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General's speech intended to show military unity does the opposite

By Egyptian standards, the 40th anniversary of the Ramadan War was truly unusual. Instead of commemorating the heroic crossing of the Suez Canal by its armed forces against the Israelis occupying Sinai, the occasion was overshadowed by a controversy about the involvement of the army in national politics.

There is mounting evidence that suggest that the military coup which ousted the country's first elected civilian president, Mohamed Morsi, is beginning to backfire. On the streets of every city and throughout the provinces, questions abound about the unity and intent of the national army. They reflect in most cases genuine apprehension because the Egyptian army is the only major Arab army left standing after all the others, from Iraq to Libya, have been destroyed during the last decade of war and civil strife.

Faced with serious threats to its interests in the Nile on the one hand, and its territorial integrity in the Sinai on the other, the army's decision to embroil itself in national politics seems altogether ill-timed and ill-judged.

A reading of recent military statements poses more questions than answers. The first came from a video released on 14 July in which the Minister of Defence and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces in Egypt, General Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi was seen addressing an audience from various branches of the military.

The video showed very obvious differences in the lighting, seating arrangements and faces of the audience in various shots. This led to the conclusion that the video was a compilation of several pieces of footage. An army spokesman has since admitted that video clips from previous unrelated meetings were added to the recording of the speech, without giving an explanation as to why that was done. Needless to say that the timing of its release gave the impression that it was an attempt to justify the military coup and show that Al-Sisi enjoys the full support of the army's top brass.

Why was the recording fabricated, though? Surely, if there was unanimity within the senior ranks, the army chief would have no need to produce a video to explain or justify his actions. It seems as if those who edited the recording added clips from previous meetings to give the impression that specific senior military ranks attended the speech, while in reality they did not. Their absence exposed by this amateurish recording has fuelled the growing suspicion that the military leadership is not, in fact, united behind Al-Sisi and not totally supportive of the coup.

Since seizing control, the army press corps has been at pains to affirm, on more than one occasion, that senior officers are united. None of these assertions have, however, quelled the speculation. On the contrary, it has grown considerably, especially after the sudden withdrawal of keynote speaker Al-Sisi from a ceremony to mark the anniversary of the Ramadan War. His deputy was called upon to stand in for him at the last moment.

In the event, it is believed that Al-Sisi is unable to face many of his senior officers. Unconfirmed reports suggest that a growing number are disaffected and, indeed, opposed to the partisan stance he took in relation to the country's internal political crisis.

Their profound concern is that they are being drawn into a battle well outside their natural remit. This, analysts believe, will only reinforce the polarisation of the country and accelerate the drift toward a period of protracted civil strife.

In other words, Al-Sisi has installed a regime that has to use military force and draconian measures to validate its legitimacy. With the tragic example of Syria before us, it is mind-boggling that the Egyptian army should be used as a blunt instrument against its own people.

In Cairo demonstrations on Friday, protesters in front of the Media City were allowed by the soldiers to climb onto their tanks and scrawl "Sisi is a traitor" on the armour; a soldier carried a large photo of Morsi in one hand and gave the V-for-victory sign with the other. Such scenes are the early signs that Al-Sisi's actions may have split the army as much as they have split the people of Egypt.

AfricaCommentary & AnalysisEgypt
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