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.

 

France carries out first air strike in Iraq

Iran, six powers return to negotiating table

Airlines suspend flights to Sanaa for 24 hours

Jihadists to change tactics to avoid air strikes

Saudi Arabia to restore Egypt's Al-Azhar mosque

Neighbourhood in Iraq’s Dhuluiyah stands against jihadists

British photographer Cantlie twice held hostage by IS

Turkey opens border to desperate Syrian Kurds

US accuses Assad of breaking pact on chemical weapons

‘Concerned’ US urges Iran to cooperate in UN nuclear probe

Syrian children given anaesthesia not measles vaccination

France ready to provide ‘aerial support’ in Iraq

Tunisia denies existence of plot to assassinate Beji Caid Essebsi

Majority of Americans believe Obama mishandled terror threats

‘Islamic State’ releases video of captive British journalist

Libya cannot take more than 10 ministers

France approves bill to crack down on jihadists

Assassination of Libya ex-air force chief in Benghazi

14 Bahraini Shiites sentenced to life in prison for bombing

IS jihadists close in on Syria third largest Kurdish town

Yemen rebels clash with Sunni Islamists

New Turkish safety law costs 5,000 coal miners jobs

Bahrain slams Qatar for offering citizenship to Sunni nationals

Libya PM presents new cabinet in Tobruk

US House gives green light to plan to arm Syria rebels

Davutoglu denounces ruling against Turkey’s religion courses

South Sudan to revoke expulsion of foreign workers

Algeria to tighten grip on imam training

Libya Islamists unleash another offensive on Benghazi airport

Iraqi bishop: Operations against IS in Iraq came very late

French parliament approves new anti-terror bill

World Bank calls for sweeping reforms in Tunisia

Obama to meet with generals planning IS assault

UN brokers Israeli-Palestinian deal on Gaza reconstruction

Iraq parliament votes down PM's security nominees

Qaeda branches urge jihadists to unite against US

Despite war, South Sudan replaces foreign workers with locals

IS jihadists shoot down Syria warplane

Renegade former general claims air raid on Libya militia position

Six Egypt policemen in Sinai bomb attack

Erdogan: Turkey would welcome exiled Brotherhood leaders

US warplanes carry out first strikes on IS near Baghdad

UEFA urged not to award 2020 European Championship to Israel

Israel sees future war with Hezbollah

Germany tries first 'Islamic State jihadist'