Morsi staged his own coup

Morsi staged his own coup

PV Vivekanand
There was a sort of disbelief over the news that Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi retired the head of the ruling military council and took a series of measures aimed at consolidating power in his hands.

In one fell swoop, Morsi turned the table against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which took power when long-time president Hosni Mubarak was forced to resign, in February last year. The new military rulers showed every sign of being determined to maintain the grip on power at the helm of the Egyptian armed forces, as an entity within an entity, beyond civilian oversight.

The disbelief came because Morsi, who is a member of the influential Muslim Brotherhood, was not seen in a position to challenge the military dictatorship. While it was always known that there had to be a showdown between the military and the political forces of the country, few expected it to happen so soon after Morsi took office as president.

Hussein Tantawi, who headed SCAF, came from the same mould as Mubarak and his two predecessors, Anwar Sadat and Jamal Abdul Nasser, who led the Free Officers’ Movement that toppled the monarchy in 1952. Since assuming power in post-Mubarak Egypt, Tantawi and his chief of staff Sami Anan fought every step of the way against any move that would have challenged the self-assumed supremacy of the country’s military. They outguessed the opposition parties, including the Brotherhood, other Islamists and liberal activists, and preempted their options. They had the judiciary on their side since they had retained the Mubarak-era courts and judges, as well as the main structures of the ousted regime in place.

When it appeared that Morsi, the Brotherhood candidate, was poised to win the presidential election held in June, Tantawi moved to strip the president of real authority. With help from the judiciary, he disbanded the post-Mubarak parliament, dominated by Islamists, and assumed legislative powers for himself. He also pursued his agenda of constitutionalizing guarantees that preserve the privileged status of the armed forces with no accountability to the government.

Tantawi wanted the military to be the foundation of government power and in ultimate control of the country, with its own budget and its vast financial assets enjoying immunity from civilian view or control. But he, and his aides and intelligence agencies, failed to realise that the Muslim Brotherhood was very active behind the scenes. The group’s leaders were sounding out the ranks of the military, including the 19-member SCAF itself, before they moved swiftly and effectively. They were also looking for opportunities to discredit the military.

The recent military attacks in the Sinai desert offered them a very good opportunity. The military council was accused of negligence because reports, particularly after the February 2011 revolution, had said that militants were significantly increasing their presence in the Sinai Peninsula. The 14 attacks militants carried out to destroy a Sinai pipeline pumping gas to Israel and Jordan were produced as further proof of major shortcomings in the military’s planning and preparation for any eventuality
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) is even planning to demand an investigation into the Sinai attacks to determine the military’s responsibility for having failed to prevent the violence. The investigation will target the military council leaders for “their responsibility for the recent Rafah attacks (near the Egypt-Gaza border), as well as other incidents of violence that occurred after the rebellion”, according to FJP functionary Mohammed Al Damaty.

The Muslim Brotherhood had an advantage while working with the ranks of the military. Even some of the top commanders in the SCAF believed in the Muslim Brotherhood as a unifying force in the country. They had no problem accepting the Brotherhood rule of the country when the choice was put to them by Morsi.

Tantawi found himself in a minority camp within SCAF and had no option but to take retirement and accept Morsi’s offer of a job as a presidential adviser, as a guarantee that he would not be prosecuted for crimes he might have committed during the Mubarak era.

It was no coincidence that Morsi named Lieutenant-General Sedky Sobhy as the new commander of the Egyptian military. Although a past student of the US Army War College, Sobhy is known to have written a 10,360-word paper in which he called for the US to withdraw its military forces from the Middle East, revamp the way it provides aid to Egypt in order to foster economic development and criticized the U.S. for pursuing a “one-sided” policy in the region.

Clearly, the Brotherhood did not want a military commander who believed in a close alliance with the US, and Sobhy appears to have fit in the bill.

The Brotherhood, which has seen itself targeted for bitter criticism and attacks aimed at undermining its credibility, has also replaced the editors of nearly 50 “national” Egyptian publications.

It is only the beginning of sweeping changes that the Brotherhood plans in order to secure absolute power. The group, which used to work closely with all political parties until the ouster of Mubarak, is now at odds with other political forces of the country as it pursues its agency.

Morsi and other Brotherhood leaders have made repeated pledges that they will not try to impose the group’s agenda on the country, will respect the right of every Egyptian, will treat everyone equally and will work closely with every group to “truly democratize” Egypt. But they have yet to prove that they do mean to deliver on their pledges.

Of course, they do need time, but the world is closely watching the way they are going about implementing the Muslim Brotherhood’s own agenda.

PV Vivekanand works for the UAE-based Gulf Today newspaper. This piece appeared on The Jordan Times On Aug. 19.