Yesterday, on what may be called "the Sunday of Surprises," recently elected Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi issued a series of statements and declarations with profound significance for the emergent post-Mubarak state. I'll note the decisions in outline form here, then offer some thoughts on what may be behind these decisions below the fold.

1. announcement of the "retirement" of Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi (Minister of Defense and general commander of the armed forces) and of Sami Anan (Chief of Staff of the military); both men were awarded medals and have been named advisers to the President.

2. annulment of the Supreme Council of the Armed Force's (SCAF) Addendum of 17 June 2012 to the Constitutional Declaration of 30 March 2011; of particular import are Article 56 (which had assigned executive and legislative power to SCAF) and Article 60 (which had assigned to SCAF the power to dissolve and replace a deadlocked Constituent Assembly charged with drafting the new Constitution).

3. the appointment of Mahmud Makki as Vice President; Makki was the Deputy Head of Egypt's Court of Cassation and is viewed as a reformist judge who, under Mubarak, called loudly for the independence of the judiciary from the executive.

4. the appointment of Chief of Military Intelligence Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi as Minister of Defense and general commander of the armed forces, to replace Tantawi; the promotions of 1) Sidqi Sobhi to Chief of Staff, 2) Mohammed el-Assar to Deputy Defense Minister and 3) Mohab Mamish to Head of the Suez Canal Authority; this reshuffling of military leadership follows on the heels of Morsi's various reassignments of military leadership in Sinai, prompted by the attack of 6 August.

5. the issuance of a new Constitutional Declaration granting the President the executive and legislative powers formerly assigned to SCAF under the amendments to Articles 56 and 60; less remarked but perhaps equally significant is the assignment to the President of the authority to order the military to intervene in internal security situations ("to maintain security and defend public properties"), a power formerly held by SCAF per the terms of their addendum to Article 53.

Some preliminary thoughts below the whazzit...

Fleshing-out the motivations behind these decisions is not simple, and there are already a wide number of "theories" out there to "explain" why Mursi made these decisions which, in sum, amount to a significant reformulation of the balance-of-power between SCAF and the office of the President, representative of civilian governance. To my eyes, I see three larger processes underlying Mursi's decisions.

First, I read the "retirements" of Tantawi and Anan, and the various promotions and reshufflings, as steps in a de-Mubarakization of the highest echelon of the Egyptian military. This is not to suggest that by these moves Mursi is stripping the military leadership of their entrenched political, economic and social power; no doubt that is the long-game of transitioning from a military-state to a civilian-state, but these moves are intended more to replace the Old Guard and their Mubarakist expectations of the "proper" role of the military in the state with a younger cadre of officers for whom the inheritance of Mubarakism may not be so strong and who may, therefore, be more amenable to working with Mursi and Parliament (and their successors) over the course of what will be a long and complex transitional period. Face has been saved and there is a sufficient mix of old and new, I think, to ensure the military's loyalty if not their absolute trust.

Second, though there has been much theorizing that this reshuffling of the military leadership has always been in the works, part of the long-game, I would assert that the timing is much more responsive to the devolving security situation in northern Sinai than a pre-planned decision. While the details are obscure, there has been some sort of rift between Tantawi / SCAF and Mursi over how to deal with the security situation, culminating in Mursi's provocative statement last Friday that he personally is heading the military (and police) operations to restore security and order in Sinai.

Third, the most important aspect of the transition to a post-Mubarak Egypt is the work of the Constituent Assembly to draft a new Constitution in which the powers assigned to various offices and organs will be defined, then submitted to popular referendum. Wresting control of this process from SCAF is fundamental to any vision of a civilian-state. The appointment of Mahmud Makki as Vice President is shrewd, given Makki's judicial influence and insights on the courts which may ultimately rule on aspects of the Assembly's work. It is also perhaps worth noting that Makki is brother to Ahmad Makki, the recently appointed Minister of Justice. A little nepotism may go a long way, no?

Mursi's decisions have been met, by and large, with conditional support. Muhammad al-Baradei, for instance, has lauded the decision to replace Tantawi and Anan while cautioning Mursi that the consolidation of legislative and executive power in the Presidency must be fleeting as it is at odds with "the essence of democracy." Similar sentiments have been expressed by leaders from across the Egyptian political spectrum, with the notable exception of vocal supporters of the military.

This series of decisions is quite significant, though there are diverse opinions regarding "what it all means." I lean toward interpreting this as a soft counter-coup against the entrenched form of military governance, a reformulation of the balance-of-power between the military and civilian leadership. I'm not sure we'll really know what it means until the lingering questions of parliamentary (re)elections and the appointment and work of the Constituent Assembly are resolved. These are indeed bold decisions, but the questions of quite how bold in terms of domestic politics, reflecting what agenda, and with what impact upon US foreign policy (vis-à-vis Sinai and its significance in the Egypt-Israel-US dynamic) are to my mind as yet unanswerable.

Interesting times...

al-Ahram, Morsi retires Egypt's top army leaders; amends 2011 Constitutional Declaration; appoints vice president

Egypt Independent, Morsi grooms a new rank of officers, experts say

al-Ahram, Morsi's Sunday surprise met with broad support by Egypt political forces

Egypt Independent, Pro-military politicians slam Morsi's reshuffle

Egypt Independent, ElBaradei hails Morsi's military reshuffle, Sahry rules out Peoples Assembly revival

al-Ahram, Morsi's counterpunch: a reading of Egypt's latest Constitutional Declaration

Issandr el-Amrani (The Arabist), The Morsi Maneuver: a first take

Juan Cole (Informed Comment), In Switch, Egypt's Civilian President Makes Coup Against Generals

Originally posted to angry marmot on Mon Aug 13, 2012 at 07:58 AM PDT.

Also republished by Adalah — A Just Middle East and Community Spotlight.

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