Morsi Takes Charge

An attack on a border post in the Sinai shakes Egypt and its government (diagrammed here in July) from political and social deadlock.  The Muslim Brotherhood’s website blames the attack on Israel, but President Mohamed Morsi–who otherwise hews pretty closely to the positions of Brotherhood leadership–hasn’t made that claim, instead directing his ire at the Egyptian military and their poor control of security in the Sinai.  As for Israel, whose territory the terrorists were trying to enter when they attacked the border post, its government appears to have known about the attack and warned Egyptian intelligence.  The Economist has a good overview of what the incident means for relations between the three local actors of Israel, Egypt, and Hamas, while an op-ed translated from al-Masry al-Youm gives an alternate (rather anti-Israel) view, according to which security in the Sinai is important but isn’t enough.

Morsi took a series of bold steps in response to the attack, starting with the dismissal of the chief of intelligence and continuing last weekend with a dramatic maneuver that shocked the political class and surprised the United States.   He dismissed Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and other top generals while taking back the powers the SCAF had kept for itself after the election–making Morsi now effectively a democratically elected dictator–in a decree that Issandr el-Amrani called “a pre-emptive coup against a coup within a coup.”

The new military leadership has as its head the former director of Military Intelligence, known among revolutionaries for his staunch defense of the vile and indefensible forced “virginity tests” carried out on Tahrir Square protesters.  He is said to have good relations with the United States, and his newly appointed second-in-command clearly understands American views and interests, though at the same time expressing support for complete American withdrawal from the Middle East.

So: Morsi will actually rule Egypt now although the constitutional legitimacy of his new powers is almost nil; American relations with the Egyptian military-intelligence complex, which I think are probably pretty important, are shaken but not substantially weakened; the Sinai is no closer to being secure and relations with both Israel and Hamas are no stronger and possibly slightly weaker; the revolutionaries have their most pressing demand satisfied in the dismissal of Tantawi but are unlikely to see many practical effects of his absence; and the political scene as a whole must now reset for new parliamentary elections and the selection of the constitution-writing committee.

It’s been a long week.

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