Egyptian army back in the spotlight as crisis deepens


Generals in Egypt are back on the media spotlight with speculations that the country’s most powerful men may once again step in the political crisis and push the president aside to claim the reigns.

In a replay of the Jan. 25 revolution, protesters on Saturday mounted military tanks in Cairo calling on President Mohammed Mursi to withdraw his decree of wide powers on Nov. 22.

Dark tunnel

On Saturday, the military urged political forces to solve their dispute via dialogue saying it would take the country into a “dark tunnel,” hinting military intervention.

“Anything other than that [dialogue] will force us into a dark tunnel with disastrous consequences; something which we won’t allow,” according to a military statement read out on state TV.

Failing to reach a consensus, “is in the interest of neither side. The nation as a whole will pay the price,” the statement added.

The military stressed that dialogue is the “best and only” way to take Egypt out of its crisis adopted by the Muslim brotherhood. The country previously watched as the military had control over previous presidents particularly after Mubarak’s fall.

However, Mursi pushed the general’s aside in August and they had shown little appetite to intervene in Egypt’s latest crisis.

National responsibility

A senior Muslim Brotherhood official welcomed the army’s remarks as “balanced” and neutral. Former Foreign Minister Amr Moussa, now an opposition leader, said the army was simply responding to an “enormously dangerous situation.”

The army started to assert itself again, sealing off the presidential palace with tanks and barbed wire, saying it “realizes its national responsibility in protecting the nation’s higher interests,” and state institutions.

The state-run daily al-Ahram reported that Mursi would soon authorize the military to help police keep order and give it powers of arrest under a decree approved by the cabinet. It did not say when the decree would be issued.

Down with Mursi

Nightly protests degenerated into clashes this week between Mursi supporters and opponents leaving seven people dead and more than 640 injured.

The tens of thousands of Mursi foes who surged past tanks and barbed wire to reach the palace gates on Friday night had dispersed, but a hard core stayed overnight in a score of tents.

Some had spray-painted “Down with Mursi” on tanks of the elite Republican Guard posted there after clashes between rival groups killed at least seven people and wounded 350 this week.

Others draped the tanks with posters of Mursi and the word “Leave” scored across his face in red letters.

Mursi'’s backers in the Muslim Brotherhood, in turn, fear that the judiciary, with its many Mubarak-era appointees, is plotting to block their post-Mubarak reforms.

Ruin legitimacy

The Muslim Brotherhood’s supreme guide, Mohamed Badie, denounced opposition protests that have swirled around the walls of the Mursi’s palace, saying they “ruin legitimacy.”

Badie said eight people, all of them Brotherhood members, had been killed this week and urged the interior minister to explain why police had failed to prevent assailants from torching the organization’s headquarters and 28 other offices.

“Get angry with the Brotherhood and hate us as much as you like, but be reasonable and preserve Egypt’s unity,” he told a news conference. “We hope everyone gets back to dialogue.”

The turmoil has exposed deep divisions over the destiny of a country of 83 million where the removal of Mubarak 22 months ago led to a messy army-led transition, with the Brotherhood and its allies winning two elections.

The well-organized Brotherhood, which pushed Mursi from obscurity to power, remains his surest source of support, with over 80 years of religious and political struggle behind it.

Late on Friday, Prime Minister Hisham Kandil urged political forces to take “courageous and constructive steps” by calling off protests and joining the dialogue without preconditions.

While the main opposition coalition is boycotting, Mursi’s dialogue might be joined by some senior judges or politicians such as Ayman Nour, who was trounced when he ran for president in 2005, the only multi-candidate race of the Mubarak era.

International concern

The African Union, of which Egypt is a member, also issued an appeal on Saturday for talks on the constitutional referendum to arrive at a consensus.

The instability in Egypt worries the West, especially the United States, which has given Cairo billions of dollars in military and other aid since it made peace with Israel in 1979.