Egypt Security Officials: Dismissal of Army Top Brass Thwarted a Coup Attempt

Former intelligence chief Mowafi apparently had knowledge of a supposed plot to assassinate President Morsi; dismissal of generals followed leak of information back to Morsi.

The recent dismissal of Egypt's defense minister, army chief and other top officers was meant to prevent a military a coup that was planned to take place in late August, Egyptian security officials have been quoted as saying by the country's media outlets on Tuesday.

According to the reports, Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi was alerted to the plot's existence by military officials, who informed the newly elected leader that plans were being drafted within the army to takeover power in Egypt and even assassinate Morsi himself during the funeral of Egyptian officers killed in the recent Sinai attack.

Moreover, the reports allege that not only did head of intelligence Morad Mowafi, who was fired prior to the dismissal of the army's elite, know about these plans, but that he was also given the names of some of its would be perpetrators.

His only "sin," it appears, was that he chose to disclose this information to now former Defense Minister Gen. Hussein Tantawi, as opposed to going straight to President Morsi, who is legally defined as the commander-in-chief. Reportedly, Morsi was especially angered by the fact that Tantawi didn't share the intelligence reports with him.

Fears that Tantawi was plotting a scheme against the Muslim Brotherhood-led administration were apparently bolstered when the defense minister appointed Major General Hamdi Badin, who served as commander of Egypt's military police until fired by Morsi, as his special aide.

Meanwhile, Morsi allegedly received reports describing a planned organization of "militias," geared at instigating riots in Egypt's streets, and claiming that they received promises from "army officers that the military will stand behind them."

Reports of the alleged coup are surfacing in wake of the very dismissal of Tantawi and army chief Sami Enan, as well as the manner in which the firing took place and the choice of their replacements.

Egyptian sources indicated that Tantawi and Enan were unaware of Morsi's intent to remove them, and that the Egyptian president swore in Enan's replacement, General Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, even before of notifying both Tantawi and Enan of their dismissal.

Before making his announcement, Morsi first told his aide to notify the top military officials to stay in the presidential palace and "await an important meeting with the president." Their cell phones were removed and a heavy guard was placed near the palace as well as near their respected offices.

Following his delivering of their notice of dismissal, Morsi ordered guards to watch over their homes and oversee their movements. According to one report, they were forbidden from leaving the country, and may even be investigated for their actions during the regime of ousted President Hosni Mubarak. 

The security arrangements are evidence that the dismissals were well thought out in advance, and the concern over a reaction from the outgoing officers, or their subordinates, only reinforce the suspicions that the restructuring of the Egyptian military is a result not only of the attack in Rafah, but also a general concern over an army-lead revolution.

On the sidelines of this drama the question arises – was the U.S. aware of Morsi’s intention to fire the generals? Both the U.S. and Egypt are denying that the U.S. had any knowledge of the plans before they became public, however Morsi’s critics are claiming that he did in fact notify U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta of his decision.

A hint of possible early notification can be found in statements made by Pentagon Spokesman George Little, "We had expected President Morsi at some point to co-ordinate changes in the military leadership, to name a new team.”

The issue of early notification of U.S. holds great importance, as the U.S. has committed to supply equipment and support to Egypt in waging war against terror in the Sinai Peninsula. If in fact the U.S. had prior knowledge of the move to restructure the Egyptian military’s top brass, it shows evidence of much closer ties between the two governments than was previously thought.

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Meanwhile, Egyptian military reactions have been calm, and there have been known signs of rebellion. The incoming commanders cautioned officials both within and outside of the army, “not to create a rift between the president, the government, and the army.” At the same time, Morsi ordered a substantial “upgrade” to salaries for soldiers and officers.

However criticism did arise on Tuesday, against the appointment of Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi as Defense Minister. El-Sisi previously served as military intelligence chief, and charges were made that he must have had prior information about the attack in Rafah. If in fact he had such information and did not report on it, why was he allowed to remain in office? The answer probably lies in that El-Sisi was the one to report to Morsi what Tantawi didn’t, or refused to report.  

As joint Egyptian, American, and Israeli cooperation on the fight against terror in Sinai became tighter over the past week, diplomatic connections deteriorated. On Tuesday, Egypt’s Information Minister, Salakh Abd al-Maksud, a Muslim Brotherhood member, said that “Egypt will not normalize relations with Israel until occupied Palestinian land is freed. We are carrying out our relations with Israel based on agreements Israel has made with Egypt. Therefore, even if we request to change some stipulations of the Camp David accords, the President and national institutions have stated that they respect the agreement. Nonetheless, that entity stole Palestinian lands, and for this reason we will not normalize relations with it until those lands are freed.”

The information minister was not asked, and did not specify, if the “occupied lands” include territory conquered in 1967, or all of Israel.

Aside from the use of the term “entity” instead of calling the state of Israel by name, there is no difference in policy between Morsi’s government and the previous regime. Under Mubarak, information and culture ministers made sure to clarify that normalization of relations between the two countries depends on Israeli policy. A policy existed then, and still exists, that journalists, authors, film makers, and all of members of such media professions were under strict regulations not to have any contact with Israeli counterparts or visit Israel.

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