Experts say the sudden release of Sami Annan, Sisi’s political rival, indicates Egyptian military generals are not so sure whether the country is heading toward the right direction.

Many security experts believe that the release of Egypt’s former army chief Sami Annan signals that President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi wants to avoid any collision with the country’s powerful army. 

“Sisi is trying [to show that he’s willing] to listen to generals,” Hamza Zawba, the former spokesman of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, told TRT World.  

Annan, 71, is considered to be one of the influential military figures who publicly indicated to run for the presidency in the 2018 elections. Earlier this year, he was given a nine-year-long prison sentence on fraudulent charges. He was arrested in January 2018 soon after reports about him running for office gained traction. 

Annan, Zawba said, was not only influential but also Sisi’s superior in the past 

“Since September protests, there is some sort of gap between generals and Sisi because it seems that they have put pressure on him not to attack demonstrators on the streets,” Zawba said. 

“He [Sisi] is under pressure from the military and he needs to take some action to make them satisfied or at least prevent their anger against him,” Zawba said. 

Thousands of people across different cities launched protests against the Sisi regime, which rounded up hundreds in response to the demonstrations, demanding the removal of the general-turned-president from power. 

At the time, Mahmoud Refaat, a former spokesman of Annan, complained that the Sisi regime was conducting “crazy” arrests against some army officers to suppress the dissidence against the strongman’s rule. 

A military group, the Egyptian Officers Front, which is allegedly tied to both Annan and Refaat, supported the protests, which were called by a self-exiled businessman and actor, Mohammed Ali, in the first place. 

In a speech, yesterday, Sisi apparently needed to emphasise the guarantor role of the military to protect Egypt’s so-called democracy and constitutional order, according to Zawba.

Bad blood

There was bad blood between Annan and Sisi when the former was the army chief and the latter was a subordinate to Annan, Zawba said. 

“They had some sort of dispute because Annan used to treat Sisi harshly at the time,” Zawba said. 

But Zawba said different speculations galore, while some think an elderly Annan is seriously ill and the military did not like the idea that one of their former top leaders would die in a prison. 

Egypt’s first democratically-elected President Mohammed Morsi, who was ousted by Sisi in August 2013 bloody coup, suddenly collapsed in a courtroom in June, taking his last breath in what appeared to be suspicious circumstances. 

For Zawba, the possibility of a well respected military figure like Annan passing away in prison could have demoralised the army, leaving a serious mark on their psychology.  

“They [inside and outside observers] would say Sisi kills generals just like civilians,” Zawba said, adding that Sisi released him to avoid such a situation and allow “Annan to die at his residence.”   

Annan is also known to have been a “close colleague” of Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, the former head of Egypt’s Higher Military Council under the former Hosni Mubarak regime. Tantawi, one of Egypt’s top military and political figures, served as the country’s defense minister for more than two decades. 

“Some people close to Tantawi say that he asked Sisi to release him,” Zawba said. 

A Libya arrangement?

Annan’s release shows that Sisi, the defense ministry and the military has reached a new arrangement, which has to do with what is now happening in Libya, Zawba said. 

Libya, a country that shares borders with Egypt, has been engulfed in a brutal civil war since 2014, producing two major forces: the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Feyaz al Sarraj in Tripoli and a militia led by Khalifa Haftar, a warlord and self-proclaimed ‘field marshal’ in the country’s east.

While Egypt along with its Gulf allies and Israel are backing Haftar, Turkey, Qatar and Italy are proactively backing the GNA. With Libya turning into a high-stakes power game for Egypt, Zawba said Sisi would need the military on his side and releasing Annan was a gesture to please the sitting generals.