Morsi-SCAF meeting eases tensions between Egypt presidency, military

Dina Ezzat , Friday 12 Apr 2013

Thursday meeting between President Morsi and Supreme Military Council appears to have eased brewing tensions – at least temporarily – between presidential palace and Egypt's armed forces

File photo: Egyptian Presidency, Egyptian Minister of Defense, Lt. Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, left, meets with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi at the presidential headquarters in Cairo, Egypt Thursday Feb, 21, 2013 (Photo: AP)

Less than two days after news leaks indicated that close to 1.5 million Egyptians had signed 'symbolic' legal documents requesting that the minister of defence run the country, and less than one day after a leaked document to UK daily The Guardian revealed the army's role in oppressing the revolution and torturing protesters, President Mohamed Morsi met with the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) to announce the promotion of three leading SCAF officials.

The heads of the air force, air defense and navy were all offered promotions that made them the same rank as the minister of defense. "In theory this means that the minister of defence himself will be offered a promotion," suggested a retired military official. "This promotion may come soon or may be delayed for a while but it will happen."

The promotion of the three SCAF members, in the analysis of many, put an end, at least for now, to the much-speculated tension between the president, who is also the army commander-in-chief, and the SCAF.

According to the same military source, however, tension between presidency and army is not over fully yet, because anger over the state of affairs in the country is not confined to the SCAF but "goes much deeper."

The position of the leadership would inevitably influence that of the lower ranks, the same source suggested. So it is containment "for now at least," he added.

Relations between the army and the first elected Muslim Brotherhood president were never easy to decipher. Morsi was elected in presidential elections that were conducted under the rule of the SCAF, which took over the nation's affairs after Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down on 11 February 2011.

Accounts shared by officials and politicians about the first and second round of the presidential elections reveal that the SCAF was not at all far from – directly or indirectly – 'influencing' the final outcome.

Some suggest that this 'influence' aimed to favour Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s last prime minister and a former army officer, while others suggest the opposite.

Six weeks after being sworn in, Morsi decided to remove the two top officers of the SCAF: Hussein Tantawi and Sami Annan. He appointed the current minister of defence, Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, one of the younger SCAF officers.

The shuffle came in the wake of the killing of 16 borders soldiers in the Sinai Peninsula, in an attack whose perpetrators were never identified – despite the rumoured involvement of Islamist militant activists on the borders between Egypt and the Gaza Strip and Israel.

However, it was not long before tension found its way into the El-Sisi-Morsi relationship, as public anger with the presidential performance was vehemently demonstrated, starting last November with the presidential constitutional declaration that granted Morsi temporary extra-judiciary powers.

The open-ended confrontation between the presidency on the one hand and judicial and political opposition on the other did not allow Morsi and El-Sisi to restore their brief honeymoon.

Rather, the relationship approached the point of possible divorce, with deteriorating stability in the Suez Canal cities last winter in the wake of wide public protests against a perceived lack of justice for the victims of Egypt's Port Said stadium disaster, which happened during the SCAF-led transitional period.

At the time, the army effectively took over the three canal cities, to the joy of many residents who started a campaign to collect signatures from citizens who wished to designate El-Sisi – rather than Morsi – to run the state.

Late last month, the presidency acted to dispel leaks suggesting that Morsi was about to remove El-Sisi, as accounts from military quarters suggested widespread anger at the anticipated move, which seemed to be specifically designed to pre-empt anticipated military intervention aimed at easing political tension prompted by the president's refusal to accommodate opposition demands.

Reassurances given by El-Sisi to leading public figures and foreign officials that the army was not mulling a coup, informed sources say, helped ease the tension.

But what actually initiated the real reconciliation, according to official sources, is the "containment scheme that the presidency and the Muslim Brotherhood" are pursuing to secure sufficient political stability in order to obtain a proposed IMF loan to keep the national economy afloat.

Leading foreign officials had pressed Morsi to pursue political consensus with the opposition and state institutions to ease the way towards the much needed loan.

The containment scheme was put into motion a few days ago when Morsi sent the opposition messages suggesting that he was consulting with possible candidates to accommodate opposition demands for a cabinet reshuffle.

Morsi also decided to freeze "animosity" between the media and the presidency, announcing Wednesday a decision to drop all legal charges against journalists and television anchors.

The Thursday announcement of the SCAF members' promotion "and the very fact that the meeting was announced before it was convened" is a sign "in and by itself" that the presidency wants to share the news with the public, suggested Qadri Saeed, a political and military analyst. "They are basically telling the people, 'Here we are, meeting and discussing matters'," he said.

The meeting with the SCAF, with Morsi at its head, Saeed added, is also a reminder to those who keep calling on the army "to intervene" that the army still acknowledges Morsi as its head, and that it has not decided to alter its political-security role for now – nor has it decided to rebuff Morsi as its commander-in-chief. "This is a message that has a domestic audience, but that also has an international audience," he added.

Egyptian diplomats in several Western capitals tell Ahram Online that the Morsi-SCAF meeting "received much attention."

In the words of one, "it sort of dispelled, at least for now, speculation about a military coup." He added: "You can expect the signing of the IMF loan soon; maybe on the 27th of this month."

A source at the office of the prime minister said Thursday evening that the loan signing could be expected before the end of the month. "We are on track; it is coming before the end of this month," he said. He added that economic stability would inevitably prompt "the peace required to conduct parliamentary elections within a few months."

Short link: