Canal. This connection links the two seas and is also the path that joins the Indian and Atlantic oceans. To secure its SLOCs, the Egyptian Naval Force is the largest navy in the Middle East and Africa, and is the sixth largest in the world measured by the number of vessels. In Nov 2020, Egypt and Russia launched their Bridge of Friendship-3 exercise in the Black Sea. Egypt also teamed up with the UK for the joint T-1 exercise in the Mediterranean Sea as well as joint naval training in the Northern Mediterranean with France. Meanwhile, it joined Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan, Sudan and Bahrain for a naval drill dubbed Sword of Arabs at the Muhammad Naguib Military Base in northwest Egypt.

4. “I see the primary significance of Egypt’s recent naval drills as political, and secondarily as commercial, not military,” Yezid Sayigh, a senior fellow at the Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center, told Defense News. “In the first case, they reflect the effort by the Sissi administration to broaden and diversify its foreign strategic relationships, partly to demonstrate that it is not wholly dependent on the U.S., but especially at this time to deepen ties with countries... Second, by raising its naval profile in the Eastern Mediterranean and Red Sea, Egypt is signaling an ability and determination to protect offshore gas fields and future pipelines to Europe that it hopes to build with other Eastern [Mediterranean] gas producers. It is also building military infrastructure such as the Berenice naval base in the Red Sea so as to demonstrate its ability to protect maritime shipping routes through the Suez Canal, in the hope of encouraging more global shipping to come through the canal.”
(a) According to SIPRI’s arms transfers database, Egypt ordered four Meko A200 frigates from Germany and four Gowind 2500 vessels from France’s Naval Group in 2014.​
(b) France’s La Tribune in 2018 reported that Egypt and TKMS signed a contract in Sep 2018 for three Meko A200s to be manufactured in Germany and one in Egypt. The experience with the Gowind vessels has allowed Alexandria Shipyard to diversify from manufacturing commercial vessels.​

5. As part of its fleet renewal plans, the second Italian-built Bergamini-class FREMM frigate procured by Egypt arrived on 15 Apr 2021 at the Alexandria naval base. The frigate was renamed Bernees (FFG 1003). She is the second FREMM frigate to join the Egyptian naval forces after the Al Galala (FFG 1002) which joined the fleet in December 2020. The country receiving the largest quota of Italian weapons export licences is Egypt with 871.7 million Euro (in particular to supply 32 helicopters produced by Leonardo spa).
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A geo-political intro to Egypt’s security forces, navy and air force — Part 2

6. The contract for the delivery of the first two Type 209/1400 mod class submarines to the Arab Republic of Egypt was signed in 2011. In 2015, Egypt decided to take the option for two additional units. Delivered on Sep 2020, Egypt’s 4th new Type 209 submarines have a top speed of 21 knots. This class of boats each have an length of 62 metres, diameter of 6.2 metres and displacement of 1,450 tons surfaced and 1,600 tons submerged. It can dive to a maximum depth of 250 metres and is armed with eight torpedo tubes and up to 14 torpedoes.

7. In May 2021, it was reported that Cairo ordered 30 additional Dassault Rafales, in a follow up to a previous acquisition of 24 fighters — to grow its fleet to 54. The 30 new Rafales will be funded through a loan with a tenure of 10 years, as disclosed by Egypt’s defence ministry; although the backbone of the EAF Egyptian Air Force (EAF) is still its 216 F-16C/Ds fleet (plus 20 on order).

8. In total, Egypt operates 304 combat jets including Dassault Mirage 5s and Mirage 2000s, F-16s, MiG-29s and Sukhoi Su-35s, as well as the Rafales. The fresh Egyptian order comes after a decent 2020 for Dassault, when it delivered 13 Rafales to export customers India and Qatar, following 26 deliveries in 2019.

9. It’s rare to witness an air force flying fighter jets and helicopters of different origins, but Egypt operates aircraft from Russia, China, the United States and European nations. “When it comes to the Egyptian Air Force in particular, it is definitely not possible for [American-made] E-2C in service, for example, to direct the [Russian-made] MiG-29 fighters and exchange data with them, as is the case with the [American-made] F-16 and [French-made] Rafale fighters,” said Mohamed al-Kenany, a military affairs researcher and defense analyst at the Arab Forum for Analyzing Iranian Policies in Cairo. “However, data is being shared between the different-origin aircraft through the command-and-control centers that are equipped with dedicated systems capable of linking the various radar, aircraft, sensors, reconnaissance and electronic warfare systems, and integrating all the information and data they receive into a unified system named RISC2.”
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