A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Thoughts on the Ignatius-Tohamy Interview

David Ignatius at The Washington Post had an interview many of you will have already seen with Egyptian General Intelligence Chief Gen. Muhammad Farid El-Tohamy. In it he explicitly says there has been "no change" in his relationship with the CIA: "'Cooperation between friendly services is in a completely different channel than the political channel',” Tohamy said. 'I’m in constant contact with [Director] John Brennan at the CIA and the local station chief, more than with any other service worldwide.'"

That's interesting given the current political climate, but the real news is the interview itself. I don't know of any Egyptian General Intelligence Chief who has given an on-the-record interview to the Western media. The late ‘Omar Suleiman may have done so after he became Mubarak's Vice President, but not while running the Mukhabarat. He did sometimes give briefings on visits to Washington, and I saw at least one of them, but they were strictly for non-attribution.

The Egyptian blogger Zeinobia offers an Egyptian take on the interview, and she also cogently notes that this comes not long after The New York Times article last month that emphasized Tohamy's being charged with corruption after the 2011 Revolution, and his rehabilitation under Sisi. Note that Tohamy's public interview was given not to the NYT but to its rival the WP. Not only might this be aimed at enhancing Tohamy's stature, but at reassuring the US policy community (the Intel community presumably being fully aware of the continued cooperation).

It's no doubt true that the GIS-CIA cooperation is greater than with "any other service worldwide," but under Suleiman the Israeli services were a close second. Neither Ignatius nor Tohamy mention Israel in their interview, but there is ample reason to believe that that relationship is also still quite healthy behind the scenes.

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