16 August 2012

Was "Mubarak's Poodle" Pushed Out?

If you have been reading this blog, you would know that Field Marshall Mohammed Hussein Tantawi was known as Mubarak's poodle during his master's reign. I made it a point to repeat it as many times as I possibly could without appearing petulant or childish.

My purpose has been to highlight the fact that Tantawi was (and is) Washington's man as much as Mubarak was. As you can see in the above links, my view is that the Egyptian Spring was not really a popular revolution, it should more accurately be called a palace coup. Sure there were people chanting in Tahrir Square but they managed to stay there and to make themselves heard because of Tantawi's decision not to force them out. In fact, he did not lift a finger to keep Mubarak in power. Quite the contrary, his army stopped Mubarak's thugs and protected the citizens of the Square.

Everybody knew that the Brotherhood was going to take over and the one major player whose opinions counts seemed quite fine with that prospect. If you have been reading this blog, you'd know that the army and the Brotherhood began collaborating very early on and have been working together every step of the way.

So you can imagine my surprise when most media outlets announced that the newly elected Muslim Brotherhood President Mursi forced Tantawi (Defense Minister for three decades) and the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Sami Anan to early retirement.

The headlines were fierce:

The state-run Al-Akhbar newspaper said the dismissal of Tantawi, who ruled Egypt for more than a year after massive streets protests forced veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak to step down in February 2011, was a "revolutionary decision." 
"The Brothers officially in power," declared the independent Al-Watan daily, referring to the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group which backs Morsi and through whose ranks he rose before his election triumph. 
The independent daily Al-Shorouk said Morsi had accumulated "much bigger prerogatives than those of Mubarak."
The BBC's banner headline informed the world of "Mursi's Surprising Swipe at Military Power." An expert declared that:
"This move will enter history as a significant shift in the civil-military balance of power towards the civilian side," says Omar Ashour, a Middle East expert at the Brookings Doha Centre and Exeter University. 
"This is the first time in Egypt's political history that an elected civilian politician overrules the decisions of the heads of the military establishment."
So this was a revolutionary decision, A historic shift. Something uniquely important in Egypt's history.


And in the next paragraph you read this:
What is not clear is whether President Mohammed Mursi co-ordinated his actions with the armed forces. 
Some analysts have suggested that he must have got the agreement of Field Marshal Tantawi and Gen Annan as it was said that they would continue to act as his advisers.
It also seems clear that other members of the Scaf gave their approval. Gen Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, who has already been sworn in as the new defence minister, replacing Field Marshal Tantawi, sat on the council as the former head of military intelligence.
Some historic shift this is.

The following day, the BBC reported that the US was unsurprised by Egypt army reshuffle:
"We had expected President Mursi at some point to co-ordinate changes in the military leadership, to name a new team," Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters. 
"The United States and the Department of Defence in particular look forward to continuing a very close relationship with the Scaf (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces)."
Tellingly, nothing happened since then.

This does not mean that things will be rosy between the army and the Brotherhood. I expect a rocky relationship.

But there is a fundamental understanding behind their co-habitation and as long as that equation remains in place I doubt that either side will try to overstep their boundaries.

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