CAIRO — The Egyptian military has enlisted Muslim scholars in a 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 in protests against the military removing the elected president.
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 Morsi's support, the Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood. After ousting 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 calling for violence against political opponents they deem to be nonbelievers.
"When somebody comes who tries to divide you, then kill them, whoever they are," Ali Gomaa, a former scholar 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 permits us to fight this," he said, 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.
In another video, Salem Abdel Galil, a former senior scholar in the ministry that oversaw mosques under Mubarak, appeared to say such opponents were "aggressors who have to repent to God."
"If they continue like this, then they are neither recognized by religion, nor by reason or logic," Abdel Galil said, adding that "to use weapons when needed" was the duty of the armed forces.
Amr Khaled, a televangelist 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 asked. "You, you conscript in the Egyptian military, you are performing a task for God Almighty!"
"There is a fear of disobedience" in the clerics' videotaped speeches, said Emad Shahin, a political scientist at the American University in Cairo.