Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi can forget about the army pulling the irons out of the blazing fire of the near- counterrevolution engulfing Egyptian cities this past week. The generals made it clear that he and the Muslim Brotherhood are on their own against this mass opposition movement and its allies.
In an attempt to force the army’s hand, Morsi’s cabinet Monday, Jan. 28, approved a draft law authorizing him to mobilize soldiers for law and order street duty – “to participate with the police in preserving security and protecting essential services.”
To be valid, this measure needed ratification by both houses of parliament which, though dominated by the Islamist parties, are in constitutional limbo. Their legitimacy is in question since last year when Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court declared the election law unconstitutional and disqualified three-quarters of all elected members. The upper house was allowed to work ad hoc until a new lower house is elected this year.
So the president’s draft law is easily evaded by the army, as rampaging protesters rock his government in such key cities as Cairo, Ismailia, Suez, Port Said, Damanhur and Alexandria and day by day grind down the Muslim Brotherhood’s hold on rule.
The army tosses the ball back to Morsi. Military coup in the air
Indeed, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, chief of staff of Egypt’s armed forces and defense minister, threw the ball back into Morsi’s court when, 24 hours later, amid spreading chaos and a death toll running into scores, he warned that the political, economic and social challenges facing the country represented a “danger to Egyptian security and the cohesion of the Egyptians’ state” so long as they were unresolved by all sides. The continuing political conflict, he said, could lead to “the collapse of the state.”
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in Cairo report that this is the second time in two years that the armed forces have flouted an order from central government, raising the question of whether Egypt is capable of emerging from decades of military dictatorship to embrace a civilian political system of government
In February 2011, Field Marshall Mohammed Tantawi, then defense Minister and military chief, defied the orders of Hosni Mubarak, on his last legs as president, to break up the surging Tahrir Square movement for his overthrow. Instead, he advised Mubarak that the army was no longer behind him and his only option was to step down.
Mubarak and his family boarded the helicopter provided by the military, turned his back on Cairo and took refuge in the Sinai resort town of Sharm el Sheikh.
Two years later, as the opposition marks the second anniversary of his fall with protests against the post-Mubarak parliament and constitution, the current defense minister Al-Sisi, speaking for the 26 high commanders of Egypt’s armed forces, has given President Morsi almost the same advice as Mubarak received. He is not quite telling Morsi to resign, but his meaning is clear:
This is yours and the Muslim Brotherhood’s last chance: Either submit to the opposition and reach terms on a power-sharing compromise, or the army will step in to overthrow your regime and seize power in a military coup.
A Morsi visit would embarrass the White House
Resoundingly silent as Egypt lurches under clouds of teargas and flames towards collapse is the Obama administration, which heartily championed the revolution for toppling Mubarak in 2011.
Judiciously backpedalling, the US president is no longer telling the regime to heed the voices of the Egyptian people or urging the army to put a stop to the mayhem roiling the streets. He knows as well as the generals that the rank and file would not obey orders to forcibly suppress street protests.
And so a military-led crackdown on the opposition might just precipitate the collapse of the Muslim Brotherhood regime and the army itself.
Obama can’t afford to let the Egyptian army go down because he would then face the embarrassing admission that the only national army to survive the Arab Spring intact and in good shape is the Syrian army, which loyally fights for Bashar Assad through thick and thin.
Already, quiet mutterings may be heard in Washington that regardless of Obama’s pro-Muslim policies and the promotion of his partnership with Muslim Brotherhood, US interests in the Middle East are fast going bust.
The odds of President Morsi keeping his March date with President Barack Obama at the White House in March get longer day by day. And, even if it does come off, his stay in the United States will be awkward, to say the least – and not just because of his domestic troubles; he is bound to face harsh music over his unbridled expressions of hate for Israel and the Jews.
At a recent meeting with US senators, the Egyptian president abandoned all semblance of diplomacy to rant against Israel and imply that “the Jews” control the American media.
He has also refused to recant the comments he made in 2010 calling Jews “the descendants of apes and pigs.”
This week, one of his senior aides, Fathi Shihab-Eddim, took Iran’s denial of the Holocaust to a new level by condemning it as a US intelligence hoax for, among other crimes, justifying “war and massive destruction against military and civilian facilities of the Axis powers, and especially to hit Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the atomic bomb.” According to this Morsi aide, the six million Jews allegedly killed by the Nazis were “simply moved to America.”
Saudi Arabia enters the Egyptian mess on Salafi backs
This week, a new and unexpected player stepped into the drama playing out between the Muslim Brotherhood, hundreds of thousands of its opponents on the streets, the Egyptian army and the Obama administration. It is Saudi Arabia, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence and Middle East sources disclose here exclusively.
The Saudi rulers have just put Egypt’s Salafi Al-Nur Party up to aligning with the opposition movement fighting Muslim Brotherhood rule – with devastating effect. Working through their undercover connections, Saudi Intelligence Director Prince Bandar bin Sultan and Salafist leaders this week drew up a plan to defeat what they condemn in religious terms as the “Ikhwanization [Brotherhood-ization]” of Egypt, a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideological and political platform.
By Wednesday, Jan. 30, their plan was rolling. Al Nur party leaders met with heads of the Egyptian opposition National Salvation Front. They agreed to coordinate operations against the regime.
Salafi activists were already highly visible on the streets of Egyptian towns, mingling with their liberal, pro-democracy, secular fellow protesters as they shouted slogans against the Morsi regime.
When President Morsi was urged by Egyptian intelligence advisers Friday night, Jan. 29, to flee the presidential palace in Cairo, he arrived at his home town of Zakzat for peace and quiet – only to find it besieged by thousands of Salafis demanding his resignation.
The presence of hundreds of thousands of these fundamentalists at opposition protests derailed the state of emergency and night curfews the president ordered in Suez, Ismailia and Port Said.
The Brothers can either cave in, or deploy their own militia
As we write this, Egypt’s ruling Brotherhood, isolated and up against the Salafists, the army and the Egyptian opposition, is left with two hard options:
1. Cave in to the opposition‘s demands, meaning revoke the new constitution which they have been trying to force down the country’s throats, and withdraw objections to opposition parties, some of them secular, joining the government. Morsi shows no inclination for now to adopt this course.
2. The extreme course of sending Brotherhood adherents out on the streets to battle the opposition factions and the Salafists, militia versus militia. This course would drag Egypt down toward the abyss of a bloody civil war.
The next article examines Saudi motives for interfering in the Egyptian imbroglio and working out grudges against Presidents Obama and Morsi alike.