Egypt’s transition has taken yet another dramatic turn. Yesterday afternoon, less than a week after sacking his intelligence chief and the governor of North Sinai, President Morsi took a number of steps that seemingly undercut the military’s influence.
These included several personnel changes in the military and within the executive, including the replacement (by way of “forced retirement”) of Field Marshall Tantawi with Abdul Fattah Al Sissi, who will serve as Minister of Defense and General Commander of the Armed Forces. Morsi also appointed Mahmoud Mekki, a respected judge, as Vice-President – a move that may be welcomed by some within the judiciary.
Subsequently, Morsi issued an addendum to Egypt’s interim constitution, which revoked the SCAF’s supplementary constitutional declaration. As a result, Morsi will have full legislative authority until elections for Parliament are held. If the current Constituent Assembly is unable to write the Constitution, Morsi will have the authority to appoint a new one.
Make no mistake – these moves are bold. The transition process has now reverted back to the original timetable, such that a full transition of power would occur no later than the presidential elections. If Morsi’s changes stick, the SCAF will no longer have a say in the constitutional and political choices made by Morsi, the Assembly, and a future legislature.
We will never know just how this decision was planned, or to what extent Morsi negotiated with the SCAF before the decision was made. Many experts seem, however, to have already made up their minds. The Daily Beast called Sunday’s move a “risky palace coup,” one Ahram Online writer labeled it a countercoup, and the Atlantic is floating the argument that Morsi could have just become Egypt’s newest dictator. CNN is stating that Morsi now has ‘imperial’ powers. Of course all of this speculation comes despite a statement from General Mohamed al-Assar, a SCAF member and now Assistant Minister of Defense, who openly said that the decision was “based on consultation with the field marshal and the rest of the military council.”
Without digging too deeply into each of these arguments, one thing is clear: Egypt watchers are profoundly burdened by history. Every move is interpreted either as some form of coup, or a result of some behind-the-scenes negotiation. This form of hysteria has gripped many Egyptians, as well. While many welcomed Morsi’s decision, other activists believe he is attempting to replace one form of tyranny with another. According to some, the Muslim Brotherhood’s recent attempts to reign in state media are evidence of this.
Unless these presidential orders are somehow challenged (by force or by law), we are likely witnessing the final stages of Egypt’s transition. As the SCAF originally promised, control of the military has been handed over to a civilian president, at least on the surface. While the absence of a legislature could be cause for concern, parliamentary elections will be held shortly after the Constitution is approved by referendum.
To argue (without evidence), however, that these changes are the result of a coup, countercoup, or some negotiation between the SCAF and the Brotherhood is deceptive. Sadly, after over fifty years of military rule, skeptics and conspiracy theorists abound in Egypt.