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Morsi makes his move

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi stunned the country today by firing the military leaders who were his chief rivals for power, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and chief of staff Sami Anan:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-19234763

I think Morsi has pulled it off.

For one thing, he's named a bunch of other SCAFers to succeed Tantawi and Anan, and those guys aren't whining about his right to do so.

The announcement said the move was taken in consultation with SCAF, and that T and A would remain presidential advisers, plus they'd get the Collar of the Nile for their past services. But it also made clear he'd "ordered" them to retire.

Also fired: navy, air force, and air defense chiefs. But they were also given golden handshakes, like running the Suez Canal.

Pretty deftly done.

Especially important was cancelling SCAF's constitutional decree limiting Morsi's powers. That technically had to be Step 1, because the military's decree also barred the pres from interfering in military affairs (like firing the defense minister, head of SCAF, navy chief, etc.).

If the firings are meekly accepted by the military, as appears to have happened, what are the chances that the courts will rule Morsi can't overturn the decree?

Zero, I think. Morsi just named a judge as VP, signaling how he respects the judicial system.

Morsi also revived the panel that had been drawing up a new constitution, giving it a deadline to finish a draft that can be put to voters in a referendum.

So a bloodless (and essentially democratic) coup.

The military still wields too much power, but its new leadership looks willing to co-operate with Morsi and parliament, rather than struggling with them for absolute authority.

Next step will be to nudge the courts into letting the existing parliament function, at least until new elections can be held.

Morsi had promised to name both a woman and a Copt as vice-presidents. It'll be interesting to see whether he still feels the need, now that he's defanged the military.

As for Tantawi and Anan being awarded Egypt's highest honor, the Collar of the Nile, I'm wondering whether theirs might be made of some especially heavy material.

In case you didn't read this post all the way through (or at all), let me point out the words "Paul Ryan" do not appear. Hey, you're welcome.

I read it all the way through acanuck, and even learned something.  Thanks. 

If they can get rid of military rule, it will be a good thing, but I don't have high hopes for rule by Islamists(they've already started prosecuting people for offenses against Islam, and things aren't looking good for Copts).

I have not read of any changes to the law since the parliamentary election, Aaron. Nor have I read of any crackdowns on Christians. Yes, the Copts are concerned about the future, as are secularists. But even under Mubarak, the constitution said laws couldn't conflict with sharia. Since sharia is open to a wide range of interpretation, there's a lot of wiggle room there. I don't see a problem if the constitutional proposal just repeats that language. 

Morsi nearly lost the presidential election because the Copts didn't trust him. I don't think he wants to permanently alienate 10 per cent of the population, especially such a politically engaged community. Let's see how the new constitution reads before prejudging it.

And yes, democracy beats military dictatorship almost all the time.

Here's Issandr El Amrani's initial assessment. He's outside Egypt right now, so can't yet gauge the reaction on Cairo's streets:

http://www.arabist.net/blog/2012/8/12/the-morsi-maneuver-a-first-take.html

I agree that removing the Mubarak regime's old guard was the key to ending the constitutional standoff. Morsi has probably been talking to the younger, more pro-reform SCAF members for some time about such a solution, which suits both sides. 

Last week's killing of 16 Egyptian soldiers on the Sinai border with Israel embarrassed the military and gave Morsi an opening to fire the chief of intelligence. The lack of resistance to that move no doubt emboldened him to act now against Tantawi.

The next few weeks will be crucial: Morsi can show he's the president of all Egyptians or he can stick rigidly to advancing the Brotherhood's partisan interests. Can he tell the difference? We're about to find out.

After reading the BBC article, I see two mutually exclusive options at play :

First - Morsi is using proper Arab etiquette in giving baksheesh ... dual meaning of gift and bribe ... as persuasion to gently move the country towards democratic rule while minimizing the military impact.

Second - Morsi is consolidating his control because unlike other Egyptian rulers, his roots aren't established with the current military hierarchy.

The military has been the key element in controlling Egypt so it will be interesting to see if Morsi is actually cutting the umbicial cord to let Egypt be reborn again like the Phoenix of old.

Both true, Beetle, and I don't see why they are mutually exclusive. This deal recognizes reality -- neither side was going to triumph in the constitutional standoff over who's the boss of whom. A fight that economically suffering Egyptians were increasingly impatient with, in any case.

Most of the military won't shed a tear over dumping the deadwood of the Mubarak era, and I'm sure their successors all have SCAF's blessing. The golden handshakes were Morsi's acknowledgment that, for now at least, military perks can continue.

Interesting how both sides are spinning this: the military insisting it was a normal changing of the guard, while Morsi's spokesman cast it more dramatically: “Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi has been transferred into retirement as of today.”

The medals, the praise and the meaningless appointment as presidential adviser couldn't disguise the fact Tantawi was fired. That's even clearer for Anan, who is a full decade younger than Tantawi -- no way was he planning to retire now!

It's not so much that Morsi has freed himself from the military as that both sides have realized their mutual interest in co-operating. But it is a big deal that SCAF now acknowledges the revolution irreversibly changed the country's balance of power.

I say mutually exclusive in that either he will divorce the military from playing an active part of governing, or plant his own people in key positions to tighten his grip over the military to wield it as a weapon like Murbarck, Sadat and Nasar did to keep the public at bay.

We'll have to wait and see.

NYT agrees with me that much of the military is happy to see Tantawi and his Mubarak-era cohort ride off into the sunset, giving their successors a chance to rebuild their image as competent professionals:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/14/world/middleeast/purge-by-morsi-shows-...

what's to stop them from turning to the dark side, though? all it takes is a coup within the military by those not happy with the new arrangements.

Those are the guys who just lost, Beetle. They're out. You can't stage a coup without support.

Thank you for paying attention to this ack.  I enjoy reading your reporting on this.  So what do you in your heart of hearts see as the endgame here?  I don't doubt for a second that there are many people in Egypt who look forward to a real democracy with a free press and all of the trimmings.  I'm just not sure how that is accomplished in Egypt, but I do wish Morsi well and I recognize and applaud him for the bold move he has made.  

Thanks, Bruce. With this move, Morsi has shown more political skill and leadership than the Brotherhood had shown since Tahrir erupted. It gives me some hope that he realizes he needs all society on board -- from the military and the Copts to the liberals and the secularists -- as he tackles Egypt's massive problems of poverty, health and education.

The fiscal situation is dire, and the quickest fix is to get tourism booming again. So I don't see any way he would back Salafi demands to ban, say, bikinis or alcohol. Imposing an Islamic state is simply not on the radar.

Parliament is still dissolved, so Morsi and his party may have to fight another legislative election, not to mention a constitutional referendum, by year's end. The presidential runoff, against a relic of the old regime, was way too close for comfort. Morsi knows he can't afford to stoke sectarian divisions. Hell, even without that, the Brotherhood might lose its parliamentary majority if the economy doesn't improve.

Egypt's dire straits are naturally driving its leadership toward a pragmatic, non-ideological, inclusive democracy. It's still in its infancy, but this was a pretty big baby step.

Further to my reply to Beetlejuice above, here's a pretty good analysis:

http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Backchannels/2012/0813/Egypt-s-Morsi-clea...

Hi Bruce - I finally found where the old TPM crowd went. It feels like home. BTW, I am still passionate but not so dogmatic as in the past. A few years older and a few more experiences does that to a person. Glad to see you are still active. 

Likewise it's nice to see your byline here, jd! I fondly recall liking to read your comments in fairly early TPMCafe days, and I'm not a big dogma fan so methinks you may be exaggerating--I do recall you getting a touch angry or irritated mebbe sometimes, but never a dogmatic!  Maybe I am confusing you with someone else interested in Mideast issues, but I think I recall you participating even pre-MJ Rosenberg (no shit-stirrer as bad as that here so far, thank the lord cheeky--more accurately, I should say Articleman & Genghis deserve the thanks ) on the "America Abroad" section discussions? Hope to see you pipe up from time to time as you did there with your view of things.

aa - I certainly remember you from TPM. I was one of the very first participants when Josh started the Cafe. I loved the place and was extremely sad when Josh closed  it. However, I now am quite angry that he wiped out everything that was ever on the Cafe so that even Google cannot retrieve it. 

 

I've gone through the articles here and am amazed at how informative and civil all the discussions are. Much more civil than the Cafe ever was and I will do my best to honor that approach. 

I remember some of your nuanced, very thoughtful posts about Israel, jd: wheelchairs for Gaza, settler friends and kinfolk, immigration control knowing about your TPM blogging (scary) -- fascinating personal insights. Welcome; I look forward to your first post here.

Hey JD, Good to see you again!  Was wonderin' where you've been hanging out.  Nice place here.  Welcome back.

Yawning by the Pentagon and Israeli defense sources:

What Egypt’s New Guard Thinks About America
By Harvey Morris, IHT Rendevous, August 14, 2012

[....]

The Arabist, an independent Middle East Website, earns an A+ for tracking down a document that helps provide some answers. The Arabist’s Issandr El Amrani has located a 10,000-word essay by Egypt’s General Sedky Sobhy, number two in the defense hierarchy since being elevated to Chief of Staff in Mr. Morsi’s reshuffle [....]

In Washington, the Pentagon sounded remarkably relaxed about the military reshuffle [....]

George Little, the Pentagon press secretary, said the Egyptian president had been expected to name a new military team at some point.

“The United States and the Department of Defense in particular look forward to continuing a very close relationship with the S.C.A.F.,” he said.

It was the same in Israel, where the Jerusalem Post reported a consensus among top defense chiefs that the changes at the top in the Egyptian military would not lead to any sudden deterioration on Israel’s southern border.

The Post’s Yaakov Lappin, quoted one unnamed Israeli military source who commented on the changes, which include the appointment of Gen. Sobhy and of Lt. Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi as defense minister, by saying:

“The new guys come from the same place as their predecessors. The new appointments grew up in an Egyptian army that received U.S. assistance. They will also receive U.S. cash.”

Meanwhile, so far there's no transparency on Sinai:

Sinai's Invisible War
BY MOHAMED FADEL FAHMY, Dispatch @ ForeignPolicy.com, August 13, 2012

Egypt's new president has used the recent Sinai attacks to clean house. But nobody knows what really happened -- and the military isn't talking.

Strikes me like this: unless that changes, that means feeding the traditional conspiracy theorizing about the government and therefore continuation of traditional distrust of the same. Admittedly, there is a bit of a "doh" factor in saying "the military isn't talking" at this point in time, as in: of course not, they don't want to risk losing their jobs! But that doesn't solve the transparency/conspiracy problem.

Two rather good articles from Foreign Policy. One covers mostly the same ground as this post does:

http://mideast.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/08/14/egypts_cobra_and_mongo...

The other details the Islamist stacking of top editorial jobs at Egypt's state-owned newspapers, at the expense of more qualified but more independent-minded journalists. At least the journalists are speaking out, and not getting arrested for it:

http://mideast.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/08/13/the_news_brought_to_yo...

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