Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has been meeting without its nominal head, President Mohamed Morsi, to discuss domestic developments amid concerns over Egypt's ongoing political crisis, military sources told Ahram Online Wednesday.
In the president's absence, sources say, such gatherings do not technically qualify as official SCAF meetings. "They are more like consulting sessions in which the military leadership compares notes and discusses issues of concern," said one source.
According to these sources, who spoke on strict condition of anonymity, recent tensions between the presidency and the military were prompted by this recent round of meetings, in which some SCAF members voiced concern over national development and the viability of the central government.
The Muslim Brotherhood, from which President Morsi hails, has viewed these meetings with suspicion, these sources say, seeing them as the beginning of a possible coup against the presidency.
"We were surprised to see leaks on some websites suggesting that the president planned to remove Defence Minister Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi," said one military source.
El-Sisi was appointed by President Morsi last August, replacing long-serving SCAF head Hussein Tantawi.
The presidency has been quick to distance itself from such conjecture. On Tuesday, it released a copy of a recent letter sent to the army by the president, expressing the latter's appreciation for the army's efforts in securing a recent Organisation of Islamic Cooperation summit in Cairo earlier this month.
Tension between the presidency and army began last November, when the latter – in coordination with sacked interior minister Ahmed Gamaleddin – issued an invitation for national dialogue to both the presidency and opposition forces.
The initiative came amid the political crisis that erupted following the President Morsi's controversial 22 November constitutional declaration, which temporarily made his decisions impervious to judicial challenge.
The president later called off the proposed dialogue meeting, however, due to pressure exerted by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Ever since then, military sources say, the army has turned down all requests – either direct or indirect – to intervene in Egypt's political crisis, be they made by the presidency or the opposition.
A SCAF meeting with the president two weeks ago ended inconclusively when the latter demanded the army's help in containing mass demonstrations in Egypt's three canal cities (Port Said, Suez and Ismailia).
Sources stress that the SCAF's position on the issue remains the same: that the army is not prepared to intervene in current political developments unless the situation spirals dangerously out of control.
This position has been publicly stated repeatedly by both El-Sisi and Army Chief-of-Staff Sedki Sobhi.
"The army is not intervening in [political] developments and, in fact, dreads the idea of reassuming any political responsibility," said another military source. "But at the same time, it's our responsibility to be prepared for all possible scenarios."