Political drama in Egypt. President Mohamed Morsi announced Sunday that he was relieving the most powerful man in the security establishment, defense minister and head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, along with Sami Anan, Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Armed Forces. Morsi also announced that he was cancelling the constitutional amendment decided upon by the SCAF on the eve of the presidential elections, which gives the military the authority to manage the country and the constitution. Morsi appointed Abed al-Fateh Asisi, who had been serving as the head of military intervention, to take Tantawi’s place. Morsi also announced that he was appointing Mahmoud Mohammed Maki to the position of vice president. Morsi’s spokesperson held a press conference on Sunday afternoon in which he stated that Anan and Tantawi would be appointed as “advisors,” although in reality the two are losing their jobs. Morsi also decided that Sidki Suhbim, the commander of Egypt’s third division, will serve as Anan’s replacement. In addition, Morsi appointed a new chairman to the Suez Canal Authority, which is considered the most important company in Egypt.
It is still unclear whether Tantawi and Anan knew about the plan, which was announced by Morsi spokesperson Yasser Ali. Ali did not forget to thank the former SCAF head for his service to the country. And while the Al-Jazeera news station claimed that it was unaware of any planned moves, one of the top SCAF officials, Muhammed al-Asar, said the move was made in coordination with Tantawi, Anan and the entirety of the SCAF. Despite al-Asar’s attempts to describe the move as entirely consensual, it seems that reality is a bit more complex. It should be noted the al-Asar was appointed to the position of vice defense minister on Sunday. In light of Tantawi’s insistence to grant SCAF authority to rule the country on the eve of the elections, and his appearance in Sinai alongside soldiers during the last operation which began there last week, it seems Tantawi or Anan would not have given up on their position and authority out of their own volition.
Most of Egypt’s citizens were no less stunned the Morsi’s decision. The relations between the SCAF and president were strained from the get-go, but few believed that he would dare get into a confrontation with the authority that is believed to hold a great amount of military and political power in Egypt, less than a month and a half since the beginning of his term. Morsi, a novice president, is thought of as someone who needs the help of Tantawi and Anan in order to deal with the Egypt’s security challenges, both internal and external. Last week’s attack in Sinai was proof of that. Tantawi and Anan met with Morsi more than once since the military operation began in the peninsula and even toured the region together. One widely released photograph documented Morsi and Tantawi sharing an iftar dinner (a meal to break the fast during the month of Ramadan) among soldiers. The impression was that the two men internalized the fact that they will have to work together in order to overcome the threats.
This may be the origin of the surprise. It also must be noted that Morsi’s step may be seen as a legitimate one taken by a president whose authority was taken from him unlawfully. On the eve of the second round of the elections, after the constitutional court in Egypt announced that the elections for the lower house of parliament were not legal, the SCAF announced that it was dissolving the parliament, and the coming into effect of the amendment to the constitution. The amendment said that the legislating authority in Egypt will be in the hands of the military council until new elections would take place. Tantawi and his friends took more authority, stated that the top command would remain in the hands of the military, as well as the handling of the national budget. Morsi (or any other president that would have been elected) was in reality disenfranchised from his authority in the wake of the move, something that likely influenced his decision to get rid of the amendment. In fact, since the eve of the elections, there has been a situation in which two different executive authorities in Egypt: the elected authority (the president), and the one which took the executive authority upon itself (the military).
Egypt was paralyzed due to the competition between the president, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood which represents the religious sector in Egypt, and the SCAF which seemed to fight against a democratic decision and the growing religious influence in the country. Thus, no new decisions were made regarding the reassembly of the parliament which was dissolved by the military. Even Morsi himself, who announced the reassembly of the lower house of parliament in July, faced much opposition from many bodies outside the military. The parliament assembled only once since then. A second major issue which has been left unresolved is over the issue of a new constitution. When the parliament asked to assemble a committee (with a majority of Muslim Brotherhood members) to draft a new constitution, the military council disassembled it, leaving the matter untouched. Egypt was left without a landlord – without a single decision maker. Morsi decided to undertake a policy opposite that of Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, who took an appeasing stance toward the secular Turkish military, while the generals attempted to thwart him and even some of them tried to overthrow him. It took Erdogan a few years to neutralize the power of the generals – Morsi didn’t even wait a month and a half.
Now, the stream of appointments and dismissals from the high command of the military is being accepted without any opposition from the SCAF. Although it is too early to rule whether the dismissals will go without a word of protest. Morsi’s declaration in the beginning of July over the reassembly of the parliament was seen as hurried, confrontational and lacking public backing – even from the Muslim Brotherhood. This time it seems that things are different, especially since SCAF lacks the backing of the constitutional court. And yet, Morsi is making more and more enemies as the days go by. The agitation among the secular in Egypt against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood is growing, leading to calls for another revolution – this time against the Islamic movement. The Muslim Brotherhood are not trying to keep a low profile, but are looking for a confrontation, and were behind the dismissal of several newspaper editors who were “too secular” in favor of known Islamists.
The source of Morsi’s dramatic step cannot be found in the presidential office alone. The voice was that of his spokesperson, but the hands behind the move belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood. A short while after press conference, Dr. Safwat Higazi, a spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, appeared on Al-Jazeera. Higazi is a key figure in the movement, who during Morsi’s campaign, did not hesitate to openly promise that after the victory, Morsi will liberate Gaza, and will turn Jerusalem into the capital of a unified Arab entity. Higazi appeared on the station in order to defend Morsi, in what seemed like a well-timed media campaign. Even Essam al-Arian the head of the Muslim Brotherhood party in the Egyptian parliament, wrote on his Twitter account that Morsi’s decision was the “second wave of the Egyptian people’s revolution.” According to al-Arian, Morsi used all of his authority to implement the demands of the revolution. “These are brave decisions,” he wrote, which thwarted the attempt at a military coup and damage the nation’s revolution.
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