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."

 

Bloodbath in Syria's eastern Ghouta

Two hardline Syria rebels announce merger

IS kills 25 Iraqi militiamen near Kirkuk

Sudan frees dozens of activists detained after protests

Saudi Arabia to host first Arab Fashion Week

Turkey considering chemical castration for child abusers

45 civilians killed in air strikes on rebel enclave

Cairo sheds Ottoman-era street names amid Egypt-Turkey crisis

New woes for Israeli PM in fresh graft cases

Maghreb countries wary about jihadists relocating from Iraq, Syria

Erdogan says Turkey will besiege Afrin "swiftly"

Turkey releases leading pro-Kurdish politician

5 Iranian police killed in Sufi protests

Iran finds wreckage of crashed plane on top of mountain

Israel’s gas contract with Egypt: deal or no deal?

Somalia appoints new police, intelligence chiefs

Iran plane crash rescue search halted for second night

France reaffirms commitment to Iran nuclear deal

Turkey warns Syria against protecting Kurds

Abbas warms up to Moscow amid cold US-Palestinian ties

Israel strikes 'historic' gas contract with Egypt

Are Iranian satellite channels aiding regime change?

Israel pounds Gaza with air strikes after rocket attack

Iraq orders deportation of French jihadist

Pro-Assad militias to enter Syria's Afrin

Three Egyptian soldiers killed in Sinai

Israeli, US officials meet over gas row with Lebanon

Iran's supreme leader says progress needed on justice

Syria Kurds claim striking positions in Turkey

Netanyahu warns Iran, brandishes piece of metal

66 feared dead as plane crashes in Iranian mountains

Saudi women to open businesses without male permission

Netanyahu slams 'outrageous' Holocaust remark by Polish PM

Israeli air strikes kill 2 in Gaza

Six suffer breathing difficulties after Turkish shelling in Afrin

Russian mercenaries - a discrete weapon in Syria

Iran protests ban on wrestler who threw bout to avoid Israel

Fears of expanding Syrian war could trigger peace deal

Battle to free Mosul of IS 'intellectual terrorism'

Turkey frees Garman-Turk journalist after one year without charge

Turkey hands life sentences to 3 journalists for Gulen links

Turkey, US agree to ‘work together’ in Syria

Thousands protest corruption in Tel Aviv amid PM indictment call

Prominent jihadist commander killed by rival Syria rebels

300 Russians killed in Syria battle last week