Morsi marks his turf, stomping on SCAF
Muhammed Morsi with his former running mate Field Marshal Tantawi
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Mohammed Morsi, erstwhile soft-spoken engineer, has been up against amazing odds. Not only did he have to face down the fears about the rise of political Islam but a constitutional amendment passed by SCAF—the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces which had ruled Egypt since Mubarak stepped down — had severely curtailed his powers. It did not look like a promising start. Making matters worse, an attack by assailants—whose identity is as yet unknown—against a security outpost on the desolate Sinai Peninsula on Sunday, 5 August left 16 Egyptian soldiers dead. Some thought the incident would spell doom for the new President. It did not look good that the attack came from the Egyptian border with Gaza, which is administered by Hamas, a long-standing ally of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
Within a week, however, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate showed he had teeth, and that he was prepared to use them. Morsi's first actions were to dismiss the unknown military officers responsible for security on the Egyptian-Palestinian frontier immediately. We knew some heads would have to roll but before the week was out Morsi had sacked not only the Army Chief of Staff, Sami Anan, considered a soft touch for the military, but also the very head of SCAF, Field Marshall (Mohammed) Hussein Tantawi. Standing down a group of geriatric generals was a serious risk in a country ruled by them for so long.
Yet Morsi seems to have pulled off the hat-trick, and all power to him. He turned what could have been a dramatic military versus 'state' showdown - something everybody had been holding their breaths for - to a friendly round of musical chairs. Once the music stopped, it was clear who was sitting at the top seat, and he wasn’t in a military uniform. So what exactly gives Morsi the right to do this, besides of course winning an election?
Fingers have pointed to foreign support, but it seems unlikely—at least contrary to past experience—that the United States was about to support an elected politician, let alone an Islamist, against a junta in North Africa. More likely, it seems, that financial reassurance from Qatar, secured at the recent state visit by the Gulf state’s Amir to Cairo, ensured that Morsi would have the global support he needed. This support comes at a good time, too: a mass anti-Muslim Brotherhood rally, scheduled for 24 August in Cairo, will need a strong president to combat it.
The opposition are now clutching at straws, calling Morsi’s move unconstitutional. Egyptian statesman, Mohammed El Baradei had tweeted on Monday afternoon that: “With military stripped of legislative authority; in absence of parliament, president holds imperial powers. Transitional mess continues.”
Do you think Morsi is moving from stength to strength? Has Egypt's Choice marked his turf or messed with the military's stomping ground?