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."

 

Concern and grief as Britain remembers 2005 terror bombings

Iran nuclear talks: Will Ministers score diplomatic success?

Deadly US raids target ISIS stronghold in Syria

After Tunisia beach massacre, tourists switch to other destinations

Near Gaza Strip, Israelis live in fear behind concrete walls

Tunisia declares state of emergency after beach massacre

Erdogan moots possibility of snap election

Coalitions of Syria rebels battle regime forces in Aleppo

Lawlessness in Libya poses real danger for Tunisia

Hezbollah backs Syria army in major assault on border city

Syria mosque explosion kills at least 25 Nusra fighters

Egypt President in Sinai after jihadist attacks on security forces

Yemen Huthi rebels ‘attack’ various areas in Saudi Arabia

No guarantee of success as Iran nuclear talks inch closer to lasting deal

Egypt ‘in state of war’ on second anniversary of Islamist ouster

Ansar al-Sharia denies killing of Abu Iyadh in US air strike

Rockets from Sinai strike Israel

Palestinians arrest 100 Hamas members in West Bank

Erdogan inaugurates public mosque in palace

Islamists form alliance in battle for Aleppo

Top Tunisian jihadist reportedly killed by US strike in Libya

Emir attends joint Shiite, Sunni prayers in Kuwait

Hamas denies involvement in Sinai attacks

4 Qaeda suspects killed in US drone attack in Yemen

'Series of errors' behind Air Algerie crash in Mali

Ankara has no plans for imminent intervention in Syria

21 killed in clashes, strikes in Yemen's Aden

GCC states vow united stand against IS mosque bombings

Palestinians protest one year after teenager burned alive

Egypt vows to wipe out 'dens of terror'

Tunisia arrests eight in connection with beach massacre

Youth in Tunisia 'ripe for radicalisation'

UN sends mission to 'assess' South Sudan atrocities

Syria urges citizens to enlist

AQAP step up campaign to eradicate qat

Iraq Christians train for jihad against IS

British FM: 'No breakthrough yet' in Iran nuclear talks

UN imposes first sanctions on six South Sudan generals

Libya rival governments will not return to peace talks

Fighting rages in Yemen’s Aden

Egypt government adopts anti-terror law

Kurds warn Turkey against any ‘aggression’ in Syria

Kuwait makes DNA tests mandatory after suicide bombing

Kuwait parliament approves deficit budget on oil slide

Pro-Erdogan candidate becomes new speaker of Turkey parliament