The world is trying to figure out who rules Egypt following the surprise dismissals/resignations of former chief military leader and defense minister Hussein Tantawi, Lt. General Sami Anan, the military chief of staff, and the heads of the three armed services.As the Wall Street Journal reports, President Morsi announced the dismissals and issued a statement reversing the military’s June declaration, which took most power from the civilian government and elected parliament. Apparently, on paper at least, these powers now belong to Morsi.On the face of it, the moves appear to represent a huge victory for Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood—a kind of Egyptian equivalent to the victory of Turkey’s AK Party over that country’s once all-powerful military. But things in Egypt are not always what they seem. Tantawi and Anan are staying on as “advisors” to Morsi, and there are indications that these two senior leaders collaborated with the president.And there is also a constitutional court problem: the court upheld the June military declaration as legal. If it now upholds Morsi’s reversal, the impression that Egypt’s constitutional order is a kind of football which any strong player can kick as far as he wishes will be reinforced.As we’ve said earlier, the Egyptian military has mostly preferred a patient strategy in the turmoil of the past two years. Rather than seeking confrontation at unfavorable moments, it patiently waits until its opponents make a misstep and then moves quickly and effectively. It counts on the old bureaucracies and power structures in the state and the business community to undermine any efforts to wrench Egypt away from the system that has ruled there for 60 years. In a country of mostly personalistic and short term politics, the Egyptian military has the capacity to think institutionally; the fate of the army is more important than the fate of any one general.The chaos in the Sinai gave President Morsi an opportunity to make sweeping changes at the top of the military command. What we don’t yet know is whether personnel change at the top means a change in the balance of power between military and civilian authorities or whether this is more like a game of three card monte, with the marks never quite able to figure out where the true power lies.
Mysteries of Egypt
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