Tensions between the military and the ruling Muslim Brotherhood have moved increasingly to the fore in recent weeks, culminating in the leak to the UK newspaper The Guardian of a report by a presidential appointed committee into abuses committed by the army.
An emergency meeting of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) attended by President Mohamed Morsi ended with the president not only offering his complete support to the Armed Forces but promoting senior commanders, three of whom received the mostly honorific rank of lieutenant-general.
The meeting has been widely viewed as ending — for now at least — an ongoing crisis fanned by occasional public statements issued by senior MB leaders. Only last week Muslim Brother Mohieddin Al-Zayat published a poem in which he described the military leadership as “cowardly as rats”.
Tensions between the military and the Brotherhood exploded four months ago after the army called for dialogue between Morsi and the opposition in the wake of December’s mass protests. MB figures replied by spreading rumours about the imminent dismissal of Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, general commander and defence minister. Others called for former SCAF commanders to be referred to trial.
But when a report accusing the military of gross human rights abuses against protesters appeared in The Guardian, SCAF called for the meeting with Morsi “in order to calm the situation and remove tensions affecting the military as a result of a defamation campaign and attacks by the president’s group”.
The leaked sections of the report highlighted the use of live ammunition against protesters, enforced disappearance of activists and their torture — sometimes resulting in death — at the hands of soldiers. Following the meeting, both Al-Sisi and Morsi made TV statements. “I swear the Armed Forces did not kill or order any killing, betray or order any betrayal following 25 January,” insisted Al-Sisi.
“I will not allow any humiliation or underestimation that harms the military or its image,” added Morsi.
Morsi ratified SCAF’s recommendations that the heads of the Air Force, Air Defence and Navy be promoted to the rank of lieutenant-general. The three commanders were appointed to their positions in August following Morsi’s retirement of SCAF’s leaders, including Hosni Mubarak’s long standing defence minister Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi.
While some commentators see last week’s promotions as an attempt to calm an angry military, others point out that the move was simply a belated enactment of existing protocol.
“The top commanders of the army’s three main branches are generally granted the rank of lieutenant-general when they are promoted,” says retired general and strategic expert Adel Fouda.
Retired General Sameh Seif Al-Yazal claims the recently published leaks came as part of a concerted campaign to “spread false allegations against the military with the aim of distorting its image”.
“Such lies attempt to sow hatred between the people and its loyal army,” says Seif Al-Yazal.
“The timing of the leak shows that the improving relationship between the army and the people disturbs many who do not feel comfortable with the trust and love the Egyptian people shows towards the military.”
Many army commanders and young officers, he adds, had been badly affected by the anti-military campaign.
Morsi formed the fact-finding committee in July, appointing 16 members, including six representing victims and human rights activists, to investigate the mistreatment of protesters during the revolution in 2011 and its aftermath.
The president’s office continues to say that Morsi has not read the committee’s report on its findings but referred it immediately to the prosecutor-general’s office. In January 2013 the prosecutor-general’s office announced it was investigating 14 incidents mentioned in the report. No details of the investigations, or indeed of the contents of the report, have been officially released.
Committee member Mohsen Bahnasi says that the media’s focus on the circumstances of the leak is acting as a distraction. The real issue, he says, concerns the evidence of atrocities unearthed by the committee and contained in the report which was handed to Morsi four months ago.
“The reasons why the president has not made the report public are unclear,” says committee member Takadum Al-Khatib.
A week after the sections of the report were leaked Morsi-appointed Prosecutor-General Talaat Ibrahim announced during a trip to Qatar that the evidence it contained was largely circumstantial.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Morsi to release the fact finding report.
“Victims’ families have the right to know the truth about their loved ones’ deaths. Even if certain information can’t be made public in the interest of justice all Egyptians need to know what happened,” says Nadim Houri, HRW’s deputy Middle East director.
The results of Morsi’s meeting with SCAF make it clear that the release of the report is unlikely to happen any time soon. Not only did SCAF come away with a batch of promotions, it also emerged with presidential support for the military taking the leading role in any future plans to develop and invest in the Suez Canal zone.
“Future projects must now be at least five kilometres away from the canal,” army spokesman Colonel Ahmed Ali told Al-Ahram Weekly.
“The military will remain the major partner and key player in decision-making when it comes to Suez Canal and Sinai affairs.”