Egypt’s Islamist President Removes Top Military Leaders
"The Brothers are officially in power," declared the independent newspaper al-Watan, while the independent al-Masri al-Yom said, "Mursi grabs all the powers." In a tug of war between Egypt’s powerful and entrenched but secular military establishment and its largest political formation, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), which began after the elimination of president Hosni Mubarak’s 30 years dictatorial rule by the masses’ revolt, in the latest counter move, MB’s Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi removed Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) and the chief of staff, Gen Sami Anan. As part of sweeping decisions ,Morsi appointed a senior judge Mahmoud Mekki as his vice-president and cancelled a critical supplemental constitutional declaration curbing presidential powers issued by the Scaf, days before Morsi was declared elected after June elections. Tantawi and Sami have been appointed advisers to the president. Tantawiis replacement headed the military intelligence, Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi – one of the generals who defended the use of "virginity tests" against female protesters in March 2011. All new military appointments are from members of Scaf.
"This sets up an inevitable showdown with the supreme constitutional court as the court is likely to attempt to overturn Morsi's cancelling of the supplemental constitutional declaration. It seems this move will require the sacking of the court if it is to stand," said Michael Hanna, a fellow at the Century Foundation, a US think-tank.
Tantawi and others have been rewarded with high medals, indicating perhaps a deal for Scaf members to leave office without fear of prosecution for crimes committed against protesters. This whole charade appears to be well planned .Sherif Azer, deputy director of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights said, "This moment where Scaf would fade back into the background was expected, and I believe that they knew this was their best option for a safe exit; just fade away from the political realm."
The Egyptian masses across the board who participated in the still continuing revolution to oust Mubarak, since early 2011 have remained opposed to the military and have criticised the MB for letting down the revolution for political gains. Gigi Ibrahim, a member of the Revolutionary Socialists group, said: "Morsi and Scaf joined forces in the face of the revolution to simply crush and control Egypt."
Tantawi had also dissolved the Islamist- dominated parliament, implementing a ruling by the country’s highest court that was decried as an attempt to subvert Egypt’s transition to democracy. The military gave itself temporary legislative rights. Morsi‘s new constitutional addendum gives him the power to appoint a panel to draft the new constitution if the current 100-member committee fails to fulfill its task.
The game is not over yet. Hamid, with Brookings Doha Center, said. “Maybe Morsi is winning this round of the struggle, but we’ve learned from Egypt that the situation seems fluid. One day, the military seems on top and other days Morsi seems on top.”
In most major modern Sunni Muslim nations, the struggle between the military / secular forces and clerical establishment remains unresolved ie from secular armed forces since the establishment of the Turkish republic in 1920s and the conflict since 2002 with the emergence of Islamising political establishment led by AKP to Pakistan , where the secular forces have been marginalized and the struggle is between Islamized military and its ISI created religious forces of Jihadis and Taliban etc .And now in Egypt , where since the young officers coup led by nationalist and socialist Col Abdul Gamal Nasser in 1952 ,the military has remained secular though since Anwar Sadat took over in early 1970s its economic policy was switched over to neoliberal model under US influence. Now a cause of wealth inequality and misery and penury of the Egyptian population.
Of the oldest of the three revealed religions, Judaism’s only state since ancient times, Israel, founded on leftist tenets has since morphed into a rule by Zionist-Military oligarchy. Christians after centuries of warfare in Europe managed to create secular polities which are still underpinned if not haunted by sectional religious ideologies. In the last of ‘the Book’ based polity Islam, the lines between the Mir and the Pir ,the temporal ruler and spiritual ruler still remain blurred ,contested and changing.
After the 1979 revolution in Iran, Shias created the ideal but mythical office of Imam in the person of Ruhoallah Khomeini. The status of the Imam had evolved into the doctrines of intercession and infallibility, i.e., of the faqih/mutjahid .But the Iranians have since found that a system based on the concepts of 7th century AD is inadequate to confront and solve the problems of 21st century. Nevertheless, like the first Imam Ali, Iran is now ruled by the supreme religious leader, Ali Khameini , who incidentally is an Azeri Turk .The cement keeping Iran united now is its common national heritage and Islam. In Syria the ruling Shia Alawite elite, 12% of the population has been staunchly secular under the Assads since five decades. US led West and Sunni states like Turkey ,Saudi Kingdom and Qatar Emirate have mounted economic ,direct and indirect interference in Syria bringing the region to a dangerous boiling point .In Lebanon the Shia Hezbollah, which coordinates with some secular and other parties , combines in Hassan Nasrallah, the powers of both military and spiritual leader.
Prophet Mohammad was both the religious leader and military commander. But the Arab Caliphs lost out on power by 10th century to the Turkish slaves from central Asia who formed the core of their fighting forces .The Turks raised the minor title of Sultan to a high rank who soon became the protector of the Caliph, left with only spiritual powers. Even this role was seized by the Ottoman Sultans ruling from Istanbul after the takeover of Cairo, Mecca and Medina in 16 century.
It is quite clear that Egypt did start a revolutionary process in early 2011 in the Middle East with almost one million Egyptians coming out in streets of Cairo (Maidane-Tahrir - freedom square), Alexandria and elsewhere. After the brutality by Egypt’s notorious security police in which hundreds people died and many thousands injured, the military, consisting of conscripted soldiers, allowed peaceful demonstrations.
With a population of over 80 million, centre of gravity, prime mover and leader of Sunni Arabs, Egypt, never had this kind of spontaneous revolt by the common men, called Fellahin, down trodden, despised and mostly ruled by foreigners in history including queens like Cleopatra and Nefertiti, perhaps a Mitanni princess.
The author was posted to Cairo in end 1962 to learn Arabic and then took over as Assistant Press Attaché. Egypt was then the centre of resurgent Arab world under nationalist –socialist President Gamal Abdul Nasser and at the forefront of non-aligned movement along with India and Yugoslavia, in decolonization of nations from Western colonial repressive rule and exploitation. Egypt and India have moved on since then but there still remains close relationship between the peoples of the two countries , with rich cultural traditions .There are many common traits including laziness ( baad bokra ;after tomorrow ,when promised work is not done and Maalish –never mind) and obligatory tipping (baksheesh).
Nasser and his group of young officers who had overthrown the corrupt Albanian origin dynasty in 1952 were full of respect for Nehru , who sometimes alone or with the Yugoslav leader Marshal Tito would explain to them the intricacies of history and international relations and the exploitation of the Asian and African countries by European colonial powers .It was perhaps the best period for the common people of Egypt .During Nasser’s era world leaders like Chou en Lai , Khrushchev (to open the Aswan dam financed by Moscow ) and others visited Cairo.
The masses were happiest with social justice and equitable economic progress .Since the end of Nasser era under IMF laid policies, rich have become richer and poor poorer in Egypt .The corruption, lack of transparency and accountability around the world has been accompanied by upsurge in staple food prices on the London, New York and Chicago commodity exchanges. These price hikes are in large part the result of speculative trade by major financial and corporate agribusiness interests. These are leading to riots all around the world .In Egypt in particular and Muslim countries without oil in general, a population increase of 3% has meant stagnant economies and rising unemployment and poverty .
We must keep the following facts in mind while pondering over the future of Egypt emphasized in my piece on Egypt in February ,2011. “The army is the most well organised force in Egypt . There would be a clash between older military fat cats and younger officers at some time .The military is composed of poor conscripts. Possible sequences of events could be like Iran after the Shah fled Tehran ,but Muslim Brotherhood ( MB) is not that well organized as the Clerics were in Iran .Also there has been little bloodshed so far in Egypt compared to 1979 Iran .In Sunni Islam there is no historical tradition of martyrdom unlike among Iran's Shias .MB would like to enter into power like Islamist AKP of Turkey , slowly step by step and take over complete power .Riyadh which finances AKP would be happy to do that in Egypt too .
Washington which grants military aid worth $1.5 billion to Egypt has good connections with Egypt’s military and will not be unhappy with military takeover and try to influence its policies... But watch out in Saudi Arabia .I have written since 3 years that unless the Saud Dynasty disappears and its symbiotic alliance with fanatic Wahabis vanishes , there is little hope for Muslims , since Saudi rulers want Muslims to remain backward, obscurantist and beholden to Riyadh for money for Qurans, Mosques and Jihadi activities.( Riyadh and Qatar in league with Turkey at the behest of western powers and NATO , by open interference in Syria have stoked the Shia-Sunni conflict , hoping to divert attention away for Obscurantist regimes in Saudi Arabia and Qatar.Ankara will succeed only in giving oxygen to rebellion in its Kurdish regions ( along with Kurdish areas in Syria ( already ) which was the base of PKK rebellion led by Abdullah Ocalan, now imprisoned near Istanbul since 1999 .In the PKK rebellion since 1984 over 45,000 lives have been lost including 5000 soldiers .Iraqi Kurdistan, rich in oil reserves is becoming more and more autonomous by the day .What will happen is anyone’s guess , except that the borders in the Middle East , all former Arab Ottoman Vilayats ( provinces ) and in Kurdish areas and even in Turkey, arbitrarily drawn by the British and the French after WWI could be redrawn. Finally a colonel's take over in Egypt like that of Abdul Gamal Nasser in 1952 cannot be ruled out under pressure from poorer lower ranked officers and soldiers.
K.Gajendra Singh 14 August, 2012