August 13th, 2012
01:37 PM ET

Morsi’s Corrective Revolution

By Steven Cook, CFR

Editor’s note: Steven A. Cook is the Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of From the Potomac to the Euphrates originally appeared here. The views expressed are those of the author.

It’s fair to say that Egypt continues to be interesting. Yesterday, President Mohamed Morsi announced the retirements of Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and Lieutenant General Sami Anan, which comes just a few days after he sacked Egypt’s intelligence chief, the governor of North Sinai, and the head of the Military Police. What’s happening here?  Speculation is rampant.  Was Morsi’s shake-up the result of plotting within the military’s own ranks, revealing a much-rumored split within the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces? Does kicking Tantawi and Anan upstairs – they will both serve as advisors to the president – constitute a Muslim Brotherhood coup? Both scenarios are possible, but it’s more likely that Morsi is doing precisely what he seems to be doing: consolidating his power.

As I wrote in Foreign last week, the x-factor in Morsi’s actions are implication that sacking the top brass will have for civil-military relations in Egypt. It should be clear by now that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces vision, an autonomous military establishment beyond civilian control, contradicts Egyptians’ desire to build a democratic state. Yet Morsi’s actions raise an important question: Is he taming the military as an organization or is he pushing out Tantawi, Anan, and the others he dismissed last week in another round of the titanic political struggle among the political and military elite?  If it’s the former, it is an important step in changing the overall balance of civil-military relations in Egypt that’s more favorable to the emergence of a democratic political system – though that outcome is far from guaranteed. If Morsi’s bold move against the top officers is the latter, there may be a moment of civilian supremacy, but the military may very well remain a critical political actor.

Thus far, it’s hard to draw any conclusion as much depends on Morsi’s next move. At first glance, it’s tempting to see historical echoes Anwar’s Sadat’s solidification of power in May 1971 when he out-maneuvered his opponents within the Arab Socialist Union and the military in one fell swoop. Sadat’s success was, however, dependent on the loyalty of a group of military officers below Minister of Defense General Mohamed Fawzi, which was secured through promises of promotion. A similar dynamic seems to be underway with the elevation of Major General Abdel Fattah al Sissi as Tantawi’s replacement and the appointment of Lieutenant General Sidki Sayed Ahmed as the new armed forces chief of staff. Presumably, Morsi has secured the loyalty of these officers and Egypt’s powerful field commanders in the process of moving Tantawi and Anan up and out, indicating that the military remains a critical pillar of support.

At the same time, it’s easy to draw the parallels of Sadat’s “Corrective Revolution” too literally. The critical difference between 1971 and 2012 is the very fact that Morsi can claim popular legitimacy and a mandate by dint of his election. There are, of course, a good many Egyptians who don’t believe the election was credible, but that doesn’t preclude the fact that Morsi clearly has a reservoir of popular support from which he draw advance his and the Muslim Brotherhood’s agenda. As a result, Morsi can claim – a without stretching credulity – that his national security and defense shake-up was done in the name of building a “civil state.” To the extent that this idea has currency within the Egyptian population and the new president enjoys the legitimacy of being the first popularly elected president, Morsi has an opportunity to alter the historic role of the armed forces in Egyptian politics.

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Topics: Arab Spring • Egypt

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soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Vann

    I do not understand why CNN would remove the best TV show of the week! If Fareed made a mistake, and if it is the first
    like this, then find some way to reprimand him other than putting a gun in the head of CNN and pulling the trigger. Removing the GPS show to punish Fareed is like closing a factory to punish the workers. Who is the loser here?

    August 13, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Reply
  2. robert

    Farreed speaks about ethics in harvard commensement .. he is a hippocrat.. where is his ethics...
    Is CNN settling for the highest bidder...

    August 13, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Reply
    • John Phillips

      Robert, if you are going to post on this site, please learn to spell, puncuate and speak the English language.

      August 13, 2012 at 5:52 pm | Reply
  3. John Phillips

    GPS should continue either with or without Zakaria. I was a big Zakaria fan and I am very disappointed with the turn of events that took place. I really enjoy the show because it is almost like a graduate seminar and the guests are always intelligent and insightful, unlike many other shows of this genre. Perhaps someone like Richard Pipes of Harvard, Condoleeza Rice of Stanford or other such person could take over the reigns of the show. This is about the only high quality programming left on CNN and it would be a shame to lose it.

    August 13, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Reply
  4. j. von hettlingen

    Indeed Morsi has proven more shrewd and calculating than was evident when he was sworn in on June 30. He took advantage of the Sinai incident, a raid which embarrassed the military to start the shake up. Also there has been fissures between young officers and the old guard. Tantawi joined the army a few years after the 1952 military coup. Although Egypt has changed since then, he and Anan belong to the reactionary bunch and oppose to reform. They focused on maintaining their status quo through the end of their time and simply don't have the incentive to change. Even before last year's revolution progressive officers were critical of Tantawi and other generals who were seen as out of step in a new century.

    August 14, 2012 at 3:50 am | Reply
  5. Joseph McCarthy/Quigley/LyndsieGraham/krm1007 ©™/Joe Collins/J. Foster Dulles/Marine5484

    I am a useless piece of camel dung. I post anti American, anti GB, anti semite, anti India, anti modern anything because I am a good moooooslem. I steal people's monikers because I am so ashamed of myself and post the most stupid comment. When people get angry with me, I claim insanity. I am the same guy.

    August 18, 2012 at 9:37 am | Reply

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