When Egypt’s first elected president 61-year-old U.S.-educated Mohammed Morsi took office June 30, 2012 there were high hopes that the authoritarian rule of Hosni Mubarak was finally over. Pro-democracy protesters who sacrificed their lives in Cairo’s revolutionary Tahrir Square were sadly disappointed when Morsi’s Islamic Brotherhood backers took over, leaving him a feckless leader. Egypt’s military only reluctantly handed the reigns to Morsi after Mubarak was chased out of Cairo by an angry mob Feb. 11, 2011. For over a year, Egypt’s powerful military served as the nation’s custodial government. “In essence, the military will not allow national stability or its own institutional privileges to come under threat from a breakdown in Egypt’s social fabric or a broad-based strife,” said Michael W. Hanna, an Egypt expert at New York-based Century Foundation.
Morsi antagonized the military when he signaled he wanted Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi out because he suggested that the military was ready to step in to stabilize the country. “This is not an ideological army or one that seeks to destabilize civilian governance . . . But it is also not an army that will sit by while the country reaches the tipping point on the path to civilian strife,” said Hanna. Many Egyptians currently protesting in Tahrir Square don’t like Morsi’s blind loyalty to the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic group that would like to see the Koran as the law of the land. Making waves last month, el-Sissi said he would not want the military dominated by the Brotherhood or any other group. “This is old talk that has been repeated over and over again,” said Brotherhood spokesman Yasser Mehrez, not admitting that Morsi overplayed his hand on el-Sissi.
Whether admitted to or not, the Muslim Brotherhood would like to take control of Egypt’s politically neutral military. Dating back to the days of Egypt’s second president Gen. Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt’s military has been a force of stability over the years when Nasser and the Egyptian army evicted the British and King Farouk, helping Muhammed Naguib become Egypt’s first president June 18, 1953. Nasser became a national hero when he finally pushed the British out of the Suez Canal in 1956. Like Nasser, Egypt’s military comes from a proud secular tradition, unlike the 1928-founded Muslim Brotherhood. Installing Morsi as president June 30, 2012 was the first time in modern Egyptian history that the Brotherhood got close to its dream of making the Koran the law of the land. Whatever Morsi’s personal beliefs, he’s currently viewed as a surrogate for the Muslim Brotherhood.
Egypt’s secular army won’t let the Brotherhood seize military control of the Egyptian government. “The two sides may be publicly dismissing reports of tensions, but the army is making it very clear to the presidency that any attempt to dismiss el-Sissi would backfire,” said military analyst and retired army Gen. Mohammed Qadri Said.
When national protests spread to the Suez Canal zone, el-Sissi refused to enforce the curfew demanded by Morsi and the Brotherhood. What Morsi and the Brotherhood don’t get is that pro-Democracy protesters don’t want sharia law imposed on Egyptian society. El-Sissi’s Chief-of-Staff Sedki Sobbi warned Morsi while visiting the United Arab Emirates not to push the military too far. “It keeps an eye on what goes on in the nation and if the Egyptian people ever needed the armed forces, they will be on the streets in less than a second,” warned Sobbi.
After retiring two of Mubarak’s top generals Aug. 12, 2012, Morsi appointed el-Sissi to reassure the military. Before removing the generals and returning power to the presidency, the military had absolute power over Egypt’s civilian government. Mubarak’s old ruling legislature was dissolved in a June court ruling, giving more power to the military over drafting and vetoing the Egyptian constitution. Morsi and the Brotherhood avoided a major confrontation, giving the military autonomy over the civilian government. “Millions of Egyptians want the army to come back and deliver us from chaos,” said Ibrahim Issa, host of a popular political talk show. Since Morsi and the Brotherhood came to power, Egypt’s economy continued to deteriorate, causing high levels of inflation and unemployment. Street protesters have called for Morsi and the Brotherhood to step down.
Whatever happens to Morsi’s government, the military can’t solve Egypt’s current economic and social problems. Expectations ran high after driving Mubarak from power in Feb. 2011. Instead of pushing for Islamic law, Morsi should find a fix to the Egyptian economy, leaving too many Egyptians without work or opportunity. Morsi’s real problem so far has been taking orders from the Muslim Brotherhood. To prevent Egypt from lapsing back into revolution, Morsi needs to reassure all citizens that his immediate goal is stabilizing the Egyptian economy, not imposing strict Islamic law on rank-and-file citizens. “This is the sentiment on the Egyptian street, and ignoring it is stupid,” said Issa, hoping Morsi and the Brotherhood disappears. No matter who governs Egypt, the military has no magic bullet to fix all of Egypt’s current economic, political and social woes.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.