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Morsi's next move

Beyond his seismic military reshuffle, President Morsi appears set to shake up the judiciary and government, confirming Islamist dominance

Dina Ezzat, Thursday 16 Aug 2012
Mohammed Morsi
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi (Photo: AP)
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It was not an easy decision to take, or an easy move to implement. This is what many insiders say when they talk about Sunday's military reshuffle in which President Mohamed Morsi, 44 days after being sworn in, effectively removed from public life two of the strongest military leaders: Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that has been running the country since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak 11 February 2011, and his second in command, General Sami Anan.

The move was shocking even to some who had predicted an end to the détente between Muslim Brotherhood and SCAF leaders. Tantawi had just been reconfirmed as defence minister, and along with Anan seemed set in his role as the head of SCAF. It also came against the backdrop of confusion that followed an attack in Rafah that killed 17 Egyptian border guards, whose funeral was missed by Morsi and briefly attended by Tantawi amid leaks pointing to a rift between the two men.

However, the president's reasons to execute the military reshuffle go beyond the rift and prior mistrust that controlled the relation between Morsi and Tantawi, along with other generals removed during the past few days, including chief of intelligence Mourad Mouafi. "The president was frustrated by the fact that he was treated as an outsider by his top aides. Some of them were not even considering him as the commander in chief, as he is rightly so," said a presidential aide who wished to remain anonymous.

Morsi, the aide said, could not have accepted to be "half a president." Those who had thought otherwise were much mistaken. "As a president, Dr Morsi is entitled to fully assume his prerogatives," the same aide said.

Morsi's attempt to challenge SCAF control was initiated three weeks ago when he called on the predominantly Islamist parliament, which was dissolved by the High Constitutional Court shortly before the presidential elections, to reassemble. A few days later, Morsi bowed to the reaffirmed decision of the court.

"But during the battle to reclaim the legislative power that was transferred from parliament to SCAF, as the former was dissolved, Dr Morsi knew that he had to drop the constitutional decree that was issued (by SCAF) a few days before the election (of Morsi) and that had amounted to a forced power share between the president and SCAF," the same aide said.

The abrogation of this decree was announced Sunday alongside the forced retirement of Tantawi and Anan.

According to Yasser Ali, the presidential spokesmen, both decisions are designed to help the president honour the demands of the 25 January Revolution for democratisation in Egypt. Ali, speaking to reporters at a press briefing earlier this week, did not exclude further moves under the banner of "honouring the demands of the revolution."

Indeed, sources suggest that the process of reshuffling will continue beyond the composition of the Islamist-leaning Hisham Qandil government, the appointment of Mahmoud Mekki as vice president, and the elimination of Tantawi, Anan, Mouafi and a few other army generals.

Restructuring SCAF under the command of Morsi, as commander in chief, and by the direct supervision of Morsi's new defence minister, Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, yet another confirmed Islamist-leaning figure, sources following ongoing consultations suggest that only a handful of the original SCAF will remain. Some suggest three, others argue seven. Many resigned their positions in the last two days.

Beyond SCAF, Morsi is contemplating, according to inside sources, another set of moves to make his presidency "more efficient." With the help of key advisors, including Ahmed Mekki, and Vice President Mekki, one such move is to end the service of a judges the president perceives as antagonistic towards his presidency, or worse, "representatives of the regime of ousted president Hosni Mubarak."

After the Eid holidays concluding Ramadan, announcements will be made regarding the judiciary, though in a fashion that would not suggest interference on the part of the president in the affairs of the judiciary. "The judiciary is and will remain independent," said Ali following the military reshuffle.

According to one insider, Morsi is considering a tactful end to the mandate of General Prosecutor Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud who, like Tantawi and Anan, assumed his job under the rule of Mubarak. "This man is one of Mubarak's key men and his recent decision to keep Mubarak in (Tora) prison hospital rather than the Maadi military hospital to which he had been removed is an attempt to disassociate himself from the old regime," said the same aide on condition of anonymity.

For this move to happen in a way that does not make Morsi look like another dictator in the making, the nomination of the new prosecutor general has to be made not by Morsi but by a competent authority that the president approves of. Ali denied news suggesting that the prosecutor general, who has been under medication in Germany recently, is too ill to resume his job or that he was asked to retire.

Calling parliamentary elections is what Morsi is most keen on. On Sunday, when announcing the move to force Tantawi and Anan to retire, and to annul the SCAF addendum to the Constitutional Declaration, Ali also announced the plan to hold parliamentary elections within two months.

In theory, the president should wait for the constitution drafting body, the Constituent Assembly, to finish its work before he calls for elections, or else risk having to call for additional elections once the new constitution has been completed.

There are conflicting reports on when elections would be called for exactly: some sources close to official circles say they would be next month; others from Muslim Brotherhood quarters say late November, whether or not a constitution is drafted.

The assessment within Muslim Brotherhood quarters is that the Islamist camp would still retain considerable control of the next parliament, even if not the same two thirds majority of the dissolved parliament.

With an Islamist prime minister, whose cabinet would be freed from SCAF supported ministers, either in the next two weeks, some sources argue, or after parliamentary elections, and with an Islamist head of the military, an Islamist vice president and an Islamist parliament, along with the predominantly Islamist drafting body for the constitution, the Islamist current, and president, is fully in control.

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