Mohamed Morsi is changing the balance of power in Egypt

David Hearst writes: While Syria’s civil war dominates the world’s attention, less dramatic and telegenic events in Egypt retain the power to decide if popular uprisings will succeed in establishing a democratic alternative to tyranny in the Arab world.

Something of that magnitude has just happened in Cairo. Arguably it is just as significant as the ousting of Hosni Mubarak in February last year. The system was decapitated but continued in the form of the military council, which assumed transitional rule. On Sunday the heads of that system, which has dominated Egypt for decades, were toppled – apparently with its acquiescence.

In forcing the departure of his defence minister and Hussein Tantawi, the head of Scaf (the Supreme Council of Armed Forces), President Mohamed Morsi was not just getting rid of an ageing field marshall who had been central to the Mubarak era, and replacing him with the youngest member of Scaf, establishing the continuity of the system. He was changing the balance of power.

Morsi got rid of the man who was expected to replace Tantawi – the army chief of staff, Sami Enan – as well as the leader of every service of the armed forces. Tantawi’s replacement, the head of military intelligence Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi, will now report to Morsi himself, not to Scaf. Further, Morsi annulled the constitutional power grab that Scaf made on the second day of the presidential election in June, which gave the military a right of veto over the new constitution that is in the process of being drawn up.

Accused by the left and liberals of political weakness, of cohabiting with the military, the Muslim Brotherhood president today stands accused of the opposite contention – accruing too much power. And it is true, that in assuming for himself the power Scaf had to appoint a new constituent assembly should the current one writing the constitution fail to agree, the Egyptian president now has the powers of a Russian one. But Morsi is no Vladimir Putin. [Continue reading…]

Issandr El Amrani argues that it is too soon to determine where the new balance of power now lies: It is hard to believe that the timing of moves by Egypt’s president, Mohamed Morsi, to purge senior officers from the military and impose his power was purely coincidental. It was the 23rd day of Ramadan, the evening of the Night of Power, during which the Qur’an was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.

The Qur’an states that the Night of Power “is better than a thousand months” – this seems apt considering that these changes seemingly put an end to many months of confusion about where power lies in the new Egypt.

But is it for the better? And where does power lie now?

Within the military, it is clear that the new figure of power is Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi, formerly head of military intelligence and now the minister of defence.

Considerably younger that Hussein Tantawi, the ageing general he replaced who was first appointed by Hosni Mubarak in 1992, Sissi brings with him several younger officers. His ascension puts an end to a months-long power struggle over who is in control of the military.

The lack of an immediate challenge to Sunday’s moves suggests that, essentially, there has been a successful coup within the military, in alliance with Morsi. We also know this new military leadership is willing to give Morsi the powers their predecessors had refused him – Morsi could not have regained control without their help. This speaks not of a triumphant civilian president getting the generals in line, but of a confluence of interests. It does not tell us whether it will last, or where the balance of power lies. [Continue reading…]

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