But some observers suggest that President Mohamed Morsi’s replacement of Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi with Abdel Fattah al-Sissi (left), allegedly a rare Brotherhood sympathizer in the country’s senior military, threatens a creeping Islamist takeover of state institutions.
“General al-Sissi expressed his unwavering commitment to the US-Egypt military-to-military relationship, which has been really an anchor of stability in the Middle East for more than 30 years,” Panetta told reporters following a phone conversation with his new counterpart.
“This is someone who we’ve worked with for a long time, who has shown himself to be eager to work with the United States, who sees the value of peace with [Egypt's] neighbors,” a senior Obama administration official said of Gen. Sissi. “What I think this is, frankly, is Morsi looking for a generational change in military leadership.”
Yet analysts and activists alike suggest that the Islamists are consolidating power in a fashion that excludes other political forces.
“It is too early to say whether Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood are bent on dominating the state, but there are legitimate concerns given that Morsi now holds executive and legislative authority as well as having an avenue for intervening in constitution writing,” said Jeff Martini of the Rand Corporation.
“Normally, I would have been thrilled that an end has come to military rule, given that the military is now accountable to civilian authority,” says veteran democracy advocate Hisham Kassem. “However, I am quite disturbed by what is coming: the (Muslim) Brotherhood entrenching themselves in power to this extent.”
Sissi’s appointment may represent a compromise between the military’s secular old guard and the Brotherhood.
“People with knowledge of the Egyptian military said Gen. Sissi has a broad reputation within military circles as a Muslim Brotherhood sympathizer, a rare trait in a military culture inured against Islamism,” reports suggest.
“Sissi is known inside the military for being a Muslim Brother in the closet,” said Zeinab Abul Magd, a professor at the American University in Cairo and an expert on Egypt’s military.
Tantawi’s successor “is rumored to be a deeply religious man — perhaps the closest thing on the council to a Brotherhood ally,” Time reports:
“It’s Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood who appointed them,” says Robert Springborg, an expert on the Egyptian military and a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School. “So their political careers are dependent on Morsi.”
Sissi is apparently not the only senior military figure to share Islamist sympathies.
The essay, about the U.S. military presence in the Middle East, was written in 2005 when Gen. Sobhy was studying for a master’s degree from the U.S. Army War College. Well before anyone predicted the events of the Arab Spring, he wrote that if democratization in the Arab world was viewed as the result of U.S. demands and interference, “then these processes will suffer from the public perception of illegitimacy.”
Mori appears to have assumed more power than his autocratic predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, according to some reports:
If left unchecked, there are fears Morsi and his fundamentalist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, could turn the clock back on the country’s tumultuous shift to democratic rule and pursue their goal of someday turning the most populous Arab nation into an Islamic state.
The Brotherhood already won both parliamentary and presidential elections after the uprising last year that forced Mubarak out. The question now is whether there is any institution in the country that can check the power of Morsi and the Brotherhood and stop them from taking over the nation’s institutions and consolidating their grip.
“Are we looking at a president determined to dismantle the machine of tyranny … or one who is retooling the machine of tyranny to serve his interests, removing the military’s hold on the state so he can lay the foundations for the authority of the Brotherhood?” asks prominent rights activist and best-selling novelist Alaa al-Aswani.
“He must correct these mistakes and assure us through actions that he is a president of all Egyptians,” he wrote, warning that Morsi will not be allowed to turn Egypt into a “Brotherhood state.”
Morsi’s accommodation with the armed forces is designed to protect the generals’ interests and privileges, said Tewfik Aclimandos, an analyst who specializes on the military.
“This is a big victory for Morsi,” he said. “It is by no means symbolic. But the military still have tools in the apparatus of the state which would allow it to intervene, and of course, every now and then there will be people [opposed to the Brotherhood] who will invoke them to come to their rescue.”
“Those in the state apparatus who implicitly relied on army protection in resisting the Islamists, now understand that they can’t rely on securing it. You deal with a real president differently from someone you see as a powerless figurehead.”
Other observers detect a new modus vivendi between the Brotherhood and the military.
“Since Mubarak’s ouster and the beginning of Egypt’s political transition, the Muslim Brotherhood’s efforts to assert its power have repeatedly been countermanded by the military, and Morsi’s decree could similarly be reversed,” the STRATFOR research group reports:
Under the new arrangement, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces remains powerful, but its composition and leadership have changed. Sensing an opening, Morsi has already issued presidential orders beyond what may have been agreed upon with the military. Morsi canceled a June 17 constitutional addendum issued by the ruling council and amended the constitutional declaration issued on March 30, 2011, with one that grants him full executive and judicial authority as well as the power to set all public policies in Egypt and sign international treaties. The declaration also gives Morsi the right to form a new constituent assembly tasked with drafting an Egyptian Constitution should any future developments prevent the current assembly from carrying out its responsibilities.
These presidential orders have not been implemented, and the judiciary or the military is likely to block them from ever being enacted just as they have done with previous initiatives intended to empower the legislature or the president. While Morsi may have achieved a symbolic victory in removing long-serving members of the former Mubarak regime from their military posts, the military had its own reasons for going along with the moves — reasons that are intended to increase, not reduce, the military’s influence over the civilian government. Furthermore, Morsi is unlikely to exercise unencumbered authority any time soon, especially with the new constitution, which will likely limit the powers of the president, being drafted.