First Published: 2012-12-12

 

Egypt's military back into spotlight in crisis

 

Powerful military thrust to centre stage in handling crisis that is testing its desire to stay neutral.

 

Middle East Online

By Hassan El-Fekih - CAIRO

Taking central stage

After sitting politically backstage for the past six months, Egypt's powerful military has been thrust back into the spotlight to handle a crisis that is testing its desire to stay neutral and its duty to maintain order.

The military has called for President Mohamed Morsi and the secular opposition to meet later on Wednesday in a bid to prevent the crisis over an imminent constitutional referendum from tearing the country apart.

It made the call after the Islamist Morsi ordered the army to back up police by protecting "vital state institutions" and giving officers powers to arrest civilians.

After meeting Morsi on Monday, the defence minister and commander of the armed forces, General Abel Fattah al-Sissi, called on army officers to exercise the "highest levels of self-restraint".

He said the armed forces were determined to "carry out their role in protecting the nation and its stability regardless of pressures and challenges".

However, human rights groups see the risk of a return to civilians being tried in military courts, as happened during the transition period between the fall of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011 until Morsi's election in June 2012.

The decree granting the army police powers was slammed by Human Rights Watch, which said it could allow unchecked abuses and that it undermined the rule of law.

Amnesty International called the security decree "a dangerous loophole which may well lead to the military trial of civilians".

Directly or indirectly, the military has had a prominent role in Egyptian life since the overthrow in 1952 of the monarchy.

Morsi is the first civilian to become president. His four predecessors -- Mohammed Naguib, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat and Mubarak -- all rose from the ranks of the military.

During those years, the army was able to build up a vast economic empire, controlling enterprises from mineral water to property and even cemeteries.

Morsi, despite initially being kept on a tight rein by the generals, succeeded in taking the upper hand in August by forcing Supreme Council of the Armed Forces chief Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi into retirement.

"Under Tantawi's leadership, the military managed the transition period and exercised executive and legislative power for more than a year. It became directly involved in political life," said Amr Rabie of Al-Ahram Institute of Political and Strategic Studies.

"Morsi has worked to restore the military's role as a professional army, but the past few days have shown that it still seeks to play a political role," he added.

On Saturday, the military put its foot down, telling both sides to start dialogue as "only way to reach agreement and achieve the interests of the nation and its citizens".

"The opposite of that will take us into a dark tunnel with disastrous results -- and that is something we will not allow," the army warned.

Should simmering tensions boil over, it remains to be seen whether the military will side with Morsi or the secular opposition.

"It's not clear; it is hard to know what the reaction will be from this institution" which revels in the cult of secrecy, Rabie said.

This puts "enormous pressure on Mr Morsi," as the powerful institution again rises to the fore.

"If there are any violent confrontations and if blood runs in the street then certainly the army will intervene," analyst Emad Gad said.

"Whether the president is elected or not, it is his duty to try to preserve security and keep order."

The risk still exists that the army could roll back to zero the transition begun since Mubarak's ouster, should it again find itself in charge.

"It would then have to preside over yet another transition period, with a new roadmap," said Gad.

 

Egypt, France agree to step up cooperation against terrorism

Libya’s Derna emerges as new IS stronghold

Huthis humiliate Al-Ahmar clan with capture of Sanaa headquarters

UN chief calls for halt to Libya air strikes

Lebanese diva Sabah passes away

Putin meets with Syria Foreign Minister in Black Sea retreat of Sochi

Britain rushes to fight terror with controversial bill

Gunmen kill 3 Egypt policemen in fresh terrorist attack

Iran lawmakers finally approve third Rouhani science minister pick

Turkey clears only suspect in alleged poisoning of former president

Christians hold out in Syria second city despite Daesh threat

Egypt to reopen Rafah border crossing Wednesday

Egypt leader begins two-day trip to France

Tribesmen blow up Yemen’s main oil pipeline

Russia trims oil output

Syrian air strikes on Raqa kill 63 civilians

17 killed in fatal Cairo building collapse

Egypt nabs five Salafist leaders

Essebsi leads Tunisia presidential vote

Paris pushing for 'safe zones' in war-torn Syria

New air strike hits Tripoli’s sole operational airport

Pentagon chief steps down

Saudi seeks to ‘knock out’ shale oil competitors from oil market

Death toll rises from Morocco flash floods

Yemen troops free 8 hostages from Al-Qaeda

Italy hails Egypt as 'strategic partner'

US Congress skeptical of Iran nuclear talks extension

Khartoum, Darfur rebels open ceasefire talks

Time runs out for biggest chance to resolve Iran nuclear standoff

Egypt leader heads to Italy

Morocco arrests six over online IS allegiance pledge

Iraqi forces retake areas near Iran border from jihadists

Southern Morocco storms claim eight lives

Marzouki, Essebsi set for runoff in Tunisia presidential vote

Biden wraps up Turkey visit without breakthrough on Syria

Sudan launches investigation into claims of 'mass rape' in Darfur village

Assad urges ‘real pressure’ on backers of 'terror'

Israel eyes powers to revoke rights of Arab residents

Iraq death sentence to ex- PM threatens to damage ties with powerful tribe

Iran hardliners resist possible nuclear deal in rare protest

After failure of boycott, Bahrain Shiite opposition resorts to accusations

Tunisia votes for president in first free and multi-candidate election

Hope for change and stability as Tunisia prepares to elect new president

Saudi detainee sent home as US speeds up Guantanamo repatriations

Economy and security top agenda of Sisi’s first European tour