x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Egypt army sacks its media general

First change in the military council since the fall of Mubarak has done little to prevent criticism of it overstepping its authority.

CAIRO // Egypt's military leader sacked the general responsible for media affairs yesterday.

The change is the first in the military council since the generals took power from Hosni Mubarak during a popular uprising last February.

Although it defused a violent confrontation by ushering Mubarak out, the military has also tried to crush subsequent protests by force, killing dozens. It has only grudgingly agreed to hand over to a civilian president by June, and tried to protect its privileges and avoid civilian oversight.

Major General Ismail Etman, 60, was "exempted from service and replaced by Major General Ahmed Abu El-Dahab, the director of the artillery division", a defence ministry source said yesterday. The decision was announced later by state media.

The move did little to prevent more criticism in the short term. Egyptian MPs lashed out at the military during the parliament's first working session, saying the army overstepped its authority by passing a law to regulate the upcoming presidential election.

Mohammed El Beltagy, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood-aligned Freedom and Justice Party, said the army's move was unjustified and that the parliament would review the bill.

Mr El Beltagy referred to a decision by the military to impose a law on the presidential vote. The law stipulates who is eligible to run for president and names a judicial committee to oversee the balloting. It was published in the official Gazette on January 19, just days before parliament convened.

The military has also faced international criticism. On Monday, several American citizens took refuge in the US Embassy in Cairo amid a sharpening dispute between Washington and Egypt over US-funded pro-democracy groups in the country.

The unusual step of offering ordinary US citizens diplomatic refuge follows a crackdown by Egypt's military-led authorities on non-governmental organisations which has thrown a question mark over the future of US aid to Egypt's military, now running at about US$1.3 billion (Dh4.8bn) per year.

Egyptian police raided the groups in late December as part of an investigation into foreign funding of 17 pro-democracy and human rights groups, part of what civil society groups say has been a broader crackdown on critics of the army's heavy-handed tactics in dealing with street unrest. Authorities banned six American staffers from leaving the country.

Washington has strongly criticised the move, which has cast a pall over US-Egyptian relations as the most populous Arab nation reaches a critical stage in its uncertain transition away from authoritarian rule.

* With additional reporting by Associated Press