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​Flickr photo byJonathan Rashad

Military Coup Unlikely in Egypt, say Experts at ASIS CSO Roundtable Discussion

While the future of Egypt’s government remains unknown, a military coup is unlikely, according to Mazen Saadah and Tim Williams. They spoke to members of theASIS International CSO Roundtable on Wednesday morning by phone about the current situation in Egypt, where increasing numbers of protestors have been demanding since Monday that President Mohamed Morsi step down.

Williams and Saadah are with Stirling Assynt, a corporate intelligence company that offers political and security risk reporting, as well as security and intelligence consultancies for businesses. The firm authors bi-weekly reports on Egypt, and it recently came out with a special report which they highlighted during the call.

“There’s been significant speculation in the last [few] hours that the army statement and subsequent responses have pointed to preparations for some sort of military coup in Egypt,” Williams, the managing director of Stirling Assynt, explained. “We don’t believe that’s the case; we don’t believe the military has any desire to intervene directly in the political process in that way by seizing power, but it will continue to seek to exert political influence.”

Protesters in Cairo are demanding that Morsi step down, that a new presidential election is held, and that a new constitution be drafted. During an Egpytian TV broadcast on Monday night, the Egyptian army stated that it was giving the protestors and Morsi 48 hours to resolve their dispute, though it remains unclear what the military’s intentions are. Spokespersons for the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Morsi is a member, have already called the current situation a military coup in Facebook posts and other statements.

Saadah, a Salafist cleric and the Islamic affairs advisor for Stirling Assynt, explained that while the military strongly supported the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood after the 2011 revolution, it has become increasingly apparent that a large population in the country is unhappy with Morsi.

“The Egyptian army had indicated earlier that it supported the Muslim Brotherhood because it was the only organized party that was capable of leading the transitional period at that stage. However after a year of a Morsi presidency, it became clear the Muslim Brotherhood has failed to improve the political business and security environment in Egypt,” said Saadah, pointing out that the relationship between the Brotherhood and the military has been largely undermined.

For example, Morsi’s administration earlier made many unpopular major changes to the judiciary body in Egypt, which is “an independent, respected” entity in Egypt and even replaced its public prosecutor. Morsi has also issued several presidential decrees that did not resonate well with the Egyptian population. Now that the opposition groups are vocalizing their dissatisfaction with huge protests in the streets, it remains yet to be seen how the military will intervene.

Morsi's support has been tenuous from the start. Saadah points out that in the 2012 presidential election, Mohamed Morsi defeated the opposition candidate Ahmed Shafik by only a narrow margin.

“The national picture is that Egypt is split down the middle, and that hasn’t changed much in the last two years,” said Williams. “Shafik won 49 percent in the presidential election and yet he lost, and that balance remains largely intact although it’s clear that opposition support has become more galvanized, and they’ve been able to get more people out to the streets.”

Despite the opposition’s demands that Morsi step down and the president’s refusal to do so, Saadah said that he found it difficult to conceive of the staging of a military coup in Egypt.

“It’s not in the culture of the Egyptian army, especially in recent decades, as well as not its interest to intervene in politics. The Egyptian army is the most respected establishment in Egypt by all the different groups and parties, so in order to maintain this image of the army, they should and are likely to avoid intervention in politics,” he said.