In a stunning move that many thought would require months or even years of diplomacy, President Mohammed el-Morsi has taken full control of the Egyptian government in a single stroke. In the span of just a few days, the heads of the Military Police, General Intelligence and SCARF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) were removed by presidential order. In preparation for the act, Morsi fired the editors of Egypt’s state owned news outlets and replaced them with management sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, and cracked down on many of Egypt’s independent news outlets as well.
Ironically, the Islamist president leveraged an attack by militant Islamists on the Israeli border to marginalize Egyptian military leaders and make the sweeping bid for power. “Before the Sinai incident, the evaluation for the necessity of a major shift was political,“ said Gehad Haddad, an adviser for the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. “But the significant breach in our borders showed an imminent critical danger. I think this sped up the process.“
“Now, officially, it is a Brotherhood state. Now it is official they are in full control of state institutions.” said Zeinab Abul-Magd, a history professor at the American University in Cairo. A statement evidenced by the fact that Morsi’s first act as what could be called “Supreme Leader” of Egypt was to suspend the constitutional amendment put forth by the military in preparation for elections. The purpose of that amendment was two-fold–it required consultation with the military in matters relating to management of the military and national security issues, and it gave the military veto power in regard to the creation of a new constitution. It was this amendment that gave the military the power to dissolve the first constituent assembly when it was found to be unrepresentative of the population, being far short on both women and Christians. Morsi also appointed a senior judge as his vice-president, a move that will consolidate more power in the presidency and help him combat legal challenges during the transition.
It is unclear how this will play out, but Field Marshall Tantawi has been the historical ally of Washington in Egypt, whose military receives 1.3 billion dollars in military aid from the US annually. It is clear that the move gives Morsi what Nobel Laureate and fellow revolution leader Mohamed ElBaradei describes as “imperial powers”. It is also clear that the issue of trust by the Egyptian people for their new government is one that has not been assuaged by the move, and that Egypt has lost its only check on pure Islamist rule in this most critical time as the basis for their new government is created.
Considering the long string of promises the Muslim Brotherhood has broken concerning their role in Egypt’s revolution and the kind of power they would seek, it is troubling the Morsi has decided to go this route rather than work within the legal framework designed to give Egypt a proportionally representative government. Egypt’s status as an partner in the war against radical Islam, as an ally to Israel, and as a government serving all its people regardless of creed or religion are all now in question.