Ex-navy commander: The army and the people are never separate

Al-Masry Al-Youm sits down with former commander of the Egyptian navy, Mohab Mamish.

Al-Masry Al-Youm: Are you unhappy about your retirement?

Mohab Mamish: If I, Army General Mohab Mamish, was referred to serve at the borders, I would not reject that so long as the target was protecting the borders and serving the country. When my secretary informed me about retirement, I was in Cairo on that day coming from Alexandria to attend the Laylatul Qadr ceremony with the deposed president [Mohamed Morsy]. When I heard the news, I thanked god for being appointed as chief of the Suez Canal Authority. My secretary asked me if I was going to attend the ceremony and I answered that I would not as I had become a civilian. The armed forces are strict and stick to military rules. Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi called me on the same day and congratulated me on the new post and I wished him success.

AMAY: Why did Morsy refer you for retirement?

Mamish: Morsy didn’t take this decision on 12 August 2012, but on the day he won the elections. I think it was taken out of a desire for change. We were so idealist in handing over power. I performed the military salute in the power transition ceremony. We fulfilled our words. We didn’t have intentions of betrayal – it's not one of the armed forces' qualifications.

AMAY: Why did everyone seem to be giving up? Haven’t you thought of rejecting it?

Mamish: Why do you describe it as giving up? We obey orders. We were brought up as part of the school of patriotism. When you are ordered by the supreme commander of the armed forces, you perform the salute and obey the order immediately without rejection. This doctrine is not new for the armed forces. It’s based in the minds of the soldiers. Our rebellion at that time could have broken strict Egyptian military rules.

AMAY: Was there a dispute between Morsy and the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF)?

Mamish: Frankly, I would describe it as "lack of comfort" between the two parties. I believed then that Field Marshal Tantawi was unable to deal with him. He worked as general commander of the armed forces and defense minister for 20 years and then he was mastered by a civilian. We can discuss the issue of “military personnel's acceptance of civil rule." There was a meeting between the president and SCAF on 10 August after the murder of the soldiers in Rafah, two days ahead of the retirement decision. Morsy addressed Tantawi over the methods of training the armed forces' personnel. Tantawi responded saying: “I’m in charge of the training." Everyone noticed it was a tough response, which suggested relations were not going well.

AMAY: What did you do after that meeting?

Mamish: I headed to the naval commander lounge in Alexandria, where I was staying with my family. I told my daughter “Pack your stuff. It seems we will be leaving soon.” It happened two days later after the decision was issued.

AMAY: What was the first clash between Morsy and SCAF?

Mamish: When he reinstated the dissolved parliament and started discussing the technical affairs of the armed forces. I realized by then that there would be no agreement. SCAF didn’t dissolve parliament. It was the Supreme Constitutional Court that dissolved it and the executive authority carried out the decision. Canceling a court decision by a president means he would take the responsibility. How can a president violate laws that he swore to respect? All signs pointed to an impending conflict due to Morsy’s practices which didn’t conform to respecting the principles.

AMAY: But you appeared to be normal at the graduation ceremony of the Armed Forces Technical Institute on the following day of the reinstatement of parliament?

Mamish: We cannot show rejection towards everyone. It only appears behind closed doors. SCAF held an urgent meeting on the day parliament was reinstated. We decided to attend the ceremony and leave it to the court. Also, the batch graduation is prepared for in advance. The students are like our sons, so we cannot be late on their graduation day.

AMAY: How did Morsy intervene in the armed forces' own technical issues?

Mamish: He always reiterated “I’m the leader of Operation Eagle” that was carried out by the armed forces. How would he be the leader? Aren't there leaders in the army? This matter bothered all military leaders, as well as Tantawi, especially because he used to talk about the training methods.

AMAY: Wasn’t Tantawi thinking about retirement before he was dismissed too?

Mamish: Tantawi was going to retire in December 2012, six months after the power transition. He was going to hand over powers to the then-Major General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, chief of military intelligence. We were totally convinced that he would hand over powers to Sisi, for his being a unique leader. He was characterized by his devotion. He was also open-minded. Tantawi used to treat him like his son. Sisi was never a regular officer. He excelled in everything. Therefore, we all knew he was going to be the next defense minister, succeeding Tantawi.

AMAY: Some people claim your retirement was based on an agreement with Morsy. How do you respond to that?

Mamish: I swear we didn’t agree with Morsy on anything. We were going to attend the Laylatul Qadr ceremony. It’s unreasonable that we knew he was going to refer us to retirement, while we were getting ready to attend the ceremony. We were all, including Tantawi and Lieutenant General Sami Anan, surprised by the decision. Of course there were many incidents in backstage within the presidency. No one know them, or they cannot be disclosed in the meantime. As I said, relations were not going well between Morsy and Tantawi.

AMAY: What do you say about the supposed conspiracy by Sisi against Tantawi, in agreement with Morsy?

Mamish: Whoever says this doesn’t know Sisi. He is a man of morals, principles, values and patriotism. He obeys the orders of his leaders. Tantawi considered him a real son. He believed he was one of the main military figures in Egypt's modern history. Sisi grabs the attention of whoever deals with him, either in work or in a personal capacity. The future might reveal what happened in the presidential palace that day. But I confirm that Sisi never betrayed Tantawi.

AMAY: Hadn't you felt the danger of having a group with links to an international organization in power?

Mamish: We respected the popular will.  No one expected this, even those who voted for Morsy. We wanted to present a unique democratic model, regardless of the president’s name or affiliation. A president should love his country, belong to it and work on protecting his people with all his time and effort. The great Egyptian people headed to polling stations, exercised democracy and selected its president. They also took to streets and toppled the president who failed in achieving their hopes and aspirations.

AMAY: Large swathes of Egyptians consider you the main reason for problems that Egypt suffered between power transition and handing over powers to the Muslim Brotherhood. How do you respond?

Mamish: It’s people who voted and queued up in lines. The judiciary counted the ballots. The military secured the elections. I believe Egyptians knew the real value of the military during that period. The military is headed by SCAF. The head is not separated from the body. Despite all offenses against military officers, they were patient and burdened to get the democratic model out into the light. Our doctrine was that we were making new history in Egypt. We didn’t wait for authority or reward from anyone. We transferred power on time and worked under the rule of an elected president. When he referred us to retirement, we obeyed.

AMAY: Who is the real winner, Morsy or Ahmed Shafiq, the former presidential hopeful?

Mamish: Honestly, it was Mohamed Morsy. We didn’t intervene. We don’t have the right to vote. It’s not in our interest to be on the side of anyone against the other.

AMAY: Did you sympathize with Shafiq, being affiliated to military like yourself?

Mamish: We were on the fence. What occupied us honestly was focusing on success on the democratic scene in Egypt. We wanted to amaze the world through our model, regardless of the people. Egypt is greater than anything. The Egyptian revolution is great and has noble targets. The best of the youth sacrificed their souls for the sake of getting these goals achieved.

AMAY: How did you take decisions at SCAF?

Mamish: All decisions were discussed more than once. All points of view were heard, then voting took place in a democratic way. Decisions were then taken by a majority of votes.

AMAY: Had you ever felt Morsy believed Sisi would not take the people’s side?

Mamish: If he believed so, then he didn’t know Sisi well. Sisi is a very religious man. He is a patriotic, sincere person. All SCAF members, either those who served during, before or after the interim period – as well as other military officers – are loyal to Egypt only. Sisi cannot lead the army to be biased toward an elected person against the people. Please understand this: the armed forces are part of the people. They are never separate. Say whatever you want. Do whatever you want. But the people and armed forces are one thing.

AMAY: What were the mistakes which made millions of Egyptians take to the streets against Morsy on 30 June?

Mamish: In my opinion, it was the way of dealing with people that caused them take to the streets. Egyptians are very kind and patriotic. They felt there were unresolved problems. It’s the crisis that Morsy failed to get resolved that led to his ouster. I call on the current cabinet to identify targets of each minister so they would be achieved during the coming period. The coming president should feel the people suffering, be happy for them and get sad about what angers them.

AMAY: Was Morsy or his group’s conflicts with the military a reason for his regime's downfall?

Mamish: Throughout the past 7,000 years Egyptians did not insult army. No one will divide between the Egyptian army and the people. No Egyptian house is empty of armed forces personnel. Some people, affiliated to Morsy’s group, offended the military. This is inappropriate. They should realize the greatness of this army.

AMAY: When did you decide on the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak?

Mamish: On Tuesday 10 February 2011, We, SCAF, decided in a meeting that Mubarak’s regime was done. We took the side of people and decided not to take Mubarak’s side again. It was a strict decision, according to which the Air Defense Commander Abdel Aziz Seif Eddin proposed that SCAF convene to consider the people’s needs. Millions of Egyptians took to the streets and shouted slogans against the regime. So why should we wait? Fulfilling people’s needs is one of the armed forces’ principles.

AMAY: Don’t you think you committed bad mistakes during the interim period?

Mamish: All humans make mistakes. Why do you count mistakes and forget the military stance in taking the people’s side and shouldering responsibility at a critical time? We didn’t demand power. We only intervened when people needed us. I want to ask those who accuse us of committing mistakes: What was it like when we handed over powers to the elected president? Has it become better? Look for the main reason for deterioration. Don’t shoulder SCAF with the responsibility for all mistakes. We had borders to protect, protesters on the streets to secure, an economy to boost and political disputes that destabilized society.

AMAY: You were the navy commander during the January revolution. Is it true that the U.S. fleet was threatening our regional waters at that time?

Mamish: There were U.S. naval vessels near Egyptian regional waters at the southern entrance of the Suez Canal. The Egyptian naval vessels confronted and forced them to leave. It’s known that the U.S. sends ships near to regional waters of any country having a problem where its citizens are, so they would intervene, if the U.S. interests were ever harmed or it was needed to evacuate U.S. citizens.

AMAY: How do you describe what happened on 30 June?

Mamish: It was a big revolution by all means. Both those who elected Morsy and others who didn’t vote for him took to the streets to dismiss him for mistakes and problems Egypt has been through. I wonder about those who call it "military coup." Is it reasonable that preparations for a military coup are announced two months ahead? People around the world saw millions of Egyptians on the streets. Sisi stopped a potential civil war from breaking out. We should thank him for this. I think it’s time to start building Egypt. We can be politically different within a democracy, but we shouldn’t kill each other for the sake of difference.

AMAY: What do you think the features of the next presidency will be?

Mamish: The people’s will become the strongest thing in Egypt. A moderate person who is aware of policy, economy and leadership can lead the country. He should be a fair person. I pray that he doesn’t belong to any party.

AMAY: Would the military accept a civilian to lead the country?

Mamish: Military persons are disciplined. Having a civilian on top of the armed forces exists in many countries, not only in Egypt. The coming president should work on maintaining the armed forces as the country’s shield without getting into a struggle with it.

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