Is Egypt’s military planning coup against Brotherhood’s rule?
CAIRO - Egypt's military on Wednesday brought in reinforcements of troops and armour to bases near Egyptian cities ahead of June 30 protests planned by the opposition to force the Islamist president out, security officials said.
The announcement comes amid heavy speculation over the army's role in the upcoming crisis.
The presidency says that the military has been coordinating closely with Morsi's government in the run-up to the protests, but activists say they are looking to the army for protection from hard-line government supporters.
Some Islamists accuse activists of paving the ground for a coup, a charge that the opposition vehemently denies.
The officials said the deployments are restricted to the outskirts of major cities and inside existing military facilities. In Cairo, the focus of Sunday's protests, the extra troops went to major bases to the east and west of the city of some 18 million people.
The protests mark President Mohammed Morsi's first year in office.
As Egypt’s economy crumbles and its democratic transition falters, some opponents of the country’s Islamist president are pinning their hopes on unlikely saviours: the generals who have been mostly sidelined since last year’s elections.
An argument rapidly gaining traction holds that Egypt could soon slide into economic collapse, or even civil war, unless the military steps in to reassert a dominant role.
On Sunday, army chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, who is also defense minister, gave Morsi and the opposition a week to reach an understanding to prevent bloodshed. There has been no sign of compromise by either side.
Sisi also warned the military would intervene to stop the nation from entering a "dark tunnel." Appointed by Morsi last August, he also gave a thinly veiled warning to Morsi's backers that the military will step in if the protesters are attacked during the planned protests, as some hard-liners have threatened.
Morsi, who addresses the nation later on Wednesday, has sought to project the impression of business-as-usual since Sisi's comments on Sunday. He has discussed with Cabinet ministers fuel shortages and power cuts and urged others to ensure that basic goods are available ahead of the start around July 10 of the holy month of Ramadan, when devout Muslims refrain from food, water, smoking and sex from dawn to sunset.
However, the build-up to the Sunday protests comes as the country is paralyzed by an acute shortage of fuel that has created massive traffic jams caused by the long lines outside gas stations. Egyptians have also been angered by a steep rise in prices that is caused in part by the sliding value of the Egyptian pound against the U.S. dollar.
Cabinet ministers blamed the fuel shortage on corruption, rumours and hoarding by a public that is nervous over the protests this coming Sunday.
Morsi's opponents calculate they can force him out through the sheer number of people they bring into the streets starting Sunday — building on widespread discontent with his running of the country — plus the added weight of the army's declaration that it will protect them against attacks.
His backers, in turn, say the mainly liberal and secular political opposition is fomenting a coup to remove an elected leader because they can't compete at the ballot box.
The security officials, who spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to speak to the media, said army commanders have carried out reconnaissance missions in areas and facilities they intend to protect ahead of June 30.
For example, the commander of the central military region on Tuesday inspected a media complex on the western outskirts of Cairo that houses several TV networks, some critical of Morsi. The complex was besieged at least twice in recent months by Islamists loyal to Morsi to intimidate the networks and hosts of talk shows critical of the president.
Beside the complex, the military plans to protect the massive Nile-side building housing state TV, the Suez Canal, the Cabinet offices and parliament.
Morsi's supporters have accused organizers of the June 30 protests of planning to use violence, but the protesters have repeatedly vowed to keep their demonstrations peaceful.