Earlier this week, Egypt's Defense Minister Abdul Fattah al-Sissi sent a set of unmistakably potent messages, which put the army firmly at the heart of the Egyptian scene.
Sissi's recent statements pointed to a new social, media and psychological redeployment for the army, making it the centerpiece of the state.Abdullah Kamal
At the same gathering, the defense chief distanced the army from the country's political tensions, rebuffing calls from opponents of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood for the military to "step in" and stage a coup. "If the army has to move, this movement will not be for a short time. It may extend for 40 years," he said.
Egypt had been ruled by four presidents with a military background for six decades starting from 1952. In June last year, Mohammed Mursi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood, became Egypt's first democratically elected president.
Officials from the Brotherhood did not hide their happiness at Sissi's reassuring remarks, as the group was feeling worried about increasing calls on the army to topple the Islamist regime whose popularity rates have dropped amid a dilapidated economy.
However, the jubilant Islamists seem to have lost notice of one key message in the defense chief's statements. Sissi projected an image of a self-confident commander holding the balance of the state, with a powerful army standing behind him. At one point, he threatened intervention to safeguard "the people's legitimacy". In other times, he counseled patience, prodding different political powers to come to terms among themselves to end the country's political deadlock.
Egypt has for months bogged down in a sharp dispute pitting the secular-leaning opposition against President Mursi and his Islamist allies.
Significantly, Sissi at the recent gathering ignored mentioning the Islamist president and highlighted the power of the army. The first-of-its kind gathering was held inside an army camp outside Cairo, a place that symbolically underscored the overwhelming presence of the army on the Egyptian stage despite the defense minister's insistence that the military is unwilling to make a political comeback.
The military governed Egypt in a turbulent transitional period that ran from February 2011 – following Hosni Mubarak's ouster in a popular revolt—until the army handed over power to Mursi on June 30, 2013.
In November last year, I wrote an article commenting on Mursi's sacking of the then defense minister Hussein Tantawi—the former military ruler-- whom he replaced with al-Sissi. In that piece, I described the move as a "political redeployment for the Egyptian army" that I said was poised to carry out "repositioning" to emerge as the "guardian of the state".