Late Tuesday night, August 13, when the lights went out in the office of Egyptian Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, the officers heading home from a general staff meeting were certain the minister was still undecided on how to disperse the long Muslim Brotherhood protest sit-ins in Cairo.
He even asked them for detailed plans for the operation without conveying any sense of urgency.
Only two of the 25 generals present, Gen. Mohamed Ibrahim and Gen. Ahmad al-Tohamy, head of the General Intelligence Services, knew that El-Sisi had planted a false trail. The operation for breaking up the Muslim Brotherhood protest was to go forward in just a few hours, early Wednesday morning, the fourteenth.
DEBKA Weekly’s military and Cairo sources name Gen. Mohamed Ibrahim as El-Sisi’s closest confidant. He was also the only individual privy to the identity of the high member of the judiciary with whom the defense minister had been conferring intensely from late May.
This judge cooperated with Gen. El-Sisi – and through him with the military – on a secret scheme for removing the Muslim Brotherhood from power – a scheme which had gained the backing of some of the country’s most prominent judicial authorities and prosecutors.
The third branch of the triumvirate designing the overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood and President Mohamed Morsi – under their very noses – was the intelligence service and all its agencies.
The Brotherhood turned a deaf ear to a warning
The July 3 takeover, led by three branches of government – the military, the judiciary and the intelligence community –with broad popular support, wasn’t strictly speaking the usual military putsch. It ushered in a new chapter in Egypt’s three-year history of turmoil, which no political or religious power in the land was strong enough to resist, although the Muslim Brotherhood had received due warning.
In early 2012, Gen. Omar Suleiman, Egyptian Intelligence Minister under Mubarak and briefly vice president in the weeks before the president’s removal, met secretly with Brotherhood leaders and cautioned them not to aim for the presidency, but be satisfied with their majority in parliament.
Asked to explain, Suleiman, who had devoted his entire career to subduing the Muslim Brotherhood, replied: None of you has the faintest inkling of the number of secrets stored in our intelligence files against your leaders. Without this knowledge – and control of it – you won’t last a year in power.
Straight from this secret interview, Gen. Suleiman took himself out of Egypt into European exile. Not long afterwards, in July 2012, he died.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which despised Suleiman, ignored his advice, mostly because they didn’t believe it. That mistake was to cost them dear.
El-Sisi used secret Intelligence as tool for Brotherhood detentions
Exactly a year ago, on August 12, 2012, President Morsi fired Egyptian Defense Minister Field Marshal Hossein Tantawi and replaced him with Gen. El-Sisi, who was to be his eventual nemesis.
Maj. Gen. Mohamed Rafaat Shahata was appointed as head of intelligence in Omar Suleiman’s stead.
Morsi was not to know that his two handpicked appointees had come to an agreement to deny the new president and all Brotherhood high-ups access to the secret records on their doings kept under close guard at military intelligence and GID (Mukhabarat) headquarters.
Ignorant of the contents of those files, Brotherhood leaders were hopelessly vulnerable when the police came to arrest them this week on criminal charges.
According to DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources, their lack of access to intelligence files did come up in several meetings between President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood strongman Mohammed Khairat Saad el-Shater. They decided that, with another five years in office, they could afford to concentrate on more urgent issues and hold this one over.
That was the Muslim Brotherhood’s second mistake, and it finally sealed their fate.
In his campaign for the undoing of the Brotherhood, Gen. El-Sisi had at his disposal a unique mine of secret information on the movement’s hierarchy, clandestine apparatuses, funding sources, foreign ties and double agent networks – the totality of which not even Brotherhood leaders themselves commanded.
While international attention was fixed on the military crackdown in Cairo last week, security forces spread out quietly across the country rounding up the Brotherhood’s undercover operatives. The 15-member leadership suddenly was suddenly left high and dry, isolated and bereft of field support.
For the next stage in smashing the Brotherhood, security forces were armed with lists from the intelligence files of the secret hideouts set up by the leaders against an emergency. They were picked up one by one in a coordinated swoop. One of the last to be netted was Spiritual Guide Mohammed Badi’a, who was run to earth and arrested Tuesday Aug. 20 in a hidden apartment in Nasser City, eastern Cairo.
With most of its high-ups in Cairo and nationwide under lock and key, the defense minister has ended his operation for decapitating the Brotherhood. No mass arrests of thousands of rank and file are in store – only certain key figures. There will be no long-term persecution of the group.
Out intelligence sources reveal that for the future, Gen. El-Sisi laid down two options in his behind-doors interviews with the Brotherhood leaders in detention and those left at large:
1. He asked for a commitment to put up Brotherhood candidates in the next presidential and parliamentary elections, the dates for which will be announced shortly. The military ruler is confident that its poor showing at the polls will finally wipe the Brotherhood off Egypt’s political map by a democratic process that will buy him legitimacy in the West.
2. If the Muslim Brotherhood refuses to run for election, the interim government will stage show trials against its leaders on charges grave enough to carry death sentences.
In this article, we have outlined the domestic preparations El-Sisi made for his takeover of Egypt from the Muslim Brotherhood. Another item in this issue reveals his campaign for foreign support, especially from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel.