News / Middle East

Analysts: Egyptian Generals Unlikely to Take Sides in Crisis or Block Referendum

An anti-Mursi protester with an Egyptian flag around his shoulders talks to soldiers standing guard outside the Egyptian presidential palace in Cairo December 9, 2012.An anti-Mursi protester with an Egyptian flag around his shoulders talks to soldiers standing guard outside the Egyptian presidential palace in Cairo December 9, 2012.
x
An anti-Mursi protester with an Egyptian flag around his shoulders talks to soldiers standing guard outside the Egyptian presidential palace in Cairo December 9, 2012.
An anti-Mursi protester with an Egyptian flag around his shoulders talks to soldiers standing guard outside the Egyptian presidential palace in Cairo December 9, 2012.
Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi has ordered the military to play a more active role in securing the country days before he holds a referendum on a draft constitution denounced by liberal opposition groups. 
 
Analysts say Egyptian generals have little desire to take Morsi's side in a growing political crisis over the controversial charter shaped by his fellow Islamists. But they also say the independent-minded military is unlikely to stand in the president's way of holding Saturday's referendum
 
In a decree late Sunday, Morsi gave army officers the power of arrest and instructed them to use that power to preserve national security until the results of the vote are announced. 
 
In the days leading up to the decree, the military had limited its physical involvement in the crisis to setting up barricades around the presidential palace, where Islamist and liberal activists had engaged in deadly street battles. 
 
Egypt's top generals also had issued a statement urging both sides to resolve political differences through dialogue and warning them that the military will not allow continued confrontation to plunge Egypt into a "catastrophe." 
 
Staying neutral
 
Carnegie Middle East Center analyst Yezid Sayigh said that statement positioned the military as a neutral actor in the political crisis. 
 
"It sent very strong signals to Morsi in particular that the army is not going to act as his proxy or as an ally in his political disagreement with the opposition in Egypt," he said. "The army also is saying we will not allow (the president) to go too far in imposing his will."
 
Sayigh said the military took a similar position in the February 2011 popular uprising against president Hosni Mubarak, refusing to suppress protesters to keep the longtime leader in power. 
 
He said another reason the generals do not want to help Mr. Morsi politically is their troubled experience of governing Egypt before they handed power to him in June when he won a presidential election. 
 
"The army as a whole was not at all happy with their political role over the past year-and-a-half after Mubarak's downfall. I believe they are very reluctant to be in that position once again."
 
Status secure
 
Sayigh, who is based in Beirut, said Egypt's military also does not need to rely on Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood movement to protect its privileged role in society. 
 
"Aside from the young revolutionaries who led the 2011 uprising and former presidential candidate Mohammed ElBaradei, most political parties, from so-called liberals to Salafists, would happily come to an understanding with the army that allows it to maintain its special status in the constitution." 
 
The draft constitution facing voters on Saturday largely preserves the military's ability to run its own budget and financial interests. 
 
Daniel Kurtzer, former U.S. ambassador to Egypt from 1998 to 2001, said those provisions are one reason why the generals are unlikely to support opposition calls for the referendum to be scrapped. 
 
"If the military is satisfied that the constitution protects its role, I think (the generals) would give a lot of leeway to other forces within society to define the role of Islam and the questions of civil rights and the protection of human rights." 
 
Liberal opposition groups accuse the Islamist-dominated panel that drafted the charter of ignoring their input and proposing measures that give Islam too great a role in society while ignoring women's rights. The charter's Islamist supporters say the document is an important step toward Egypt's democratic transition. 
 
Avoiding interference
 
Kurtzer, a professor at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, said the Egyptian military has made a point of staying out of Morsi's way in recent months. 
 
"One of the most interesting phenomena of the Egyptian revolution is that Mr. Morsi, as the first civilian to be elected president, has not faced the kind of potential challenge from the military that you might have seen in other countries," he said. 
 
Sayigh said Morsi asked the military to maintain law and order because it has proved to be more cooperative with him than the police and other security services still run by Mubarak-era appointees. 
 
"The ministry of interior's security services have been very uncooperative with the new president," he said. "They are the ones who for many years did the most to keep the Muslim Brotherhood out of parliament and out of office." The Brotherhood was officially banned under Mubarak, but it built a strong network of Islamist support through its social services. 
 
Kurtzer said the Egyptian military's complex relationship with Mr. Morsi does not suggest a crisis is near. 
 
"I think there is probably as much mixed feeling within the military (about the president) as there is within other sectors of society," he said. 

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

You May Like

Photogallery Oxfam: Ebola Could Be 'Disaster of Our Generation'

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba, says the Caribbean island nation will 'gladly cooperate' with the US in the fight against Ebola in West Africa More

Multimedia Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

Refugees receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed More

India’s Ruling Nationalist Party Makes Gains in Regional Elections

Bharatiya Janata Party’s huge margin over its rivals puts it on course to form governments in the northern Haryana and western Maharashtra states More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Walter Johnson
December 11, 2012 5:34 AM
A lot may hinge on the size of the vote rejecting the proposed constitution (or accepting it). The military leadership is very wise to stay neutral since its direct involvement has caused its own problems in the past and would cut off the foreign aid that pays their salaries, etc. If the election is not fully an honest one though I would not expect the military to stay on the sidelines.


by: Loki from: Toronto
December 10, 2012 9:29 PM
The army is the friend of the people of Egypt. How does a friend to all take sides in periods of civil unrest other than to keep the two (or more) sides in the disagreement from killing each other or trashing institutions?

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fighti
X
Zana Omer
October 18, 2014 6:37 PM
The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.
Video

Video Church for Atheists Goes Global

Atheists, by definition, do not believe in God. So they should have no need of a church. But two years ago, a pair of British stand-up comedians decided to create one. Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans told the BBC they envisioned “something like church but without God". Their “Sunday Assembly” movement has grown from a single congregation in London to dozens of churches around the world. Reporter Mike Osborne visited with the members of a Sunday Assembly that now meets regularly in Nashville.
Video

Video Robot Locates Unexploded Underwater Mines

Many educators believe that hands-on experience is the best way to learn. Proving that the method works is a project developed by a group of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey. They rose up to a challenge posted by the U.S. Department of Defense and successfully designed and built an underwater robot for locating submerged unexploded ordnance. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's JFK Hospital Reopens After Temporary Ebola Exposure

JFK Hospital is Liberia’s largest and one of its oldest medical facilities. The hospital had to close temporarily following the deaths of two leading doctors from Ebola. It is now getting back on its feet, with the maternity ward being the first section to reopen. Benno Muchler has more for VOA News from Monrovia.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Expose Generation Gap

Most of the tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong are students seeking democracy. Idealistic youths say while the older generation worries about the present, they are fighting for the territory's future. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Hong Kong.
Video

Video Liberians Living in US Struggle From Afar as Ebola Ravages Homeland

More than 8,000 Liberians live in New York City, more than in any other city outside of Liberia itself. As VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports, with the Ebola virus ravaging their homeland, there is no peace of mind for these New Yorkers.
Video

Video Kurds See War-Ravaged Kobani As Political, Emotional Heartland

Intense fighting is continuing between Islamic State militants -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- and Kurdish forces around the Syrian town of Kobani, on the Turkish border. The U.S. said it carried out at least nine airstrikes against Islamic State positions Friday. Meanwhile the U.N. has warned that hundreds of civilians would be massacred if the town falls to the militants. Henry Ridgwell looks at the strategic significance of the city.

All About America

AppleAndroid