Exit SCAF, enter Mursi

After six weeks in office Egypt’s first civilian president has sidelined the military, forcing it to leave the political arena it controlled for six decades. What are the likely ramifications – Published on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Amira Howeidy, 16 – 22 August 2012.

When the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) issued a constitutional addendum on 17 June — the final day of the presidential election runoffs — clipping the future president’s wings while giving the military exceptional powers, it was clear that Egypt was in the throes of a power struggle. It was also clear that — for the time being, at least — the army had the upper hand.  

SCAF annulled parliament, claimed legislative powers, control of the budget and constituent assembly and formed a defence council dominated by generals to oversee military affairs. When the Brotherhood’s uncharismatic Mohamed Mursi — the group’s back-up candidate for the presidential elections — finally emerged the victor, he was forced to swear his oath of office before the Mubarak-appointed Supreme Constitutional Court.

The president’s weakness was underscored by the overweening presence of SCAF’s head, 76-year-old Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi. Mursi may have won the election but he was sharing the office of president. A hostile media campaign against Mursi only reinforced this impression.

On Sunday 12 August the “puppet” president turned the tables, much more quickly than Mursi’s most optimistic backers had dared to hope. Tantawi was forced into retirement, along with SCAF’s deputy chief Sami Anan. After two decades as the military’s strong man Tantawi was replaced by SCAF member Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, the 57-year-old head of military intelligence. Eight SCAF members were moved in the reshuffle.

Mursi also appointed a vice president.

Mahmoud Mekki, 58, the former head of the Court of Cassation, was a leading figure in the 2005-2006 campaign for greater judicial independence that had proved such a thorn in the side of the Mubarak regime.

To top it all, Mursi issued a constitutional addendum of his own which not only cancelled the military’s 17 June supplementary declaration but allocated the powers SCAF had granted itself to the president.

On Tuesday Mursi continued his reshuffle of the military by naming new commanders of air defence, naval and air forces.

Mursi had pulled off a soft-coup. The legitimacy he has accrued by virtue of being elected democratically had proved stronger than many analysts thought. Strong enough, certainly, to allow Egypt’s first non-military president to exercise his authority in a direction that is reshaping the bases of the Egyptian state.

“One of the most significant elements of a modern democratic civilian state has been established,” says military expert and former senior intelligence officer Safwat El-Zayat. “Do not underestimate the importance of the new minister of defence’s salute before the civilian president who appointed him.”

Many SCAF members may remain on the scene, adds El-Zayat, but it’s only a matter of time before public pressure corrects that.

“We’re still in a transitional phase. Radical changes won’t happen overnight but the ball is rolling and it can’t be stopped” … //

… Mursi emerged this week with his power consolidated. There is no longer a military to blame for any ensuing disaster. It is now up to the elected president to deal with Mubarak’s ugly legacy. He will be judged on how far he succeeds.
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Links:

Economy: Power deficits to continue – With power cuts still leaving Egyptians sweltering in a hot summer. Sherine Abdel-Razek looks at the medium term prospects for new power generation, on Al-Ahram weekly online, 16 – 22 August 2012;

Watch this video: The Economic Collapse and the Neoliberal Onslaught, 16.37 min, on GRtv, by Michel Chossudovsky and James Corbett, August 15, 2012.

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