CAIRO — Less than a year ago, then-President Mohamed Morsi swept out the highest ranks of Egypt’s powerful military and installed new top brass that many expected would be loyal to him.
The Islamist leader enjoyed a three-month honeymoon with his armed forces as a new generation of officers undertook long-delayed modernizations and appeared — for the first time — to be solidly under civilian control. But the relationship soured as Morsi’s rule increasingly challenged the core interests of the military, which functions as a major business power in Egypt in addition to its more traditional role ensuring the security and stability of the nation.
Main players in the Egypt crisis
Military rule in Egypt.
The disagreements started after Morsi’s decree, late one November night, that he had near-unlimited powers over the country and escalated as Egypt’s economy stumbled. The struggles peaked in June, when Morsi stood by twice as officials around him called for Egyptian aggression against Ethiopia and Syria, threatening to suck Egypt into conflicts that it could ill afford, former military officials said.
Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a U.S.-trained Islamist sympathizer who was Morsi’s handpicked man for the office, informed the president on June 22 that he needed to do more to unite the country. The military’s decision to step in was sealed after millions of anti-Morsi protesters took to the streets eight days later, Sisi said in a nationally televised speech announcing the takeover on Wednesday.
Now, with fighter jets performing maneuvers in the clear Cairo sky and armored personnel carriers patrolling the streets, the military is again explicitly in control of an Egypt that it led — either directly or from behind the scenes — for almost six decades before Morsi’s 368 days in power. But for all the military’s might, it appeared unable to restore peace to the streets of Egypt as clashes erupted Friday and continued into Saturday around the nation between Morsi’s supporters and his opponents, leaving at least 30 people dead, according to the Egyptian Ministry of Health.
“The dangers of Morsi’s rule have been apparent for some time now, from the decisions that he has taken and the way he managed the country,” said Talaat Mosallam, a retired major general in Egypt’s army. By June 30, he said, “it was perfectly clear that Morsi’s continuation would cause a very violent conflict between the opposition and his supporters. At that point the armed forces knew they had to move.”
Egypt’s military establishment has long held paramount power over the country, with generals turning themselves into business tycoons over the three decades that President Hosni Mubarak was in office. The army’s business holdings are shadowy and vast, estimated at anywhere between 10 and 30 percent of the economy, and top leaders socialize with each other in manicured country clubs a world away from the vast, smog-filled streets where most people scrape by on just dollars a day. Military officers had run the country since the 1952 revolution, and their leadership has long been willing to go to great lengths to ensure the stability of both their own insular society and Egypt as a whole.