Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Islamist Nazis consolidate power in Egypt

I never cease to be amazed at how dense the foreign policy community is when it comes to Islamists like al Qaida, the Taliban and the Muslim Brotherhood. They continually underestimate their capabilities and refuse to accept their malevolence. The latest example is Egypt, where the ability of the military to hold power and halt the country's descent into hell has been overstated:
Remember how the military junta was going to keep Egypt’s new Islamist president on a tight leash?
Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s president, has dismissed the head of the armed forces and defence minister, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, according to the country’s state news agency…
Yasser Ali, the presidential spokesperson, said in a news conference aired on state TV on Sunday, that Morsi appointed a new defence minister, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
Tantawi headed the military council that ruled Egypt for 17 months after Hosni Mubarak stepped down in February 2011…
Al Jazeera’s correspondent, Sherine Tadros, reporting from Cairo, said the president’s spokesperson made the surprising announcement on state television.
Morsi tried confronting the junta a month ago by calling parliament back into session after the Egyptian supreme court ruled that it had been unconstitutionally elected. That gambit was a test of strength, but it didn’t lead to any sustained push against the military by the MB so I thought Morsi had backed down and resigned himself to power-sharing for awhile. Wrong. Evidently, he was just lying low and picking his spots. That spot came last week when 16 Egyptian troops were killed by jihadis in the Sinai peninsula; that was Morsi’s pretext to fire the country’s intelligence chief, who was well regarded by U.S. and Israeli intelligence. And yes, needless to say, the fact that an Islamist president ended up benefiting politically from an attack by Islamist militants does indeed feel awfully convenient.
Yes, this has likely been planned for some time.
Having gotten away with dumping the intel chief, Morsi apparently decided it was time to play for the jackpot and dump Tantawi, the leader of the junta, too. Question: Er, how was he able to do that? Tantawi was the military’s supreme commander, which means either (a) he was willing to be removed and told his subordinates not to resist Morsi’s order or (b) he tried to resist but his subordinates sided with Morsi. The latter theory isn’t unthinkable: The junta is fantastically unpopular with the public and the Sinai attack was an embarrassment to Tantawi, so maybe the rest of the brass decided a shake-up was in order. Most of the commentary I’ve read today, though, agrees with the first theory, that Tantawi knew Egypt was descending into chaos and decided it was time to make a deal with the Brotherhood for a luxurious retirement. Rather than watch the country descend into a Syrian nightmare, with himself in the Assad role, Tantawi figured he was better off tossing Morsi the keys in return for the Brotherhood’s promise of immunity for crimes committed by the junta over the past 18 months. Either way, according to the AP, the army seems to be fine with Morsi’s move, possibly because some of the military officers newly elevated by Morsi are Islamist “sleepers” who’ve been waiting for the party to make a move like this on the generals.
Blackfive tries to look at the bright side of life:
So the top dog and all the heads of the military services got sent packing. It seems that they were offered the chance to go now and live off their ill-gotten gains or stay and face the wrath of the Muslim Brotherhood. So they loaded up the trucks and they moved to Dubai, the sand that is.
It needs to get worse in order to get better. The crazy thing is that the worser the sooner may be the better. But it is gonna suck for a while.
But Barry Rubin sees what a disaster this is:
Muslim Brotherhood President al-Mursi has just removed the two commanding generals of the Egyptian military. Does he have a right to do this? Who knows?There’s no constitution. That means all we were told about not having to worry because the generals would restrain the Brotherhood was false. Moreover, the idea that the army, and hence the government, may fear to act lest they lose U.S. aid will also be false. There is no parliament at present  He is now the democratically elected dictator of Egypt. True, he picked another career officer but he has now put forward the principle: he decides who runs the army. The generals can still advise Mursi. He can choose to listen to them or not. But there is no more dual power in Egypt but only one leader.  The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces which has run Egypt since February 2011 is gone. Only Mursi remains and Egypt is now at his mercy.

Oh and to put the icing on the cake, Mursi will apparently decide who will be on the commission that writes the new Consttitution.
Behind the scenes note: Would Mursi dared have done this if he thought Obama would come down on him like a ton of bricks? Would the army give up if they thought America was behind it? No on both counts.
Not to quibble with Barry Rubin, but I highly doubt that the wishes of Barack Obama are on Mursi's priority list right now. Even if Obama was inclined to protest, Mursi probably would not care.

This is a coup. Mursi is bound by no constitution. He can do as he pleases unless someone is going to stop him. And the only candidate–the military–is fading fast, far faster than even we pessimists would have predicted.

Except the US foreign policy establishment, as always lacking in common sense, does not see it that way. Belmont Club highlights their cluelessness:

The Christian Science Monitor asks whether an Islamist coup has just taken place in Egypt. “Have President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood swept away Hosni Mubarak’s old guard and set the stage for a rapid Islamization of the Egyptian government?” The newspaper concludes: ‘hardly’.  But the Monitor doesn’t even sound like it has itself convinced.
Almost certainly not. President Morsi’s moves yesterday, taken in consultation with the Islamist movement that vaulted him to the presidency, were a bold reworking of the rules of the Egyptian transitional game. He sacked Defense Minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and the heads of the air force, army, and navy, appointed a respected judge as his vice president, and with the stroke of a pen undid a set of restrictions that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) had imposed on Egypt’s political transition.
By any measure, he and his movement are in a much stronger position than they were Saturday. But how long that position of strength will last, and how much Morsi will be able to accomplish, given the country’s perilous financial position and tremendous political polarization, are far from clear. The military’s still substantial influence, Morsi’s need for foreign cash and support, and the fears of a sizable minority of Egyptians about the Brotherhood’s goals have littered the political landscape with minefields.
“It’s just a flesh wound”. Sure it is. A friend of mine with extensive and current contacts in Egypt wrote last night to say that that the Obama administration has been putting out the word that there’s nothing to worry about in Egypt; that the gyrations we are now witnessing are just a curious local custom. It happens all the time.  He wrote almost incredulously about the the lack of a reaction in Washington.
According to David Ignatius in today’s WaPo, US officials ‘weren’t ringing alarm bells Sunday night, cautioning that this is in part a generational change, replacing figures who had become increasingly unpopular and isolated in post-revolutionary Egypt.’

Oh, there's more:
Remember the old head-scratcher? Who’s taller? The world’s smallest giant or the world’s tallest midget? Well the Los Angeles Times has another one for us. Is Egyptian president Morsi now the world’s most authoritarian democratic leader or the least restrictive dictator on earth? Put it another way: if you stage a “soft coup” are you still taking over the goverment?
The president’s decision to appoint Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah Sisi to replace Tantawi as defense minister and chief of the military was regarded as a “soft coup” against Egypt’s old-guard establishment. It was also the latest move by Morsi, a conservative Islamist, to put his stamp on the fledgling government.
Since one of the first things he did was prosecute his media critics, the now alarmed Washington Post has admonished Morsi “to moderate his power grab”. While sympathetic to the fact that he had to draw before the Army cleared leather, the Washington Post expressed the hope that he would only shoot the army’s pistol out of it’s hand. Like the Lone Ranger.
Mr. Morsi probably had no alternative but to face off with the generals and consolidate his political standing. The military council would not have permitted a democracy to flourish. But Mr. Morsi must avoid the temptation of absolutism, and that means respecting other centers of power. He must still command a military establishment that has vast economic interests and is deeply rooted in the state. He must respect the secular and liberal forces who have been rivals to, and suspicious of, the Muslim Brotherhood.
Mr. Morsi also must learn to live with a certain amount of criticism. In recent days, the authorities announced prosecutions of journalists, some of them close to the military and not particularly sympathetic to Mr. Morsi. The president should not go down this road. He promised in a televised address on Sunday not to “narrow freedoms,” a pledge he must uphold at all costs if Egypt is to move beyond the stagnant authoritarianism of the Mubarak years.
The Post’s well-intentioned editorial misses the point. The entire purpose of grabbing power is so you do not have to share it; so you can ride roughshod over dissenting “secular and liberal forces”; so you can jail journalists whenever you want. It would be as likely for a President to to stage a “soft coup” in order to share power as it would be for robber to stick up a bank so that he could give the money away.
And we still don't know what's going on.
So maybe someone has been sold out, but just who is still unclear. Is it Iran with US objections to striking their weapons removed in exchange for a nolo contendere in Egypt? Is it American public interest, proving once and for all that Andy McCarthy was right to warn that the Muslim Brotherhood had the ear of Clinton? Was it Israel itself which is now left holding the bag? In any case, the Copts were sold down the river last night.  For it is hard to imagine they will like what happens next.
I disagree. I think it is clear that the best interests of the US have indeed been sold out. But who else has been betrayed here?


  1. As fractured as this sounds, think how relatively unified Egypt would now be against a warring Israel. Israel's best shot is sanctions holding back the dam until the election. Then, without some very remarkable strategy, weapons and manpower beyond estimation, and amazing luck- I'm guessing Israel can't do a Houdini out of this one.

  2. Israel can handle the Egyptian army with little difficulty. It is the Iranian mullahs' nuclear program that is the problem.

  3. Yes, by warring I meant already battling Iran with Egypt joining the fray. However, I don't know all the Sunnai from Shia on my Middle East scorecard, and who's getting support from whom- internal or external.

    I think a spreadsheet would be better than PowerPoint in predicting Middle Eastern future.