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Egyptian army chief pursues firm line to avert 'dark tunnel'

Egyptian army chief pursues firm line to avert 'dark tunnel'
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General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has run Egypt’s defence ministry since President Mursi put him in the job in August last year. a 58-year-old admirer of 1950s modernist revolutionary Gemal Abdel Nasser, al-Sisi’s military training includes time in Britain and the US.

He is 22 years younger than his predecessor as Commander-In-Chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces, Egyptian Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, retired by President Mursi two months after he took office.

Replacing Tantawi, who was close to ousted President Mubarak, al-Sisi the former military intelligence director set about rehabilitating the military’s image, which had been badly tarnished in the controversial management by the Armed Forces Supreme Council of events surrounding Mubarak’s downfall. The junta under Tantawi swiftly lost legitimacy in the people’s eyes.

However, Mursi’s dealings with the army are not considered any sort of mutual allegiance. At a big rally in June, Mursi crossed a red line, pronouncing in favour of military intervention in Syria, following calls by Sunni Islamist radicals for holy war.

Al-Sisi warned that military high command would not let Egypt be drawn into a dark tunnel of conflict – civil war or sectarian, or a collapse of state institutions. He reiterated the army’s role as defender of the country’s borders.

This was before he launched his 1 July ultimatum – Monday – telling Egypt’s political powers to find a consensus solution for the country’s crisis. Al-Sisi signed it; someone else read it out.

The communique was symbolically reinforced by a Tahrir Square fly-over by a fleet of army helicopters brandishing the national flag. The crowd cheered, army and people implicitly united.