Dempsey Addresses Concerns With Egyptian Military Leaders

ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, Feb. 12, 2012 — The chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said he voiced both con­cerns and com­mit­ment to Egypt­ian defense lead­ers dur­ing meet­ings held yes­ter­day in Cairo.

Egypt­ian Field Mar­shal Mohammed Hus­sein Tanta­wi, left, Egypt­ian Lt. Gen. Sami Hafez Enan, chief of staff of the Egypt­ian armed forces, cen­ter, and U.S. Army Gen. Mar­tin E. Dempsey, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speak with each oth­er at the Egypt­ian Min­istry of Defense in Cairo, Egypt, Feb. 11, 2012. DOD pho­to by D. Myles Cullen
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Army Gen. Mar­tin E. Dempsey met with his Egypt­ian coun­ter­part, Lt. Gen. Sami Hafez Enan, as well as with Field Mar­shal Mohamed Hus­sein Tanta­wi and oth­er offi­cials at Egypt’s Min­istry of Defense. They dis­cussed the long-term rela­tion­ship between the U.S. and Egypt and sev­er­al of that nation’s region­al issues. They also addressed Egypt’s inves­ti­ga­tion of alleged­ly ille­gal for­eign fund­ing for pro-democ­ra­cy non­govern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions by more than 40 Egypt­ian and Amer­i­can activists, includ­ing 19 U.S. cit­i­zens.

Sev­er­al Amer­i­cans who are tar­gets of the inves­ti­ga­tion have not been allowed to leave Egypt and have tak­en refuge at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. Dempsey’s trip was planned long before this sit­u­a­tion devel­oped and caused ten­sion between the two nations.

“We dis­cussed that [sit­u­a­tion] very pro­fes­sion­al­ly,” the chair­man told Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice dur­ing the flight back. “I expressed the fact that it caused us con­cern, not only about the par­tic­u­lar NGOs and indi­vid­u­als cur­rent­ly unable to leave the coun­try, but rather more broad­ly.”

Dempsey said he asked the defense lead­ers, “ ‘What sig­nal should I take from this in terms of how you see Egypt’s future? Are you going to become iso­lat­ed? Are you going to pre­serve indi­vid­ual free­doms or deny them?’ ” He not­ed that “they don’t have the answers right now.”

Along with his con­cern, the chair­man expressed the Defense Department’s com­mit­ment to com­mon inter­ests, choic­es and con­se­quences.

Dempsey, who hap­pened to vis­it Cairo on the Feb. 11 anniver­sary of the over­throw of for­mer Pres­i­dent Hos­ni Mubarak, said that although Egypt has always had a mil­i­tary pres­i­dent, the coun­try “has nev­er been a democ­ra­cy of the sort they’re try­ing to devel­op now.”

The chair­man added, “Frankly they’re strug­gling — I think [that] is prob­a­bly a fair term — to fig­ure this all out, to fol­low the time­line for the dif­fer­ent elec­tions, the fram­ing of the con­sti­tu­tion and even­tu­al­ly the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in June.”

Dempsey said he found the Egypt­ian mil­i­tary “quite eager” to get out of the coun­try-run­ning busi­ness.

The chair­man has had five-year rela­tion­ship with Enan and Tanta­wi that began in 2007 when Dempsey was deputy com­man­der of U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand, and that con­tin­ued after he became act­ing com­man­der in 2008.

On the foun­da­tion of that rela­tion­ship, Dempsey said, he went into what might have been a tough meet­ing and was able to be can­did.

“But we’ve got some work to do” on resolv­ing ten­sions relat­ed to the NGO issue, he added, “and so do they.”

The mil­i­tary lead­ers also dis­cussed joint exer­cis­es like Bright Star, a bien­ni­al, mul­ti-nation­al exer­cise designed to strength­en mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary rela­tion­ships and improve readi­ness and inter­op­er­abil­i­ty between U.S., Egypt­ian and coali­tion forces.

“We of course post­poned it in [20]11 because [the Egypt­ian mil­i­tary lead­ers] were rather busy,” Dempsey said, adding, “We’re both eager to pick it up again in [20]13. But there are some issues that have to be resolved soon in order to do that.”

Dur­ing a year filled with mon­u­men­tal changes for the gov­ern­ment, cit­i­zens and mil­i­tary forces of Egypt, the army has become inward­ly focused on such new respon­si­bil­i­ties as inter­nal secu­ri­ty, the chair­man said.

“I think they’ve adapt­ed to that pret­ty well,” Dempsey said, and attrib­uted the country’s abil­i­ty “to pro­mote a process toward democ­ra­cy — notice I didn’t say they’re there yet — because of our rela­tion­ship with them.”

At any giv­en time, he added, “200 to 300 of their offi­cers are in our schools, and I think that we should take some sense of sat­is­fac­tion that they have done that.”

Dempsey said the U.S. mil­i­tary will con­tin­ue to remain engaged with Egypt­ian lead­ers as they work through the changes that lie ahead.

“In June they’ll salute a civil­ian pres­i­dent for the first time … and then they’ll go back to bar­racks. But I don’t think it’s going to be as clean as that.”

Con­tend­ing with being sub­or­di­nate to a civil­ian author­i­ty won’t be easy, the chair­man said, but today “they’re all say­ing the right things, and I believe they all intend the right things.”

The true test, he added, will be the remain­ing elec­tions, the fram­ing of the con­sti­tu­tion and the June pres­i­den­tial elec­tions.

“That’s why we want to stay engaged with them … not [to] shape or influ­ence, but sim­ply be there as a part­ner to help them under­stand their new respon­si­bil­i­ties,” Dempsey said.

“I think they eager to have that kind of part­ner­ship with us,” he added, “but we have to get beyond this NGO issue.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)