Egypt and the United States are postponing a major military exercise called Bright Star, the largest drills of their kind in the region. The multi-national training exercise conducted in Egypt, and co-hosted by Egypt and the United States normally occurs every two years, and are intended to strengthen military-to-military relationships between the two longtime allies.
But unrest from the transition from former President Hosni Mubarak, now on trial, as well as rising anti-American sentiment in Egypt have led the two governments to cancel this year’s drill, planning to resume Bright Star in 2013. Destabilizing events on the Sinai Peninsula may also have led to the decision to cancel.
The cancelation of the military training exercise is not a sign of weakening U.S.-Egyptian ties, however. The military junta ruling Egypt’s beleaguered political transition continues to be emphatically supported by the U.S. military establishment, just last month announcing 125 tanks, M256 Armament Systems, M2 .50 caliber machine guns, 7.62mm machine guns, spare parts, maintenance, support equipment, personnel training and other related elements of logistics and program support. Another $1.5 billion in U.S. aid, mostly military aid, has been allocated to Egypt for fiscal year 2012.
This despite an intensifying clampdown on free expression by Egypt’s military. Human Rights Watch this week spoke out against the military prosecutor’s decision to prosecute a youth leader for “insulting the military” and “a lawyer, on charges related to speech protected by the right to freedom of expression.” These and a large number of civilians are facing trials in Egypt’s military courts, “which do not meet basic due process standards.”
The report likened the current bulk of prosecutions to those that occurred under Mubarak, where “overly broad provisions in the penal code” were used “to crack down on legitimate criticism of the government’s human rights record or criticism of the political situation.” This lack of democratic change in post-Mubarak Egypt has not led to any reduction in U.S. support or military cooperation.