In the afternoon of Sunday 12th August, President Mohammed Morsi changed the landscape of Egyptian politics by sending a wrecking ball of rebalance crashing through the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ (SCAF) top brass. A presidential spokesperson announced the changes on state media. Once again, the protean nature of politics here meant that no one bar those involved in the close-door meetings had any idea what was about to be announced. Once again, it was news straight out of left-field (this is so often the case that one wonders why we do not crane our necks in that direction more often).
First, the 17 June constitutional addendum posited by the SCAF were abrogated, thus giving Morsi the powers that the SCAF had assumed, including the rest of his executive powers, legislative powers (while the parliament remains dissolved) and power to appoint a new constitutional assembly in the event of failure with the current one.
Second, Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, the Minister of Defence and General of the Armed Forces, and Sami Aman, the Army Chief of Staff, were fired, or “retired” as it was euphemistically put. In the place of the much-hated Tantawi, Morsi appointed Abdul-Fatah El-Sisi, who was the Head of Military Intelligence. With a quick Google search it appears that El-Sisi has attempted to justify the ‘virginity tests’ that were used on Tahrir Square female protesters. Oh Dear.
Third, there was to be a change in other Military personnel positions:
· Mohab Memish – Commander of the Navy was now head of the Suez Canal Authority
· Reda Hafez – Commander of the Air Force was now the Minister of Military Production
· Mohammed El-Assar – Head of Armaments was now Assistant to the new Minister of Defence.
Fourth, as his new Vice-President, Morsi appointed Mahmoud Mekki, who was deputy head of the Court of Cassation, and according to a few journalists and Egyptians on twitter, an old reformist judge who is well liked if not terribly well known.
In one fell swoop, Morsi finally showed his Egyptian people that he wasn’t as pusillanimous as he seemed. He had been accused by many of being far too unctuous when addressing Tantawi, of being far too slow in implementing the vast reforms he had promised to deliver within his first 100 days. Yet in one afternoon, through one press announcement, he managed to remove from their posts: the Minister of Defence and General of the Armed Forces; the Army Chief of Staff; the Commander of the Air Force; and the Commander of the Navy. If any of us thought of Egypt as a military-run deep state, it looks as though that is no longer the case.
I applaud, through shock, the temerity of Morsi in attempting to wrestle the power back from the military. I had watched his first 40 days as president with a sigh of resignation. He seemed to be playing to the rules drawn up by the military and things looked to slump back to the same low plains of inertia and populous indifference of the Mubarak-era.
However, by removing from power the incredibly powerful and disobliging figure of Tantawi he seems to be showing his strength, and for once at the right time. Whereas a month ago he attempted to reconvene the Parliament in direct opposition to the highest judicial ruling – and as such would be breaking the sacrosanct separation of powers – this time he had the authority and took his opportunity.
With the disaster in Northern-Sinai making the military look immensely impotent, I would not be surprised if this was what Morsi used to help consolidate the dislike many within the SCAF already harboured for Tantawi, and garner the away-support (if you will) necessary for his dismissal. Either way, he is gone, as are the other four major players of the SCAF. Hopefully, without the bipartisan struggle between the Government and the Army, Morsi can begin to address the major problems that are afflicting the country with a little more success.
In spite of these ‘victories’, one cant help but be a little disconcerted regarding the manner by which he managed his first ‘victory’ – the abrogation of the SCAF’s addendum and the implementation of his own. The new constitutional declaration was made up of 4 points, but it is only the second and third that matter and they are as follows:
“2- Article 25, clause 2 of the 30 March 2011 Constitutional Declaration is to be replaced with the following text: “And he [the president] will undertake all his duties as stipulated by Article 56 of this declaration.” [Article 56 outlines the authorities of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and grants the latter full executive and legislative powers, now held by Morsi.]
3- If the Constituent Assembly [tasked with drafting a new constitution] is prevented from doing its duties, the president can draw up a new assembly representing the full spectrum of Egyptian society mandated with drafting a new national charter within three months of the assembly’s formation. The new draft constitution is to be put before a nationwide referendum within 30 days after it is written. Parliamentary elections are to be held within two months of the public’s approval of the draft constitution.” – via Ahram Online
Whereas in the original, clause 2 of Article 25 meant that Morsi would only take up the first clause of article 56, (which delimited his executive powers) now he has gained full executive and legislative powers and he has also taken the SCAF’s power with regards to the constituent assembly (point 3 in his constitutional declaration).
When the SCAF made their addendum on the 17 June, many called it a ‘power grab’ and a ‘soft coup’. It seems Morsi has struck back at the supra-presidential military using their exact tactics. The journalist Bel Trew pointed out that he even lifts the same sentences from the SCAF version “If the constituent assembly is prevented from doing his duties…”
Now, rather than the military holding some executive powers and all the legislative powers, Morsi holds all of both plus a latent constitutional authority. Two of the three powers (Judicial remains intact and separate) are within his authority; all achieved via a constitutional declaration that was passed without referendum. It may be the case that this was exactly what was needed to wake this country from its slumber but I still object to the passing of a new addendum without some form of plebiscite. The arguments of Fredrick the Great’s Enlightened Despot never persuaded me of the credibility of such actions.
Either way, the constitutionality of his declaration can very easily be appealed and may end up being sent all the way to the High Constitutional Court (HCC) just as it had been when he attempted to reconvene parliament. But it seems that with the successful beheading of the SCAF, there is a momentum behind today’s actions that make them unstoppable. It is the immediate future up until parliamentary elections in September that one must remain wary.
Morsi gave a speech, not an hour ago, saying, “Our nation has been marginalised for too long. Today, our nation is coming back again after a great revolution” before claiming, “my decision today is not targeted at anyone. It is to pump new blood, new leaders to raise our flag”. Although even the blind can see that he did specifically target the military, he was very cautious in not sidelining the minorities who fear that an Islamic state would marginalise them further and who might see today’s actions as a presage of future repression. In a speech mostly about Ramadan, he still managed to try and stress that it was not a decision to further one group or target another, rather to revamp an ossifying situation.