After weeks of mounting anti-government turmoil across Egypt, army chief Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi finally spoke up Sunday, June 23, to warn that the Egyptian army would “not watch the country descend into uncontrollable conflict” ahead of the planned June 30 mass opposition rallies” or allow “an attack on the will of the people.”
Meanwhile, Egypt lurches day by day closer to what US and Israeli intelligence diagnose as “low intensity civil war.” In outlying towns, law and order is breaking down as armed gangs attack governors and burn emblems of government, while the ruling Muslim Brotherhood deploys armed men strike back at government opponents. The police are not intervening in the disorder – any more than the army has to date.
debkafile‘s military sources note that Defense Minister al-Sissi avoided defining which side the generals regarded as representing the “will of the people” – President Mohamed Morsi who pushed them off the national stage, or the myriad opposition groups sworn to overthrow him on the first anniversary of his rise to power. They aim to replace him with a high presidential council headed by a Supreme Court judge. A number of opposition groups say they have collected 15 million signatures in support of their demand.
If they succeed in their high-stake bid, Egypt would undergo its third revolution in three years. The first in 2011 ousted President Hosni Mubarak, whose successor, the Supreme Military Council, was itself unseated in 2012 by the Muslim Brotherhood.
The popular voice, heartened by the middle class clamor rising in Istanbul’s Taksim Square and Rio de Janeiro, speaks with greater confidence in its power to put Mohamed Morsi’s head on the block and get rid of Islamist rule – especially since he has also fallen out with his own Muslim Brotherhood.
For the Egyptian opposition, the 16 provincial governors the president approved this month were the last straw which shut the door to any possible conciliation and dialogue with the incumbent rulers. Morsi was considered as going too far by his appointment as governor of Luxor, Adel Khayat, a member of the extremist Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiyya, al Qaeda’s Egyptian branch.
The president has been wooing for the favor of extremist Salafist and pro-al Qaeda circles for help in standing up to Muslim Brotherhood leaders. Realizing he was the symbol of rising discord, Khayat stood down Sunday, June 23, “for the sake of Egypt.”
From the start of his presidency, Morsi’s Brotherhood masters expect Morsi to bow obediently to their authority and perform their will. His continuing independence has confronted him with his own Islamic camp as the fifth adversary bent on his ouster, in addition to –
1. The secular and liberal groups for whom Islamic rule is anathema:
2. Religious minorities, led by the largest, the indigenous Christian Copts;
3. Sections of the Egyptian army;
4. Despairing elements of the population, who see their country disintegrating into chaos and corruption, with no hope of personal security for Egypt’s masses and many of them facing starvation.
There is no reliable estimate of the size and strength of any of those five groups, excepting the Muslim Brotherhood, or their chances of coming together – either to overthrow the president, or to back him against fellow opponents.
These evaluations are further complicated by the wide reporting gap between the state of affairs in Egypt’s main cities and the bulk of the population in the rural areas. Most accounts focus on Cairo and Alexandria or, at most, the Canal towns of Suez and Ismailia, or the urban areas of the Delta, which have veered completed out of the central government’s security control. The rest of the country might as well be on the other side of the moon.
According to debkafile’s intelligence sources, local armed militias are springing up in the Suez and Delta cities and certain rural areas. Their political hues and plans of action are hard to pin down.
Two more imponderables further befog the direction in which Egypt may be headed: How the Obama administration views the mayhem touched off by the anti-Mubarak revolution it fostered, and the intentions of al-Qaeda’s Salafi allies in Sinai.
According to our Washington sources, the US has pulled away from President Morsi in disapproval, while at the same time staying close to the Muslim Brotherhood. This orientation is manifested by the coming appointment of Anne Woods Patterson, former US ambassador to Cairo, as Under Secretary for the Near East. She has been Obama’s point person for cultivating good rapport with the Muslim Brotherhood, which he counts on as a reliable and steady hand at the helm of rule in Cairo.
Washington also maintains a good relationship with the Egyptian army, which is judged as the only organized power system in the country, as well as the steadfast guardian of the historic Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.
Lawless Sinai falls through the cracks between the US, the Muslim Brothers and the military. Its destabilizing influence reaches into the Palestinian Gaza Strip and along the Egyptian-Israeli border running down eastern Sinai.
The army is willing to combat arms smuggling through Sinai to the Palestinian Hamas in the Gaza Strip, but refuses to take on the mutinous Bedouin of the al-Qaeda-linked Salafi cells who roam freely through the peninsula’s wastelands.
To step into the gap, the Obama administration last week decided to assign another 400 US soldiers to the 13-nation Multinational Observer peacekeeping force posted in Sinai to monitor the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace accord.