On the seventh anniversary of the military coup that ousted democratically-elected President Mohamed Morsi (1951-2019) in Egypt, it is worth considering that the coup leader, General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, actually paved the way for his takeover with a number of other, perhaps less noticeable coups and related events which are detailed below. With outside support, he effectively killed Egypt’s nascent democracy.
Post-January 2011 Revolution: The then Director of Military Intelligence responsible for the Islamist portfolio, Al-Sisi rejected the Muslim Brotherhood’s decision to stand a candidate in the presidential election. His justification was that the challenges Egypt faced were greater than any single organisation could deal with.
June 2012: The ruling Military Council dissolved the elected parliament, anticipating the arrival of an elected civilian president with a constitutional declaration that would strip it of any power.
30 June 2012: Dr Mohamed Morsi of the Freedom and Justice Party, affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, was elected President of Egypt in elections declared by observers to be free and fair.
12 August 2012: Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi was appointed as Defence Minister by President Morsi. He was also Commander-in-Chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces.
August 2012: The military police failed to secure Prime Minister Hesham Qandil during a military funeral. Qandil was attacked, along with other ministers and officials, in front of the memorial where they were supposed to join President Morsi in the ceremony.
Al-Sisi asked Morsi to demand that the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, should hand over some of its members to the Egyptian security services for alleged “terrorism” offences in the Sinai Peninsula. The president refused to do so and ordered Al-Sisi to discuss the matter with the Hamas leadership; he refused to obey the order.
November 2012: Al-Sisi called on political forces, party leaders and public figures to engage in a dialogue about Morsi’s constitutional declaration. Morsi ordered Al-Sisi to end a military operation in the Sinai Peninsula. The general obeyed, but reluctantly.
January 2013: Al-Sisi met with students at the Military Academy and spoke for the first time about the state’s collapse and the neutrality of the army, which he removed from the conflict. He considered the president to be one of the parties to the conflict.
February 2013: News spread that Al-Sisi had been dismissed. Informed sources within the armed forces said that senior officers insisted that they would not be a tool in the hands of any government and that such leaks were like playing with fire.
April 2013: The army developed an emergency plan in accordance with which it assumed security responsibility, and expanded its role in Port Said on the Suez Canal.
Following Morsi’s official visit to Sudan, Al-Sisi sent the Chief of Staff to Khartoum to confirm the army’s refusal to give up the town of Shalateen and the disputed Halayib Triangle.
June 2013: Al-Sisi met and developed relationships with some Egyptian celebrities. He also issued his famous warning: “This army is a fire. Do not play against it and do not play with it.”
A post-coup interview with retired Major General Ayman Salama on BBC Radio revealed escalating differences between Morsi and Al-Sisi, which intensified in the month before the coup because of the President’s repeated rejection of the army’s requests to close the tunnels between the besieged Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula, described by journalists as “Gaza’s lifeline” during the blockade. For Morsi, keeping the tunnels open was an act of humanitarian solidarity with the Palestinians, but senior army officers saw this as a threat to their relationship with the Israeli army.
In interviews with Associated Press, senior officers in the Ministry of Defence and the security and intelligence agencies painted a picture of the tense relationship between Morsi and his Defence Minister, who hated hearing the president say that he, Morsi, was the Supreme Commander of the armed forces. For Al-Sisi, the President was overstepping his civilian authority and leading the country into chaos. Hence, he repeatedly disobeyed the President’s orders.
30 June 2013: Two of Morsi’s aides called the Commander of the Second Field Army to offer him the position of Minister of Defence. He in turn informed Al-Sisi, who proceeded with his coup to overthrow the president.
3 July 2013: Dr Mohamed Morsi was ousted as President of Egypt. Al-Sisi’s supporters called the coup a “revolution”. Morsi was imprisoned. Post-coup, Al-Sisi said that senior officers of the armed forces had expressed reservations about Morsi’s policies and decisions on numerous occasions.
Why did the army feel that a coup against Morsi was necessary?
- The armed forces in Egypt have long had control over many state institutions, the legacy of the 1952 coup. Senior officers had control over the whole country, with enormous economic benefits for them.
- According to a report published in the Washington Post, the army controls 60 per cent of Egypt’s economy, and has a secret budget and tax exemptions for the undeclared profits from its businesses.
- Gulf States supported Al-Sisi’s coup with billions of dollars, because they felt that the political success of the Muslim Brotherhood was a threat to their own thrones. This was a small price to pay in exchange for the preservation of their hold on power. They have since led the counter-revolutionary forces across the Arab world.
- In November 2012, Morsi stood in solidarity with Gaza against Israel’s military offensive. He opened the Rafah Border Crossing, recalled the Egyptian Ambassador from Tel Aviv and sent a government delegation to the Palestinian territory led by his Prime Minister. He also announced his support for the Arab Spring revolutions, especially in Syria.
- Morsi visited Sinai four times and placed its development at the top of his agenda. He established dialogue and mediation with armed groups in the Peninsula to avoid bloodshed, while the army was seeking to escalate the confrontation.
- The election of Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, as President of Egypt was the most dangerous manifestation of the change in the region as far as Israel was concerned, threatening its peace treaty with Egypt. Israeli Brigadier General Aryeh Eldad admitted that the Zionist state worked to overthrow Egypt’s first democratically-elected President and orchestrated Al-Sisi’s coup in 2013.
- Al-Sisi was confident that he would have the tacit approval of the European Union, Russia and, most importantly, the United States if he ousted Morsi. All of their governments ignored the coup — they didn’t even call it a coup — and instead called for a peaceful “transfer of power”.
- The secular faction in Egypt provided the “revolutionary” cover for the coup and promoted it internally and externally through well-known media personalities whose words carried a lot of weight in the eyes of the public.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.