Egyptian Military Threatens to Return to Power

In August, 2012, Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi succeeded in ousting not only General Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, but also the acting chiefs of the military branches.  The lack of protests among the generals and the overall military in response to this Islamist assertion of power suggests the possibility that more military leaders may be sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood than previously thought.

Meanwhile, opposition leaders are inviting the  military to return to power on a ‘temporary’ basis.  During his recent trip to Egypt in 2013, analyst Eric Trager said that many non-Islamist political activists were aiming to help the military return to power.  Many non-Islamist political activists said they were attacking Muslim Brotherhood offices in a bid to create chaos and help bring the military back in control.

The ostensible goal of these protests is to bring the military back into power on a ‘temporary’ basis until Egypt’s political situation can be more clearly sorted out.  “We just want the military to protect us during the intermediate period, not rule,” said Islam, a member of the revolutionary Suez Youth Union.  Officials of the opposition National Salvation Front called for the military to intervene to prevent chaos and restore public order but not to participate in politics.

Calls for the military to return to power also came from other opposition sources. The Coalition of the Youth for the Revolution asked the military to remove the Muslim Brotherhood from power.  Sami Sabri, assistant editor of a weekly supplement to the daily opposition newspaper Al Wafd argued,”Our military’s intervention is preferable to civil war that would shatter us.”  Dr. Salah Ghazali Harb, writing in Al Masri Al Yom, urged the military ” to rush to intervene so as to stop the ongoing violence and bloodshed that is anticipated… with the increase in popular fury and waves of popular rebellion, which could hasten the economic and social collapse of the country, alongside chances for a hunger revolution…”  The concern about a national breakdown is legitimate, but the desire to bring the military back to power on even a ‘temporary’ basis is highly dangerous. 

The problem with this strategy is that once the military is back in power on a supposedly ‘temporary’ basis, the military will be unlikely to surrender power peacefully or easily.  The military has tried 12,000 civilians in military courts and treated Maikel Nabil Sanad, a pacifist democratic dissident and pro-Israel activist, with extreme brutality during his captivity under military rule.  The military is responsible for horrendous human rights violations, including the murder of hundreds of civilian protestors, the ‘viriginity tests’ against female demonstrators, and systematic imprisonment and torture of its political opponents.  So the assumption that the military can be trusted to neutrally manage the political transition in Egypt is naive at best and dangerous at worst.

In addition, if returned to power, the military will undoubtedly use its political power to manage and protect its financial interests.  Analyst Trager estimates the military controls 15 to 40% of the Egyptian economy, including significant land holdings, major industries, and a financial empire.  The military’s financial wealth and significant position in the Egyptian economy is another reason to oppose its return to power in any form, whether temporary or permanent.

Meanwhile, the military’s officially stated reason for its desire to return to power is ironic. Minister of Defense Abdul Fatah al Sisi said the goal of any military intervention would be to prevent the country from “slipping down a dark tunnel of criminality, treason, sectarian strife, or collapse of state institutions.”  Ironically, the military itself is responsible for some of the most severe sectarian strife in the country, including the 2011 massacre of 27 Coptic Christian protestors who demonstrated peacefully against the religiously motivated slaughter of their co-religionists.

So the military cannot be trusted to respect the rights of the Coptic Christian minority, and opposition activists are making a huge mistake by asking the military to return to power on a ‘temporary’ basis.  Opposition activists should be careful about what they wish for, especially as they plan a major uprising against the Morsi regime on June 30 through the Tamarod, or rebel movement.



About the Author
Rachel's educational background includes a B.A. in international relations from Brown University; she has been an independent scholar, analyst, and researcher about Middle Eastern affairs for 12 years; Her focus has been on Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Egypt.