Egypt's President Morsi fires senior general Tantawi, asserting his power
Egyptian President Morsi didn't just fire Tantawi today. He overturned a constitutional declaration from Tantawi's military council that sought to tie the hands of the civilian president.
The expected showdown between Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and the military establishment that has consistently maneuvered to preserve its own power and privilege arrived today, far sooner than almost everyone expected.Skip to next paragraph
Dan Murphy is a staff writer for the Monitor's international desk, focused on the Middle East. Murphy, who has reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, and more than a dozen other countries, writes and edits Backchannels. The focus? War and international relations, leaning toward things Middle East.
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President Morsi, from the Muslim Brotherhood, sacked Defense Minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who had headed the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the junta that ran Egypt from the time Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February 2011 until Morsi's election earlier this year. Also fired were the acting chiefs of Egypt's military branches, who all served on the council. Morsi also unilaterally annulled constitutional declarations issued by SCAF that had taken the power to legislate out of Morsi's hands.
The reaction so far from the military? None.
There have been no statements, no mobilization of troops, no evidence that they're going to stand up to Egypt's first elected civilian president. The Muslim Brotherhood, a movement that was outlawed for decades and that the security establishment of Egypt was focused on containing for over 50 years, now theoretically holds all the formal political power in the Arab world's largest country. He can legislate, nominate members of the constitutional drafting committee, set foreign policy, and apparently shuffle the senior ranks of the military at will.
Egypt's elected parliament was dissolved by a court order earlier this year backed by SCAF, and the only official balancing authority against the presidency left are the courts. But will the judges act against Morsi's moves today absent overt backing from the military? That seems unlikely, but all things are possible in a country with neither a democratic tradition nor any history of civilian political authority.
"So far, it either seems like [the military is] acquiescing, which is totally out of sorts with how they've played everything for the past 18 months ... or it suggests there are bigger divisions within SCAF than maybe we were led to believe," says Michael Wahid Hanna, a fellow at The Century Foundation in New York who has been studying Egypt's transition. "There's been a very clear implicit message until now that the army is not going to turn over all the keys of power to the [Muslim Brotherhood] and now that they've made the ultimate power play there hasn't been a response."
In many ways, the move is a simple assertion of civilian authority over the generals, something the US has been urging for the past year-and-a-half. But a politically-neutered army, if that's what has just happened, is not exactly what the US is interested in, given the Muslim Brotherhood's stance towards Israel, particularly given that Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, is an offshoot of the organization.
Also ousted today were Army Chief of Staff Sami Enan, Navy Commander Mohab Memish, and Air Force Commander Reda Hafez. Morsi appointed senior judge Mahmoud Mekki as his vice president, and named Abdel-Fatah El-Sissi as the new minister of defense. General Mohamed el-Asser, who was appointed deputy defense minister, told Reuters "the decision was based on consultation with the field marshal and the rest of the military council." Morsi's government said most of the fired generals would be retained as advisers or given senior civilian jobs in the state bureaucracy.