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When Will the Army Intervene in Egypt? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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In this Sunday, March 17, 2013 file photo, an Egyptian activist walks past burning tires during an anti-Muslim Brotherhood protest, in Cairo, Egypt. (AP)

The political crisis in Egypt is serious and it seems that the Egyptian Army should get involved, willingly or not. But what are the objective circumstances for the involvement of the army once again in politics after it has got rid of this burden and handed over power to a civilian president?

To start with, the Suez Canal will be the area that will force the army to intervene in politics since the status of this international waterway has been governed by international charters such as the Convention of Constantinople signed in 1888, which calls for the freedom of navigation in the canal and gives Egypt the sovereignty on the waterway on condition of abidance by the articles of the convention.

This is a political rather than a legal issue because of the international importance of the waterway. When access to it was threatened in 1956, France, Britain, and Israel launched war on Egypt, which was known as the Suez War. The objective of the article is not to argue about the history of Egypt, but I want to say that if the Egyptian Army does not intervene to safeguard shipping in the canal, this will force other armies to interfere, or that other armies will use it as an excuse to interfere in the Egyptian affairs. Therefore, the issue is not the wishes of the Egyptian Army or its willingness to intervene in politics that would force it to interfere at least in the canal area. The interference here will be the result of a power vacuum that would impose intervention on the military even if it is not willing to do so.

Anyone watching what is going on around the Suez Canal since the beginning of the revolution would not miss two observations; the first is that to the east of the Suez Canal, from Al-Qantarah, to Al-Aris, Al-Shaykh Zuwayid, and Bi’r al-Abd, have seen great turmoil and extremist forces like the old Jihadists and modern Salafi jihadist groups have been active, and are in possession of sophisticated weapons in large quantities that have come as a result of the collapsed situation Libya, as well as Gaza, Sudan, and Iran. Therefore, the eastern bank of the canal is full of weapons, and it is possible for any of these groups to sink a ship in the canal and stop the international shipping in it for months.

As for the western side of the canal from Damietta to Port Sa’id, Al-Isma’iliyah, and Suez in the south, these cities are experiencing protests and rebellion against the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, which led to protest movements in Port Said in the northwestern side of the canal and the protesters symbolically declared their independence and used a flag of their own. The same anger and protests have taken place as a result of killing dozens of demonstrators in Suez and Al-Isma’iliyah, which have led to more disturbances. The verdict in the trial of the deaths of dozens of soccer fans in Port Said last year has also fueled the flames of anger. Therefore, the western side of the canal is full of popular protests, and the eastern side is controlled by rogue groups.

Any mistake that may lead to the sinking of a one or two ships in the canal by the extremists in the east or the angry people in the west of the canal will force the army to intervene to safeguard international shipping. If the Egyptian army does not intervene, other armies are ready to interfere, the first of which is the Israeli Defense Force, in spite of the existence of the Camp David Accords and their military protocol, which specifies the movements of the Egyptian and Israeli forces concerning Sinai and the Suez Canal.

The main point is that a time will come in which the Egyptian Army will be forced to intervene to end the power vacuum even if this is not its wish, or as a result of envy because it should not be less than the neighboring armies, particularly Israel’s. The Egyptian Army does not accept that it is viewed by various international forces as unable to keep the safety of the Egyptian territory and its independence. All these facts will force the army to intervene.

This has all taken place in a context in which the strength of the Muslim Brotherhood is in a state of collapse, particularly after it has failed to achieve outright victory in elections in the universities and trade syndicates such as the journalists, pharmacists, or other unions. Furthermore, the youth of the revolution have dared, and for the first time, to rise against the Muslim Brotherhood and demonstrated forcefully in front of the main headquarters of the group in Al-Muqattam. The demonstrations have been accompanied with fierce confrontations and the burning of many premises of the Muslim Brotherhood in the various provinces.

The Muslim Brotherhood is in retreat, and the revolution’s youth has discovered that it is a group that it is only strong on paper when they went to it in its headquarters in Al-Muqttam. The youth have bruised the Muslim Brotherhood and discovered that the alleged control and strength it enjoys are only an illusion. Therefore, we will see more daring actions by the youth against the group and its headquarters and resources. The defeat of the Muslim Brotherhood by the youth and the revolution has been clearer in the cities of the canal more than anywhere else in Egypt.

What is important is that it has become clear to the Egyptian Army that one third of Egypt, represented by Sinai and the Canal’s cities, has fallen out of government control, that Cairo has become a city in flames, and that parts of the Nile Delta such as Al-Mahalah, Tanta, and Alexandria are tense. Only Upper Egypt is stable, but it too rests on a powder keg that may suddenly explode. All these factors are accompanied by an economic crisis that will force the army, which voluntarily ceded authority after the revolution, to intervene, not because 80 percent of the Egyptians want the army to do so, as the latest opinion polls indicated, but also because the army cannot bear the consequences of not doing so for Egypt’s independence or the reputation of the Egyptian Army in the eyes of the neighboring armies.