Egypt's military leaders are being ridiculed after the chief army engineer unveiled what he described as a "miraculous" set of devices that detect and cure Aids, hepatitis and other viruses.
The claim, dismissed by experts and called "shocking to scientists" by the president's science adviser, is a blow to the army's carefully managed image as saviour of the nation. It also comes as military chief Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, who toppled Mohammed Mursi in July after the Islamist leader ignored protests calling for him to step down, is expected to announce he will run for president.
The televised presentation - which was made to Sisi, interim president Adly Mansour and other senior officials - raised concerns that the military's offer of seemingly inconceivable future devices will draw Egypt back into the broken promises of authoritarian rule, when then-president Hosni Mubarak frequently announced grand initiatives that failed to meet expectations.
"The men of the armed forces have achieved a scientific leap by inventing the detecting devices," military spokesman Colonel Ahmed Mohammed Ali wrote later on his official Facebook page. Ali said a patent has been filed under the name of the Armed Forces Engineering Agency.
Well-known writer Hamdi Rizk noted that video clips of the presentation had gone viral on social media, with tweets and blogs saying the military had made a fool of itself and put its reputation in jeopardy.
"The marshal's camp has been dealt a deep moral defeat," he wrote in a column in Thursday's Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper. "God give mercy to ... the reputation of the Egyptian army, which became the target of cyber shelling around the clock."
Professor Massimo Pinzani, a liver specialist and director of the Institute for Liver and Digestive Health at University College London, said he attended a demonstration of the C-Fast device during a visit to Egypt but "was not given convincing explanations about the technology" and was not allowed to try it for himself.
"As it is at present, the device is proposed without any convincing technical and scientific basis and, until this is clearly provided, it should be regarded as a potential fraud," he wrote in an e-mail.
None of the research has been published in a reputable journal.
The uproar escalated when a scientific adviser to Mansour denounced the claim and said it had no scientific base.
"What has been said and published by the armed forces harms the image of the scientists and science in Egypt," Essam Heggy, a planetary scientist at the California Institute of Technology, told the newspaper El-Watan in remarks published on Wednesday. "All scientists inside and outside Egypt are in a state of shock."
He added that both Mansour and Sissi were surprised and their presence in the audience did not indicate approval.
The furore started when Major General Taher Abdullah, the head of the Engineering Agency in the Armed Forces, gave a televised presentation to Sissi and other officials on what he called an "astonishing, miraculous scientific invention."
Abdullah said two of the devices, named C-Fast and I Fast, used electromagnetism to detect Aids, hepatitis and other viruses without taking blood samples while the third, named Complete Cure Device, acted as a dialysis unit to purify the blood.
He also said the C-Fast, which looks like an antenna affixed to the handle of a blender, detected patients infected with viruses that cause hepatitis and Aids with a high success rate.