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DEMOCRACY
Egypt's military and its political might
by Staff Writers
Cairo (AFP) Dec 8, 2012


Egypt's army, which called on Saturday for dialogue between foes and allies of President Mohamed Morsi to avoid a "disastrous" turn in the current political crisis, has been a powerful force for 60 years.

Islamist Morsi is the first president not to come from the military. His predecessors -- Hosni Mubarak, Anwar Sadat, Gamal Abdel Nasser and Mohammed Nagib -- held the reins of power since the monarchy was overthrown in 1952.

The army was thrust directly into power after Mubarak's ouster in February 2011 until Morsi's election in June this year under the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, headed by commander of the armed forces and defence minister Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi.

The SCAF dissolved the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parliament soon after it was elected, on a judiciary ruling over its legitimacy, and took over legislative power.

But Morsi gained the upper hand in August, retiring Tantawi. He took over legislative powers himself and placed at the head of the military Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a devout Muslim some observers consider an Islamist.

Morsi kept Tantawi on as an adviser.

In August, the army launched an unprecedented in the Sinai Peninsula after militants carried out a deadly attack on soldiers but has taken a back seat since then.

Egypt's new draft constitution, adopted by an Islamist-dominated panel, guarantees the armed forces more clearly defined and arguably greater powers than did the the old charter under Mubarak.

One of its articles now reserves posts in the national defence council for military chiefs as well as cabinet members, and stipulates that civilians can be tried by military court if indicted for crimes directed at the army.

It also says the defence minister must come from the military, and that a council presided over by the president but consisting mostly of generals will discuss parliamentary bills relating to the armed forces as well as their budget.

How loyal the army is likely to remain to Morsi is unclear, even though Tantawi's sidelining appeared to occur without causing tension or bad blood.

During the uprising that unseated Mubarak, the army refused to fire at protesters, effectively defying the president.

The military possesses vast economic power, directly or through retired generals, with hands in assets that range from mineral water to the cement industry and real estate.

Egypt receives $1.3 billion (1 billion euros) a year in military aid from the United States, most of it in hardware.

The army boasts around 470,000 active servicemen and can call on another 480,000 reservists, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Military service is compulsory for all males.

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