The army is built from both sides of Egypt’s divide – yet must now keep them apart

Both sides may wave the Egyptian flag, which is red, white and black. The colour of khaki is no substitute

Share
Related Topics

The army's in charge. Call it a coup, if you like. But the Egyptian military - or the infamous “Supreme Council of the Armed Forces” as we must again call it - is now running Egypt. By threat at first - then with armour on the streets of Cairo. Roads blocked. Barbed wire. Troops round the radio station. Mohamed Morsi - at the time still the  President - may have called it a 'coup' and claimed the old moral high ground ('legitimacy', democracy', etc) but long before we saw the soldiers in the city, he was pleading with the generals 'to return to barracks. Ridiculous;  the generals didn't have to leave their barracks to put the fear of God (metaphorical or real) into his collapsing administration.

Morsi talked of shedding his blood. So did the army. This was grim stuff. Miserable was it to behold a free people applaud a military intervention, though Morsi's opponents would claim their freedoms have been betrayed.  But they are now encouraging soldiers to take the place of politicians.  Both sides may wave the Egyptian flag, which is red, white and black. The colour of khaki is no substitute.

Nor will the Muslim Brotherhood disappear, whatever Morsi's fate.  Risible he may have been in power, lamentable his speeches, but the best organized political party in Egypt knows how to survive in adversity. The Brotherhood is the most misunderstood - or perhaps the most deliberately misunderstood - institution in modern Egyptian history.  Far from being an Islamist party, its roots were always right-wing rather than religious, its early membership under Hassan al-Banna prepared to tolerate King Farouk and his Egyptian landlords providing they lived behind an Islamic façade.

Even when the 2011 revolution was at its height and millions of anti-Mubarak demonstrators had pushed into Tahrir Square, the Brotherhood was busy trying to negotiate with Mubarak in the hope they could find some scraps on the table for themselves. The Brotherhood's leadership never stood alongside the people during Egypt's uprising. This role was fulfilled by Egypt's strongest secular base - the trade union movement, especially the cotton workers of Mahalla north of Cairo.

Even Nasser's war with the Brotherhood was less about religion than it was about security;  the leadership of the original Free Officers Movement found that the Brotherhood was the only party able to infiltrate the army - a lesson which today's Egyptian generals have taken to heart.  If the Muslim Brotherhood is banned again - as it was under Nasser and under Sadat and under Mubarak - it will not lose its support within the armed forces.  Sadat was assassinated by a non-Brotherhood Islamist called Khaled el-Islambouli - but he also happened to be a lieutenant in the Egyptian army.

Sayyed Qutub, the Brotherhood's leader, attacked Nasser for leading his people back into a pre-Islamic age of ignorance ('jahiliya) but the party was more exercised by Egypt's growing relationship with the atheistical Soviet Union. Qutub was hanged.  But persecuted, officially banned, the party learned - like all underground organizations with an ideology - how to organize, politically, socially, even militarily.  And so when real

The army, as they say, belongs to the people.  Mohamed el-Baradei, the former UN nuclear inspector and Nobel laureate and now opposition leader, told me during the 2011 rising that “ultimately, the Egyptian army will be with the people…And at the end of the day, after anyone takes off his uniform, he is part of the people with the same problems, the same repression, the same inability to have a decent life.  So I don't think they are going to shoot their people.”

But that was then, and this is now.  Morsi may have adopted the pseudo-trappings of a dictator - he certainly talked like Mubarak on Tuesday, complete with threats against the press - but he was legally elected, as he kept telling us, and legitimacy is what the army likes to claim it is defending. In 2011, the 'people' were against Mubarak. Now, the 'people' are against each other. Can the Egyptian Army, the heroes of the 1973 crossing of the Suez Canal, stand between the two when they themselves now come - let us face it - from the 'people' on both sides?

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The author with David Leppan, the co-founder of Wealth-X, in his BBC series  

What I learnt about inequality after spending time with some of the richest people in the world

Jacques Peretti
 

If I were Prime Minister: I would halt the charitable status enjoyed by private schools

Rosie Millard
As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links