Morsi's early moves diminish army's power over Egypt
ANALYSIS:The new president has made major shake-ups among his country’s top military personnel
EGYPT’S FIRST civilian president, Mohamed Morsi, has confounded his countrymen and external powers by mounting what might be described as a soft coup against the military high command, which has so far not sought to countermand his decisions.
His actions to date should come as no surprise. He stated in his inauguration address that the army should return to barracks and focus on protecting the state. But no one expected him to act on this assertion.
Some Egyptian analysts argue that Morsi used the pretext of the army’s failure to quell violence in Sinai, where 16 border guards were slain 10 days ago by Muslim fundamentalists, to shake up the army command which assumed power after president Hosni Mubarak fell.
Morsi began by firing the general intelligence chief, the head of Cairo’s security agency, commander of the republican guard and the north Sinai governor. This registered a moderate tremor on the Egyptian political scene. The army had, until then, been in charge of its own appointments and untouchable.
Then, last Sunday, Morsi caused a major upheaval when he cancelled a document issued in June by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which had engineered the dissolution of the lower house of parliament and assumed legislative authority.
This instrument, an addendum to the March interim constitution, gave the supreme council key executive powers, full control of the armed forces, determination of the state budget, and the right to intervene in the process of drafting a constitution.
In the place of the June document, Morsi substituted his own declaration which granted the elected president the powers laid down in the March document. He also assumed legislative authority and the right to appoint a new constitutional commission if the present body does not carry out its mandate.
Having usurped the council’s powers, Morsi retired Field Marshal Muhammad Hussein Tantawi, head of the council, self-appointed commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and defence minister.
Morsi separated his three posts, declared himself commander-in-chief and retired chief-of-staff Sami Annan.
As the two senior figures in the council, Tantawi and Annan were widely unpopular due to their failure to reimpose security throughout the country – not only in Sinai – after Mubarak was toppled. They were accused of seeking to restore the old order and of protecting members of the old regime.
Morsi also reshuffled the military high command, naming chief of military intelligence Abdel Fatah el-Sisi minister of defence and Third Army commander Sedky Sobhy chief-of-staff. The navy and air force chiefs were retired and given new jobs.
Finally, Morsi elevated to the vice-presidency Mahmoud Mekki, an independent reformist judge and Mubarak opponent.
This amounted to a major shake-up of the order imposed since 1952 when the military ousted King Farouk, seized power and gradually became part and parcel of Egypt’s politico-economic establishment, earning the epithet, “deep state” applied to the Turkish military before it was forced to return to barracks.
Some legal experts contend that Morsi had no right to nullify the June constitutional document, particularly since he swore his oath of office in accordance with its terms. Others hold that the supreme council had no authority to issue a document depriving the president of his powers.
The ramifications of Morsi’s coup have still to be understood.
It is not clear whether Tantawi and Annan, both very powerful figures, knew of Morsi’s plan and agreed to retire. There is speculation that younger council members staged a putsch in collusion with Morsi and will expect to retain certain powers.
Commentators suggest Morsi’s coup marks the beginning of the end of military rule in Egypt and heralds the dawn of civilian rule.
Secular liberals welcome the coup but suspect Morsi, a long-standing member of the Muslim Brotherhood, of making a power grab on behalf of the movement which dominates both houses of parliament and the constituent assembly.
A critic tweeted, “This is not a soft coup, but a declaration of an Islamic state.”
Nobel laureate Mohamed el-Baradei stated, “Ending military rule is a step in the right direction,” but warned that the president should not exercise both executive and legislative powers.
He proposed the formation of a new constituent assembly representing all Egyptian factions which would assume legislative authority until new parliamentary elections are held.