The armed forces spokesperson issued a press release Tuesday categorically rejecting rumours that Egyptian troops have participated in ground operations in Yemen.
This comes amid a situation on the ground that has so far displaced 120,000 Yemenis according to the UN.
Spokesperson Mohamed Samir claimed that the spreading of false information is part of a fourth generation of warfare that is aimed at destabilising Egypt’s security.
Samir referred to various social media reports suggesting Egypt sent troops to Yemen, which is gripped by a warring power struggle and airstrikes from a Saudi Arabia-led international coalition.
Samir said that “there is no truth whatsoever to this information…. According to a Presidential Declaration on 26/3/2015, the Egyptian armed forces are only contributing Navy and Air Force support” to the coalition. He continued to call upon the media to refer only to the official military spokesman as the source of information.
Some reports suggested that Egyptian troops have fought and died, with one news outlet claiming that Egypt pledged 48,000 troops to participate in Operation Decisive Storm. Another was the circulation of a photo from the Facebook account of Egyptian Sky News Arabia correspondent Mohamed ElBolok on Sunday, that appeared to show a large unit of officers in army fatigues aboard a flight. It was claimed that the unit of “Rapid Deployment Forces” were bound for Saudi Arabia, from where they would journey to Yemen. ElBolok later removed the photo.
Samir’s Tuesday statement did not, however, rule out the possibility of boots on the ground in the future. Following Pakistan’s effective refusal to Saudi Arabia to contribute troops to support the coalition, pressure may increase on Egypt to demonstrate ground support.
Saudi Arabia had asked Pakistan to provide ships, aircraft and troops to the campaign to restore President Abdel Rabbuh Mansour Hadi. However, on 10 April, Pakistan’s parliament passed a resolution that only declared support for Saudi Arabia’s “territorial integrity”. This was perceived as a rejection of Riyadh’s call to support the fight against the Houthi rebels.
Egypt is struggling to quell a rising insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula and is seen as reluctant to provide troop support in Yemen owing to the history of its 1960s intervention in the country. Furthermore, supporting the campaign to restore Yemen’s President Hadi to power requires working with the Yemeni offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood movement. This poses further domestic political complications for the Egyptian administration that has waged a comprehensive attack on all aspects of the movement.
However, the military establishment and regime of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi is heavily indebted to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. Following the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi, Gulf countries propped up Egypt to the tune of billions of dollars to ensure the survival of the regime.
Meanwhile, the situation on the ground in Yemen has been called out by international aid and rights organisations in reports Monday and Tuesday that document a worsening situation.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, called on all sides Tuesday to the conflict in Yemen to ensure that “attacks resulting in civilian casualties are promptly investigated and that international human rights and international humanitarian law are scrupulously respected during the conduct of hostilities in the country”.
Similarly on Tuesday, Philippe Bolopion, UN and crisis advocacy director at Human Rights Watch called on the US to “use its influence with the coalition to ensure full compliance with the laws of war”.
According to the UN, at least 364 civilians are reported to have lost their lives since the beginning of the campaign on 26 March. These include at least 84 children, but not including an undocumented number of fighters estimated to be in the hundreds.
According to a report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), more than 120,000 people are estimated to have been displaced since airstrikes began.
As well as a rising scarcity of food, UNOCHA notes that humanitarian groups are concerned that “the failure of communication networks, including phone and Internet in parts of southern Yemen, will hamper humanitarian communication”.