Egyptian, US militaries serve as stabilising force in Middle East, Africa


The decades-old military alliance between Egypt and the United States will continue to play a vital role in bringing peace and stability to the region as new threats emerge.

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US and Egyptian forces participate in the joint exercise Bright Star near the Mohamed Naguib Military Base, Egypt. [CENTCOM]
US and Egyptian forces participate in the joint exercise Bright Star near the Mohamed Naguib Military Base, Egypt. [CENTCOM]

Egypt is ranked as a top 15 power in the 2023 Global Fire Power Index and boasts the largest military on the African continent, and one of the most powerful in the Middle East -- a position it has achieved with significant assistance from its longtime ally the United States.

Egypt operates US armoured vehicles and flies US aircraft, and there is an active exchange programme between the countries, which regularly engage in multilateral military training exercises in Egypt and across the region.

Since 1978, the United States has provided Egypt with more than $50 billion in military assistance, the US State Department said in April 2022.

This amounts to $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt each year, on average, according to the US Department of Defence (Pentagon).

US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin stands with Egyptian Minister of Defence Muhammad Zaki in Cairo during a March 8 visit. [Secretary of Defence Lloyd J. Austin III Twitter account]
US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin stands with Egyptian Minister of Defence Muhammad Zaki in Cairo during a March 8 visit. [Secretary of Defence Lloyd J. Austin III Twitter account]
A US aircraft carrier transits the Suez Canal in 2019. [CENTCOM]
A US aircraft carrier transits the Suez Canal in 2019. [CENTCOM]

The Egyptian army's core combat power is the tank.

Since 1987, Egypt has assembled 1,200 US M1A1 Abrams battle tanks under a co-production programme with the United States, according to a February 2019 report published by the Carnegie Middle East Centre.

"Combined with the 1,700 older US-supplied M60 tanks, and various remaining Soviet supplied models, Egypt possesses at least 4,000 main battle tanks, far and away the largest such fleet in the region," the report said.

Enhanced naval power

Egypt, which controls the Suez Canal and plays a vital role in securing commercial shipping and maritime navigation in regional waters, has significant naval forces in both the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.

It has boosted its naval power in recent years, inaugurating the Berenice Military Base on the Red Sea coast near Aswan in January 2020, Egypt Today reported.

The land, naval and air base is the largest in Africa, and can accommodate huge vessels and aircraft carriers, military and passenger planes and commercial vessels, the media outlet said.

Berenice was established to ensure Egyptian forces are ready for all tasks entrusted to them in the southern strategic direction, Egypt's presidency said.

Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi inaugurated Mohammed Naguib Base west of Alexandria in July 2017. It has been heavily used in military exercises since its opening.

Per Egypt Today, Egypt has 45 patrol boats, 31 mine warfare ships, eight submarines, seven corvette warships, seven frigates and two aircraft carriers.

In December 2022, Egypt took the helm of Combined Maritime Forces Task Force 153 (CTF 153), which focuses on international maritime security and capacity building efforts in the Red Sea, Bab al-Mandeb and Gulf of Aden.

Multilateral military drills

In a March 8 meeting with Egyptian Minister of Defence Mohamed Zaki, US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin praised Egypt for taking command of CTF 153, and reaffirmed the United States' commitment to the bilateral relationship.

The upcoming combined military exercise, Bright Star 23, demonstrates Egypt's leadership and the strength of continued US-Egypt co-operation to improve regional security and credible deterrence, he said.

Egypt and the United States on March 20 concluded a joint military exercise in Egypt, "SOF02", involving units from the Egyptian paratroopers, thunderbolt forces, naval special forces and US special forces, Egypt's military said.

Security forces received training on storming a terrorist hotspot within a residential area, freeing hostages, arresting terrorist elements, and taking measures to confront improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Egyptian navy and navy special forces personnel also took part in the joint international maritime exercise Cutlass Express (IMX/CE23) in Bahrain and Jordan between February 26 and March 17, the Egyptian military said.

The training highlighted the value of international co-operation in maintaining maritime security and protecting global trade routes.

Around 7,000 personnel from 50 countries participated in the drill, including the United States, Ahram Online reported, with Egypt taking over the naval command and control centre during the portion of the exercise held in Bahrain.

A century of close ties

The United States and Egypt marked 100 years of diplomatic relations in 2022.

Welcoming al-Sisi to the Pentagon on December 14, Austin noted Egypt's leadership role in the Middle East and Africa and on the world stage.

"The administration greatly appreciates Egypt's leadership and co-operation and achieving our shared security objectives," Austin said.

He praised Egypt for its "courage in becoming the first Arab state to establish diplomatic relations with Israel" and for its stewardship of the Suez Canal.

The two discussed the wide range of threats posed by Iran, including its provision of drones to Russia that have been used to attack civilians and civilian infrastructure in Ukraine.

Austin also praised Egypt for its regional leadership roles, including hosting the 2022 United Nations (COP27) climate change conference.

In September 2022, senior delegations from the Pentagon and the Egyptian Ministry of Defence met for the 33rd US-Egypt Military Co-operation Committee at the Pentagon.

The delegations exchanged views on regional threats and US and Egyptian security priorities, discussing US-Egypt interoperability, defence planning and continued co-ordination on border security and counter-terrorism efforts.

Counter-terrorism co-operation

Meeting with Zaki at the Pentagon in July 2019, then-US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper said the United States sought to expand counter-terrorism co-operation with Egypt.

He noted that Egypt is uniquely positioned as an Arab country in Africa and the Middle East to spread "the culture of peace" as a member of both the Arab League and the African Union.

Egypt has waged a successful counter-terror campaign in Sinai against an "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) affiliate and other extremist groups.

Speaking in Sinai on April 1, al-Sisi said the fight against terrorism that took place in the last decade in the peninsula "is no less significant than any fight carried out by Egypt in previous battles", Ahram Online reported.

"Remember, 10 years ago many people were asking when terrorism would be over," he said, addressing the heads of Sinai tribes and personnel in the 2nd and 3rd Field Armies. "Now, thanks to you, it is over."

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