JERUSALEM — The Middle East Newsline reports that the Egyptian Army has come under the steady domination of Islamists. Egyptian sources said Islamists have risen to mid- and high-level ranks in the army and navy. They said many of these officers pressure their soldiers to demonstrate a devotion and observance to the Muslim religion regardless of their faith.
“There is an acceptance in most of the military that fundamentalist Islam is legitimate and becoming the dominating trend,” a source familiar with the Egyptian military said.
The sources said the Islamist trend in the military began in the Egyptian Navy during the 1990s. They said the Islamic influence spread to the army and included pressure on non-Muslims to convert.
The Islamist officers were said to have reached senior levels of the army. They sources said the officers have pressed for greater access to mosques, additional time for prayer and ritual as well as decreasing tolerance for secular and non-Muslim soldiers.
The main victims of the Islamization of military have been Coptic Christians, said to comprise about eight percent of Egypt’s population.
Coptic soldiers have reported Islamist harassment, beatings and pressure to convert.
In August 2009, a Coptic soldier was said to have shot himself amid pressure from Islamist officers in his unit. The body of Mubarak Zakaria, 22, was found badly bruised in what the sources said reflected severe beating and torture.
“My son sustained multiple gunshot wounds, and what the prosecutor told me is illogical,” Zakaria’s father, Masoud, said.
The sources said the Islamist pressure on Coptic soldiers to convert has become widespread. In most cases, they said, the Copts have refused to report the pressure in fear of reprisals.
The Egyptian Air Force has been deemed the last military service not dominated by fundamentalist Islam. But the sources said they expected the air force would be soon a target by creeping Islamization.
The sources said the regime of President Hosni Mubarak has ignored complaints of Islamization in the military. In many cases, they said, Islamist officers were also avoiding their counterparts in Western militaries.
In 2006, another Coptic soldier, identified as Hani Seroufim, was found dead after he refused orders by his commanding officer to convert to Islam.
The sources said the army claimed that Seroufim had drowned, but his body contained evidence of torture.
“They finally have realized that the crimes against them are not individual incidents but rather crimes against humanity planned by the Egyptian state itself,” Coptic writer Magdi Khalil said.
By David Bedein