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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.

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The absence of a parliament and a new constitution had until now left SCAF, a group of generals who owe their position to the now jailed Mr. Mubarak, as the only counterbalance to the presidency. The rules of the political contest in Egypt have been completely fluid, or in scholar Marc Lynch's coinage, an Egyptian version of Calvinball, with the rules constantly and capriciously changed by the players to see what they can get away with.

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Staff writer

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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Today, Morsi has just declared "I win, you lose" to SCAF, and every hour that passes without a counter move by the army increases the chances that his declaration will stick.

"People like Tantawi and Enan do have a kind of ideological allergy to the Muslim Brotherhood. But now all their political power is gone, your senior leaders have been sacked, and now the president has all the levers of authority," says Mr. Hanna. He suggests that either the military is unwilling to take the nuclear option – a naked military coup – or the Brothers have been able to cut deals with other senior generals.

Either way, "now Morsi is a dictator on paper ... from my perspective, from any perspective, that's worrying. This is acting by fiat," says Hanna.

Egyptians who have been suspicious that the Brotherhood will seek to wrest full power for itself, and try to wipe away Egypt's secular state in favor of an overtly Islamic one, were alarmed by today's move. It followed the government seizure of Saturday's edition of Al-Dustour, a daily paper owned by a Christian, for "fueling sedition" and "harming the president through phrases and wording punishable by law." Tawfiq Okasha, a conspiratorially-minded television personality sometimes called the Egyptian Glenn Beck, who has repeatedly attacked the Muslim Brotherhood, was banned from foreign travel today. The television station he helps run had its broadcast license suspended last week.

Is this a pure power grab by the Muslim Brotherhood? It is far too soon to say, and some analysts doubt that the military's political power has been anywhere close to crushed. The military establishment still controls vast portions of the Egyptian economy and is central to ongoing efforts to restore order in the Sinai Peninsula. And the generals, after all, have the keys to the country's arsenal.

Issandr El Amrani writes that the senior officers who were promoted today were part of the establishment, not figures from left field, and "this continuity suggests to me that we are dealing with a reconfigured SCAF that is nonetheless a powerful entity that still has powers parallel to the presidency and other civilian institutions. It is not, as the initial reaction to today’s news largely was, a victory by Morsi over the military. Rather, it is a reconfiguration of the relationship."

Still, he writes: "These moves will be seen by many opponents of the Brotherhood as a power grab, and the fact that Morsi has amassed considerable power (again, on paper) is indeed cause for concern. The power to appoint a new constitutional assembly is particularly key, if he ends up using it, I certainly hope it will be to appoint something acceptable to non-Islamists rather than impose the one Islamists wanted earlier this year (unfortunately, the MB’s sense of electoral entitlement makes me pessimistic here.)"

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