Jamestown Board Visit to Egypt

The Jamestown Foundation is proud to announce that a board delegation recently visited Egypt from May 8 to 11. The 13-person delegation was led by former CENTCOM commander General James N. Mattis (ret) and consisted of Jamestown board members, private businessmen and several experts on international terrorism. The focus of the three-day visit to Egypt was to learn more about the threats to Egyptian security following the June 2013 Revolution, particularly the ongoing insurgency in Sinai.

During the three-day visit, the Jamestown delegation met with senior Egyptian and U.S. officials, including U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Stephen Beecroft, as well as Major General Charles W. Hooper of the U.S. Army, the senior ranking defense official at the U.S. Embassy. Senior Egyptian officials, included the commander-in-chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces, Sedki Sobhi, as well as Fayza Aboulnaga, the National Security Adviser to the President of Egypt, and other key senior figures. The delegation also was hosted at several receptions by leading Egyptian philanthropists and businessmen.

Discussing the visit, Jamestown President Glen Howard noted that “it was an honor to have General Mattis lead the delegation and obtain his insights about the upheaval that shook Egypt over the course of two revolutions and understand the vast strategic importance that this country offers to American interests in the Middle East.” Upon the conclusion of the visit, General Mattis noted that “Egypt remains a vital American partner in the Middle East, and it is imperative that relations between the two countries remain positive and strong.”

Jamestown derived the following key takeaways from the three-day visit:

  • With a population of 91 million, Egypt is a country in the middle of the Middle East and is simply too big to be ignored by U.S. strategists. Some experts predicted that in less than 30 years, Egypt’s population will double.
  • The continuing civil war inside Libya, according to one senior Egyptian official, “is creating another Syria on Egypt’s doorstep” as the spillover from the conflict there threatens Egypt’s stability. In addition, Libya is becoming a major logistics hub for terrorist groups operating throughout the region.
  • The Suez Canal remains a strategic transportation conduit for the transit of American military aircraft and supplies to the Persian Gulf; U.S. access to the canal remains more important than ever.
  • The insurgency in the Sinai remains a major security concern for the Egyptian government as the flow of weapons from former weapons warehouses in Libya have fueled the Sinai insurgency—particularly the arrival of Man Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADs) from Libya, which are being used by the insurgents to devastating effect against Egyptian Army helicopters.
  • Hundreds of underground tunnels have been found on the border with the Gaza strip, and one senior Egyptian official even put the number at 2,600. (Jamestown has no means to confirm this statistic.) The Egyptian military is taking steps to eradicate these tunnels by creating a one-kilometer buffer zone along the border that eventually could be made as wide as five kilometers.
  • Egyptian society is fatigued after four years of revolutionary upheaval caused by two revolutions, and many segments of society there welcome the return to stability and the upturn in economic activity that has come in the past 12 months. 
  • The country’s all-important tourism sector is rebounding. Revenue from tourism has now climbed back to $7 billion annually, but is still far below the $12 billion high achieved in 2010, prior to the 2011 revolution.
  • Construction of a second channel in the Suez Canal will be completed by August, which will allow Egypt to introduce two-way traffic in the canal, significantly boosting the country’s revenue.

Over the course of many days of discussions with Egyptian officials, a key insight that stood out was an observation by one official that summed up Egypt’s experience in the past several decades:

“We’ve tried pan Arabism, we’ve tried military dictatorship, we’ve tried Islamic rule… none has really worked. The only choice left now is constitutionalism, and somehow we must make it work or we are going to fail.”

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Founded in 1984, The Jamestown Foundation is an independent, non-partisan research institution dedicated to providing timely information concerning critical political and strategic developments in China, Russia, Eurasia and the world of terrorism. Jamestown produces three periodic publications: Eurasia Daily Monitor, Terrorism Monitor and China Brief. Jamestown research and analysis is available to the public free-of-charge via Jamestown’s website, www.jamestown.org.