When the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate won Egypt’s presidential elections, the comforting theory pronounced by diplomats and pundits worldwide was that power would force the Brotherhood to moderate its views: Once in power, its first priority would have to be rescuing Egypt’s shattered economy, and this would force it to avoid radical steps liable to antagonize Western donors.
That power isn’t moderating the Brotherhood is crystal clear already: Within two months of taking office, President Mohamed Morsi had already blatantly violated the cardinal principle of the peace treaty with Israel–the demilitarization of Sinai–by sending tanks into the area near the Israeli border without first obtaining Israel’s permission. But now it turns out the Brotherhood also doesn’t care about the economy. It’s only Morsi’s third month in office, and he is already negotiating to spend hundreds of millions of dollars he doesn’t have on something that won’t help the economy one whit: two state-of-the-art submarines from Germany.
The price tag for a new German submarine is about $510 million, meaning two would cost over $1 billion. Thus Morsi is planning to waste more than a fifth of the $4.8 billion loan he just requested from the International Monetary Fund not on helping Egypt’s economy–the ostensible purpose for which he sought the money–but on acquiring expensive military equipment for which Egypt has no conceivable need: It isn’t currently facing a maritime threat from any country or terrorist organization, nor is there reason to think it will in the future.
Or to put it another way, Morsi plans to blow the entirety of the $1 billion debt relief package he is now negotiating with Washington on military hardware rather than helping Egypt’s economy.
The first obvious conclusion from this fact is that neither Washington nor the IMF should approve the requested aid. There might be valid reasons for giving Egypt aid to rebuild its economy. But there are none at all for giving it money to purchase state-of-the-art submarines.
Far more worrying, however, is the issue of why Egypt even wants these subs–because the only possible purpose they could serve is for use against Israel.
Granted, the two countries are officially at peace. But Egypt’s army has continued to view Israel as its principal enemy, and to train accordingly, throughout the decades since the treaty was signed in 1979. Moreover, Israel is the only country in the region that has a state-of-the-art submarine force itself: It recently took possession of its fourth German-built sub, and has two more on order. Taken together, those two facts make it hard to envision any other purpose an Egyptian submarine fleet could rationally serve.
And when you add in Morsi’s move to remilitarize Sinai, the final conclusion from the submarine deal becomes inescapable: Morsi’s top priority isn’t rehabilitating Egypt’s economy, but preparing for war with Israel.