Israeli officials were apparently surprised by Egyptian President Mohamed
Morsy’s Ramadan bombshell on Sunday, in which he sent his powerful defense
minister and other senior generals into retirement and revoked a military order
curbing his powers.
One official called it “a very significant
development” and said Israel was closely monitoring the situation.
fired most of the top brass in his military, including Mohamed Hussein Tantawi,
the defense minister and military council head, and army chief Gen. Sami
He immediately swore in Abdel Fattah Sisi, the head of military
intelligence, as minister of defense, and Sidki Sobhi, the commander of the
Third Army, as chief of staff.
“I did not mean to send a negative message
about anyone, but my aim was the benefit of this nation and its people,” Morsy
said in a televised address.
His spokesman said the move was aimed at
“pumping new blood” into an army that had hoped to control the
Morsy also named a reformist judge, Mahmoud Mekki, as his vice
president, and issued a constitutional decree to restore many of the
presidential powers curbed by the army in June, including his ability to declare
Time magazine suggested that Morsy and the Muslim Brotherhood he
heads might have staged what was tantamount to a coup against the
“Sunday’s shift marks Morsy’s boldest move yet to reclaim power
from the country’s powerful military council,” its correspondent Abigail
Hauslohner reported from Cairo.
A McClatchy dispatch from Egypt said
Morsy might have timed his announcement for the final 10 days of Ramadan, during
a period referred to as Leylet el Qadr (“The Night of Fate”).
Egyptian president might be using the volatile situation in the Sinai Peninsula
to make sweeping changes in the military, it said. The murder of 16 Egyptian
security guards in Sinai by terrorists planning an attack on Israel last week
could have been the trigger for the move. Following the incident, Morsy fired
and replaced the head of intelligence and the governor of North
With Israel’s permission, Egypt moved in tanks and helicopter
gunships to assert its control over Sinai, and Morsy even visited the area to
show that he meant business.
But analysts quoted by McClatchy’s Nancy
Youssef in Cairo wondered whether the president’s new decisions “represented a
new Egypt, where generals answer to their civilian leaders, or whether they were
just another backroom deal between the military and Morsy, perhaps intended to
allow the generals to leave power without facing trials for the crimes committed
while in office.”
Whatever the case, Morsy and the Muslim Brotherhood
have now emerged as the true victors of last year’s Tahrir Square uprising. They
wield power in parliament and now in the military too.
Their next move is
expected to be the drafting of a new constitution. For the sake of the Egyptian
people, let us hope that this paves the way for a democratic regime, and not
another autocratic one.
Morsy has pledged to honor Egypt’s peace treaty
with Israel and to help revive the regional peace process, and we expect him to
keep his word.
In a letter to President Shimon Peres thanking him for his
Ramadan greetings last month, Morsy wrote: “I take this opportunity to reiterate
that I am looking forward to exerting our best efforts to get the Middle East
peace process back to its right track in order to achieve security and stability
for all peoples of the region, including the Israeli people.”
defense minister MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) warned, however, that Israel
should prepare for the possibility that the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt will
collapse. “The Muslim Brotherhood will always be the Muslim Brotherhood,”
Ben-Eliezer told Israel Radio on Monday. “We should be ready for the worst-case
scenario, which could involve a military confrontation.”
Hasson (Kadima), a former deputy director of the Shin Bet (Israel Security
Agency), strongly advised the government to “find a way to begin a dialogue with
the new Egyptian president.”
“We need to talk to the Egyptian head of
state in a sensitive and reasonable way,” he said.
This is surely the
time, as Hasson has proposed, for Israel to attempt to normalize relations with
Morsy’s Egypt after a long period of a cold peace under his predecessor, Hosni