The struggle over power and authority that is taking place in Egypt between the newly elected president and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF] is no state secret. In fact this struggle unfolded publicly thanks to the statements and decisions being issued by both parties, not to mention the Tahrir square demonstrations, particularly those being provoked or organized by the Muslim Brotherhood, who did not conceal their intention to seize powers for their elected leader. Nevertheless, the blow that Mursi struck, allowing him to seize power, was completely unforeseen, not just on the part of the SCAF leadership, but for the Egyptian people as a whole, not to mention all those monitoring the developments taking place on the Egyptian scene following the 25 January revolution. Just one week after the Sinai attack, during which 16 Egyptian soldiers were killed, Mursi took the decision to seize complete power over the Egyptian state, retiring a number of senior Egyptian military leaders, most prominently SCAF chairman Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi and Egyptian military Chief of Staff General Sami Anan. Mursi called on the Egyptian army to return to its proper role of protecting the homeland. In this manner, these incidents have granted Mursi – as well as the Muslim Brotherhood – the opportunity to strike a blow against the SCAF leadership and carry out extensive changes, extending from replacing the Egyptian Minister of Defense and Chief of Staff to the commanders of the Republic Guard and intelligence apparatus. This has allowed the Brotherhood to strip SCAF of all the powers it had managed to accumulate since former President Mubarak assigned the council to administer the country’s affairs after he was forced to step down. Backed by such power, SCAF became a ruling authority parallel – and opposing to – the new president, a power that could withstand the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies, preventing them from monopolizing the political sphere.
These decisions were akin to a coup d’état, with Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood surprising all parties and regaining the powers they sought to seize from SCAF at the outset, specifically when they announced the presidential election results. It seems difficult to understand the claim that these decisions were taken following consultation and coordination with the SCAF leadership. If this really was the case, these decisions would have been announced in a different manner, with both Tantawi and Anan appearing on television next to the president during the announcement. Indeed Tantawi and Anan could have also come out to address the media and confirm that they were part of the decision-making process, rather than disappearing from view. This failure to appear in public fuelled speculation and rumour and prompted a spokesman for the Egyptian president to refute the claims that Tantawi and Anan were being held under house arrest until new appointments were completed and oaths taken. This also prompted a military source – who spoke to official Egyptian Middle East News Agency [MENA] on the condition of anonymity – to dismiss the claims that there is any anger or negative reaction within the army towards these decisions. If the situation truly occurred in this manner and these decisions were coordinated with SCAF, it would have been more logical that any decision to retire Field Marshall Tantawi be issued prior to the Egyptian cabinet reshuffle. This reshuffle saw him keep his position as Minister of Defense only to be removed from this position just a few days later.
All evidence indicates that these decisions were shrouded in secrecy and represented a functional coup in which Mursi exploited the Sinai attack to pounce on his SCAF rivals and seize their powers, particularly after he cancelled the Constitutional Declaration which formed the basis of SCAF extending its powers at the expense of the presidency. This is why there have been rumours and speculation that Mursi and the Brotherhood, by taking these decisions, were implementing a counter-coup against the calls for a million-man march to topple the president on 24 August. Perhaps such rumours are exaggerated; however they reflect nature of relations that have prevailed in the political arena between the Brotherhood and other parties, not to mention the tense nature of their relationship with SCAF. This is also the reason why some analysts have come out to say that there are links between the new members of the Egyptian cabinet and the Muslim Brotherhood. There is a broad current that adopts the viewpoint that the Brotherhood has attempted to dominate the political arena since they hijacked the revolution and rode the revolutionary wave into government, despite the fact that they joined this revolution quite late. It is also believed – by this same current – that the Brotherhood has sought to undermine all other parties and therefore purposely refused to cooperate or coordinate with them during the transitional period prior to the elections. The Brotherhood’s plans to dominate the political arena can be reflected in their endeavour to dominate the Constituent Assembly that is responsible for drafting the new constitution. This is something that can also be seen in certain appointments made by the Brotherhood, through which they have sought to gain access to both the media and judiciary, aiming to bring their influence to bear on major state powers. This has been made particularly apparent after these latest decisions brought legislative authority under Mursi’s control, for there is no parliament or constitution, which would define and limit the president’s powers, preventing any political domination and guaranteeing that the presidency does not become a tyranny.
These decisions represented a clever Brotherhood-style coup. It divided the Egyptian people between those who zealously support this decision and those who oppose it but may be too embarrassed to announce this so as not to appear as champions of SCAF or opponents of removing military domination over the presidency, something that has existed since the July 1952 revolution. Furthermore, the decisions have placed the ball in the army’s court, for these decisions ended with the statement that these measures are meant to help the army completely dedicate itself to the mission of protecting the homeland, particularly following the recent Sinai incidents that have revealed a great deal of weakness and fragility in the national security arena, something that has shocked the Egyptian people. This is apart from the fact that these decisions have excluded figures who should have retired long ago, and so the situation seems as if it is pumping new blood into the army’s leadership. These decisions also maintained the prestige and standing of the military figures who have been retired, awarding them the highest decorations in appreciation of their serve to the homeland.
Therefore, there are many who consider these decisions a completion of the revolution and the endeavour to push the military out of politics, as well as a return to complete civil rule. However, this has not prevented others from expressing their concerns and questioning whether what happened is a coup that means to impose Muslim Brotherhood hegemony on the presidency and legislative authority, with this gradually extending to encompass the military, and then the media and judiciary? Egypt is now being governed by declarations and “constitutional” decisions that are issued by a president who has far more powers than Mubarak ever did. This is made particularly clear in light of the state’s incomplete institutions, the lack of a legislative authority or a constitution that defines and regulates powers. If some people are saying that Mursi – by taking such decisions – has liberated himself and the presidency from the army’s custody and intervention, then the question that must be asked here is: will this be followed by Mursi liberating himself from the Brotherhood, which seems to be present in all his decisions and measures?