Analysis: Morsy’s velvet revolution

Morsy’s Egypt is a new country, with a new religious agenda that it is eager to implement.

Morsy swears in Minister (R370) (photo credit: REUTERS)
Morsy swears in Minister (R370)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Without firing a single shot, President Mohamed Morsy managed to neutralize the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and complete his takeover of Egypt.
Though the way he did it – with speed and efficiency – is worthy of note, the move should come as no surprise.
Having at long last achieved their goal after 84 years, the Muslim Brothers were not going to accept any form of power-sharing with the army.
What happened, however, was not a “civil revolution” doing away with the power of the generals, but rather a coup d’état doing away with the constitution. Morsy unilaterally amended article 25 of the temporary constitution – adopted by referendum in March 2011 – which defined the presidential powers, and revoked the so-called supplementary constitutional declaration issued by the SCAF days before the results of the presidential elections were published.
That declaration gave the army extraordinary powers – including the right to decide on its budget and to declare war.
Morsy, who now holds all legislative and executive powers, forced Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the minister of defense and head of the SCAF, and Lt.-Gen.
Sami Enan, the chief of staff of the Egyptian armed forces, into retirement. The two senior officers were given medals in recognition of their long service to the state and were appointed “special counsels to the president” – a hollow title.
The Egyptian president then went on to fire several highranking officers, including the commanders of the navy, the air force and the anti-aircraft unit. This was done in style, and the three men were given cushy posts in military industries and on the board of directors of the Suez Canal. Morsy thus brought to a successful conclusion the “cleansing” of the army that started last week when the head of the intelligence services and several generals were summarily dismissed.
Did Morsy also guaranteed immunity to all these officers? It remains to be seen, and already there are calls to have them answers for their crimes – meaning their corruption during the Mubarak years and their part in the bloody repression of the protests in the course of the revolution.
There has been no reaction to Morsy’s moves from army circles still reeling in the wake of the disastrous August 5 Kerem Shalom attack that had taken them by surprise. The old guard is tired and has no stomach for a fight for which there would be no popular support.
Besides, a look at the newly promoted generals, minister of defense and chief of staff clearly shows that the Brotherhood had managed to plant quite a number of “sleepers,” officers loyal to the cause and biding their time.
Morsy now holds dictatorial powers surpassing by far those of erstwhile president Hosni Mubarak. They include direct supervision of the all-important drafting of the constitution; he can dismiss the Constituent Assembly if he is not satisfied with its progress and appoint new members tasked with having a text ready within three months. The constitution will then be submitted to the people for approval by referendum and new parliamentary elections will follow.
Under Morsy’s “guidance,” the constitution will be resolutely Islamic and the new laws will follow the Shari’a; already the (disbanded) parliament had started discussing lowering the marriage age for girls and introducing corporal punishment.
Will the courts now intervene and protest Morsy’s blatant flouting of the judicial process? The supplementary constitutional declaration had been duly endorsed by the Supreme Constitutional Court – the court where Morsy was sworn in as president.
Morsy himself had acknowledged the declaration.
The judiciary has a long tradition of independence, but it is hard to see what it could do, since Morsy in all likelihood would disregard any ruling – or, in all probability, start replacing top judges the way he replaced top generals. Time will tell.
In any case, more and more Egyptians are uneasy.
They don’t want the Brotherhood to have total power, they don’t want Egypt to become too religious and they don’t want to see free speech curtailed. Yet this is already happening.
One television channel has been shut down after it attacked Morsy and called for a mass demonstration on August 24; the current issue of the daily Al-Dostour was seized because it dared criticize the president.
We have seen that the people are no longer afraid to demonstrate, but will they do so? They did protest during the funerals of the soldiers slain in Sinai, jeering and physically attacking the prime minister; shots were fired at the headquarters of the Brotherhood.
And the “spontaneous” demonstration of support for Morsy in Tahrir Square gathered a few thousands at most. It remains to be seen how many will come out on August 24.
The new state of affairs does not bode well for the relations between Egypt and Israel. According to a number of reports in mainstream Egyptian media, Morsy has decided to limit relations to the strict minimum and vigorously prevent any manifestation of normalization. Though military dialogue will go on, especially concerning the long border between the two countries and the security situation, Israeli representatives should not expect a warm welcome from their new counterparts.
Though Egypt will strive to maintain good relations with the United States in order to continue receiving impressive sums in military and other aid, it is turning more and more to Arab countries for help. Already the emir of Qatar has deposited $2 billion in Egyptian coffers, and Saudi Arabia did the same a few weeks ago. Libya may do this as well.
Gaza will remain Morsy’s main stumbling block, and he will do his utmost to persuade Hamas to tighten its control and prevent further attacks in the Sinai Peninsula, to what effect is not clear.
Too many people are making money smuggling arms and ammunition.
In short, Morsy’s Egypt is a new country, with a new religious agenda that it is eager to implement. What is strange is that neither the United States nor the other Western powers appear worried.
One wonders when the penny will drop.
The writer, a Fellow of The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden.