Chamden Henzler-Lhasawa: Ending the truce between Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian Military

Jampa Henzler-Lhasawa

RELG 270, Prof. Jafar Mahallati

December 2016


Ending the truce between Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian Military


On the January 25, after thirty years of military dictatorship under President Gamal Mubarak, young Egyptians spearheaded an uprising that would become part of the Arab Spring. The non-violent demonstration ended with the resignation of President Mubarak and the subsequent military dictatorship of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). SCAF was a group of 20-25 senior Egyptian military officials, led by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the current Egyptian President. These military leaders were charge of maintain order in the country during times of crisis, such as the Egyptian Revolution. After eighteen months of violent clashes between SCAF and protesters, an illegitimate presidential election was held. With only two candidates to choose from: Mohammed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood and Ahmed Shafik, of the Egyptian military, Morsi was elected on June 18, 2012. It is assumed that a deal was struck between the Muslim Brothers and the military during the protests and prior to the election which aided in the Muslim Brotherhood in their rise to power.

Morsi served as president until July 3, when he was ousted in a military coup d’état lead by el-Sisi who was backed by the Military. Morsi had appointed el-Sisi as Minister of Defense, during his reign. This essay will examine the splitting of ties between the Muslim Brothers and the Egyptian armed forces under Morsi’s rule. Specifically, it will provide an analysis of Morsi’s reaction to Islamic fundamentalists of the Sinai, his alignment and sympathy violent attacks conducted by Muslim radicals, his sacking of top military officials, the economic rivalry between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood, and Muslim Brothers criticism of top military leader and encroachment of military enterprises.

Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood ruled for a little over a year. During his reign Morsi alter the constitution to consolidate his power, giving him judicially uncheck authority. The Muslim Brotherhood also limited free speech and was notorious for their persecution of journalists. Furthermore, Morsi began to impose certain levels of Sharia Law. Morsi also tried cut the subsidies, in exchange for a $4 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which would have increased the prices of the gas, food, electricity. On June 28, 2012 anti-Morsi protests began across Egypt’s biggest cities: Cairo, Alexandria and Aswan. On the June 30, over fourteen million Egyptians demonstrated across the country, claiming the Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood had co-opted the 2011 Egyptian Revolution for personal gain. These protests culminated on July 3, when Morsi was overthrown by the military who were led by el-Sisi. In April of 2015 Morsi was convicted overseeing the torture of political prisoner, inciting violence and passing state secrets to Qatar and sentenced to life in prison. While the civilian protests were a major factor in Morsi’s deposition, the Egyptian military helped to incite these protests. Furthermore, it was the Egyptian military who benefited most from Morsi’s removal from power.

One of the main areas of contention between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian military was Morsi’s responses to terrorist attacks from the Sinai Peninsula. When Morsi assumed power, a resurgence of Islam encapsulated the country. Islam seeped into every sphere of policy in Egypt from the constitution to daily political machinations. This also manifested itself in mass amounts of Islamic fundamentalists returning to the country from abroad, both Egyptian nationals and radicals from other Arab states. Morsi welcoming these radical, even hosting them in Cairo Stadium on June 17th to show support for Syrian rebels. Many of these extremists took shelter in the Sinai, the north-eastern region of Egypt that connects the Asian and African continents, known for its extremist sentiment.

During the Mubarak era, there was little tolerance for terrorism from the native Sinai Bedouins, however during the Morsi administration radicals began to collect in the Sinai once more. Geographically, the Sinai is strategic because it allows for attacks on Israel and south-western Asia. Attacks from the Sinai to Israel and the smuggling of goods into Gaza isolated Egypt from Israel and the United States–Israel’s main ally. Furthermore, Morsi strengthened Egypt’s ties with Hamas, the Palestinian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. Many conservative Islamist also began attacking Egyptian military bases, viewing the Muslim Brotherhood as too liberal. Morsi did little in response to these attacks, trying to not separate himself from powerful Muslim extremist groups in the region. Morsi’s lack of strong response to terrorism created more strife between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian Military. Attacks from the Sinai radicals culminated in the kidnapping and killing of Egyptian soldiers. As attacks continued, the military presence in the Sinai grew and Morsi dissuaded the military from staging any major assault. Morsi’s took a ‘softer’ approach: “mediation with tribal chiefs, rather than the standard military response, made him appear naïve and unfit to rule in the eyes of his military” (Sahar Aziz). This approach angered top military leaders who believed Morsi was reacting lightly to the killing.  Eventually, the Egyptian military took the reins of the fight against the Sinai extremists and staged a campaign of bombing and coordinated assault with the help of the United States and Israel. The lack of vigilance or authority in the Sinai helped to stretch the void between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian military.

When Morsi assumed power, one of his first actions was to release radical Islamists imprisoned by the Mubarak administration. This immediate display of passiveness to terrorism greatly angered the Egyptian Military. The releasing of prisoners was not uncommon in Egyptian power-shifts; during the seventeen-month SCAF rule after the fall of Mubarak, many radicals were released including prominent al-Qaida leader Mohammed Ayman al-Zawahri. However, the numbers released by Morsi were far greater.  Within two months of his inauguration, he had pardoned nine known extremists and released over two-thousand from federal penitentiaries. Many of these released terrorists were either well-known for their opposition to Mubarak or were members of the Muslim Brotherhood and were imprisoned under Mubarak. The Egyptian military was outraged by the pardons and releases. High-ranking officials like General Mohammed Ibrahim Naguib, chief of the federal prison system, spoke out against them. However, these general could do little while the Muslim Brother’s still ruled the country.

Morsi’s sympathies for Islamic radicals resulted in lenient policy towards terrorism across the country. Many of the Islamist began conducting terrorist attacks. The Egyptian Generals in charge of homeland security viewed the upsurge in terrorism as directly reaction to Morsi’s leniency towards radical Islamic groups. During his presidency, Morsi was unable to find a strong connection with the military, police and angered protesters. Desperately searching for an ally, the Muslim Brotherhood turned conservative radicalism. Although many of these groups differed with the Brotherhood on ideological views, both parties sought to establish a Muslim state. Morsi’s decision to strengthen ties with radical Islamic groups further isolated Morsi from the military. As state wide protests, now known to have been encouraged by the military, increased, terrorist attacks did as well. After Morsi’s ousting, Mohammed el-Beltagy, a high-ranking Muslim Brother released a live television broadcast stating that the attacks against the military would stop if Morsi was returned to power. During the final weeks of Morsi’s presidency “deputy leader Khairat el-Shater, threatened in a meeting with military chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi that removing the president would prompt militants to take up arms against the state, according to el-Sissi’s account of the meeting” (AhramOnline). There is little hard evidence that Morsi was directly involved with the increase of terrorist attacks during his presidency which skyrocketed after his removal. However, it’s clear that the military believed Morsi was. Morsi’s release of criminals and his alignment with the terrorist organization only help to create a void between him and the Egyptian military and was used by the military to help validated his removal from power.

Immediately after Morsi’s inauguration as president, he began reshuffling the political dynamics of Egypt by firing the top member of the military, this threatened the military and attributed to the strife between the two leading powers in Egypt. Morsi’s first move was to sack many top leaders of SCAF, and replace them with junior leaders that could be more easily manipulated. For there he began to strip all legislative powers from SCAF by amending the March 11 Constitution Declaration which gave SCAF its greatest powers, and transferring these powers to himself. Morsi greatest blow to SCAF was canceling the June Supplementary Constitutional Declaration which returned authority over military endeavors to the president and eliminated SCAF’s veto powers of new articles of the constitution. Then Muslim Brotherhood tried to return powers to the lower House of Parliament, which had been disabled during the Mubarak regime. Political moves like these worried the military who saw Morsi’s sacking and appointments as a means to try and dissolve the power the military had over the country. The Muslim Brotherhood’s reshuffling of political power aid threaten the military and aid in the agitation between the Brotherhood and the military.

While the Muslim Brotherhood was in power, they used corruption as a means of financial gain and as a way to accumulate power, this helped to sever their ties with the Egyptian military who saw this a threat to their own fiscal corruption. Although the Muslim Brotherhood has used corruption and mismanagement as a means to garner personal wealth and support for the lower-middle class before the revolution, it became of legitimized and grew once they came to power. Initially the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian military work together to gain wealth. With the Muslim Brother’s in control of the Egyptian House of Representatives, the militaries corporations expand and remained tax-free. The Muslim Brothers also aided the military by cheaply selling the property right of state-owned companies like car factories to the army. But as the Muslim Brother’s own power and wealth grew, tension rose between them and the military. During Morsi’s rule, “the Muslim Brotherhood manipulates the market for its own benefit. While arguing with the IMF against eliminating subsidies as part of an economic reform plan, FJP (Freedom and Justice Party, a stem of the Muslim Brotherhood) officials use state-subsidized goods for electoral purposes” (Abul-Magd). Through political negotiations behind closed doors, the Muslim Brotherhood secured a monopoly on commodities used mostly by Egypt’s lower class, like butane and bread. The Muslim Brother’s then sold these products to poor Egyptian in exchange for future votes in national and local elections, securing places for their political party at all levels of government. Although, at the beginning of Morsi’s reign the military and the Muslim Brotherhood worked together to both become wealthy, as the Muslim Brother’s grew more powerful and richer the military became envious and fearful of their political strength.

As the economic rivalry between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian military grew both groups began to criticize one and other. Even when Morsi obtained power and began ratifying the political system by firing large numbers of top military leaders he didn’t interior with the powerful members of the military economic empire. The fundamental difference between the economic strategies of Muslim Brotherhood and the military lay in the products they sold and the company they owned. Once Morsi obtained power, many Muslim Brother’s releases from jail began working in the economic sector of the country. The one major similarity between the Muslim Brothers and the military was that they both have little public records on their financial dealings. However the Muslim Brotherhood, unlike the Military, had little experience in public in business maneuverings. The Muslim Brothers made up for their lack of experience by utilized the capital they obtained for outside countries like Qatar and Turkey. The Brotherhood mainly used importation, supermarkets, and retail store to garner financial wealth. On the other hand, the Egyptian military sold industrial products that were a necessity to all Egyptians: cement, chemicals, fertilizers…etc. As tensions grew between the Muslim Brotherhood the military, they began to openly criticize each other. In November of 2012, A high-ranking Muslim Brother criticized chief of staff, Lieutenant General Hamdi Wuhiba, recently dismissed by Morsi, for charges of corruption. Previously: “Wuhiba managed a complex of twelve factories grouped under the umbrella of the Arab Organization for Industrialization (AOI.) The Brotherhood’s Hasan al-Brins claimed that Wuhiba kept 5 percent of AOI’s annual profit for himself” (Abul-Magd). They conflict was resolved after al-Brins public apologized for his accusatory remarks. An incident of criticism of top military officials heightened the tension between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Military.

At the start of the Morsi’s reign as president of Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian Military had an understand with one and other. However over the course of Morsi’s rule the two superpowers of Egyptian became at odds with one and another for a number of reasons. The majors points of contention between the Brotherhood and the military were: Morsi’s reactions to terrorism in the Sinai, his sympathies and eventually alignment with Islamic extremist, his firing of top military officials and the economic rivalry between the Brotherhood and the Military. The Brotherhood’s Islamic institutions and structure, put Morsi at odds from the Military from the beginning of his Presidency. However, these were exacerbated by Morsi’s political mishandling and moves to eradicate the political and economic configuration that the Military had developed. Morsi eventually resigned after little over a year of presidency due to popular protest that were further fueled by the military. In the aftermath of his rule, he and fellow member of the Muslim Brotherhood have been imprisoned or tried in court. The Muslim Brotherhood as a whole has been taken of political power. Egypt today is still under military dictatorship, however many Egyptians this to the awful Islamic rule they endured under the Muslim Brotherhood.














Abul-Magd, Zeinab. “Chuck Hagel in Egypt’s Economic Chaos.” Atlantic Council. N.p., 29 Apr. 2014. Web.

Abul-Magd, Zeinab. “Egypt’s Politics of Hidden Business Empire: The Brotherhood Verse the Army.” Atlantic Council. N.p., 7 Oct. 2012. Web.

“Morsi’s Link to Jihadest Probed.” AhraOnline. N.p., 13 Dec. 2013. Web.

“Sinai’s Role in Morsi’s Ouster.” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Dec. 2015.