Safwat Ezzayyat is a retired Egyptian general now running a military strategy thinktank, and well-placed to give an overview of the position of the army in his country. He has been speaking to euronews.
Today everyone is asking the question, in Egypt and the rest of the world, just what is the role of the army?
“Allow me to remind you that the army took up positions on Friday the 28th of January following the inability of the interior ministry’s riot police, otherwise known as the central security forces to control things.
When the regime realised things were getting out of hand and that the largest part of this force had suffered heavy losses, and had been responsible for destruction of property, injuries, and loss of life, the army moved in.
The police’s actions had in fact reinforced the will of the people to continue protesting. So the regime realised the situation was beyond their control, and ordered the Egyptian army to act, and move into the cities to protect public and private property.”
So general, the army just received orders to protect public property, and not the citizens?
“Well, the army did, once things developed, try to protect the demonstrators. In other words the instructions it got from the regime to intervene were to quell the demonstrations, and not to protect the demonstrators.”
So how do you explain the attitude of the army when it stood by and let the demonstrators be cavalry charged and cut down with swords, which led to the loss of lives?
“Allow me to say that since January the 28th the Egyptian army has been protecting the demonstrators, ever since its famous communique when it said it understood the people’s demands and it would not resort to the use of force against the Egyptian people. I think this was an historic declaration, because the army has kept its distance from the regime regarding the use of force against the demonstrators.”
We have learned that the American Defence Secretary has been in contact with his opposite number in Cairo. Have there been any signs for example that Washington has urged the army to intervene?
“I don’t think President Obama or the US Defence Secretary have been on the phone to Mubarak. In fact Obama made a speech that to my mind is more important than the speech he made at Cairo University in 2009, so I think the communication between America’s Defence Secretary and Egypt’s has to be seen in this light. ‘You are our allies, we send you military aid which you can count on to modernise your army.’ President Obama tells you you must respect the right to demonstrate, and protect those who do. So that put even more pressure on the Egyptian army to maintain its neutrality.”