The confrontation between military brass and Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt came much sooner than expected. Mohammed Mursi has effectively sacked the head of the armed forces, Field Marshal Mohamad Hussein Tantawi, and Chief of Staff Sami Annan, in the hope of asserting his authority.
Relations between the army and president have been strained for months because the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces enacted a number of measures to preserve their influence over Egyptian politics. Tantawi ensured, for example, that the SCAF had control over the drafting of Egypt’s new constitution and also appointed himself as Minister of Defence. This was widely seen as a pre-emptive move to guard against an Islamist takeover.
Mursi has outmanoeuvred the army on all this. In addition to yesterday’s dismissals, he also repealed some constitutional amendments enacted by the SCAF in June. These amendments limited Mursi’s control over the armed forces, including the decision of whether to go to war. These powers are now concentrated in the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood.
It is hard to find reassurance in Mursi’s new appointments too. Tantawi has been replaced by General Abdul al-Sisi as Minister of Defence, who is suspected by many Egyptians of having Islamist sympathies. Similar fears are also expressed about Annan’s successor, Sedky Sobhy, who takes over as Chief of Staff.
This effectively ends the ‘dual sovereignty’ between military and civilian rule that existed in the aftermath of Hosni Mubarak’s departure. Yesterday’s announcement means that Mursi now enjoys even greater powers than his predecessor, emphatically consolidating the Muslim Brotherhood’s control over Egypt without a counterbalance to check their excesses.