The head of Egypt’s military,Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi,sat with a polite smile in the front row listening to President Mohamed Morsi give a 2 1/2-hour speech defending his year in office. El-Sissi even clapped lightly as the audience of Morsi supporters broke into cheers.
It was a calculating display of cool by an army general plotting the overthrow of his commander in chief. Just over a week later,el-Sissi slid in the knife,announcing Mohamed Morsi’s ouster on state TV on July 3 as troops took the Islamist leader into custody.
The move was the culmination of nearly a year of acrimonious relations between el-Sissi and Egypt’s first freely elected – and first civilian – president.
A series of interviews by The Associated Press with defense,security and intelligence officials paint a picture of a president who intended to flex his civilian authority as supreme commander of the armed forces,issuing orders to el-Sissi. In turn,the military chief believed Mohamed Morsi was leading the country into turmoil and repeatedly challenged him,defying his orders in at least two cases.
The degree of their differences suggests that the military had been planning for months to take greater control of the political reins in Egypt. When an activist group named Tamarod began a campaign to oust Mohamed Morsi,building up to protests by millions nationwide that began June 30,it appears to have provided a golden opportunity for el-Sissi to get rid of the president. The military helped Tamarod from early on,communicating with it through third parties,according to the officials.
The reason,the officials said,was because of profound policy differences with Mohamed Morsi. El-Sissi saw him as dangerously mismanaging a wave of protests early in the year that saw dozens killed by security forces. More significantly,however,the military also worried that Mohamed Morsi was giving a free hand to Islamic militants in the Sinai Peninsula,ordering el-Sissi to stop crackdowns on jihadis who had killed Egyptian soldiers and were escalating a campaign of violence.
“I don’t want Muslims to shed the blood of fellow Muslims,” Mohamed Morsi told el-Sissi in ordering a halt to a planned offensive in November,retired army Gen. Sameh Seif el-Yazl told AP. Seif el-Yazl remains close to the military and sometimes appears with el-Sissi at public events.
And at root,the military establishment has historically had little tolerance for the Muslim Brotherhood,Mohamed Morsi’s Islamist group. The military leadership has long held the conviction that the group puts its regional Islamist ambitions above Egypt’s security interests.
Its alliances with Gaza’s Hamas rulers and other Islamist groups alarmed the military,which believed Gaza militants were involved in Sinai violence. The officials said the military leadership also believed the Brotherhood was trying to co-opt commanders to turn against el-Sissi.
The military has been the most powerful institution in Egypt since officers staged a 1952 coup that toppled the monarchy. Except for Mohamed Morsi,the military has since given Egypt all of its presidents and maintained a powerful influence over policy. Having a civilian leader over the military was entirely new for the country.
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