Egypt: A Muslim Brotherhood Power-Grab?

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    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Middle East In Focus

The militant attacks against Egyptian border police in the Sinai Peninsula seem to have claimed their most high profile victim yet. The newly-elected Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi, in a swift and brazen move, has retired the powerful head of the military, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi. The dismissal allowed Mursi to vent public irritation at the military’s failure in the Sinai as well as strengthen his hold on power after much feuding with the armed forces.

The army, for now, appears to have accepted the “retirement” of Tantawi and other military leaders without expressing any resentment, at least publicly. According to a report of the Egyptian daily Al Masry al Youm: “Leaders of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces were not previously aware of the president’s decision to refer them to retirement, said Lieutenant General Mohab Mamish, the former navy commander who was appointed by the president as Suez Canal Authority chairman….He denied any conflict between the president and the military. ‘We handed over power to a legitimately elected president as promised, for we never sought power,’ Mamish added, saying there was no deal with the army behind Mursi’s decision….‘The source of our respect for Mursi is the free will of the people that brought him to power,’ he said.”

While some welcome the weakening of the military’s grip on power, many wonder what Mursi and his colleagues in the Muslim Brotherhood will do if given a free hand. With parliament still dissolved, the mechanisms of government may now rest entirely with President Mursi. As Ahmed Aboul Enein of the Daily News Egypt points out: “The cancelation of the supplementary constitutional decree means that [Mursi] will no longer share power with SCAF. In the absence of an elected parliament, the lower house, which was dissolved by SCAF after the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled the parliamentary election law unconstitutional, [Mursi] now holds all executive and legislative powers of state.”

The concern about the way forward was also evident in Al Ahram’s Eman Ragab op-ed: “there is a very influential current within the Muslim Brotherhood that is treating the Mursi victory as a platform for ‘ikhwanising’ (ikhwan, Arabic for brotherhood) the government and the state. The chief avenue towards this end will be to fill the hierarchies of government agencies and bodies with Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters….Egypt will soon see…initiatives spearheaded by the Muslim Brothers and the forces of political Islam aimed at asserting their hegemony over all other institutions of the state. The degree to which the Muslim Brothers succeed in this is contingent… upon the ability of these institutions to sustain their political neutrality.”

The Lebanese Daily Star editorial is quick to note that with greater power comes greater accountability: “By exerting his control over the military, and the judiciary, he enjoys the same type of sweeping powers as his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak. But in the post-revolutionary climate of Egypt these days, wielding such powers only increases the pressure on Mursi to perform, and quickly, as he addresses the massive challenges facing his country….The Egyptian public is now in a position to demand results, and by saying that he is firmly in charge, Mursi will be held accountable for his decisions. Thus, Mursi will have no excuses from now on, as he grapples with Egypt’s economic woes, its foreign relations, and its security situation.”

Still, many are openly uneasy with the potential for an open feud between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military. Reflecting on the developments over the weekend, the Khaleej Times editorial expresses what many fear, i.e. “While Mursi certainly struck while the iron was hot, there’s a strong possibility that his actions will deteriorate the already tense relations between his government and Egypt’s omnipotent military….the President’s surprise move has now opened another Pandora’s box of uncertainties for Egypt….Will the army cow down after Mursi’s surprising move, or will it continue to step on civilian toes?…The answers to all these nagging questions will be revealed in due course.”

In Israel, the unease and the dissatisfaction with recent developments is in full display. Yedioth Ahronoth’s Alex Fishman argues, “Personnel changes in Egyptian military do not bode well for security, diplomatic relations between Cairo, Jerusalem…. The dramatic development also caught Israel by surprise. Several Egyptian officials who were ‘retired’ by Mursi had close working relations with their Israeli counterparts over a period of many years. The personnel changes may have an adverse effect on the diplomatic and security relations between the neighboring countries….The sacked army chief, Enan, was the U.S. government’s ‘man’ in Egypt’s military leadership, but Mursi was not impressed….The damage caused to Egypt’s pro-West and secular military may eventually jeopardize the peace treaty with Israel.”

The Jerusalem Post editorial strikes a more hopeful, albeit cautious tone: “Israeli officials were apparently surprised by Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi’s Ramadan bombshell on Sunday….Mursi 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.”

In Qatar, the Peninsula staff are hopeful that the institutional shakeup will herald the beginning of a new era in Egyptian history, one marked by tolerance and democratic values: “Mursi is fully in charge and he has put an end to concerns that the military was unwilling to relinquish power to the elected president. The once-powerful Supreme Council of the Armed Forces…will now fade back into the background. The military has been divested of most of its powers….As Egypt enters a new era in its history, the battles which it witnesses in future will be of a different sort and of a democratic nature. The Brotherhood is now facing opposition from the secularists and liberals. But the president must make sure that the battles he fights are democratic in nature and not resort to the dictatorial measures adopted by his predecessors.”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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