Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated government recently allowed members of the Brotherhood and hardline jihadists to join Egypt’s military academy for the first time as part of what U.S. officials say is a covert effort to impose Islamist rule in the key Middle East state.
According to U.S. officials with access to intelligence reports, the government of President Mohamed Morsi is covertly taking steps to take control over the pro-Western military and the police forces as part of a campaign to solidify Islamist control.
Egypt for decades had banned the Muslim Brotherhood and radical Islamist groups from both the military and police academies after Islamic terrorists in the military assassinated Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat in 1981.
The Egyptian military also for decades has maintained close ties to the U.S. military. Analysts in the U.S. intelligence community and the military are viewing the introduction of Islamists into the national military academy, disclosed last week, with concern.
Muslim Brotherhood members and hardline Salafi groups are regarded as dedicated first to jihad, or holy war, and other Islamist principles rather than to the country.
"Any opening of the Egyptian military to Islamist elements would be a big and complicated change," said one U.S. official. "It’s not clear how it would be managed or how well the rank and file would absorb it.”
Disclosure that the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical Islamists are now being admitted to the military academy was made public March 19 in Egyptian news reports.
The head of the military academy, Ismat Murad, told reporters the new batch of Islamist students included the nephew of Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader.
Meanwhile, U.S. officials said intelligence agencies are investigating reports that Morsi recently concluded a secret agreement with the Palestinian terror group Hamas, another disturbing sign the Egyptian government is shifting away from its former pro-Western stance and toward radical Islam.
There are concerns the agreement involves collusion between the Muslim Brotherhood and a plan to settle Palestinians in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
Hamas militants in recent days have attacked Egyptian troops engaged in demolishing tunnels from the Sinai into Israel. Hamas has asked the Egyptian government to halt the tunnel demolition. The tunnels are a major source of covert support into Gaza.
Morsi was elected president last year. His Freedom and Justice Party was founded by the Muslim Brotherhood, an anti-democratic Islamic political movement whose motto states, “Jihad is our way.” The group claims to be nonviolent but has spawned numerous Islamic terror organizations including al Qaeda.
Under Morsi, the Egyptian government has appointed hardline Islamists as presidential advisers and assistants, including members of the Salafist Al-Nour Party.
In addition to the military academy, Cairo also is taking steps to Islamicize the police forces.
According to recent reports, the Muslim Brotherhood is planning to restructure the Egyptian Interior Ministry. The restructuring is said to include plans to place Brotherhood members in key ministry positions.
On the secret agreement with Hamas, Egyptian daily Al-Watan published documents in early February purportedly exposing a secret agreement between the government and Hamas. One document stated that Hamas’ military wing was sending militants to Egypt to defend the current regime from supporters of the ousted Mubarak government.
A second document was written by a Qatari foreign affairs official granting Hamas $250 million to support Morsi.
The Morsi administration has agreed to several construction deals in Gaza, along with security and intelligence-sharing agreements with Hamas.
Morsi also has sought closer ties to Iran, whose President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Cairo in February. Intelligence officials said the two intelligence services also are collaborating.
Many Persian Gulf states are worried about the threat to their regimes posed by the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, with the exception of Qatar emerging as a connection point for Brotherhood’s expansion efforts.
In Saudi Arabia, several Islamist Saudi clerics are supporting the Muslim Brotherhood transformation in Egypt, putting them at odds with Riyadh’s opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood government there.
There are concerns that Egypt will create religious police along the lines of Saudi Arabia’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, as the Sharia-law enforcement police are called.
Thousands of police in Egypt went on strike to protest the Muslim Brotherhood Islamist efforts earlier this month. Riots broke out March 22 between pro- and anti-Muslim Brotherhood protesters. The police went back to work after the government said it would bring in contractors, raising fears of further Islamicization.
The Brotherhood announced it planned to form vigilante groups to prevent attacks on Islamists.
An Egyptian military adviser went public with concerns about Muslim Brotherhood activities in Egypt on March 11. Maj. Gen. Abd-al-Munim Katu, an adviser to the Egyptian Armed Forces Morale Affairs Department, told the Dubai news outlet Al Bayan Online that the military is resisting Morsi’s Islamicization efforts.
Specifically, Katu said the Muslim Brotherhood was pressuring Egypt’s Defense Minister Abdul-Fattah Al-Sisi to ignore the Sinai tunneling into Gaza.
“I think that the current situation in Egypt is alarming and confused, in general,” Katu said.
Asked if Morsi will complete his term as president, Tatu said: “The vision is blurry. Indicators suggest that he may not be able to complete his term. The people have legitimate demands, but the Muslim Brothers are busy seizing control of the joints of the state. The gap between the two parties is widening.”
The Obama administration, whose religious outreach advisers include several Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers, is not directly challenging the far-reaching campaign of Islamicization being carried out by the Morsi government in Egypt.
Instead the administration adopted conciliatory policies toward the current government in Egypt. The administration hopes to continue working with Egypt’s government but has not pressured Cairo into making needed democratic reforms, U.S. officials said.
Secretary of State John Kerry visited Cairo March 4 and mentioned U.S. hopes for democratic reform. He also announced the release of $250 million in U.S. aid out of $1 billion promised by President Barack Obama after Egypt’s revolution overthrew long-time ally Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak last year.
Kerry said he urged Morsi to initiate “homegrown reforms.”
Pro-democracy protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square carried banners during the visit that read “Kerry, member of the Brotherhood,” and “Kerry, you are not welcome here.”
Analysts have compared Obama’s policy toward Egypt to those of President Jimmy Carter who in the late 1970s tacitly supported Iran’s exiled radical cleric Ayatollah Khomeini. Carter eventually abandoned the Shah of Iran, a longtime U.S. ally, and paved the way for 1978 revolution that brought the current hardline Islamist state in Tehran into power, a regime that is now on the verge of developing nuclear weapons for its large ballistic missile force.
Frank Gaffney, head of the Center for Security Policy, said Obama’s foreign policy has been accurately described as “Jimmy Carter’s policies on steroids.”
“What’s happening in Egypt today with the Muslim Brotherhood takeover and the ascendancy of Islamist throughout the Middle East and North Africa, makes Jimmy Carter’s debacle in Iran pale by comparison,” Gaffney said.