Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – Against the backdrop of Egyptian President Mursi’s controversial constitutional declaration announcement, granting himself sweeping constitutional powers, and the widespread protests that have struck the country over the past week, a former senior Egyptian military official, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, warned against the dangerous state of affairs in the country, saying that this could lead to nationwide unrest and catastrophic economic collapse. The senior source, who was a member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF] that ran the country during the transitional period, also stressed that the Egyptian army would not get involved in the conflict between the president and the opposition, in the same manner that it refused to intervene during the final days of the Hosni Mubarak regime. He added that if the Egyptian military were to get involved at this juncture, it would ultimately regret this decision and find itself being attacked by both sides.
For his part, former Muslim Brotherhood General Guide Mehdi Akef described Mursi’s decision as “sublime”, adding that the protests that have struck Egypt are “contrived”. He also asserted that “this is something that Egypt does not like and cannot afford.”
The former SCAF official claimed that the Egyptian president “is not capable of extricating himself from this hole he has fallen into” adding “his only option is to retract his decision”. Assessing the current state of affairs in Egypt, where protesters remain in Cairo’s Tahrir Square for a sixth consecutive day, the senior military source asserted that “this is a very bad state of affairs…a state of affairs that affects the country at all levels.”
He stressed that Mursi’s decision to assume sweeping constitutional powers represents a number of blows to Egypt, saying “the first blow was that this resulted in dividing the [Egyptian] people into two camps, whilst this was also a critical blow against Egypt’s judiciary and judges. The third blow is the unrest and hatred that this may incite between different sections of Egyptian society. Whilst finally there is the economic blow, for this decision could lead to destruction” adding “this is the most important symptom.”
Responding to a question regarding what Mursi should do now, the former SCAF official told Asharq Al-Awsat that “solutions must be based on common sense and wisdom , and this states that Mursi should retract his decision on the constitutional declaration…this is the only solution to this impasse.”
He added “this is something that does not disgrace or dishonor the president, on the contrary this could win over the majority and following this he might be viewed as a hero for the new Egypt.”
The senior former Egyptian official stressed that “this is the only solution; otherwise all the talk is nonsense.” He added “I say to all those who support or oppose the decision of President Mursi that this is the only solution to this issue, namely that the president must retract his decision.”
Commenting on former Muslim Brotherhood General Guide Mehdi Akef’s statement supporting Mursi’s constitutional declaration, the former Egyptian military official said that “you can see the people in Tahrir Square, Shubra and Mohamed Mahmoud street (in Cairo), as well as Alexandria, Port Said, Tanta and Aswan. So do all these people hate Mohamed Mursi?”
He added “we do not hate Mohamed Mursi, nor do the people hate him…nobody is saying ‘leave’, rather they are saying retract your announcement. They are saying that your legitimacy is clear to see…they (the opposition) are calling for vital things in order to prevent a catastrophe breaking out in Egypt.”
As for reports that Mursi has not contacted any political forces to attempt to resolve this situation, the former official said “the political symbols that are in the street oppose the constitutional declaration, and they believe that there should be no meeting or communication with the president until he withdraws this decision.”
The former SCAF member also addressing speculation that the Egyptian military could seek to intervene, as it did during the 25 January revolution, stressing that “the army does not intervene…if the army intervenes then it will regret this…we do not want to lose the army….the army protects its forces, training and presence, because the army is completely independent and that is in order to safeguard the nation. It does not get involved in politics and its only role is to safeguard the nation.”
As for the army taking to the streets during the 25 January revolution, and its implied support for the people’s revolution, he said “our presence was legitimate because one of our tasks is to protect legitimacy. When we were deployed (during the revolution) we found that legitimacy was in the hands of the people, and therefore our priority was to stand with the people, however today the people have taken different positions.”
He added “you (the people) elected him (Mursi), and now you are fighting with him, and this has nothing to do with the army. “ He stressed that if the army were to embroil itself in this conflict at this stage then it would find itself being attacked from both sides.
For his part, former Muslim Brotherhood General Guide Mehdi Akef asserted that what is happening in Egypt is “a very natural response to Mohamed Mursi’s victory regarding all issues, most recently the Gaza issue”, referencing the president’s successful mediation of a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel.
He added “the constitutional declaration announced by Dr. Mohamed Mursi is a sublime announcement because he wants to restore the state’s institutions on a correct democratic basis with a constitution and people’s assembly. This is a temporary decision for a period of a month to safeguard against abuses carried out by a small group of people. Everybody who loves Egypt must work in the interests of the stability of the country to establish a constitution and people’s assembly elections.”
Regarding the widespread protests that have broken out across the country in response to Mursi’s constitutional declaration, Akef stressed that “in my point of view, everything that I am seeing has been contrived…by those who have no respect or love for Egypt.”
As for what will happen if these protests continue, the former Muslim Brotherhood General Guide said “Egypt is full of intellectuals and wise people who can come together from all backgrounds and colors and ensure that Egypt reaches safety.”
He added “Mohamed Mursi must remain committed to his decisions until Egypt is safe” criticizing what he views as the blocking of numerous vital issues concerning Egypt’s new constitution. He said “if look at what is happening within the Constitutional Committee, and what is happening in the Constitutional Court, and what is happening here and there…you will be shocked” adding “ they must take critical decisions to resolve these issues and provide Egypt with democratically elected institutions.”