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Material and moral
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 10 - 07 - 2013

Over the past year the Muslim Brotherhood tried to govern Egypt with the mindset and methods they use to run their own secretive organisation. As a consequence they compromised the organisation of the state and lost control of its institutions. It was not just a result of the Muslim Brotherhood's appalling political performance but also of growing suspicions that the group had a hand, either directly or indirectly, in all of the national security crises that have occurred in the last 12 months and more. Indeed Brotherhood leader Mohamed Al-Beltagui's statement that jihadist and takfiri groups in the Sinai would cease their activities in exchange for Morsi's freedom acted only to confirm these suspicions, as do the results of preliminary investigations which, say informed sources, suggest the Brotherhood's allies in Gaza have created a clandestine security force in Egypt in collaboration with Brotherhood Deputy Supreme Guide Khairat Al-Shater.
“The Muslim Brotherhood has a long record of abusing national security and the Armed Forces,” military affairs expert General Talaat Muslim told Al-Ahram Weekly. He rejected any suggestion that the events of 30 June constituted a military coup. It may have been the case, he said, if millions of people had not taken to the streets to voice their opposition to the regime and demand its removal or if General Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi had tried to impose a political roadmap for the interim period independently.
“The army had expected a large turn out to demand the fall of the regime but it did not anticipate the millions who took to the streets. The numbers put paid to the long-held belief that the Muslim Brotherhood was Egypt's strongest organisation and the best able to mobilise,” says Muslim.
Because of the role it played in ousting Morsi the army has come under pressure from Washington which has hinted at cuts in military aid. The US is continuing its contacts with Muslim Brotherhood figures, most notably with Gehad Al-Haddad, son of the ousted president's foreign affairs adviser Essam Al-Haddad. One Muslim Brotherhood source, breaking ranks with the position of the group's leadership, says “Gehad and his father are the first people the Muslim Brotherhood should hold to account for what has happened. With Khairat Al-Shater they share responsibility for erasing the history of our group and embroiling it in the most lethal crisis in its history.”
“The US,” says Muslim, “is well aware that it sees Egypt less clearly than the army. Regardless of statements issued by politicians and members of Congress, the political decision [in Washington] will be in favour of the army and the steps it has taken. What we see are attempts to ensure that the transitional period is not prolonged.”
The army is concerned by the American position, but what is crucial at this stage is to ensure that firm political steps of a civilian nature are taken. In this the army has certainly succeeded, says General Alaa Ezzeddin, former director of the Armed Forces' Centre for Strategic Studies. “We have a people who uprooted a politically corrupt regime and the role of the army, under such circumstances and in view of its obvious responsibility for the preservation of national security, was to support the design of a roadmap towards the future. The constitutional declaration has made it explicit that the role the army is playing is the role played by all of the world's armies. This message should reassure everyone at home and abroad.”
The army's domestic challenges are daunting. There is the outbreak of terrorist attacks by jihadist groups in North Sinai against the army, civilians and religious figures. The attacks have already claimed the lives of a Coptic priest, two police officers and a soldier. Terrorists have attacked several checkpoints and security posts in front of Arish airport, Central Security Forces' camps at Al-Jora and Ahrash, and security stops on the Arish ring road. According to military sources, the army has already nuetralised a number of terrorist elements. Most notably, it took out a four-wheel drive vehicle involved in the attack on the airport. Military spokesman Colonel Mohamed Ahmed Ali says that after reviewing the situation in Sinai the Armed Forces decided they do not need additional troops as they broaden operations to uproot terrorist cells.
Video footage has been circulated showing Islamist extremists threatening the army following a demonstration last Thursday in Arish where hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood loyalists rallied to the call to form a “war council” against the army. From Sinai, political activist Hossam Al-Shorbagi told the Weekly that by night the situation on the ground had descended into open warfare between the terrorists and the army.
“These groups will not give up fighting the army after they proliferated so much during the year of the ousted president's rule,” he said. Al-Shorbagi estimates that 20 people were killed during Thursday's clashes.
Another Sinai activist, Mosaad Abu Fagr, blames the Muslim Brotherhood for instigating the conflict. He said Muslim Brothers had held a rally in the centre of Arish in which they proclaimed the army and the police had no place in Sinai. He also accused members of Hamas and Al-Qassam Brigades of aiding jihadist elements. “These plans are financed by MB Deputy Supreme Guide Khairat Al-Shater through the Baraq Company which supplies building materials to Gaza,” he claimed.
Abu Fagr confirmed that the army has not taken up offensive positions but is intercepting attacks and defusing the terrorists. “It realises that an offensive would require broad fronts rather than a single arena and it is not the time for that now,” he said. He believes transition to democratic order in Cairo will bring an end to the disturbing scenario in Sinai which most inhabitants of the peninsula oppose.
Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Manei, head of the Independent Federation of Sinai Tribes, describes the situation as “a war arena”.
“Sinai is passing through one of the most difficult moments in its history since independence,” he says. He urged the army and political forces to be patient and prioritise the welfare of the nation and avoid the spectre of an Algerian or Syrian situation.
General Alaa Ezzeddin predicts that within days operations will be launched to comb the area for terrorist cells.
“These elements will not be able to hold out against the army which has undertaken previous operations and now has operational knowledge of the terrorist groups,” he says.
Ezzeddin rejects the possibility of an Algerian or Syrian scenario because “Egypt now is a strong state with a strong and well-trained army capable of firm and resolute action.”
The army and the police, he adds, were coordinating at the highest levels on [anti-terrorist] operations in Sinai which will probably last for a month. He stressed that the people of Sinai are fully in accord with the position of the Armed Forces and its determination to root out terrorist elements. He did not believe there was anything in the threats issued by Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahri to alarm the army, though the army is taking into account the movement of Al-Qaeda-linked groups in both Sinai and Gaza. The General Intelligence Service is helping in this regard now that intelligence files are in the hands of General Mohamed Al-Tohami, a highly qualified military expert and former director of the Military Intelligence.
The army's second major challenge is to confront the escalatory tactics of the Muslim Brotherhood itself, the most salient of which was the Republican Guard crisis.
“We are keen to move the political situation forward as quickly as possible and to set an agenda for the interim period, regardless of the Muslim Brotherhood which is now casting itself as a victim and a target of exclusion and abuse, whereas in reality it is the one fabricating all these incidents,” a leading politician told the Weekly. “I imagine the army is now dispatching messages abroad via individuals good at addressing foreign opinion in order to refute [the Muslim Brotherhood's] allegations.”
The air was thick with tension and anxiety in the area around the Republican Guard building on the evening before the clashes. Young men were organising the square, ordering all but their own supporters to clear out, stopping vehicles and coldly inspecting them and their passengers. Following the shootings the army furnished proof that the incident was deliberately instigated by elements of the pro-Morsi camp. Video footage revealed many Morsi supporters on the roofs of neighbouring buildings throwing stones, others carrying knives and Molotov cocktails, all of which suggests that the incident was staged and that there was a plan to storm the headquarters in which they believed Morsi was being held.
Republican Guard soldiers and police who had been stationed in the area provided similar accounts of the events: a member of the Morsi camp initiated an attack just after dawn prayers. Police General Mohamed Kilani told the Weekly, “the claim that the army attacked people while they were at prayer is an outright lie. Not only is the army highly disciplined, most of its officers and soldiers perform their religious rites even in the course of performing their national duty. They have had to bear endless insults and accusations of treachery from members of groups most of whom never did their army service.”
“The trajectory of gun fire on those praying came from their direction and most of the bullet wounds were inflicted from behind. Investigations are revealing the amount of weapons they possessed and where they were stored. They used mosques as their warehouses and smuggled some of the weapons in through women's marches.”
Military spokesman Mohamed Ahmed Ali did not use the word terrorist. He did emphasise that several cautions had been issued against any attempt to attack military facilities. He concluded his statement by expressing condolences to all the families of the victims.
The narratives among the protesters at the Rabaa Al-Adawiya Mosque, hub of pro-Morsi demonstrations, circle on Central Security vehicles attempting to break up the sit-in in front of the Republican Guard during dawn prayer. Muslim Brotherhood leader Ahmed Sabie added that cries from the loudspeaker — thought to have been made by Safwat Hegazi — ordered protesters to attack the Armed Forces after the assault by Central Security vehicles. He also questioned the veracity of video testimony furnished by the army.
According to evidence and previous admissions on the part of Muslim Brotherhood members as well as testimony supplied by a member of the Qassam Brigades a year ago, Al-Shater had formed militias in the Sinai and infiltrated Salafist cells. The militia groups and cells are reportedly well-trained in urban guerrilla warfare. The movement and trade of weapons in Sinai and Morsi's general amnesty for many convicted extremists worked to guarantee their loyalty. Indeed, some analysts go so far as to suggest the Muslim Brotherhood leadership triggered events at the Republican Guard headquarters, simply to foment the anger of the Sinai militias and elicit a response, sacrificing its own members to promote further upheaval. Since the protesters did not all perform the dawn prayers at once it is possible that the attackers exploited this to stage an assault that would make it look like people praying had been shot at.
Ahmed Rushdi, a Muslim Brotherhood youth closely connected to Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) leaders, was in front of the Republican Guard building until just before dawn. He told the Weekly that he was surprised to see fellow members bringing women, old men and even children into the area.
“Was there no wise man to warn of the possibility that clashes might erupt?” he asked. He continued, “I know that Al-Shater had created electronic militias. I had never imagined armed militias. As for the idea of infiltrating political parties, it was floated at the time when the Muslim Brotherhood came under criticism for instructing its members to join only the FJP. The idea was also to control other parties. We heard that the keys to all these plans were in Al-Shater's drawers.” Rushdi added that the people at Rabaa Al-Adawiya and Nahda Square will continue their sit-in, but that it was difficult to imagine a trend to violence, especially during Ramadan.
According to military experts the army is expected to reduce its visibility on the political scene in the coming period, but it will remain a player in view of its role in defence of national security. It will not implement any extraordinary measures.
General Talaat Muslim observes that evidence of this policy can be seen in the fact that military and Interior Ministry spokesmen appear simultaneously. “It is the police who are responsible for domestic security now, the judiciary will confine its role to the prosecution of those who, on the basis of firm evidence, have corrupted political life, and the state will resume the performance of its functions administered by government institutions with clearly demarcated mandate. This will dispel the spectre of military interference in politics.”
Of the greatest importance, says Muslim, is for the 30 June movement to be left free to create true social justice, political organisations with strong grassroots bases and leaderships that are fully aware of the needs of the phase and remain united. “This is what will set the 30 June Revolution on sturdy feet and keep it from becoming a transient wave in a time of protracted revolutions,” he predicts.


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