The Fox Behind the Desert Fox — Hekmet Fahmy

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

On June 10, 1940, Italy declared war on Great Britain. At the time, Great Britain lacked the resources to invade Italy, and Italy had no intention of invading Great Britain. However, the two enemies, along with France, had large colonial holdings in North Africa. At the time, the Suez Canal in Egypt was critical for Great Britain to connect the British Isles, Gibraltar, and Egypt to its colonial holdings in India, Ceylon, and Burma. Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini was confident that his forces, along with his German allies, could deal a major blow against the British from their bases in Libya, and perhaps threaten the British Suez Canal.

 

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, 1942 Image from German Federal Archives, wikimedia commons

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, 1942
Image from German Federal Archives,
wikimedia commons

 

In general, the North African campaign of WWII is remembered as a series of battles. Great Britain dealt a decisive blow against the Italians in Libya. Germany sent reinforcements led by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, aka the Desert Fox, who pushed the British back to the Egyptian border. Newly appointed British commander Field Marshall Montgomery led UK forces in a series of counterattacks. Those attacks were marginally assisted in the final phases by American landings in Morocco and Tunisia.

Conventional analysis of these battles emphasizes the skills of the opposing leaders. More in-depth descriptions also consider the logistical nightmares that both sides faced during the campaign. However, these assessments are based on well-researched analysis that was conducted without the benefit of certain classified information that was not released before 1970. When we consider the newer information, we learn that Erwin Rommel’s tactical genius and Bernard Montgomery’s inspiring leadership were heavily impacted by a variety of intelligence operations conducted by both sides.

Until July of 1942, Rommel, the Desert Fox, enjoyed a tremendous advantage over the British in the form of timely, detailed, and accurate intelligence about British dispositions, supplies, and intentions. This information came inadvertently from US General Bonner Fellers.

General Fellers was the US liaison with the British in North Africa. Over his objections, he was instructed to use the US diplomatic Black code to transmit messages to the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. Unfortunately, that code was stolen and copied by the Italians from the US Embassy in Italy in September of 1941, prior to the US entry into the war. As a result, Rommel’s staff read every word Fellers sent back to Washington before Washington read it. When Fellers was replaced in July of 1942, his replacement was permitted to switch his communications to US military cyphers. The Germans could no longer decipher the intercepted transmissions.

They turned to an Egyptian belly dancer for help. In the spring of 1942, a team of elite German commandos set out from Libya in US military vehicles captured from the British. Their goal was to infiltrate two Abwher agents, Johannes Eppler and his radio operator Hans Sandstede, into Egypt.

Eppler had a German mother and an Egyptian father and had spent most of his childhood in Alexandria and Cairo. He was well-trained and well-prepared for an operation in Egypt. After a grueling fifteen day trip through the desert, Eppler and Sandstede were dropped near the British Egyptian rail station at Asyut, Egypt.

The German spies made their way to Cairo where they used well forged documents and high quality counterfeit British cash to rent a house boat and set up operations. The crux of Eppler’s plans came down to one roll of the dice. He contacted an ex-girlfriend by the name of Hekmet Fahmy.

 

Hekmet Fahmy Image from BellyDanceMuseum.com, wikimedia commons, public domain

Hekmet Fahmy
Image from BellyDanceMuseum.com,
wikimedia commons, public domain

In 1942, Fahmy was the most popular belly dancer in Egypt. She had access to the best night clubs and parties attended by the elite of local British and Egyptian society. She was the most alluring female celebrity in that country and enjoyed popularity with dance fans across Europe. She was also trusted in the highest military and social circles. Fahmy recruited other popular belly dancers to assist Eppler, allowing him to operate one of the most successful honey traps of all time.

British officers and government officials mistakenly trusted Fahmy and foolishly revealed critical information. As Fahmy’s guests slept in her arms, Eppler searched their personal effects. By keeping track of which British officers from which regiments frequented the clubs, the Germans determined when particular units were being dispatched to the front.

In some cases, British officers and civilians revealed more detailed classified information that was then transmitted to Rommel’s headquarters. In effect, the Germans replaced an American general with an Egyptian belly dancer.

Thanks to the continued flow of high grade intelligence, the Desert Fox confounded British attacks with timely delaying actions and skillful withdrawals. Rommel’s tanks were outnumbered by now, but he could continually place them and their accompanying 77 millimeter anti-tank guns in ideal locations to deal with British movements.

After a few months of operations in Cairo, the British pushed back the Afrika Korps from El Alamein. Communications with Rommel’s headquarters became difficult. Eppler sought out the Egyptian Free Officer Corps, who were anti-British, to request assistance with passing information to Rommel. The young Egyptian officer who agreed to help was the future president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat.

In his 1957 book Revolt on the Nile, Sadat depicts Eppler and Sandstede as being too lazy and too concerned with their own pursuits of flesh. The depiction may have been unfair, as Eppler needed to appear to be a Scandinavian-American playboy in order to conduct his operations most effectively. If Eppler was in fact lazy, then we have to say that he was also fantastically lucky in his recruitment of Fahmy and his skillful use of her connections in gathering vital intelligence for the Desert Fox.

While Fahmy seduced British officers and Eppler fed their information to the Germans, the British simultaneously read and partially decrypted German military communications. They quickly became suspicious that German spies were succeeding in operations against them in Cairo. Either by managing too many local agents without insulation from themselves, or possibly because an Egyptian messenger was compromised, the British captured Eppler, Sandstede, and Fahmy.

With the defeat of the German intelligence operations in Cairo, combined with an increasing flow of Allied supplies and continued decryption of German military communications, the British were able to roll back Rommel across Africa. When the British captured 130,000 Germans in Tunisia in May of 1943, Rommel was on medical leave in Germany.

Rommel was tasked with organizing the German defenses on the French Atlantic Coast. However, he was implicated in a plot to kill Hitler. He committed suicide in exchange for his family being spared from persecution. The Nazis kept his betrayal of Hitler secret, announcing the Desert Fox had died of a heart attack. They gave Rommel a hero’s funeral.

Eppler and Sandstede were sentenced to death as spies, but Egyptian King Farouk intervened, and their sentences were commuted. They were released from prison after the war and Eppler became a successful construction engineer.

Fahmy was assumed to be an unwitting accomplice. She was sentenced to two and a half years in jail. She was unable to revive her career after her release, though she managed a few minor movie roles and invested her own money in a failed movie. The Egyptian Fox who did so much to aid the success of Desert Fox Field Marshal Erwin Rommel turned to Christianity for solace and spent long hours praying in church.

The North Africa campaign of WWII will always be remembered as a battle of supplies and opposing wits, and it was. But it was also a campaign critically affected by the intelligence operations of both opponents, and for a while, the balance of it all was tipped by the weight of a single belly dancer.

 

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Bayard & Holmes Official Photo

Piper Bayard is an author and a recovering attorney. Her writing partner, Jay Holmes, is an anonymous senior member of the intelligence community and a field veteran from the Cold War through the current Global War on Terror. Together, they are the bestselling authors of the international spy thriller, THE SPY BRIDE.

Watch for their upcoming non-fiction release, CHINA — THE PIRATE OF THE SOUTH CHINA SEA.

 

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The Changing Face of US — Mid-East Relations, Part One

By Jay Holmes

The cancerous growth of ISIS across Syria and Iraq since 2014 both exacerbates and illuminates a series of changes in US-Middle East relations. The most crucial and obvious of these changes is to the relationships between the US and Iraq, Iran, Israel, Egypt, and Turkey.

 

Kurdish YPG fighting in Kobane, Feb. 4, 2015. Image by Voice of America, wikimedia commons.

Kurdish YPG fighters in Kobane, Feb. 4, 2015.
Image by Voice of America, wikimedia commons.

 

The simplest case to review from the whirlwind of US foreign policy transformations is the relationship between the US and Iraq.

When ISIS rolled into Iraq, the US-financed and Iraqi-led Iraqi Army collapsed anywhere ISIS appeared or threatened to appear. Only the lightly armed, poorly supplied Kurds halted the tide of ISIS terror. The much better armed, well-financed Iraqi Army proved to be an embarrassment to themselves and to the US administration that had overseen their creation.

The US had, until then, pursued a policy of pretending that their extravagantly well-financed “friend,” Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, was capable of leading a democratic government in Iraq. He never was. Many observers had long felt that Maliki was not capable of leading anything other than a self-promotion campaign. Perhaps it was that particular resemblance to Western politicians that caused some in the US government to mistake Maliki as a functioning politician as opposed to a common circus clown.

 

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki Image by US government, public domain.

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki
Image by US government, public domain.

 

The collapse of the Iraqi Army leadership in response to the ISIS invasion forced the US to stop pretending that Maliki was anything like a “leader.” At the urging of the US, Iraq formed a new government with the less laughable and more pragmatic Haider al-Abadi taking the lead as Prime Minister.

Students of world history will undoubtedly wonder what “US urging” looked like in this case. Was it something dark, complex, and difficult? Did it involve secret assassinations or long propaganda campaigns? No, and no. The US simply explained that without changes, next month’s check would not be arriving.

Rather than expose himself to the justifiable wrath that would soon be unleashed on him by the people of Iraq, Maliki took the pro-Maliki option and stepped down. Under new leadership, the Iraqi military is beginning to resemble a real military, and it appears that, with the assistance of the Kurds and US air support, it will begin to push ISIS out of Iraq. Whether or not this or any future US administration will have learned any long term lessons from the fantastically expensive Maliki debacle remains to be seen.

 

President Barack Obama Re: Nuclear talks with Iran ". . . according to their Supreme Leader, it would be contrary to their faith to obtain a nuclear weapon, if that is true, there should be the possibility of getting a deal." Obama quote, Feb 9, 2015, joint news conference with German PM Angela Merkel. Image by Gage Skidmore, wikimedia commons.

President Barack Obama
Re: Nuclear talks with Iran
“. . . according to their Supreme Leader, it would be contrary to their faith to obtain a nuclear weapon, if that is true, there should be the possibility of getting a deal.”
Obama quote, Feb 9, 2015, joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Image by Gage Skidmore, wikimedia commons.

 

A less straightforward and more mystifying case can be seen in changing relations between the US and Iran.

As near as rational observers can determine, based on the information thus far available, the change has been minimal. Previously, US-Iran relations were a case of the US completely distrusting Iran and worrying about its efforts to obtain nuclear weapons, but not doing much about it. In return, Iran responded by pretending to not want nuclear weapons while continuing to pretend to love or hate the rest of the world depending on the time of day.

In particular, Iran vacillates between claiming that it is no threat to Israel and claiming that it will annihilate Israel, Zionists, and those that sympathize with Zionists. Iran has not budged an inch from its decades of anti-Western/anti-Israel policies, yet the US is now oddly pretending to trust Iran. Iranian Shia Revolutionary Guards are now operating openly in Iraq with US acquiescence, and the White House now seems convinced that Iran isn’t really developing nuclear weapons after all. This one-sided rapprochement with Iran seems to be an unwise change in US foreign policy.

That leads us to another simple case: US-Israel relations.

The US government’s increasing friendliness toward Iran and the Israeli perception that the US has gone soft on terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah has complicated relations between the two allies. To understand the US alliance with Israel, one must pragmatically ignore personal sympathies and admit that the relationship has been rather one-sided for over half a century.

 

Anwar Sadat, Jimmy Carter, and Menahem Begin at Camp David Accords Image from US National Archives, public domain.

Anwar Sadat, Jimmy Carter, and Menahem Begin
at Camp David Accords
Image from US National Archives, public domain.

 

Confident of continued US financial and military support, Israel has never made much effort to consider US interests in the region when making foreign policy decisions. Israel has only been able to do this because successive US administrations consistently allowed it. The one major instance of Israel acceding to US pressure was the Camp David Accords. The result of the Accords has been of mixed value from Israel’s point of view. Israel now enjoys better relations with Egypt and Jordan, but Syria, the Palestinians, and Iranian-controlled Hezbollah remain at war with it.

From the US point of view, it often seems like we should expect more cooperation from Israel. From the Israeli point of view, it often seems like trusting in US idealism will lead to the death of Israel. In practical terms, the current tension in US-Israel relations changes almost nothing. It likely will require a change of US administration before US-Israel relations improve, and there is no guarantee that the next administration will seek closer relations with Israel. In the meantime, the US will continue to send the checks.

One if the more complex foreign policy cases in the Middle East is that of US-Egypt relations.

 

Egyptian Protestors, Tahrir Square, November, 2011. Image by Lilian Wagdy, wikimedia commons.

Egyptian Protestors, Tahrir Square, November, 2011.
Image by Lilian Wagdy, wikimedia commons.

 

 

The US relationship with Egypt since the Camp David Accords in 1978 has been fairly stable. The Mubarak dynasty did what it wanted, left Israel alone, and received lots of cash from the US. After the Mubarak dynasty collapsed in 2011, the Egyptian military took control of the country until elections were held in 2011. Some Middle Eastern potentates wondered why the US had so quickly abandoned “their guy” in Egypt. In any event, the US had little influence in the Egyptian version of the “Arab Spring” that lead to the “Mubarak Winter.”

In 2012, the Muslim Brotherhood won elections in Egypt, and Mohammed Morsi became the president. Morsi then quickly forgot his centrist moderate views and proceeded to try to consolidate power in his office while moving Egypt toward an Islamic theocracy. Many believed the elections were rigged, and As Morsi became more theocratic, many of his own supporters felt betrayed.

In 2013, Morsi was removed from office by the Egyptian military. Although he and his radical supporters had clearly lost the support of much of the membership of the Muslim Brotherhood and the rest of Egypt, the US reacted negatively to what they considered a coup. As required by US law, coups prevent any US aid from continuing. The rule is often ignored. In the case of Egypt, the administration wavered, and most of the military and other financial aid to Egypt continued. Nonetheless, the US response to the Egyptian military’s removal of Morsi aggravated the Egyptian military and many civilians. From their point of view, they had saved Egypt from becoming the “next Iran.” Morsi had been positioning himself as increasingly anti-West, anti-US, and anti-Saudi, so most Egyptians expected the US to be glad for Morsi’s removal.

 

Egyptians Celebrate Morsi's Ouster Image from Voice of America, July 7, 2013, public domain.

Egyptians Celebrate Morsi’s Ouster
Image from Voice of America, July 7, 2013, public domain.

 

In 2014, military leader Abdul al-Sisi won the presidential election. In theory, US-Egypt relations became simpler again with democracy appearing to be functioning in Egypt. The US was happy to have the sticking points gone from US foreign aid, but al-Sisi now has little confidence in his friendship with the US.

One obvious and interesting symptom of the cooling of US-Egypt relations is that Egypt has signed an agreement with France for the purchaser of French-made fighters. Anyone in the US government that happens to be awake this week might ask why, at a time when US unemployment is so high, US tax dollars are going to purchase French-made fighters for the Egyptian Air Force.

At the same time, Egypt has now joined in in the fight against ISIS, though they have been clear that they are operating on their own and not as a part of a US coalition. As in the case of Israel, it will likely require a new US administration for US-Egypt relations to improve. Whether or not the next US administration will develop better relations with Egypt or wish to continue foreign aid to Egypt remains to be seen.

Next week in Part Two, we will look at the changing relationship of the US and Turkey.

Egyptian Majority Evicts the Muslim Brotherhood

By Jay Holmes

In Cairo on the morning of August 18, the Egyptian military and police evicted protestors from the al Fath Mosque. In the chaos that has overtaken Egypt, this eviction could be dismissed as an insignificant event, but it can also be seen as an important moment in the decision-making of the current military-backed Egyptian government.

Egyptians Celebrate Morsi's Ouster image from Voice of America, July 7, 2013

Egyptians Celebrate Morsi’s Ouster
image from Voice of America, July 7, 2013

Supporters of the recently-ousted Egyptian President Morsi, who was backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, called for protests last week. Thousands poured out and set up “occupy style” encampments in Cairo. When the Egyptian military and police broke up the encampments, Muslim Brotherhood supporters packed into the al Fath Mosque, which they had been using as a hospital. On August 18, both the Morsi supporters and the police fired shots. Both claim that the other side fired on them first.

On the face of it, the fact that thousands of Egyptians supported the Muslim Brotherhood was a victory for them, but millions of Egyptians turned out to oppose them. The Muslim Brotherhood’s loud past claims of majority rule are now falling on deaf ears in Egypt. The majority of Egyptians have unequivocally denounced both the Brotherhood and Morsi’s attempt to set up a personal kingdom for himself. Morsi had clearly intended to live well in the dictatorship that he was building, but for the average Egyptian, it was rapidly becoming a case of “let them eat Sharia Law.” The majority of people in Egypt don’t want Sharia Law as a substitute for a functioning government.

Depending on who you ask in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has the support of somewhere between fifteen to twenty percent of Egyptian men. In the confusion of the early post-Mubarak days, they were able to use their well-established organization to win an election with promises of religious freedom, democratic rule, and women’s rights under the label of the “Freedom and Justice Party.” Once in power, Morsi immediately betrayed his campaign promises and began to organize a powerful junta for himself and Muslim Brotherhood leaders under the guise of a Sharia Law theocracy.

On July 3, 2013, the Egyptian military calculated that it had enough popular backing to overthrow Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. The successful eviction of the Morsi supporters from the al Fath Mosque indicates that its calculation was correct. In essence, the people of Egypt decided that they were not going to tolerate the political con job that Islamic radicals pulled off, and they did something about it. The Egyptian military realized that Morsi had lost any semblance of majority backing and acted to save Egypt from falling back into the Dark Ages.

Reactions in the West are less clear.

Most of the Western media and many in Western governments have feigned shock at the Egyptian military’s “coup-that-wasn’t-a-coup.” Some in the media and government are apparently so clueless or so immersed in irrational dogma that their dismay at the “coup” is genuine.

In the US, the White House and congressmen from both major parties have engaged in poorly-staged hand wringing exercises to show their “deep concern” that the “coup-that-wasn’t-a-coup-and-therefore-can-still-be-funded-by-us” has used violence against the Muslim Brotherhood. The “deep concern” has not been deep enough to stop funding the Egyptian military.

We still want and need Egypt to allow our military aircraft to overfly that country on short notice. We still want to be able to use Egyptian air bases for staging operations in the region. And we still want our Navy to cut to the head of the traffic line at the congested Suez Canal. Obama and other politicians can express all the “deep concern” that they want over events in Egypt, but their words come at a price. Egyptians and others in the region now have their own deep concern that the US and Europe are unwilling to help them overthrow Islamic radicals.

Fortunately Saudi Arabia and the oil-rich Gulf States see themselves at odds with the Muslim Brotherhood and are enthusiastically financing the Egyptian government. The couple of billion a year that we give to Egypt no longer constitutes economic survival for that country. US money helps, but it doesn’t carry the same leverage that it once did.

Israel realizes that the Egyptian military is capable of keeping to a peace treaty with them, and that the Muslim Brotherhood was maneuvering Egypt toward war with Israel. Israel is hoping for the current Egyptian government to succeed.

Iran and its minions in Hamas are cheering for the Muslim Brotherhood to regain control in Egypt. While the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has no intention of accepting Iranian theocratic leadership, from the Iranian point of view, an Egypt led by the Muslim Brotherhood can at least be counted on to attack Israel and support the most radical elements amongst the Palestinians.

The normal variety of international adventure-tourist terrorists are doing their best to use Iranian funds and weapons to generate as much violence as possible in Egypt. My guess is that although they will cause misery, they will not be able to reinstall the Muslim Brotherhood or Sharia Law in that country.

What the future government in Egypt will look like is not altogether clear. Fortunately for Egyptians and everyone else in the region, it likely won’t include Sharia Law. They may end up with an “all new, more powerful deep cleaning” Mubarak-style junta, but for the sake of the Egyptian people, I hope that they end up with a government that reduces corruption and improves the rights and the quality of life in Egypt.

Adios, Morsi! Update on Egypt

By Jay Holmes

On July 3, 2013, as Americans were preparing to celebrate the 4th of July Independence Day, the Egyptian military acted on its threat to remove Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi from office. While it seems clear that a majority of Egyptians are happy to have Morsi gone, it’s less clear what the future holds for the Egyptian government.

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi image by Trinitresque wikimedia commons

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi
image by Trinitresque
wikimedia commons

After the fall of the ineffective Mubarak dictatorship in 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood supported Morsi as their candidate under their newer and more marketable “Freedom and Justice Party” label. They were victorious in Egypt’s first attempt at democratic elections in 2012. Though Morsi may not have had an actual majority, the various nascent opposing political parties were far less organized than the 83-year-old Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, and they were simply unable to organize in time to succeed.

When Morsi came to office, he understood the frailty of his power and acted accordingly. The Muslim Brotherhood owned Morsi completely, but held little influence over the police and military. Nevertheless, Morsi temporarily held the police and military at bay by convincing them that they would keep their positions of privilege in Egypt, and that he was operating with democratic intent.

With the police and military acquiescing, Morsi forced through legislation that gave him and the Muslim Brotherhood broad power and seemed to guarantee them dictatorial control over Egyptian political might for the foreseeable future.  It was clear for the world to see that Morsi and his “Justice and Freedom Party” were acting unjustly in pursuit of an anti-freedom political agenda.

Morsi always understood that he could easily be replaced with a new puppet by the Muslim Brotherhood at its convenience. He also understood that the growing opposition to his newer, shinier post-Mubarak dictatorship had to be repressed by the police and military in order for him and the Muslim Brotherhood to remain in power. To achieve this, Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood needed to gain effective control of the Egyptian police system, courts, and military.

As scored by events of July 3, Morsi lost the crucial battle to take control of the Egyptian military and courts. Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood-controlled Parliament managed to install new laws that satisfied the impatient radical elements of the Brotherhood, but in doing so, he lost any semblance of majority backing.

Once the frail, but fast-growing pro-democracy movement mustered more protestors and demonstrated their support from the majority of Egyptians, the Egyptian military decided that they had had enough of Morsi. They tossed him off of his throne and suspended the Egyptian constitution.

The US White House miscalculated and expressed concern that the military coup in Egypt that removed Morsi was an attempt by the Egyptian military to seize political power for themselves. The US’s failure to support the removal of Morsi has left President Obama wildly unpopular with the Egyptian public.

For the moment, Constitutional Judge Adly Mansour is acting as Interim President, and Nobel Peace Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei has been appointed Interim Prime Minister. Mansour is known to oppose Sharia Law and support democracy. Though known for his work as the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, ElBaradei  is a New York University School of Law graduate and a respected legal scholar. As an educated scholar with a reputation for openness and pragmatism, ElBaradei is not popular with the Muslim Brotherhood. Given his reputation for integrity and honesty, he will likely be, at least momentarily, popular with the majority of Egyptians and Western observers.

Interim Prime Minister Mohamed ElBaradei image from US Dept. of State

Interim Prime Minister Mohamed ElBaradei
image from US Dept. of State

At the moment, the average Egyptian voter might not be overly concerned with what Westerners think about their government, but they should be. While the US White House seems to lack a coherent policy toward Egypt, the West on the whole matters to that country.

At least some of Morsi’s inability to remain in office stems from his and the Muslim Brotherhood’s failure to understand the Egyptian economy. Morsi’s unpopularity is primarily rooted in the fact that the majority of Egyptians do not wish to live under a Sharia dictatorship. The Egyptian public’s willingness to stand up against Morsi and his government was accelerated by the economic crisis in Egypt. With each passing day of high unemployment, low foreign investment, and declining economic indicators, the willingness to openly oppose Morsi increased.

ElBaradei and Mansour must quickly build a coalition government that the Egyptian people find acceptable. If they succeed, they will be celebrated in Egypt and the West, but that celebration will be short-lived. In order to jump-start the Egyptian economy, they will need to convince the international community to invest in Egypt. If they fail to do so, then they will face renewed discontent.

From the US point of view, the current situation in Egypt constitutes an improvement. Hopefully the White House will get over its blatant miscalculations and move on to pragmatism. Though the popular anti-Obama protests in Egypt might obscure the fact, the best interests of the Egyptian people and the people of the US are not at cross purposes. Avoiding an Iranian-style dictatorship in Egypt is good news for Egyptians and for the world at large.

While our own lack of employment opportunities and stagnant economy in the US limit what the White House can do to help Egypt, President Obama could do a lot by simply staying out of the way and allowing the private sector to invest as they see fit in that country.

Some of the White House’s seemingly odd response to events in Egypt may be influenced by the US’s complicated relationship with the Turkish government. While Obama is being cursed in Egypt for his support of Egyptian President and Aspiring Dictator Morsi, the Turkish Prime Minister and Fledgling Dictator Recep Erdogan is all but publicly cursing Obama and the US for—in his view—failing to support Morsi.

With the international media focused on the fast-changing events in Egypt, it’s easy to forget that Dictator-in-Training Erdogan has lost his popularity in Turkey. Erdogan has the advantage of having had a full decade to conduct purges and bogus trials to gain a degree of control of the Turkish military, police, and courts that Morsi could only dream of. But Erdogan is showing signs of panic. Last week he was lame enough to play the “jew conspiracy” card to explain the growing protests in Turkey. Erdogan has also been angry at “blacks” lately. How that fits into his persecution conspiracy passion play is yet to be explained. Perhaps a black rap singer did something to destroy Turkey this week. I’ll have to check. But with so many of Turkey’s journalists in prison and a large military on Erdogan’s side, who needs to explain anything? The less obvious foreign policy factor in our relationship with Erdogan is the promise that Kurdish oil will flow through Turkey to the West. Though he had the availability of the Suez Canal to offer the West, Morsi had little oil to offer.

While Erdogan is wildly demanding and openly insulting to the US government, and although he is transparently a creepy despot with little regard for the Turkish people, he is becoming a creepy despot with oil, and that changes everything. But we’ll leave that particular turkey to roast another day.

In Syria, the view of Egypt varies yet again. Dictator Assad is enthusiastically pointing to Morsi’s ouster as “the end of Islamist political forces.” Given that Islamic terrorists have co-opted the Syrian revolution, Assad can enjoy that view of events. Unfortunately for him, nobody has explained this “new reality” to the various Islamic terrorist groups that are hunting for his head.

My best guess is that if the Egyptian military and police can keep foreign terrorists at bay with moderate economic investment by the West, Egypt can indeed grow a workable democracy.

Egypt’s President Morsi–Between the Crocodiles and the Leopards

By Jay Holmes

Today, from the Western point of view, we see continuing strife in Egypt centered on the basic issue of theocracy vs. democracy. The simple interpretation of that strife indicates that Egyptian President Morsi, his Muslim Brotherhood backers, and their sympathizers constitute approximately half of Egypt’s population, and that their secular opposition constitutes the other half. Each side in the theocracy vs. democracy struggle claims to represent more than 50% of the Egyptian people. Given the lack of democratic institutions in Egypt, it may be impossible to know if one side or the other actually has a 50%+ majority. While the question of any majority in Egypt is unanswerable for the present, one thing that remains certain is that Egypt remains divided, and that whichever side is in the minority, it is a very large minority.

Mohamed Morsi Trinitresque wikimedia

Mohamed Morsi, image by Trinitresque, wikimedia commons

Another important factor in the ongoing Egyptian revolution is the identity and personality of Egypt’s President Morsi. While Morsi was marketed as a “reformer” and a “moderate,” he has demonstrated that he is neither.  Thus far, Morsi’s only attempts at reforms have focused on reforming Egypt into his own personal dictatorship while trying to consolidate his own personal power. From outside of Egypt, it may appear that Morsi is in charge and running the show in that country. From inside of Morsi’s office, the view might be more complicated.

Morsi needed backing from the Islamic Brotherhood and the religious leaders of Egypt to obtain power. Now that he has succeeded in that goal, he is unable to exercise that power without the direct influence of the Egyptian clergy. If Egypt’s Sunni religious leaders were to turn on Morsi, he would be left with approximately zero percent backing. I assume his family and closest friends would still be in his corner, but it would be a very lonely and dangerous corner. Without the backing of that Sunni leadership, Morsi’s power would evaporate like a droplet of water in the Egyptian Desert. Morsi has no choice but to keep the Egyptian clergy happy.

What Morsi now has to come to terms with is the fact that he is dealing with a group of people who specialize in being unhappy and hard to please. In fact, being unhappy is the second most popular hobby amongst Sunni religious leaders. Their first most popular hobby is being demanding. Have fun with that Mr. President.

The recent, well-publicized torture and murder of Egyptian anti-Morsi activist Mohammed El-Gendy while in police custody has become a clear symbol of the lack of reform in Egyptian government and the lack of human rights that prevail in Egypt. While police brutality in Egypt seemed to be on the decline after Morsi’s election, El-Gendy’s torture and death are by no means an isolated case. Morsi is claiming to be investigating El-Gendy’s death, but the half of Egypt that does not support him is unconvinced that any meaningful investigation will take place.

The Egyptian military and police apparatus are not traditionally Islamic institutions. They have a history of clearly secular leanings. And why wouldn’t they? Who needs a cleric to obey when you have fighter jets and well-made tanks on your side?

The clearly secular history of Egypt’s military and police forces lead us to an obvious question. Why have Egypt’s secular military and police protected Morsi and their old enemies in the Islamic Brotherhood?

We could ask Morsi, the military, or the police, but it’s unlikely that they would answer the question sincerely. My best guess is that Morsi and his religious bosses made a deal with those powerful institutions. That deal would have to center on the police and military maintaining positions of privilege in exchange for protecting Morsi and the Sunni leadership. For that deal to remain in place, Morsi must not attempt to reform the military or police by reducing their power and privilege.

Anyone care to guess on what will happen in the investigation of El-Gendy’s death? At best, a scapegoat will be found and barbecued. We should not expect more than that as long as Morsi remains in power. If he turns against the military or police, no amount of prayers and support from the Sunni leadership will keep him from suffering an untimely accident.

The recent state visit to Egypt by Iran’s least skilled actor, President Ahmadinejad, has provided us with great theater. Unlike the audiences in London’s Cockpit Theater, the audiences in Egypt and Iran are not at all in agreement as to precisely which drama they have enjoyed.

If we ask Ahmadinejad and his masters, or even if we don’t ask, they will quickly tell us that audiences were enthralled by his brilliant and triumphant visit to Egypt, and that it heralds a new day of Sunni cooperation and understanding with the great and wise Shia leaders in Iran. They will tell us that Egypt and Iran are quickly becoming great allies in the struggle against the evils of the non-Islamic world. About all this proves is that the Iranian theocracy is not incapable of comedy, albeit accidental comedy.

If we ask the Egyptian Sunni leadership what drama they watched, they would explain that they didn’t watch, but rather took center stage in the play. That they scolded Ahmadinejad for Iran’s interference in the internal affairs of Gulf states and for their continuing persecution of the Iranian Sunni minority. And that is what they did.

If we ask Morsi what occurred, he will tell us that Iran has promised economic assistance to Egypt, and that the two countries have laid the groundwork for a strong friendship. He would blush as he said those words.

If we ask Morsi’s opponents what occurred, they would tell us that we have seen yet more proof that Morsi is anti-Western, and that the USA is idiotic for sending Morsi F-16 fighters. Many members of Congress are agreeing with that view this week.

F-16 Fighting Falcon

F-16 Fighting Falcon. President Obama has sold four of these to Morsi and the

Muslim Brotherhood. He has promised them sixteen more.

image by US Air Force

Morsi might be the dictator of Egypt for the moment, but he is a dictator who stands on a thin-edged wall with crocodiles on one side and angry leopards on the other. One slip, and all his problems in this world will be over.

The Islamic Brotherhood, with the acquiescence of Egypt’s military and state police apparatus, holds a strong position in Egypt. It will not be easy for those Egyptians who seek human rights and democracy to wrestle that power away from Morsi and his theocratic masters. One strategic disadvantage that plagues the reformers is the simple fact that police and judicial reform are an essential part of their agenda. Yet, without those basic goals, as Morsi has proven, any reform would be meaningless.

The cards are stacked against Egypt’s reform movement, but Egyptians have proven to be resilient. As events in Tunisia and Libya have demonstrated, the dictator does not always win.

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‘Jay Holmes’, is an intelligence veteran of the Cold War and remains an anonymous member of the intelligence community. His writing partner, Piper Bayard, is the public face of their partnership.

You may contact them in blog comments, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Piper Bayard, or by email at bayardandholmes@bayardandholmes.com.

© 2013 Jay Holmes. All content on this page is protected by copyright. If you would like to use any part of this, please contact us at the above links to request permission.

Egypt: The Corner of Theocracy and Democracy

By Jay Holmes

When the people of Egypt ousted President Hosni Mubarak on February 12, 2011, most Western media outlets assumed that the anti-Mubarak protestors were de facto pro-democracy. However, Egyptians are not so cohesive, and they have a complex variety of political factions and goals.

Egyptian Protestors Tahrir Square Nov 2011 Lilian Wagdy wikimedia

Image of Egyptian protestors by Lilian Wagdy, wikimedia commons

The protestors ranged from sophisticated, well-educated individuals seeking representative government to foreign agents acting on behalf of Iran, wanting to establish an Islamic theocracy. The single largest group of these Egyptian activists was, and still is, the Muslim Brotherhood.

After Mubarak departed, the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), led by Commander-in-Chief Mohamed Tantawi, took control of the Egyptian government. This was a temporary measure until a new government could be formed.

Once in control, the SCAF assured Egypt and the world that it would suspend the emergency laws that had been in effect for four decades. It also said it would conduct fair and open elections, honor all of Egypt’s international agreements, and maintain peace and security. All of these promises were difficult to believe since the Military was involved in violence against the protestors; however, the SCAF appears to have done its best to accomplish these goals.

The SCAF greatly reduced military tribunals against civilians, and on some fronts, it made positive developments in human rights in Egypt. For example, journalists and foreigners are less frequently beaten, arrested, and kidnapped in that country. But members of non-Islamic religions continue to suffer heavy discrimination and live in fear–particularly Coptic Christians, who are frequently murdered by Islamic radicals while the Egyptian government looks the other way.

The SCAF conducted tainted but believable elections for the national parliament and for the presidency. To the dismay of the SCAF, the Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate, Mohamed Morsi, won the presidential election. The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist organizations have grown in political power since that time.

On the international front, Egypt’s relationship with Israel is much worse than it was two years ago, and Egypt has grown closer to Iran. Meanwhile, Egypt’s relationship with the US can be best described as Egypt politely accepting US aid while smiling and ignoring US concerns.

Western media corporations present Morsi as a “reformer” and a moderate. However, based on Morsi’s actions and his selective inactions, it appears he is simply paying lip service to moderation to continue to receive US aid and Western acquiescence to his rule.

Morsi is quick to tell the US and other Western diplomats that he intends to bring more security and human rights to all Egyptians, but he has been slow to take simple actions to back those words up. In fact, last month, on November 22, Morsi abandoned his democratic pretenses and decreed absolute powers for himself.

Since then, Morsi proposed a constitution that is Islamist in its composition and does not ensure equal rights for non-Islamists who would prefer a secular government. If Morsi supports an agenda of national unification for Egypt as he claims, he certainly hides it well. Loopholes in this proposed constitution grant near-dictatorial powers to the Office of the President and appear to make the document close to useless for the practice of government.

Egypt’s previously less organized non-Islamists were inspired to action this week. They took to the streets in the tens of thousands to protest Morsi’s dictatorial decrees and the proposed constitution. Unfortunately for them, though Morsi responded by rescinding his power grabbing decrees, he is going forward with a national referendum to implement the constitution.

The decrees gave power to Morsi, personally. The constitution would give him the same powers through his office as President of Egypt, making the rescinding of the decrees rather hollow.

Many Western media corporations are largely ignoring the referendum and the basic outline of the proposed Egyptian constitution. Still others are representing this as a “do or die” moment for democracy and human rights in Egypt.

I view it a bit differently. My best guess is that, since Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood allies will conduct the election and count the votes, they are not likely to lose at the polls. The referendum to implement the constitution with its excessive powers to the Office of the President will pass by a narrow margin.

While the referendum and the constitution are certainly important, they will not settle the question of whether Morsi will succeed in consolidating an Iranian-style Islamic theocracy in Egypt. For one thing, not all Muslim Brotherhood members are radical. Though the moderate members are now marginalized from power, they do remain alive and present in Egyptian politics.

Since the non-Islamists don’t feel represented by the government and the proposed constitution, they may not acquiesce to the constitution and the new Egyptian government as Morsi and his power brokers assume. Morsi’s and the Muslim Brotherhood’s success in consolidating power for themselves will depend on whether they can force their opponents to obey whatever state they create.

Underneath the referendum for the acceptance of the constitution, there is a deeper, long term game playing out in Egypt. The radical factions of the Muslim Brotherhood likely feel that if they bide their time, their opponents, lacking in any outside help or international interest, will simply exhaust themselves and give up without being able to force any real concessions.

If Morsi really does have the 51% majority that he claims to have, that still leaves over forty-two million angry Egyptians opposed to his rule. For the moment, they still have voices.

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*‘Jay Holmes’, is an intelligence veteran of the Cold War and remains an anonymous member of the intelligence community. His writing partner, Piper Bayard, is the public face of their partnership.

© 2012 Jay Holmes. All content on this page is protected by copyright. If you would like to use any part of this, please contact us at the above links to request permission.

Intelligence Perspective on the Recent US Embassy Attacks

Perspective on the Recent US Embassy Attacks

By Intelligence Operative Jay Holmes*

American news followers of the USA type have spent the last week watching, reading, and hearing reports of protests and attacks against US diplomatic compounds in Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Pakistan and Tunisia.

At the US consulate in Benghazi, well-armed attackers murdered US Ambassador Christopher Stevens. We extend our sincere condolences to the family of Ambassador Stevens and to the families of other Americans and Libyans who were also murdered in the attack.

Libyans objecting to embassy attack, image from cnn.com

These attacks naturally have stirred up anger in many Americans and Westerners. What is less visible in the news is that many Libyans are also outraged by the attack. Responses in the USA vary with political persuasion and with individual interpretations.

Violent protests and attacks on embassies have become a common marketing tactic of groups selling various anti-American agendas around the world. To put this current wave of attacks into perspective, let’s review two glaring examples of diplomatic conduct involving US embassies.

On December 8, 1941, the Japanese sneak attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was celebrated in Japan as a great feat of arms and a fantastic victory for the Japanese war machine. In the US, the attack stirred anger and a grim resolve to do all that was necessary to defeat Japan. In fact, when journalists asked US Admiral William Halsey what would happen in response to the Japanese, Halsey said “When we’re through with them, Japanese will be a language spoken only in hell.”

At that time, the Japanese had been at war in Asia for decades and had inflicted a level of brutality on the peoples of China and Korea that the Japanese history book writers are still too ashamed to admit to today. So then, in those violent and brutal times, what happened to the US diplomatic staff and their families at the US embassy and consulates in Japan? What happened to the Japanese embassy staff and their families in the USA?

Nothing. The Japanese temporarily confined all US embassy staff to the embassy grounds, and then shipped them to a neutral port in a Portuguese African colony for repatriation. We did the same thing with their embassy staff. There were no riots or threatening mobs. Even in the midst of a war, both nations respected their diplomatic agreements concerning embassies.

At the opposite extreme is the infamous Iranian attack on the US embassy in Tehran in 1979. By attacking the US embassy and taking the residents hostage, the ignorant mullahs running the Iranian government wanted to humiliate the USA. To a degree they did that, but they also unwittingly exposed themselves as being more barbaric than the Japanese war criminal Tojo had shown himself to be in handling the US embassy in 1941. Iran has yet to recover its credibility in the community of civilized nations since that ill-advised attack.

Students attack US Embassy in Tehran, Iran, 1979

When trying to understand the current wave of protests, it helps to consider them in a broad context across time and space. Personally, in the case of Libya, I will wait for US investigators, including an FBI forensic team, to conclude its investigation before making any general assumptions.

We should note that many Libyans are bluntly condemning the murder of the US ambassador. While thugs posing as “religious leaders” may be at play in Libya, the majority of the Libyan people are too sophisticated to accept a diet of Death to America Soup in lieu of the human rights and freedom that most of them were seeking when they ran down Qaddafi and executed him.

On the other hand, the Egyptian security forces have suffered no great upheaval in recent times. They are a well-funded, large system with plenty of experience handling protesters, and the protesters are well-riddled with police informants. The Egyptian government has chosen to allow the attack on the US embassy in Cairo to occur.

The Egyptian government could have intervened more effectively and much sooner. It didn’t. This begs a question. Why are taxpayers in the USA financing the Egyptian military and security forces?

Now that the US embassy in Cairo has been tidied up, and Egyptian President Morsi has returned to Egypt from his begging tour of Western nations, it might be a great time to ask him that particular question. If he actually is presiding over a government that is incapable of protecting a foreign embassy, then we need to ask ourselves what precisely we are investing in in Egypt.

Just as interesting as the foreign governments’ responses to the attacks on US diplomatic locations on their soil are the responses by the Western media and politicians. The basic party lines are so far playing out in predictable fashion. The Democratic party line is that this was all caused by a nasty little amateur film maker with bad taste and is in no way connected to President Obama’s foreign policies or lack thereof and likely had nothing to do with any terrorist groups. The Republican party line is equally predictable. “Yet another foreign policy debacle by that apologetic fool Obama.”

As for the filmmaker, I have not bothered to view the video. The net is filled with amateur video makers flinging unsophisticated insults across any and every political and religious chasm in the world today. I don’t bother watching them.

The suggestion by some that we should surrender yet more of our fundamental rights and place controls on our free speech to avoid angering the ever-so-sensitive minority of violent protesters in Islamic nations strikes me as a childish response. If anyone sincerely feels that such controls are healthy and proper for a society, then I suggest that they waste no further time suffering in the Land of the Free and quickly make their escape to North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, or some other suitable controlled-speech environment where they won’t have to fret about anyone publicizing anything annoying to those governments.

For those of us who enjoy free speech and are honest enough to afford it to others, we will have to settle for less radical responses to the current protests.

The best foreign policy comes from contemplating as many verifiable facts as can be ascertained and then calmly formulating a clear, rational, and effective response in support of our foreign policy goals. Let’s hope that everyone in Washington can take a break from the campaigning long enough to remember their duty to the American people and do just that.

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*‘Jay Holmes’, is an intelligence veteran of the Cold War and remains an anonymous member of the intelligence community. His writing partner, Piper Bayard, is the public face of their partnership.

You may contact them in blog comments, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Piper Bayard, or by email at BH@BayardandHolmes.com.

© 2012 Jay Holmes. All content on this page is protected by copyright. If you would like to use any part of this, please contact us at the above links to request permission.