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Coronavirus hits Egyptian army amid allegations of a cover-up

Members of Egyptian Armed Forces take security measures around the Sanctuaries of Christians as part of the Christmas celebrations in Cairo, Egypt on December 26, 2017 [Egyptian Armed Forces / Handout - Anadolu Agency]
Members of Egyptian Armed Forces in Cairo, Egypt on 26 December 2017 [Egyptian Armed Forces/Anadolu Agency]

Two generals in the Egyptian army have died from the coronavirus, a leading researcher has revealed. Mahmoud Gamal, the director of the Monitoring and Documentation Unit at the Egyptian Institute for Political and Strategic Studies (EIPSS), added that at least 550 soldiers and officers have the virus.

Speaking exclusively to Arabi21, Gamal said that this number is rising steadily. "There is a lot of secrecy surrounding this matter. Most of those afflicted with Covid-19 work in the Engineering Authority, and have been quarantined in Almaza Military Hospital in Cairo and the Sa'ka Forces Hospital in Sharkia Governorate to the north of Cairo.

He pointed out that there is deep anxiety and confusion within army ranks due to the rise in virus cases. Moreover, there are strict warnings for all officers and soldiers, along with their families, not to disclose any information about the infections. Army officers were apparently disciplined when Major General Shafie Abdel Halim Dawoud's death was revealed by his nephew on Facebook. The other senior officer who died was Major General Khaled Shaltout.

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"The document circulated on social media about the detection of Covid-19 infections within the army is 100 per cent accurate," noted Gamal. He described the way that the crisis has been handled as "lacking transparency".

According to Gamal, the two generals did not die as a result of their involvement in efforts to curb the spread of the virus, as the pro-regime media in Egypt has claimed. They contracted the virus on 9 March before the start of the campaign led by the army to sterilise public places. "Al-Sisi's regime is trying to politicise the death of the generals with the propaganda that the army officers are sacrificing their lives for their homeland and the Egyptian people, while the truth is the opposite," he insisted.

"The spread of the coronavirus within the army is linked to the fact that an officer in the Engineering Authority of the Armed Forces returned from an assignment in Italy and tested positive for the virus. However, the infected officer had already met Generals Dawoud and Shaltout to brief them on his trip. The two generals then met Major General Ihab El-Far, Chief of Staff of the Engineering Authority, who met Al-Sisi on 23 February, in addition to attending the meeting of the army leaders on 3 March."

The military researcher pointed out that Al-Sisi has been tested negative twice for the coronavirus and self-isolated at the Air Force Command in Heliopolis. However, he has recently resumed his duties, the last of which was to attend a meeting with a group of Egyptian women on Mother's Day last weekend, after being assured by doctors that he had tested negative. The President, said Gamal, does not meet any officials except for emergencies and after following strict precautionary measures.

READ: Al-Sisi urges Egyptians to have more discipline over coronavirus crisis

All of the senior officers who attended the 3 March meeting were tested. General El-Far tested negative for the virus, while the result for the Chief of General Intelligence, Abbas Kamel, has not been confirmed yet.

According to international human rights platform We Record, "Demonstrating disregard for the security and safety of citizens, the We Record team received information from private sources that a celebration was held in honour of Major General Dawoud last Sunday at the Engineering Authority of the Armed Forces as soon as he arrived at his office after leaving the military hospital, where the doctors informed him that he recovered from the infection and that the virus no longer poses a threat to his life."

The organisation added in a statement, a copy of which was obtained by Arabi21: "During the ceremony, the general came into contact with several officers directly before dying from the infection, which reveals once more the poor medical services and official disregard for the lives of the armed forces staff, and most importantly the Egyptian people."

We Record also asked, "By wrongly diagnosing a highly contagious virus, who can imagine what disaster will befall the Egyptian armed forces after its spread through its ranks?"

Arabi21 also obtained a leaked audio link in which the Chief of Staff of the Engineering Authority, Major General Mahmoud Shahin, who is fighting for his life after contracting Covid-19, tries to reassure his relatives and friends: "I will survive the ordeal, and I am currently improving. Do not listen to the rumours, which are effortless attempts that add to my good deeds. Pray for me, and forgive me for not being able to talk to you all."

Rumours are many. One claims that General Shahin passed away at the Almaza Military Hospital in Cairo on Monday morning. However, private sources confirmed to Arabi21 that he is still alive, albeit in a critical condition.

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