Military leadership reshuffling in Egypt – what it isn’t, what it is.
I’m trying to make sense of it all and organize my thoughts as news, analysis and speculations keep coming, so bear with me.
Let’s first try to understand what this is not. It is not a revolution, as some have been squealing, in joy or in fear. Had it been a revolution, Tantawi would be court-martialed. He won’t. He, as well as Sami Anan, were awarded the highest honours of the nation (the medal of the Nile and the medal of the Republic, respectively) and appointed councilors to the president. The new minister of defense is also an uber-establishment man – Abdel Fattah El Sissi is the chief of Military Intelligence and a member of the SCAF, albeit with suspected Muslim Brotherhood ties.
And before any democracy activist comes celebrating his appointment, it is worth remembering that Sissi is the one who said that the infamous virginity tests were ‘necessary’ to protect the women from rape and the soldiers from accusations of rape.
General Mohamed El-Assar, SCAF’s most public face, also declared that the reshuffling came after consultations with SCAF. El-Assar himself is now deputy minister of Defense, along with Hamdy Badin, who until a few days ago headed the Military Police.
It is however a strong reshuffling, and a long overdue one. Though some will lament an “Ikhwani take-over”, we must remind ourselves that a new president has the right to appoint his or her minister of Defense. All the more so when the sitting minister and his buddies have been a second pole of power, regularly undermining the President (and, in Tantawi’s case, mocking him in public). It was impossible for Morsi to play president with a Mubarak reincarnated in a 22-headed hydra next door.
The cushy new jobs (and the cushy new salaries, which will be added to a fat military pension) are the safe exit for SCAF that we’ve been worrying about. Sadly, there was probably no other way to get rid of Tantawi as minister without Morsi losing his shirt (or his head. Literally). SCAF carries on, now with a hint of an ikhwangi flavour and reduced powers: as Morsi also abolished the supplementary Constitutional Declaration (which SCAF pulled out of its backpocket during the presidential elections), meaning that Morsi is now taking away the lawmaking powers SCAF had granted itself.
I am always in favour of less SCAF power. I hate to see Tantawi have a beautiful exit and he deserves his massive pointy medal shoved up his bottom but if this is what it takes to get rid of him, I say give all SCAF members medals and send them away.
I’m not very excited about an Ikhwan dominance but then again, accusations that Morsi is trying to consolidate his power are rather silly because he’s the elected president; SCAF isn’t. It is only normal that Morsi would want to get ride of Mubarak’s minions.
With less SCAF to blame and more Morsi in power, we are now entering Egypt’s Ikhwani era. Morsi might have gotten what he wished for. Both him, and us, should brace ourselves for what’s to come.
And in the meantime, all this high-level politicking has completely obfuscated Morsi’s assault on freedom of expression, with the closing of a (repulsive and incendiary, but still) TV channel, the investigation of a newspaper on charges of insulting him, and the appointment of Brotherhood sympathisers to chief editorial positions in state-owned newspapers.
We are a nation with the memory span of a goldfish.