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.


Abbas calls US ambassador to Israel 'son of a dog'

Saudi crown prince keen to cement ties with US

Pro-Turkish forces loot Afrin

Morocco authorities vow to close Jerada's abandoned mines

Iraqis flock to flea market for relics of bygone era

Human rights chief slams Security Council for inaction on Syria

US warns Turkey over civilians caught in Syria assault

Erdogan vows to expand Syria op to other Kurdish-held areas

Kurdish envoy accuses foreign powers of ignoring Turkish war crimes

Israeli soldier sees manslaughter sentence slashed

Turkey insists no plans to remain in Afrin

Cairo voters show unwavering support for native son Sisi

Forum in Jordan explores new teaching techniques

Gaza Strip woes receive renewed attention but no fix is expected

Kurds, Syrian opposition condemn Afrin looting

36 jihadists killed in Egypt’s Sinai

Israel arrests French consulate worker for gun smuggling

Israel prepares to demolish Jerusalem attacker's home

Saudi crown prince says his country to seek nuclear bomb if Iran does

Arab women artists in diaspora focus on identity and loss

Tunisia’s Central Bank targets inflation but may hurt growth prospects

Libya’s health system reflects a larger humanitarian crisis

Israel blasts Gaza underground tunnel

Abu Dhabi awards France's Total stakes in oil concessions

Erdogan says Afrin city centre under ‘total’ control

Egypt tries to contain Sudan but challenges, suspicions remain

US defence secretary presses Oman on Iran weapons smuggling

Syrian regime retakes two towns from Ghouta rebels

Hamas shutters mobile firm after Gaza attack on PM

Israel punishes family members of West Bank attacker

Syria opposition says UN 'failed to prevent' Assad 'crimes'

UK tries to soothe Egyptian anger over mob attack death

Hundreds of thousands flee in dual Syria assaults

Turkish Cypriots vow to stand firm in gas dispute

Intensifying assaults in Syria spark dual evacuations

Tearful reunions, uncertain fates for Syrians fleeing Ghouta

Iran deal signatories meet as Trump deadline looms

Thirty years on, Kurds remember Halabja massacre

Air India says will fly over Saudi airspace to Tel Aviv

UN chief calls for end to Lebanese 'meddling' in Syria

Turkey seeks jail for journalists opposing government

UN says civilians trapped, used as 'human shields' in Afrin

Iran, Russia, Turkey hold Syria talks in Astana

Civilians killed in Turkish fire on Syria's Afrin

US Defense Secretary says Iran 'mucking around' in Iraq elections