Egypt’s president asserts authority over military

Al-Masry Al-Youm reports: “Breaking: Mohamed Morsy is the president of the Egyptian Republic,” said activists on social media websites jokingly as an expression of Morsy’s assertion of power after catching the country off guard by sending the head of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and Chief of Staff Sami Anan to retirement Sunday.

In an unprecedented reshuffle of the 19-member SCAF, Morsy replaced Tantawi, who has been defense minister for 22 years, with current Military Intelligence Chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi who was promoted two ranks and now heads the ministry and the armed forces, the presidency’s spokesperson Yasser Ali announced on Sunday. The president also promoted Sidqy Sobhy, the third field army leader to be the military chief of staff, while Mohamed al-Assar was appointed as deputy defense minister. Additionally, Head of Naval Forces Mohab Mamish was assigned as leader of the Suez Canal Authority.

Political and military experts say that Morsy’s radical decision to cast aside Tantawi and Anan, who remained on top of the military institution for decades, indicates that the president is consolidating his power over the military establishment in a tactful manner, without necessarily ending the legacy of the military state. For one, the promotion of second rank military officers is considered a tactical move to preempt any possible opposition from the army, they argue.

“It’s a takeover of military rule rather than the end of military rule. This is another phase of authoritarian rule,” says Robert Springborg, a professor at the Department of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School and an expert on the Egyptian military institution.

“The military is now serving as an instrument for the Muslim Brotherhood. Morsy’s move institutionalizes normal civilian control over the military,” he added.

Springborg argues that “the way it was done indicates that the Brothers have a plan from before” and that last week’s attack on Egypt’s border with Gaza and Israel in Sinai paved the way for the move.

Sixteen Egyptian soldiers were killed by armed men on 6 August at the Egyptian border with Gaza and Israel. The attack fueled criticism of the lack of military readiness and a failing state in the strategic peninsula.

As a result, Morsy replaced intelligence chief Mourad Mowafy with Abdel Wahed Shehata and appointed Hamed Zaki as head of the presidential guard, while North Sinai Governor Abdel Wahab Mabrouk has been sacked from his post along with the head of the Central Security Forces. Furthermore, Hamdi Badin, commander of the military police, was also removed from his position.

Morsy had to first guarantee authority over the Presidential Guard and Central Security Forces to defend the president against any street riots that might take place as a reaction to the military leaders shuffle, Springborg told Egypt Independent. “They [Muslim Brothers] prepared the ground.”

Professor Emad Shahin, who teaches political science at the American University in Cairo and who specializes in Islamist movements, also thought the reshuffling was well calculated by Morsy. “The reshuffling is very smart, as it avoids escalation and ensures the loyalty of the military establishment. Now the military institution is under the authority of the elected president,” said Shahin. He agreed with Springborg that the Sinai attacks “served Morsy” as he is viewed as reacting strongly by holding security officials accountable. [Continue reading…]

After a period in which the possibility of civilian rule in Egypt appeared to be severely constrained by the military’s unwillingness to yield power, Morsi’s move looks like a major step in Egypt’s transition towards full-fledged democracy — unless, that is, you’re an Islamophobic Israeli. Barry Rubin, who seems convinced that this time the sky really is falling, writes: “This is a coup. Mursi is bound by no constitution. He can do as he pleases unless someone is going to stop him. And the only candidate — the military — is fading fast, far faster than even we pessimists would have predicted.”

Marc Lynch writes: After long weeks of political gridlock and stagnation, Egypt’s elected President Mohammed el-Morsi suddenly hit the gas over the weekend. Over the span of a few days, Morsi removed the head of General Intelligence, the head of the Military Police, the top two senior leaders of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and the heads of all the military services. In addition to this SCAF-Quake, Morsi also canceled the controversial Constitutional amendments promulgated by the SCAF just before he took office and issued a new, equally controversial amendment and roadmap of his own. What’s more, this all came after he replaced the editors of major state-owned newspapers with people viewed as sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood and cracked down on several other critical papers. Zero to 180 in three days — even Usain Bolt would be impressed by that acceleration. Swirv.

What does it all mean? It’s a bit of a cop-out, but really it’s too soon to tell. As always in Egypt, information is both scarce and abundant. Nobody really knows what’s going on, rumors of every variety fly fast and furious, and everyone has pieced together plausible-sounding theories based on their fears or analytical predispositions. (Remember, though, as a rule it’s almost never as bad as it seems on Twitter.) It will take a while for the full implications to become clear. Eventually, more reliable information will trickle out about what really happened: were Tantawi and Anan consulted, or did they find out on TV? did junior officers collude with the Presidents office, or were they equally surprised? And the behavior of key actors in the coming weeks will shed light on their intentions this weekend: does Morsi move to impose an Islamist vision or reach out to create a broadly based constitutional convention? does the military strike back in some form? Until then, just about everyone — in Cairo, in Washington, and everywhere else — is struggling to pierce through the haze and make out what they can.

Taking that uncertainty into account, I can see at least three dominant takes on what’s going on. Those who believe the SCAF remains fully in control see a clever scheme to cement long-term military rule in alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood by gently dumping the unpopular figureheads while retaining an institutional hold on power. Those who fear the Muslim Brotherhood see the makings of a full-scale Ikhwanization of Egypt, with Morsi seizing dictatorial powers, brushing aside the secular bastion of the SCAF, and putting himself in place to shape the new constitution. And those who still see the prospect for some kind of real democratic transition can find some comfort in an elected President removing the senior leaders of the outgoing military junta without a bloody fight and asserting the principle of political control by an elected President. None of these three strikes me as completely right and all probably have some elements of truth.

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