Morsi's ousting of army old guard completes Egypt's quest for revolution
A stricter separation between politics and the military was among the foremost demands made by anti-Mubarak protesters for the past 18 months.
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi's forcing out of two top Mubarak-era defense officials on Sunday, along with his stripping of the military commander's power to enact laws and declare war, are seen in Egypt as necessary steps to complete the revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak as president.
A stricter separation between politics and the military, together with a reinterpretation of the Supreme Military Council as an advisory body only, were among the foremost demands made by anti-Mubarak protesters for the past 18 months, along with a call to flesh out the president's role as the commander in chief of the armed forces. Morsi's ouster of Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and Chief of Staff Sami Enan and his reining in of the field marshal's power are seen as answers to those demands.
The protesters' adoption of the army as part of the revolution was a constraint that could not be upheld for the long term, especially after the Supreme Military Council began regularly signaling that it was planning to continue to shape Egyptian policy and govern the elected leadership, whether by forcing Tantawi to become Morsi's defense minister or by taking over the constitution-writing process.
Paradoxically, it was Egypt's battle against terrorism in Sinai following the deadly August 5 militant attack on an Egyptian border post that granted Morsi the opportunity of his lifetime, while also giving Egypt the revolution it has been waiting for since 1952, when the Free Officers took power. The main problem is that the country is headed by a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose every step against the military is immediately interpreted as a blow for imposing a radical Islamist agenda, instead of as an effort to create a civil state in which the government controls the military rather than the other way around. The threat of Islamization is feared by Israel and the United States in particular.
The change that Morsi instituted is about more than political appointments; it is about creating a system of government in which the president and government will be the ones who run the country's security policy as well as its foreign policy. Morsi, it appears, is not willing to concede the power Mubarak had, but he doesn't want to be burdened by a military hump on his back.
From Israel's perspective, there won't be much difference. Even over the past 18 months, Israel conducted a dialogue with the Egyptian army that was predicated on an understanding of the army's political constraints given the role of the Muslim Brotherhood. No foreign policy decision was needed in Israel-Egypt relations until the Sinai attack, in which one of two armored personnel carriers stolen from the Egyptian border post entered two kilometers into Israel, apparently on the way to a planned terror attack. Because no political decisions were necessary until then, the dialogue could continue cautiously and covertly.
But when there was something that should have been subject to a political decision - Egypt's violation of the Camp David accords to bring attack helicopters into Sinai to strike armed militants - it was actually Morsi who made the critical decision. Washington faces a similar challenge, as it has also lost what has been referred to as the army's military-political counterweight.
The main concern was and continues to be the prospect of renewed diplomatic ties between Egypt and Iran, and ultimately a strategic alliance between the two countries that would erode the power of the Arab-American alliance against Iran. But in that context too, Morsi, who is not a fan of Iran, turned out to be someone who has rapidly internalized his position and that of Egypt. The country's dependent economic relationship with Saudi Arabia, the infrastructure of the American armament program and recognition of Iran's role in the massacre taking place in Syria have all pushed Morsi away from the Iranian axis.
The revolution that Morsi initiated on Sunday in terms of the structure of the Egyptian government is the factor that will dictate the way the rest of the world treats Egypt, and will establish the country's standing in the strategic fabric of the region.