Morsi’s maneuvers

The one thing that is certain in the Middle East is uncertainty. Just yesterday I was praising the actions of the new Muslim Brotherhood President Morsi of Egypt for cracking down on the terrorists in Sinai. But today I and many others were taken aback by Morsi’s sudden takeover of the military in Egypt. He simply fired the top generals, the long-serving Defense Minister and Chief of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces Gen. Tantawi, as well as the heads of the airforce, army and navy. He praised them and gave them retirement awards and it seems they have accepted his bloodless coup. He replaced Tantawi with Gen. Fattah Sisi who is known to be sympathetic to the MB. But, another way to look at this move is that these generals were appointed by Hosni Mubarak, who is definitely out of favor, and so they can be considered holdovers from the old regime. Also, there is a clear need to appoint younger men into top positions in the Egyptian military that has become ossified.

The replacement of the members of the Military Council that until now was governing Egypt gives Morsi unprecendented control over the levers of power in Egypt. Also, for the first time he appointed a VIce Pres. Mahmoud Mekki, who is a judge and a senior member of the MB. And Morsi revoked the ruling that gave the Military Council power to control constitutional decisions and arrogated this power to himself. Although of questionable legality, it is unlikely that at this stage the removed military leadership will challenge this maneuver. Morsi’s moves are considered popular by a large proportion of the population that supports the MB, but many Egyptians are apparently concerned that Morsi now has unprecedented power in his hands.

Finally, we come to the complex question of the Camp David Accords of 1979 that led to the Peace Treaty between Israel and Egypt. As part of the Accords, Egypt agreed to accept limited military presence in the eastern half of Sinai and to have a US-staffed warning barrier down the middle of Sinai to protect Israel from any further attacks. However, now that Morsi is flexing Egyptian muscles and trying to take control of Sinai again, he apparently is considering abrogating that part of the treaty. He already has sent large numbers of Egyptian forces into Sinai and although he has the approval of Israel, there is no telling how many forces are actually there and for how long they will stay.

There were reports in the media that PM Netanyahu is concerned about Morsi’s moves and is worried. However, these reports were traced to false stories planted in the Egyptian media. PM Netanyahu’s office issued a clarification that he has made no statements about the situation in Egypt and he considers it an internal Egyptian matter. Nevertheless, although the Egyptian military are in no state to represent a current threat to Israel, and Egypt needs the funding that is coming from the US that is contingent on its upholding the Egyptian-Israel peace treaty, nevertheless the remilitarization of Sinai could become a future threat to Israel.

About the Author
Jack Cohen was born in London and has a PhD in Chemistry from Cambridge University. He moved to the US and worked at the National Cancer Inst. and then Georgetown Medical School. In 1996, he Moved to Israel and became Chief Scientist of the Sheba Medical Center. He retired in 2001 and worked as a Visiting Professor at Hebrew University Medical School for 5 years.