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Mysteries of Egypt

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.

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  • JJ

    Wishful thinking.

    The MB has a mass popular base of support, it has a fanatical, ruthless ideology with widespread appeal, and now it has power. Its opponents are many, but they are divided, many of them are tainted by association with the previous regime and with widespread corruption, and there is no outstanding leader among them. There is no democratic tradition to unite them.

    We’ve seen this movie before: Iran 1979 and even Russia 1917.

  • Mick The Reactionary

    Just 4 days ago Mr Mead wrote

    “Egypt’s President Morsi, a former Muslim Brother, reacted resolutely to this week’s Sinai attacks,”

    I guess this statement is not operational anymore.
    I guess the Moslem Bro-in-Chief is now an elected dictator of Egypt.

    Barry Rubin, one of the very few sane ME experts, writes (

    “all we were told about not having to worry because the generals would restrain the Brotherhood was false.
    … the idea that the army, and hence the government, may fear to act lest they lose U.S. aid will also be false.

    Mursi has also removed a constitutional decree regarding parliament. He is now the democratically elected dictator of Egypt.”

    Mr Mead. would you say that Chief Bro acted a bit too resolutely?

    I just have to copy my comment from before ( as it still perfectly valid:

    “Mr Mead, you are such an easy mark.

    Some incompetent jihadis in Sinai made it easy for the Chief Moslem Bro to put his people in security positions and undermine the Army.

    For all we know the Chief Moslem Bro has planned the Sinai act.”

    And now we are virtually certain that Chief Moslem Bro is behind it all.

  • Kris

    Mick@2, you’ve saved me the effort of positively noting your previous comment.

    I’d hypothesize that the top military leaders have
    1. despaired of American support
    2. realized that much of the lower ranks are on the other side
    3. decided that Egypt’s situation is hopeless
    4. have already managed to get a good deal of their wealth out of the country.

    How long until we find out that Tantawi and his confreres have all suddenly developed medical conditions which require overseas care?

  • Kris

    An alternate (though not necessarily contradictory) hypothesis.

  • Mister G

    It appears that most of the posters here are blind, and i am in agreement with some of your analysis. It is funny that Tatawani and Ennan is now advisors to Morsi, and it is obvious that they will be calling the shots and Morsi will be a mere puppet.

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