But if Morsi appeared emboldened, it may have had less to do with his support from the Muslim Brotherhood than with his newfound friendship with Egypt’s vaunted, wealthy, U.S.-supplied military, which deployed tanks and armored trucks in defense of the presidential palace early Thursday.
That pointed display by the Republican Guard — a discrete military unit charged with protecting the palace — followed a night of clashes that left seven people dead and more than 700 wounded. And it reflected a closeness between Morsi and the military sealed for now by the draft constitution, which he is so insistently advocating and which enshrines the military’s vast powers and autonomy to an unprecedented degree.
In a telephone call to Morsi later Thursday, President Obama expressed “deep concern’’ about the deaths and injuries of protesters and said that “all political leaders in Egypt should make clear to their supporters that violence is unacceptable,” the White House said.
The relatively small show of force by Egypt’s military — seven tanks, 10 armored trucks and a few dozen soldiers who set out coils of barbed wire — followed a meeting early Thursday that included Morsi; his newly appointed, young and openly Islamist defense minister, Abdul Fatah Khalil al-Sisi; Gen. Hamid Zaki, the newly appointed head of the Republican Guard, considered a Morsi loyalist; and other officials, a spokesman said.
Although the move Thursday by the Republican Guard by no means indicates that Morsi has deep or widespread support in the military, which is as divided and complex as Egypt itself, it suggested that the army remains the ultimate arbiter of power in post-revolutionary Egypt, just as it has been for decades. And it marked another political rearrangement in a turbulent transition that has seen many of them — in this case, a turnaround in the relationship between the two most powerful institutions in the country, after decades in which Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood supporters were repressed with the backing of the military.
Although some observers cautioned against reading too much into Thursday’s tank deployments, other analysts considered it a significant moment for Morsi.
“The most plausible interpretation is indeed that al-Sisi and the incumbent high command are standing firmly by Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Robert Springborg, an expert on the Egyptian army at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. “They chose essentially to stand with him, clearing the area of protesters.”