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Military thrust back to centre stage

AFP
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Human rights groups feel that the change could lead to the return of military trial

Army tanks, left, deploy as Egyptian protesters gather outside the presidential palace during a demonstration against President Mohammed Morsy in Cairo.Photo:AP
Army tanks, left, deploy as Egyptian protesters gather outside the presidential palace during a demonstration against President Mohammed Morsy in Cairo.Photo:AP

After sitting politically backstage for the past six months, Egypt's powerful military has been thrust back into the spotlight to handle a crisis that is testing its desire to stay neutral and its duty to maintain order.

The military has called for President Mohamed Morsy and the secular opposition to meet later on Wednesday in a bid to prevent the crisis over an imminent constitutional referendum from tearing the country apart.

It made the call after the Islamist Morsy ordered the army to back up police by protecting "vital state institutions" and giving officers powers to arrest civilians.

After meeting Morsy on Monday, the defence minister and commander of the armed forces, General Abel Fattah al-Sissi, called on army officers to exercise the "highest levels of self-restraint".

He said the armed forces were determined to "carry out their role in protecting the nation and its stability regardless of pressures and challenges".

However, human rights groups see the risk of a return to civilians being tried in military courts, as happened during the transition period between the fall of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011 until Morsy's election in June 2012.

The decree granting the army police powers was slammed by Human Rights Watch, which said it could allow unchecked abuses and that it undermined the rule of law.

Directly or indirectly, the military has had a prominent role in Egyptian life since the overthrow in 1952 of the monarchy.

Morsy is the first civilian to become president. His four predecessors — Mohammed Naguib, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat and Mubarak — all rose from the ranks of the military.

During those years, the army was able to build up a vast economic empire, controlling enterprises from mineral water to property and even cemeteries.AFP


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