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Opinion: The plot against Egypt | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Egyptian soldiers are deployed in the area of the Rafah Crossing border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip on May 21, 2013 as Egypt intensified efforts to secure the release of seven security personnel captured in the Sinai. (AFP PHOTO / STR)

The nature of the relationship between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood will determine many issues in Egypt. In spite of all the statements that have been issued to the contrary, there is every indication that the silent standoff between the military and the presidency—or rather the military and the Brotherhood—continues to escalate. The most recent development in this crisis was the kidnapping of Egyptian soldiers in Sinai and the contradictory statements that were issued following this. The presidency was unable to hide these discrepancies in official statements, to the point that a presidential spokesman had no choice but to correct common misunderstandings of the president’s statement.

Did people really misunderstand? Or is the presidency trying—in vain—to hide what is clear for everybody to see?

In fact, the tension between the army and the Brotherhood is no secret. Since the early months of the revolution, this has been a hot topic among the public and in the media. In fact, these tension continued to intensify as protestors demanded that the army intervene to “resolve” the political crisis gripping the country. Many warnings have been issued—from known and unknown sources—regarding this confrontation that neither the military nor the Brotherhood wants to be the first to acknowledge. The Brotherhood and its affiliates warn of plots to “overthrow” the elected president, emphasizing that they would not “permit” the revolution to be hijacked or power usurped. For its part, the military warns against insulting or questioning its national role, stressing that its role is to defend the homeland and people. Moreover, many military sources have claimed that patience is wearing thin among the members of this institution, warning the Brotherhood of the army’s anger.

With Abdul Fatah Al-Sisi, Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces and Egyptian Defense Minister, warning of the collapse of the state, and with the army emphasizing that its role is to defend the people, official statements from the presidency denying the existence of any tensions are unconvincing. It is difficult to believe the Brotherhood’s denial when its members and affiliates are publicly praying for the “annihilation of the army;” or when they ridicule the defense minister, describing him as an “actor” attempting to woo the public. In this atmosphere, one may ask: is it possible to avoid confrontation? If not, who will strike first?

Following the abduction of 7 soldiers in Sinai, the army asked the president’s permission to launch an offensive to secure the hostages’ release. The president, however, was inclined to negotiate with the kidnappers, preferring to solve the issue “without bloodshed.” The discrepancy between these two stances is obvious; and the spokesman’s claim that the president’s statement was misunderstood was patently absurd. How can one justify negotiating with kidnappers demanding the release of so-called jihadists who were arrested after attacking police stations in Sinai?

The negotiations that the president called for will ensure immunity for the kidnappers, encouraging them to kidnap more troops in the future and barter them for demands. This is something which will make Sinai a hotbed for gunmen, outlaws, and extremists who have reportedly established training camps in the Sinai peninsula in an attempt to establish “an Islamic Emirate” there.

When protestors took to the streets against the Brotherhood, the presidency did not prefer to solve the issue “without bloodshed.” However, after extremists kidnapped soldiers and issued demands, the president
chose to act peacefully. The situation in Sinai is getting more dangerous and the gunmen more daring, especially after they saw the government’s inability to uncover who was responsible for killing 16 soldiers last summer. This was an incident that Mursi used to reshuffle the army and relieve Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi and Lieutenant General Sami Anan from their posts.

The Brotherhood and the military are involved in a tug-of-war; and the developments in Sinai will have an impact on Cairo and perhaps all of Egypt. According to Egypt’s Al-Ahram newspaper, Al-Sisi previously warned that dragging the military into the political process might transform Egypt into Afghanistan or Somalia. The defense minister’s statement indicates that some deals are being made under the table to drag Egypt into a quagmire of violence, instability, and armed confrontation. After witnessing the military establishments in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen being preoccupied with fighting extremists and terrorists, one cannot help but worry about Egypt and what the future may hold for the country.