Egyptian Power Grab Came as Surprise

Thursday, 23 Aug 2012 08:54 PM

By Tawfik Hamid

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The sudden move by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi to oust the senior leadership of the Egyptian military (SCAF) came as a surprise to many analysts.

The move was celebrated by Islamists as another step in making Egypt an Islamic State. It also brought a feeling of calm among ordinary Egyptians who felt that the power struggle between the MB and the military is deleterious to the country.

Morsi-and-military.jpg
Newly-appointed Egyptian Minister of Defense, Lt. Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, left, meets with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi in Cairo on Aug. 13.
(AP Photo)
Some liberals who were paranoid about the military were happy with the move. On the other hand, many other liberals felt that this move ended any hope of preventing Egypt from becoming an Islamic state since they believed that the military might play a role in protecting the secular nature of the country.

This move can be analyzed in several ways.

First, we need to understand why Morsi could not wait longer before making such a move.

The decision to make such a move at this early stage of Morsi’s leadership is likely to be related to the fact that there was mounting anger against  Islamists.

This rising anger was partially due to attempts to change Egypt into an Islamic state like Iran. In part this can also be attributed to a failure to show any evidence of economic progress since Islamists came to power in parliament.

There was also a feeling that Morsi cares for Gaza more than he cares for Egypt.

His decision to give electricity to Gaza while Egypt suffers from daily cuts is a source of friction. Morsi is also seen as facilitating the entry of Palestinians from Gaza into Egypt, which is thought to be a factor in the recent killing of 16 Egyptian soldiers. Several liberals have been critical of attempts by Islamists to supress freedom of the press.

Prior to this recent move, thousands of Egyptians had planned to launch an Anti-Islamist revolution against the MB on Aug 24. The recent action to replace the leaders of the military with people who would be more loyal to Morsi allowed him to stop the coming revolution before it even started since it would be unlikely that the new leaders would turn against Morsi to put down such a revolt.

Additionally, the Supreme Constitutional Court was likely to delegitimize the current Islamist dominated panel that is currently creating the new constitution.

If this occurred, the military was likely to enforce the decision of the court and take the role of appointing a new panel to create a constitution. The latter was likely to be a non-Islamist panel which, simply, would mean an end of the dream of the MB to create an Islamic constitution for Egypt.

Morsi’s move against the military delivers the legislative power into his hands — which means that Morsi — not the military — would be the one who chooses members of the new panel.

Another factor that probably persuaded Morsi to act sooner rather than later was the idea of distracting people’s attention from increasing problems in the country.

When Morsi became the president of Egypt he promised the Egyptians that within 100 days they would notice significant improvements in their lives.

Many Egyptians were counting the 100 days and some actually created what they called a “Morsi meter” to measure the progress of the country within this period.

Irrespective of the fact that his promise to make significant improvements in this short time was very naïve, many took it seriously.

Since Morsi came to power many people believe that conditions in the country are declining. The soft coup against the military distracted the population only temporarily from observing the “Morsi 100 Program.”

The second aspect is how he managed to do it.

Morsi — likely supported and guided by the MB leadership — used several tactical approaches that allowed him to make such a surprising move. These include:

First, gaining the support of the younger generation in the military who feel that the “old guys” (Egyptian Field Marshal Gen. Hussein Tantawi was 76) were not giving them the chance to rise to leading positions in the military. Morsi cleverly used this generational rift to pass his coup smoothly without much resistance from military personnel. He actually appointed some of the younger men to top positions, giving them hope that they can become leaders, and bringing them to his side against Tantawi.

Second, only a few days before Morsi’s move he appointed a new  intelligence chief, making it more than likely this person would be an ally after the move.

Third, Morsi added a religious flavor to his move by timing it for the last 10 days of Ramadan. These days have particular spiritual meaning for Muslims who believe that the Quran was revealed to Mohamed and that the first victory gained by Muslims occurred in these days. This caused many naïf Egyptians to believe that the move by Morsi was a ‘holy’ one — that is, blessed by ‘Allah.”

Fourth, since it was Ramadan most of the commentators in the political media were on vacation and the TV channels were consumed by movies and religious programs. This allowed Morsi to make his move without a strong backlash from the media which could have seen it as an infringement of Morsi’s oath.

Additionally, the result of fasting (no water or food for most of the day) during Ramadan would make many Egyptians less inclined to demonstrate against Morsi.

Fifth, MB control of the press just prior to the removal of the military leaders also allowed the removal of these leaders without a strong uproar.

Some Egyptians believe that the visit of the Amir of Qatar to Egypt and his meeting with Morsi only 48 hours earlier was to obtain the ‘blessing’ of influential international actors for such a move.

What are the implications?

That will largely depend on the economic success of the MB in the next few months. Currently the Islamists are in control of virtually all the political leadership of the country and they will thus be held responsible for the outcome.

If they succeed in putting a fast end to the economic problems of the country, the MB will be able to establish the first foundation of the Islamic Caliphate which will certainly antagonize US interests in the region.

If they fail in solving the economic problems, it would be the biggest blow ever to the phenomenon of political and radical Islam.

The MB are likely to show some ‘selective’ pragmatism on issues that can assist them in achieving global goals, such as accepting ‘un-Islamic’ loans from the World Bank and from other international donors.

This money can help them achieve their dream of Islamising Egypt.

However, it is unlikely that they will show pragmatism on issues that are fundamental to their ideology such as the strong pro-Hamas anti-Israel position and the desire to suppress the freedom of women in the country.

The U.S. must be aware that the aid it gives to Egypt while it is controlled by the MB can be used to support the Hamas terrorist organization.

Dr. Tawfik Hamid is the author of "Inside Jihad: Understanding and Confronting Radical Islam." Read more reports from Tawfik Hamid — Click Here Now.

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