The lightning trip Egyptian Supreme Military Council head Field Marshal Muhammad Tantawi made to Riyadh Monday, June 17, was not merely to offer condolences on the death of Crown Prince Nayef, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence and Gulf sources report.
Closeted with Saudi King Abdullah, he tested the prospects of getting the oil kingdom to help him stand against Muslim Brotherhood leader Muhammad Morsi becoming president of Egypt with President Barack Obama’s backing. Tantawi also sought support for resisting pressure from Washington for an orderly transition of government to the Brotherhood by July 31.
This pressure peaked on the day of the presidential election when US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called the field marshal and "highlighted the need to move forward expeditiously with Egypt's political transition," adding that "the only way a security relationship can develop between the US and Egypt is to ensure a full and peaceful transition to democracy."
Tantawi saw this as a threat: He took it to mean that the generals’ failure to hand over power to the MB expeditiously and continuing to retain authority would expose Egypt to the reduction of economic and military aid, or even its withdrawal.
Saudi King Abdullah pledges Tantawi his support
According to our sources, the king was sympathetic. He promised the military leader that Saudi assistance, including funds, would be available to help him stand up to pressures from Washington. He advised the military council to carry on with its current policy while pursuing the following strategy: Let the democratic processes take their course, said Abdullah. The winner of the presidential election should be duly appointed and the disqualified one-third of the lower house parliament re-elected. At the same time, the institutions of the presidency and parliament must be stripped of powers which the military council would retain.
The Saudi pledge of support against pressure from the Obama administration resulted in an American condolence party led by Panetta heading off at speed for Riyadh.
The plan was to nullify the Egyptian military leader’s plea for Saudi help with US counter-pressure.
However, events in Cairo developed a pace of their own.
Tuesday, June 18, the day after Tantawi returned from Riyadh, the Brotherhood candidate’s rival for the presidency Ahmed Shafiq also traveled to Riyadh to pay his respects and express condolence for the royal family’s loss.
Although supported by the generals and several secular, democratic and liberal parties, Shafiq is short of funds. He hoped to throw himself on the Saudi royal family’s generosity to keep his political bloc afloat against the Islamists and substantiate his claim to have beaten Morsi in the presidential election.
Egypt splits into two hostile camps
Publication of the final results promised Thursday, June 21, was delayed until next Sunday.
Shafiq’s race against Morsi was not over. He was told that the Muslim Brotherhood intended to proclaim its candidate the winner even if he lost the election. Shafiq, Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, decided to use the same tactic.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources, a secret tally by the Central Election Committee has given the MB candidate the win by a margin of 800,000 votes. But Shafiq is still counting on the results in Cairo, where he beat Morsi by 400,000, swinging the election in his favor.
Whichever of the two ends up as president, our Cairo sources note that the close results mean that Egypt is split into two large, inimical political camps.
Ex-general and former air force chief Ahmed Shafiq, who enjoys the support of the army and the groups who refuse to countenance Islamists in power; and Muhammad Morsi, representative of the Muslim Brotherhood and favorite of the Egyptian street.
To break the virtual tie between the two camps, Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan used strong – even threatening – language Wednesday: "The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has ruled Egypt since Hosni Mubarak's overthrow last year, might be preparing to steal the election. If Shafiq is declared the winner, this will make the coup clear. This encroachment on the result may lead to a confrontation between the people and the army."
Gen. Suleiman shakes the dust of Egypt off his boots
The ultra-savvy former intelligence minister and ex-presidential candidate Gen. Omar Suleiman picked up fast on the dangerous winds blowing in Egypt. Wednesday, June 20, without waiting for final election results to come in, he was on a flight to Munich, Germany.
Suleiman had spent most of his career at Mubarak’s right hand pursuing Muslim Brotherhood activists and putting them behind bars. Expecting an MB victory with Washington’s support, he knew if he stayed he would face indictment for abuses and crimes against humanity and end up sharing the fate endured by Mubarak of a slow, cruel death in prison. He therefore moved fast to avoid this fate.
A revealing private conversation is described by our Washington sources as taking place at the Oval Office this week between President Barack Obama and an American Jewish leader.
(Several Jewish leaders have been invited to the White House in a bid to stem the 40 percent decline in Jewish campaign contributions to the Obama campaign.)
Asked why he was so keen on the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power in Cairo when it would obviously put Israel at risk, Obama acted surprised and answered: How could I not endorse Muhammed Morsi when he is practically an American?
He studied and taught at American universities, he understands us, he is familiar with the American democratic machine and his children are American citizens, the president stressed.
This quote was the talk of the week among American Jewish leaders.
Morsi did in fact receive his PhD in engineering from the University of Southern California in 1982, and was also an Assistant Professor at California State University, Northridge.