Egypt army may face defiance

Scholars tell troops lethal acts obligatory

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CAIRO -- The Egyptian military has enlisted Muslim scholars in a propaganda campaign to convince soldiers and policemen that they have a religious duty to obey orders to use deadly force against supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi.

The effort is a signal that the generals are worried about insubordination in the ranks, after security forces have killed hundreds of their fellow Egyptians who were protesting the military's removal of the elected president -- violence by the armed forces against civilians that is without precedent in the country's modern history.

The recourse to religion to justify the killing is also a new measure of the depth of the military's determination to break down the main pillar of Mr. Morsi's support, the Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood. Indeed, after ousting Mr. Morsi in the name of tolerance, inclusiveness and an end to religious rule, the military is now sending religious messages to its troops that sound surprisingly similar to the arguments of radical militants who call for violence against political opponents whom they deem to be nonbelievers.

"When somebody comes who tries to divide you, then kill them, whoever they are," Ali Gomaa, the former mufti appointed under President Hosni Mubarak, is seen telling soldiers in a video made by the military's Department of Moral Affairs. "Even with the sanctity and greatness of blood, the [Prophet Muhammad] permits us to fight this," he said in the video, likening opponents of the military takeover -- implicitly, the Brotherhood -- to an early Islamic sect that some scholars considered to be infidels, and thus permissible to kill. Mr. Gomaa said later that the military had shown the video to troops and riot police officers across Egypt.

In a video against the same backdrop, Salem Abdel Galil, a former senior scholar in the ministry that oversaw mosques under Mr. Mubarak, appeared to say such opponents were "aggressors who have to repent to God." They are "not honorable Egyptians," he said.

"If they continue like this, then they are neither recognized by religion, nor by reason or logic," Mr. Abdel Galil said, adding that "to use weapons when needed" against such foes was the duty of the armed forces. "The heart is at ease about this."

In a Facebook posting Sunday night, Mr. Abdel Galil said his comments were made in response to questions about "terrorists who attack the military," not Morsi supporters, but that the video released to the public was edited to distort his meaning.

Amr Khaled, a televangelist who is popular with young Muslims, specifically addressed the question of insubordination in a military video. "You don't obey your commander while performing a great task?" he said, adding, "You, you conscript in the Egyptian military, you are performing a task for God Almighty!"

Asked a series of questions about the speeches in an email, Col. Ahmed Aly, a military spokesman, replied that the military held monthly "cultural meetings" about broad subjects, including religion. Mr. Gomaa was one of several scholars who visited "to lecture our officers," Col. Aly said.

It was unclear when the military filmed the speeches or distributed them to the troops. Segments of them were posted on the Internet over the weekend.

On Sunday, one Egyptian court opened the first trials of top Brotherhood leaders arrested in the crackdown. Top Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie and five other members of the Islamist Brotherhood saw their hearings postponed until Oct. 29.

In another court began the retrial of Mr. Mubarak, 85, released last week from prison, on charges of directing the killing of protesters. His lawyers are expected to argue, among other things, that the security forces under Mr. Mubarak were restrained compared to the violence unleashed this month on the sit-in protests against the takeover. His trial has been postponed to Sept. 14.

Political scientists say that worries about insubordination are understandable, because the ranks of both the army and the riot police are made up mainly of hundreds of thousands of conscripts drafted into mandatory military service. More than 1,100 civilians have been killed in the crackdown since Aug. 14, and many of the conscripts are likely to have lost a cousin or relative, or heard stories of the carnage.

As grieving Islamists searched for the bodies of the missing after the authorities broke up the pro-Morsi sit-ins, many were eager to talk, and speculate, about their own family members who were serving in the police and the military.

"There is a fear of disobedience" in the clerics' videotaped speeches, said Emad Shahin, a political scientist at the American University in Cairo.

"Now we are going into fatwa wars," he said, referring to declarations of rulings by Muslim clerics. The new government, he added, "is waging an all-out war, and using all the weapons at their hands, including religious fatwas, to dehumanize their opponents and justify killing them."

Some Morsi supporters have tried to turn the tables, arguing that Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi was the aggressor who divided the country when he overturned a legitimate, democratically elected government.

The first fragmentary account of the clerics' statements appeared Wednesday in a harsh report on a website aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood. That suggested that at least some of the soldiers and police officers who heard the speeches sympathized with the Brotherhood enough to leak the information.

Then professional-quality segments of the speeches began appearing on the Internet over the weekend.


Associated Press contributed.


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