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23 July revolution: The closing credits - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The political developments in Egypt following the 25 January revolution have resulted in numerous surprises, completely shocking political pundits and observers to the point that they must continually review and reconsider their analysis and expectations. The climax of these dramatic surprises took place during the Egyptian presidential election when both the late Omar Suleiman and Khairat al-Shater announced their presidential candidacies, only to drop out of the race soon afterwards, this is not to mention the elections results themselves and the ensuring relationship between the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF] and the newly-elected president. However the surprises did not end here, as has been made clear today, by the surprising decision taken by Mohamed Mursi, Egypt’s first civilian president, to replace the entire military leadership, in such an easy manner.

Manny people expected a confrontation between the new President and SCAF, particularly as his powers were limited by the Comprehensive Constitutional Declaration which practically turned Egypt into a country with two different centers of power, namely the presidency and SCAF. However nobody expected the situation to develop this quickly. This is why President Mursi’s latest decision has come as a complete surprise, provoking speculation regarding what is truly happening. This decision brought about huge changes in the military leadership, including replacing the Minister of Defense, Chief of Staff and numerous military commanders, in addition to cancelling the Constitutional Declaration. Many people have put forward different scenarios regarding this decision, questioning whether this is a coup through which the Muslim Brotherhood is tightening its group on the state, or whether it is part of a previous agreement, which has been described by some as a “safe exit” agreement? Will the Egyptian military accept this decision, however it plays out? In addition to this, some people are considering this decision the official end of the 23 July [1952] revolution regime, which gave rise to four successive Egyptian presidents, all of whom shared a military background.

The indications, reactions and statements issued by different parties to this decision reflect the need to be careful about using the term “conflict” or “coup”. For it is clear that the changes that have been introduced to Egypt’s military leadership, as well as transferring SCAF’s powers – which were granted to the military council by the Constitutional Declaration – to the presidency took place in coordination with SCAF and the army leaders, particularly the younger generation [of officers]. Even if this is truly a coup, Mursi would not have been able to pull this off without coordinating with military leaders who want to see change.

The rumour mill in Egypt is clearly thriving because such changes in government circles are usually kept tightly under wraps. The rumour mill has thrived since the 25 January revolution until the present day, particularly thanks to stories of secret agreements between the Muslim Brotherhood and SCAF. One of the writers who has bought into these stories is British columnist Robert Fisk, and in an article written for Britain’s Independent newspaper six weeks ago [President Mursi, a rigged ballot and a fox’s tale that has all of Cairo abuzz] he touches upon the story of the “fox in Tahrir Square” and certain rumours, some of which are believable, others not. However what is striking is that Fisk made reference to Egypt’s Military Intelligence, whose director has now been appointed as the country’s Defense Minister, not to mention his officers who are said to be sympathetic towards the revolution.

There have been a number of stories and rumours being put forward, the latest of which was refuted on Monday by the Egyptian presidency, namely that former Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi and former Chief of Staff Sami Annan are under house arrest. However what news agencies were reporting on Monday regarding the statement put forward by the administrator of the SCAF official website may summarize the entire story, particularly the section of the statement that stressed that changes in leadership are normal and that the banner has been handed from the October generation [Yom Kippur War, called the 1973 October war in the Arab world] to the next generation to continue the journey. The SCAF official website also issued a tribute to the retired military commanders, stressing that they will remain in the Egyptian people’s hearts and minds and confirming that the armed forces has never been a source of disturbance or unrest in Egypt, neither has it ever sought power.

One generation handing over the reins of power to another; this is the general line that will solidify in the minds of future historians regarding what is happening in Egypt now, the rest is merely details. The previous four presidents of Egypt ruled the country based on different legitimacy, yet they all leaned on the legitimacy of the 23 July revolution. In addition to this, each president sought to establish their own personal legitimacy, President Sadat, for example, sought to establish his legitimacy by confronting [Nasserite and left-wing] “centers of power” and shifting towards an open-door economy. Following this, Mubarak came to power, based on his legitimacy as a member of the October generation, and now we are witnessing a new form of legitimacy created by the Muslim Brotherhood, and we ultimately do not know how this legitimacy will crystalize, however what is certain is that this represents the final scene for the 23 July revolution.

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim is Asharq Al-Awsat's deputy editor-in-chief. He is based in London.

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