'Morsy’s move may yield serious changes'

Experts: Egyptian president boosted his own executive, legislative powers in addition to sacking generals.

Supporters of Morsy celebrate self-declared vote win 37 (photo credit: REUTERS/Suhaib Salem)
Supporters of Morsy celebrate self-declared vote win 37
(photo credit: REUTERS/Suhaib Salem)
Moves by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy to replace the defense minister and chief of staff, as well as grant himself full executive and legislative powers, could herald more significant changes that might see the Muslim Brotherhood gaining more power, experts said on Monday.
In a move that shocked Egypt on Sunday night, Morsy retired two of the country’s top generals and overturned the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ 2011 Constitutional Declaration as well as the military’s controversial supplementary constitutional declaration of June 17, which curbed the president’s powers.
Prof. Elie Podeh, of the Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said that while Morsy’s move to replace defense minister Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and army chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Sami Enan was significant, the changes he has made with regard to his own executive and legislative powers were equally as important.
Morsy’s new constitutional declaration not only allows the Egyptian president to issue decrees in the absence of parliament, but it also makes significant changes to the Constituent Assembly – the body tasked with drafting Egypt’s new constitution.
Sunday night’s declaration abrogates the military’s controversial June 17 Constitutional Addendum, which the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces made before the presidential runoff elections – and was largely seen as a grab for power.
SCAF’s addendum greatly reduced the new president’s authority and stipulated that the military junta retain legislative powers until the election of a new parliament.
Equally as significant, SCAF’s changes deliberately granted the military a major role in drafting Egypt’s new constitution.
In contrast, Morsy’s new constitutional declaration grants Egypt’s president complete executive and legislative powers – and also puts the process of drafting Egypt’s new constitution under his control.
Under Morsy’s amendment, the president is empowered to draw up a new Constituent Assembly, which must then draft a constitution within three months. After that, the constitution must be put to a referendum within 30 days.
“The constitution is a most important issue for Egypt because it represents the country’s struggle for its soul and for its national values,” Podeh said.
Podeh noted that Morsy referred to the constitution as a “national charter” and said the Constitutional Assembly must represent the “full spectrum of Egyptian society,” indicating that – for now at least – Morsy is maintaining his moderate stance.
“Morsy is trying to position himself as a pragmatic and seemingly moderate leader,” Podeh said. “This is in Egypt’s interests and it would be foolish for Morsy to act otherwise.
However, at the same time it does not mean that Morsy does not want Egypt to become more Islamic.”
Morsy’s move to oust the military’s top generals and increase his presidential powers could well be the start of more significant changes in the longer term, Podeh said, adding that the struggle between those who desire an increasingly Islamic Egypt and those who seek a more liberal, Westernized country has not yet been resolved.
Sunday night’s move saw Tantawi replaced by Gen. Abdel Fattah Sisi as armed forces chief and defense minister, and Enan replaced by 56- year-old Gen. Sidki Sobhi, who headed the Third Field Army based in Suez.
Morsy also appointed a judge, Mahmoud Mekky, as vice president.
Dr. Mark A. Heller, principal research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, noted that the question remained whether Morsy’s retirement of Tantawi came as a surprise to the general or whether he had been aware of the impending move.
“Some say that most of the events [of Sunday] were the result of unpublished coordination between the Muslim Brotherhood and the army,” Heller said.
If Tantawi had been aware that Morsy would replace him, Sunday’s move could represent part of a continual bid by the Muslim Brotherhood to take power, he said.
If not, then the move suggests that the Brotherhood is going after the toughest figures first, said Heller, noting that so far there has been no response from the military leadership about the move.
“We need to see how things play out, to see whether this political emasculation of the army is followed by any attempts to deprive the military of their other benefits, including economic advantages,” Heller said, adding that this could be the start of a greater bid for power by the Brotherhood, who could seek to control all of Egypt’s institutions, including the judiciary.
However, Heller noted that Morsy must also concern himself with Egypt’s economic problems, and so must tread carefully as far as the United States, foreign investors and tourists – all of whom are a source of income for Egypt – are concerned.
“The Muslim Brotherhood will push as far and as hard as they think they can get away with, but they will be judged on how well they deal with Egypt’s crushing material problems,” Heller concluded.