First Published: 2011-02-04

 

Egypt's army holds the key but plays the sphinx

 

Egyptian military seen as taking wait-and-see stance amid continuous anti-Mubarak protests.

 

Middle East Online

By Christophe de Roquefeuil - CAIRO

Is it complicit in police brutality?

The wait-and-see stance of the Egyptian military is raising many questions, but underlining one fact: its role will be decisive regardless of how the ongoing turmoil will end.

Political analysts are scrambling to decipher its sphinx-like conduct. Is it complicit in police brutality? Prudent in the face of a fluid situation? Split at the top of its command structure? Just biding its time?

No lack of questions means "plenty of things are moving within the system and the army," said a Western diplomat on condition of anonymity.

Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the defence minister who is also deputy prime minister, personally waded into the unrest at Tahrir square on Friday, saying said he wanted to "inspect the situation" first-hand.

He did so a day after US Admiral Mike Mullen, chief of the US joint chiefs of staff, said he had been "reassured" by the Egyptian army's top brass that troops would not open fire on demonstrators.

And in a television interview with ABC News, Vice President Omar Suleiman insisted on Thursday that the Egyptian government would not use the army against its own people to break up the anti-Mubarak protests.

"We will not use any violence against them," he said. "We will ask them to go home but we will not push them to go home," said Suleiman.

Imad Gad of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo said the military, which is held in high esteem in Egypt, wanted to keep its options open and was waiting in the wings.

"The army -- meaning its headquarters staff, not the intelligence services -- does not want to give the impression of intervening, because it wants to take power," he said.

"It is waiting to be asked to do so, in order to be cast as the saviour."

Since the overthrow of the monarchy in 1952, all the Egypt's presidents -- Mohamed Naguib, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar al-Sadat and Mubarak, a former air force commander -- have come from the military.

The backbone of a regime to which it remains loyal, the army holds the respect of Egyptians on account of its traditional neutrality during moments of popular unrest and its leading role in the major Arab-Israeli wars.

For Tewfik Aclimandos, an Egypt specialist at the College de France in Paris, saw a number of potential scenarios.

"It could be a splitting of roles following the 'bad cop, good cop' model, with the police and the henchmen of the regime attacking demonstrators while the army gives a false image of neutrality," he said.

"The army does not know how to go about policing," he said.

The ambivalence of the military could be a reflection of indecision in its own leadership, Aclimandos added. "Although the top does not want to confront the population, it does not want to show the president the door either."

Then again, the army could be simply trying to "gain time" to negotiate an honorable exit for the 82-year-old president and set the conditions for a transition, he added.

Suleiman, a general named by Mubarak last week as his first-ever vice president, is well-liked by Americans and Israelis, but as former head of intelligence, he is very much a man of the Mubarak era.

The chief of staff, Sami Annan, in regular contact with his US counterparts in recent days, could emerge unscathed.

Then again, it could be the besuited prime minister, General Ahmed Shafiq, a former aviation minister, who reassures both the military and business establishment.

The key to which way the army will turn could well be in the hands of Washington and the $1.3 billion in military aid that it extends to Egypt every year, making it the second largest recipient of US foreign aid after Israel.

The aid has "established a relationship ... of great strength" between the US and Egyptian military, Mullen told ABC News, describing the military aid as "an investment that's paid off over a long period of time."

 

41 killed in Istanbul airport bomb, gun attacks

Democratic hopes fade away in Egypt

US-backed Syria rebels advance on key IS link to Iraq

Ban to Israeli PM: Gaza blockade ‘collective punishment’

Egypt becoming departure country for migrants to Europe

Putin lifts Turkey travel restrictions, orders trade 'normalised'

Fears for stranded Syrian refugees as Jordan blocks access

Bahrain activist back in jail despite worsening health

Witnesses recount Istanbul attack

Car bomb kills 10 in Kurdish-held Syria town

Alstom-led consortium awarded $2.88 billion Dubai metro extension

Israel revokes controversial 'Hannibal Directive'

Detained Bahraini activist hospitalised

UN chief urges Netanyahu to make tough choices

Saudi Aramco, SABIC in joint petrochemicals study

Yemen clashes, air strikes kill 37 civilians

Egypt's anti-graft tsar becomes public enemy number one

Iraqis shun return to 'cursed' Fallujah

Lebanese army raids refugee camps after bombings

Ankara goes back on compensation offer for downed Russia jet

Iraq court deals blow to PM's cabinet reform efforts

UAE jails Emirati woman for spying for Hezbollah

Eight hurt in Turkey car bombing blamed on PKK

Iran hopes Saudi embassy attack trial will restore confidence

France charges Assad's uncle with graft

EgyptAir black box flight recorder 'repaired'

11 Kurdish rebels, 3 Revolutionary Guards killed in Iran

Egypt deports British-Lebanese TV show host

Turkey seeks to restore broken ties with Russia

Deadly bombings target Yemen troops in ex-Qaeda bastion

NGOs press EU leaders on Africa migrant plan

Jordanian intelligence officials sold weapons for Syria rebels on black market

On British-Irish border, Brexit breeds worries for future

New lawyers of Gaddafi son urge ICC to drop case

Bahrain jails 5 people on charges linked to ‘terrorism’

Erdogan apologises to Putin over downing of Russia jet

Clashes continue at Al-Aqsa compound

Turkey allows German minister visit after air base row

UN chief tells Israelis, Palestinians 'stand firm against violence'

Brexit vote unlikely to curtail Gulf appetite for London property

Egypt cancels high school final exam after online leaks

One year on, Tunisia holds minute silence for beach massacre victims

5 killed in string of suicide bombings in Lebanon

Netanyahu lauds Israel’s deal with Turkey

Dozens killed as clashes intensify in Yemen