This is BIG.
The BBC says that Egypt’s elected president, from the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, has just ordered the firing of Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, the leader of the 23-member Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). He also ordered the Army Chief of Staff and another SCAF stalwart, Gen. Sami Anan, to retire.
The president said that both Tantawi and Anan would remain “advisers” to the president and gave Tantawi the Order of the Nile for his service.
He replaced Anan with Major-Gen. Sidqi Subhi as army chief of staff. Subhi had been commander of the 3rd Field Army in Suez and had played a role in convincing SCAF to allow a militant Muslim fundamentalist from Suez, Hafiz Salamah, to leave a mosque in al-Abbasiya during a violent confrontation between Salafis and the military there in May.
I had suggested that Egypt since Morsi’s election has been sort of like Turkey in the 1990s and early zeroes, with ‘dual sovereignty,’ vested both in an elected, civilian government and a powerful ‘deep state’ or military establishment. I proposed that over time, elected authority has more legitimacy and that Egypt could move in the direct of Turkey in the past half-decade, wherein the elected government has gradually gotten the upper hand over the military.
I didn’t expect the process to take a month and a half, but many years.
Tantawi had insisted on being the Minister of Defense, and has been replaced by Abdul Fattah al-Sissi.
Morsi made a senior judge, Mahmoud Makki, his vice president. Makki has been an activist for judicial independence from the government, leading a 2006 demonstration of jurists for this cause. He had also supported the amendment of the constitution in 2005 to allow more than one candidate to run for president (before then Hosni Mubarak used to have referendums with himself the only choice, which he could not lose).
Morsi further declared null and void the ‘supplementary declarations’ serving to limit his power, issued by SCAF last June.
Morsi says that he consulted the other officers of SCAF about these changes. That datum, if true, makes this move sound a little like a junior officers’ coup enabled by the president.
What in the world is going on? The extensiveness of Morsi’s moves suggest an extreme conflict between him and Tantawi (and Anan).
On Saturday, Morsi’s government confiscated all copies of that day’s edition of al-Dustur, a Christian-owned newspaper that ran a front page article accusing the Muslim Brotherhood of plotting to establish a fundamentalist Muslim Emirate (a la the Taliban in Afghanistan) in Egypt, and urging Egyptians to support the SCAF junta. Was the al-Dustur piece planted by Tantawi as a stalking horse for a move against Morsi? Or did Morsi think so?
The other big thing that has been going on is that Egypt’s military moved against fundamentalist militants in the Sinai Peninsula, who had attacked Egyptian troops. The Muslim Brotherhood was convinced that that attack was instigated somehow behind the scenes by the Israelis, to forestall Egypt from opening the border crossing at Rafah into the Gaza Strip (which abuts the Sinai). Gaza has been under an illegal and cruel blockade of its civilian population by the Israelis since 2007, in which the Hosni Mubarak government of Egypt rather gleefully participated. The Muslim Brotherhood wants the blockade lifted on the Egyptian side.
The attack by shadowy militants in Sinai (one of a long series of such attacks; they tried to take El Arish when I was in Egypt last summer) gave Tantawi the opportunity to put military priorities to the fore, and Morsi was put in the position of having to go to the front and cheer on the troops in their fight against …. Muslim fundamentalists. The Sinai campaign renewed the Egyptian role as junior partner in the Israeli blockade of Gaza’s civilians, which was highly distasteful to Morsi’s base.
The reasons for what has happened are murky and while these two developments might be context for them, they might not. All I can say is, stay tuned.