News / Middle East

Egypt's Army Says Morsi Role at Syria Rally Seen as Turning Point

Fireworks burst over opponents of Egypt's Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, July 2, 2013.
Fireworks burst over opponents of Egypt's Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, July 2, 2013.
Reuters
Army concern about the way President Mohamed Morsi was governing Egypt reached a tipping point when the head of state attended a rally packed with hardline fellow Islamists calling for holy war in Syria, military sources said.

At the June 15 rally, Sunni Muslim clerics used the word “infidels” to denounce both the Shi'ites fighting to protect Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the non-Islamists that oppose Morsi at home.

Morsi himself called for foreign intervention in Syria against Assad, leading to a veiled rebuke from the army, which issued an apparently bland but sharp-edged statement the next day stressing that its only role was guarding Egypt's borders.

“The armed forces were very alarmed by the Syrian conference at a time the state was going through a major political crisis,” said one officer, whose comments reflected remarks made privately by other army staff. He was speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to talk to the media.

The controversy surrounding the Syria conference pointed to a crippling flaw in the Morsi presidency: Though the constitution names Morsi as supreme commander of the armed forces, the military remains master of its own destiny and a rival source of authority to the country's first freely elected head of state.

The army's dramatic ultimatum demanding Morsi and other politicians settle their differences by Wednesday afternoon caught the presidency completely off guard. Triggered by mass protests against Morsi's rule, it amounted to a soft coup by a military that has been a major recipient of U.S. aid since the 1970s, when Egypt made peace with neighboring Israel.

The army has cited the need to avoid bloodshed as its main motivation. It also is worried by other major problems facing Egypt, including an economic crisis that has wiped out more than one-tenth of the value of the currency this year, making it harder for the state to import fuel and food.

Speaking on the eve of the protests, the president had dismissed the idea that the army would take control again.

If Morsi was aware of irritation in the army, he chose to ignore it, believing his mandate as Egypt's democratically elected leader gave him license to make policy the way elected leaders do elsewhere in the world.

For the army, the Syria rally had crossed “a national security red line” by encouraging Egyptians to fight abroad, risking creating a new generation of jihadists, said Yasser El-Shimy, analyst with the International Crisis Group.

At the heart of the military's concern is the history of militant Islam in Egypt, homeland of al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri. The military source condemned recent remarks made by “retired terrorists” allied to Morsi, who has deepened his ties with the once-armed group al-Gamaa al-Islamiya.

Speaking privately, officers in the secular-leaning military have said Egyptians did not want a religious state. Though the Brotherhood never said it wanted to set up a theocracy, such concerns reflect the army's long-standing suspicion toward a movement banned by army rulers in 1954.

Presidency blind to threat

In public, Morsi and the army have kept up appearances.

The presidency repeatedly has moved to quash rumors of tensions with the generals.

The constitution signed into law by Morsi late last year protects the interests of the military, which oversees a sprawling economic empire that produces everything from bottled water to tablet computers.

“The presidency didn't perceive the military as a threat,” added Shimy of the International Crisis Group.

The current head of the armed forces, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, was appointed by Morsi in his second month in office after he sent into retirement Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Mubarak's defense minister for two decades.

Twenty years Tantawi's junior, Sisi was promoted from the position of military intelligence director. Analysts have described it as an arrangement that suited both Morsi and a younger generation of army commanders seeking promotion. He was trained in the United States and Britain, like many officers in an army that receives $1.3 billion in military aid a year from Washington.

While saying the army was out of politics, Sisi repeatedly has called on Egypt's feuding politicians to settle their differences. In December, he chaired unity talks to ease tensions ignited by a decree that expanded Mursi's powers.

Earlier this year, Sisi warned that unrest could bring down the state. He also responded to calls for the army to unseat Mursi, saying: “No one is going to remove anybody”.

The army has not said what Morsi's fate will be in the plan, which it will implement if the politicians fail to agree.

Sisi is something of an Islamist himself, said Robert Springborg, an expert on the Egyptian military based at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. He cited materials written by Sisi during his training in the United States. “As I see it, they are trying to assert as much pressure as possible to bring about a compromise settlement,” said Springborg.

The military's actions this week should be viewed as those of an institution, not individuals, added Nathan Brown, an expert on Egypt at George Washington University.

“The personal inclinations of individual members of the armed forces are not the issue and are not on display here.

“There is one thing we do know about the ideology of the military. That it sees itself as having a mission to the state rather than the constitution,” said Brown.

You May Like

Photogallery South Africa Bans Travelers From Ebola-stricken Countries

South Africans returning from affected West African countries will be thoroughly screened, required to fill out medical questionnaire, health minister says More

Multimedia UN Launches ‘Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years’ in Iraq

Move aims to help thousands of Iraqi religious minorities who fled their homes as Kurdish, Iraqi government forces battle Sunni insurgents More

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

IT specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about disease More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbasi
X
Scott Stearns
August 21, 2014 9:20 PM
The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls for Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid