Egypt: Will the Military Take Over?
By Rachel Ehrenfeld
Saturday, May 25th, 2013 @ 5:28AM
Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood led regime has succeeded in strangling the nation’s economy as well as whatever civil and human rights Egyptians had enjoyed during Mubarak’s years in power.
While the Islamist government refuses the austerity measures necessary to obtain the $4.8 billion loan from the IMF so they can shore up the ravaged economy, foreign exchange reserves are rapidly diminishing and the official inflation rate is above 11%. This has resulted in an unemployment rate of13.2%, leaving more than 36 million of Egypt’s 82.5 million people angry, hungry and often in the dark.
Fed up with frequent power cuts, the people are not only demonstrating in the street all over the country, but campaigns have been launched calling on citizens to not payfor “a service they don’t get.””
To better control NGOs domestic and foreign, a new law has been introduced by the Islamist Shura Council this week. It gives Egypt’s Social Solidarity Ministry the authority “to scrutinize every decision” made by the NGO’s, including their membership and affiliation with foreign entities.
A recent Pew poll shows that only 30 percent of Egyptians think that the country is headed in the right direction. This is down from 53 percent in 2012 and 65 percent in 2011. Armed robberies increased from 233 in 2019 to 2,807 in 2012. Home invasions rose to 11,699 in 2012, as opposed to 7,368 in 2010.
Despite all this, Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood are stillregarded positively, although the Brothers’ popularity is slipping steadily slipping.
But Egyptians still generally support Islamists. Fifty-eight percent of those polled believe in laws strictly following the teachings of the Koran. Only 11 percent favor secular laws over Shari’a.
The growing public dissatisfaction with Morsi government led the Salafists party (al Nour) to join in the opposition in preparation for parliamentary elections in the fall. This may well remove the Brotherhood from the helm, only to replace them with the even more repressive Salafists. If that happens, the Egyptians will be submitted to Taliban-like oppression and the devastation of Egypt economy would be completed.
The speculations of the Army’s will put an end to the Muslim Brotherhood’s highjacking of Egypt have not materialized, yet.
Undoubtedly, allowing the military to keep its special privileges played a role in keeping them on the government’s side. The more radical Salafist, however, may not keep this status quo.
What would the military do then? Is it likely to intervene and save the Egyptian people from the Islamist plague?
Dr. Jacques Neriah, a special analyst for the Middle East at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, offers his learned opinion.
By Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah
After the jubilation that accompanied Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s “victory” over the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) in August 2012, the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi himself began signaling their intention to turn Egypt into an Islamic state, arousing the fears of liberals and religious minorities.
* The opposition turned hostile to the regime and began castigating it, exploiting the newly acquired freedom of the press. Never in Egypt’s modern history had the press enjoyed such liberties, and Morsi became the target of satire and mockery. In addition, a new activist group emerged calling itself the Black Bloc. Its members, who dress in black with black masks, have declared open war against the Brotherhood.
* Today, Egypt is on the verge of chaos. Amid a sudden popular wave of affection and longing for the Mubarak days, there is renewed talk of the army retaking power. As Morsi’s government fails to achieve true democracy, respect human rights, restore security, or improve economic welfare, an increasing number of people are calling on the army to return to the political scene as Morsi’s only possible replacement. A recent poll found 82 percent supporting such a move.
* The question that remains is to what extent Morsi will allow Egypt to drift into anarchy and chaos before he asks the army to take the reins. The Muslim Brotherhood waited almost eight decades to become the rulers of Egypt. Certainly they are in no hurry to give back what the 2011 revolution gave them almost on a silver platter.
MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD WINS ROUND ONE VS. THE ARMY
IN AUGUST 2012, BARELY TWO MONTHS AFTER BEING ELECTED AS THE FIRST CIVILIAN PRESIDENT OF EGYPT, PRESIDENT MOHAMED MORSI GENERATED A SURPRISE SHOWDOWN WITH THE SUPREME COUNCIL OF THE ARMED FORCES (SCAF), WHICH HAD RULED EGYPT DE FACTO SINCE PRESIDENT HOSNI MUBARAK’S RESIGNATION FOLLOWING THE POPULAR REVOLT AGAINST HIS REGIME. SINCE BEING ELECTED ON JUNE 30, MORSI HAD BEEN FORCED INTO A POWER STRUGGLE WITH THE MILITARY; ANALYSTS WERE DIVIDED OVER WHETHER HE COULD SURMOUNT THE IMMENSE HURDLE POSED BY THE SCAF. WOULD IT INTERFERE IN HIS DECISIONS? WOULD HE HAVE TO COHABIT WITH THE MILITARY AND ACCEPT SHARING HIS POWER WITH IT? 1
The struggle between Morsi and the military came as no surprise and was the culmination of a longstanding conflict. On the one hand, the military fought the rising power of the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Morsi is part and parcel, so as to maintain its dominance in what had been a military society since the 1952 revolution brought the army to rule. On the other hand, the Muslim Brotherhood, which succeeded in hijacking the January 2011 revolution, had no intention whatsoever to let the military enjoy full power as in the past. The Brotherhood had survived almost eight decades in clandestine or semi-clandestine activities, and most of its leaders had been in the regime’s jails during the course of their careers. Now was the time for payback; time to take advantage of the situation and seize the reins of power in Egypt.
Morsi’s initial moves were cautious; he formed his first post-election government with Field Marshal Mohammad Hussein Tantawi as defense minister. This situation of duality in power was unprecedented; Tantawi was then head of the SCAF and in fact was the ultimate “constitutional” ruler of Egypt. Nevertheless, Morsi chose to accept the facts on the ground and await an opportunity to act.
It was an incident involving the military that provided him that pretext. At the beginning of August, Islamists based in Gaza attacked an Egyptian post at the Sinai-Israel border, killing sixteen Egyptian soldiers. This was the occasion for Morsi to assert his authority over the SCAF.
Immediately thereafter, Morsi made two very high-profile visits to Sinai accompanied by the top military brass. He also convened several meetings with the chiefs of the army, stressing that he was the ultimate commander of the armed forces. Then, a week later, without any prior warning, came the surprise: Morsi ordered Tantawi and Chief of Staff General Sami Anan to leave their posts and become his advisers. In a swift move, even before Tantawi had time to react, Morsi appointed Lieutenant General Abd el-Fattah el-Sissi as his replacement and Lieutenant General Sidki Sayyed Ahmad to replace Anan. Furthermore, Morsi ordered the retirement of the commanders of the navy, air defense, and air force, all of whom had been part of the now-defunct SCAF that had ruled Egypt for seventeen months.
Against all odds, Morsi’s decisions went unchallenged, ending six decades of military rule since 1952. Morsi took advantage at a moment when the military was humiliated over a major security failure. Days before his move, the SCAF had decreed constitutional amendments that gave it the power to legislate after the dissolution of parliament, as well as control over the national budget. The SCAF had also taken over the process of rewriting the constitution. In the aftermath of the showdown, Morsi retrieved all the confiscated powers and established himself as the sole ruler of Egypt.
THE BROTHERHOOD FACES A WAVE OF CRITICISM
However, events on the ground augured so much instability that Morsi found himself in an untenable position. Security – or rather, insecurity, which had become a main characteristic of Egyptian society since the revolution – had grown into the greatest challenge facing the regime. It seemed at times that the mob was ruling the streets of the major cities and that the regime was unable to cope with the chaos. Morsi himself was responsible for much of this state of affairs.
After the jubilation that accompanied his “victory” over the SCAF, the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi himself began signaling their intention to turn Egypt into an Islamic state. The Brotherhood’s overwhelming victory in both houses of parliament and the beginnings of Islamic legislation aroused the fears of liberals and religious minorities. In no time the opposition, representing the 49 percent of voters who had not voted for Morsi, turned hostile to the regime and began castigating it, exploiting the newly acquired freedom of the press.
With Morsi’s anti-Israel and anti-Jewish rhetoric in the background, the Islamic factions in Egypt and certainly the Muslim Brotherhood, which views Israel as an illegitimate entity with which it has been at war since 1948, expected Morsi to withdraw from the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. Yielding to American pressure and with a better understanding of Egypt’s interests, Morsi chose instead to deep-freeze the already “cold peace,” relegating all contacts between the countries to the military and intelligence spheres.
The November mini-war of attrition between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, known as Operation Pillar of Defense, was a first test of the peace treaty’s solidity. Instead of further deepening the crisis with Israel, Morsi sent Prime Minister Hesham Kandil to Gaza to placate Hamas, and brokered a halt to the Israeli attacks by taking responsibility to stop all Hamas rocket launchings at Israeli civilian targets. Morsi’s opponents interpreted this conciliatory approach as yet another sign of weakness.
Finally, and perhaps the most important element in the equation, Egypt under Morsi is on the brink of an economic disaster. The new team has not succeeded to stabilize the economy. On the contrary, Egypt is undergoing hyperinflation and its foreign reserves are enough for barely three months of imports. Trying to implement an Islamic economy is not the best way to deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Egypt has been negotiating a $5 billion loan with the IMF for months, with no result. The minister responsible for the negotiations was sacked at the beginning of May. Morsi tried to obtain Chinese investments as part of a possible shift from the United States and the West, but he quickly discovered that the Chinese were not an alternative. At this point, Morsi’s economy is surviving on Saudi and Qatari money deposited in Egyptian banks. This exacts a definite political price that is not in line with Morsi’s policies.
This image of weakness projected by Morsi, coupled with growing chaos, has created the impression that the burden of ruling Egypt is too heavy for him and that the Muslim Brotherhood, which had long dreamed of being the sole ruler of Egypt, has so far proved unfit to govern. The Brotherhood’s misconduct and arrogance have led to armed attacks by the opposition, with demonstrators trying for months to burn down its offices and other facilities and create havoc.
On January 28, 2013, the defense minister warned that unless the political crisis was resolved Egypt was on the verge of collapse. As el-Sissi put it in a speech to army cadets: “The continuation of the conflict between the different political forces and their differences on how the country should be run could lead to the collapse of the state and threaten future generations.” He went on to say: “The deployment of the armed forces poses a grave predicament for us insofar as how we balance avoiding confrontations with Egyptian citizens, their right to protest, and the protection and security of vital facilities that impact Egypt’s national security.” 12
RENEWED TALK OF THE ARMY TAKING POWER
TODAY, EGYPT IS ON THE VERGE OF CHAOS. AMID A SUDDEN POPULAR WAVE OF AFFECTION AND LONGING FOR THE MUBARAK DAYS, THERE IS RENEWED TALK OF THE ARMY RETAKING POWER. IS THIS A REALISTIC OPTION?
When in August 2012 President Morsi stripped his generals of their powers, what was surprising was the army’s lack of reaction. Given the army’s wish to maintain its control of Egypt, analysts had not thought Morsi would dare make such a move. Now, with the renewed talk of the army returning to rule, the surprise may be the army marching on Cairo and seizing power. How likely is such a scenario? The more the societal crisis intensifies and the greater the chaos, the greater its likelihood. As Morsi’s government fails to achieve true democracy, respect human rights, restore security, or improve economic welfare, an increasing number of people are calling on the army to return to the political scene as Morsi’s only possible replacement. A recent poll by the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies found 82 percent of respondents supporting such a move. 15
The question that remains is to what extent Morsi will allow Egypt to drift into anarchy and chaos before he asks the army to take the reins. The Muslim Brotherhood waited almost eight decades to become the rulers of Egypt. Certainly they are in no hurry to give back what the 2011 revolution gave them almost on a silver platter.
* * *
1 “Egypt’s president seizes power from military,” AP, August 12, 2012.
2 “Egypt: Morsi sacks intelligence service chief, appoints Republican Guard commander,” Egypt State Information Service, August 9, 2012.
3 “Egypt’s chief-of-staff promises army overhaul,” Reuters, September 30, 2012.
4 See, e.g., “Dissent in Egypt: No joking matter,” The Economist, April 6, 2013.
5 “Egypt High Court upholds acquittal of Mubarak loyalists blamed for the ‘Battle of the Camel,'” AP, May 8, 2013.
6 Ashraf Sweilam, “Egypt: Sinai militants clash with army, police,” AP, September 16, 2012.
7 Alastair Beach, “Coptic Christians under siege as mob attacks Cairo cathedral,” The Independent, April 8, 2013.
8 See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ob_-3FOeOa0.
9 Fady Salah, “Salafists, Shi’a react to Ahmadinejad visit,” Daily News (Egypt), February 6, 2013.
10 “Egypt army chief warns state headed for ‘collapse,'” AP, January 29, 2013.
11 David K. Kirkpatrick, “Chaos in Egypt stirs warning of collapse,” New York Times, January 29, 2013.
12 “Egypt army chief.”
13 “Egypt’s army maintains prominent role amid protests,” Al-Khaleej (UAE), March 15, 2013.
14 Raissa Kasolowsky, “Egypt chief of staff says army will avoid politics,” Reuters, February 17, 2013.
15 Fady Salah, “Egypt’s army: On the outskirts of politics,” Atlantic Council, March 26, 2013.
16 “Egypt chief of staff.”
Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah, a special analyst for the Middle East at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, was formerly Foreign Policy Advisor to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Deputy Head for Assessment of Israeli Military Intelligence.
This is a publication of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Vol. 13, No. 13, 21 May 2013
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