War College connection gives U.S. influence in Egypt’s struggle: Matt Zencey
When the Egyptian military removed the country’s divisive but democratically-elected president, Mohammed Morsi, the action was led by a general who had studied for almost a year at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle.
The close personal relationships General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi developed through his time at the War College could help the U.S. influence the course of events there, according to retired Col. Stephen Gerras, who teaches at the college.
“It would be easier for Americans to have conversations with al-Sisi than maybe with his predecessor,” Gerras said this week on WITF’s Radio Smart Talk. Gerras was al-Sisi’s faculty advisor and taught four of the courses the general took.
Because the general spent time at the War College, Gerras said, high-ranking Americans now have a chance to “Say, hey, here’s kind of what our expectations are and so forth, we hope you – or encourage you to – move in this direction,” Gerras told WITF listeners. “And I think he would be very responsive to that, because he understands Americans, he’s lived in America, he knows our values.”
“Hopefully we can influence him to move in the direction we think is best.”
(Whether anyone from the U.S. military actually used this channel of communication, War College staff wouldn’t typically know, according to spokeswoman Carol Kerr. Gerras did not respond to a Pennlive request for an interview after appearing on WITF. Spokeswoman Kerr said War College faculty are busy preparing for a new year of classes starting in August.)
Gerras told the radio audience he was very favorably impressed by the man in the middle of Egypt’s critical events.
“I saw General al-Sisi almost every day. … He’s a very smart officer, very serious. He’s pious and he’s warm,” Gerras said on the radio show.
So how does someone of such good character, schooled in American values, end up forcing a nation’s democratically-elected president from power?
Given the mass protests against President Morsi, Gerras said, he assumes al-Sisi “really thought he was representing the will of the people…. He would think he was doing the right thing.”
When President Morsi picked al-Sisi, a devout Muslim, to lead the country’s military, Egyptian liberals were concerned. The Egyptian military has traditionally been secular, and liberals worried that al-Sisi’s appointment signaled that Morsi’s allies in the Muslim Brotherhood would have new influence in the country’s most powerful institution.
But a year later, prompted by mass protests, al-Sisi led the military action to remove Morsi. The general is now deputy prime minister of a transitional government planning for elections and a return to civilian rule.
Like all international fellows at the War College, al-Sisi lived out in the community.
Al-Sisi and the others learn “what is American life like,” said Col. Michael McCrea, a War College faculty member also speaking on the WITF program. “They go to local restaurants. They go to local sports events or musicals or theater. It’s really a cultural immersion for a 10-month period.”
And that speaks to an important aspect of life in our region.
The lives we lead, and the hospitality we show, shape the impressions of future leaders who will return to their countries and shape events there.
“I think that Central Pennsylvanians don’t realize that they’re really ambassadors for the U.S. with these people who are going to go out and have significant influence in a lot of countries around the world,” Gerras said.
Central Pennsylvania, Gerras said, “is a great place to expose them to American culture.”
Whatever the War College and we Central Pennsylvanians are doing seems to have the desired effect.
Col. McCrea says that quite often, as the international fellows are leaving and reflect back on their experience, “They have said to me they have literally changed their view about America and Americans.”
As for how Gen. al-Sisi will conduct himself, Gerras is optimistic. He says the War College emphasizes “the ethical application of military power .… Hopefully our international fellows leave knowing, at least on the international stage, what is considered appropriate conduct.”
Matt Zencey is Deputy Opinions Editor of PennLive and The Patriot-News. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @MattZencey.
This version has been updated to correct the spelling of Stephen Gerras’ name.