The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged scaf
SCAF's long game

A Brief Note about SCAF

From an interesting new blog, Accidental Occidental:

The question is why SCAF would give the “win,” at least on paper, to Morsi. It is no secret SCAF’s days were numbered if they refused to hand over power. This is their exit strategy. SCAF has appeared to castrate themselves in the press, but without losing any of their real power (drawn not from governing but from being the elephant in the room during the governing process). SCAF has feinted, and it appears to have worked. Attacks in the Sinai, power outages, and water shortages are now dropped cleanly in the Muslim Brotherhood’s lap. Any public anger is no longer directed towards the military-industrial complex, but towards the civilian government.

SCAF is playing the long game. In my opinion, they are doing it very shrewdly and very well. Juntas normally do not sacrifice battles for the war, but SCAF has appeared willing to do just that. In the end, it appears the military will stand free from any legitimate criticism and there will be no substantive change in the military-industrial complex.

I agree with this take and put it in a different way in a Guardian piece yesterday — i.e. that talk of Morsi's triumph overshadows that generals (just different generals) were still kingmakers. It might develop in a positive way (the military will stay out of most civilian business and things will overall improve in Egypt in terms of governance, human rights, etc.) but there is no reason to believe it will automatically do so.

Accidental Occidental, by the way, appears to chiefly concern itself with a critique of leftist discourse on the Middle East, from a leftist perspective. The author writes:

My contention is that “anti-colonialism” became one of the myths used by Fascist governments in the Middle East to oppresses and eradicate opposition. We on the Left went to bed with murders, crooks and thieves in the fight against colonialism and it has only led to a new fascism in the Middle East. We never considered that we would be the fascists. The purpose of this blog is to question exactly that myth.

I deeply sympathize. Timely reading in context of the current kerfuffle over Rami Khouri's accusations of Orientalism against those analysts who worry about Syria.

The age of incompetence

✚  The age of incompetence

A quite funny take by Z on what will happen in Egypt next, based on the key insight that everyone — the army, the Muslim Brothers, secular forces — is incompetent. I like this part what what will happen to Morsi:

I expect him to benefit from the incompetence of everyone around him. While everything around him is helping him become more confident, and street support for the Muslim Brotherhood automatically is channeled to him, it is only a matter of time until he realizes that he does not have to live subdued by the organization, but that he should get the place he deserves. We make pharaohs, and we make them fast, and he won't really be any exception.

While he has, together with the Muslim Brotherhood, sidelined SCAF (apparently), he will now more single-handedly sideline the Brotherhood.

Now that would be something!

A pre-emptive coup against a coup within a coup?

✚  No Reason to Celebrate, It's Just Another Coup

Wael Iskander offers a not unplausible explanation for yesterday's news in Egypt — what may have pushed some generals to go against Tantawi and Enan was that they felt a pre-emptive coup against a coup within a coup was necessary to prevent Tantawi & co. leading the military into an untenable situation.

So much of what has been happening has been conducted with much secrecy, that is why all we have today is analysis and speculation. However, it does seem that the likely scenario is a coup to counteract a coup as Hesham Sallam explained:
“Al-Assar, Al-Sisi and others led a coup against Tantawi and Anan in order to preempt a prospective coup attempt that could have gotten the army into uncertain political confrontations—specifically confrontations that could have led the military establishment to lose everything vis-à-vis the MB. Consistent with this theory is the fact that Al-Dostoor newspaper was confiscated yesterday after effectively making a public call for a coup--which suggests that some elements within the SCAF had been prodding their allies inside the media establishment to begin promoting the image of popular support for a coup”
It is clear to me that something was planned for 24 August 2012 and that is what was pre-empted. The Muslim Brotherhood (Morsi) had to have the support of some elements inside the army so as to come out with this decision.
There had been calls for mass protests against Morsi and the MB and the Brotherhood on the 24th, backed by some of the press and political establishment. Maybe this is what forced their hands.
The Morsi Maneuver: a first take

I hate to come out with a full-fledged analysis as the full picture of today’s news from Egypt is still coming out, but the importance of Morsi’s changes to the military and cancellation of the terrible June 17 Supplementary Constitutional Declaration deserves some comment. Here is my preliminary take, which I will no doubt revise in coming days and that is not exhaustive. Please leave what I’m missing out on in the comments.

I’d divide what happened today in two parts. First, what has changed in the military:

  • Defense Minister and SCAF head Hussein Tantawi, who will be replaced by Head of Military Intelligence AbdelLatif El-Sissi
  • Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Sami Enan.
  • Both Tantawi and Enan have been named presidential advisors, and were recently awarded the Order of the Nile medal. It appears they will be protected from punishment for their actions during the transitional period.
  • The heads of every service of the Armed Forces (Air Force, Air Defenses, Navy) were also retired but were given golden parachutes (one is now head of the Suez Canal Authority, another the new Minister of Military Production, etc.) It appears they will be replaced by their deputies.
  • There seems to be more personnel changes and shuffles — but mostly within the logic of promotion typical of the Egyptian military (i.e. no people were suddenly dropped into the senior ranks from lower ranks or outside the senior staff).

The overall impression I get is of a change of personalities with continuity in the institution. More junior officers are taking the posts of their former superiors, and some SCAF members are shifting positions. The departure of Tantawi was inevitable considering his age and unpopularity.

The really surprising thing is that for months there had been reports of positioning within the military-intelligence nexus for the succession battle for post-Tantawy. Leading candidates were Sami Enan, recently fired Head of General Intelligence Mourad Mowafy and to a lesser extent El-Sissi. There were also inconsistent speculation (from well-informed sources with direct SCAF access) about the relationship between El-Sissi and Mowafi. El-Sissi’s appointment is consistent with the idea that he long was one of the most powerful (but less obviously so) members of SCAF, and Enan’s departure is quite striking.

This continuity suggests to me that we are dealing with a reconfigured SCAF that is nonetheless a powerful entity that still has powers parallel to the presidency and other civilian institutions. It is not, as the initial reaction to today’s news largely was, a victory by Morsi over the military. Rather, it is a reconfiguration of the relationship.

Even so, it does appear the presidency comes out reinforced. This is the second part of the major changes announced today. Morsi also declared though a four-article decree that:

  • the June 17 Supplemental Constitutional Declaration is annulled;
  • the president has assumed the powers outlined in Article 56 of the Constitutional Declaration, i.e. the powers previously held by SCAF
  • the president will, through a national consultation, appoint a new Constituent Assembly within 15 days if the president does not complete its task. A new constituent assembly would prepare a new constitution within three months, be referred to a national referendum within 30 days of completion, and once adopted would be followed by new parliamentary elections within two months.

It’s hard to think of a way to avoid this considering the lack of alternatives and the mess Egypt is in, but Morsi has effectively, on paper, dictatorial powers. It will largely come down to how he uses them, especially as the last thing Egypt needs is a government unable to make decisions and address urgent problems simply because the parliament is not in place.

The appointment of Mahmoud Mekky, a senior judge, as vice-president closes the hole left by the delay in appointing any vice-president. The choice is not a bad one and may help Morsi in his fight with the senior ranks of the judiciary. Of course many will still wait for the Christian and female VPs he promised to appoint (and it would have been smarter to make moves in those directions at the same time.)

Overall, I think this is a very welcome move. But it does not necessarily change much aside from break the deadlock over the constitutional declaration. These moves will be seen by many opponents of the Brotherhood as a power grab, and the fact that Morsi has amassed considerable power (again, on paper) is indeed cause for concern. The power to appoint a new constitutional assembly is particularly key, if he ends up using it, I certainly hope it will be to appoint something acceptable to non-Islamists rather than impose the one Islamists wanted earlier this year (unfortunately, the MB’s sense of electoral entitlement makes me pessimistic here). How Morsi navigates this in the next few weeks will be crucial, as well as how secular parties and movements react, particularly considering their unwillingness to work with the MB in recent weeks. Some of these just want to sabotage Morsi and see the MB fail. Some openly called for a military coup against him.

I’m not in Egypt at the moment so it’s tough for me to get a sense of what the mood is, but I would not be surprised if public opinion backs not so much Morsi but the sense of things finally moving forward again. But I am really unable to say whether, apart from breaking the deadlock, it will be a positive development in the long term. The possibility of a new MB-military understanding is still there, and it’s what appears to be underpinning today’s news. In other words, Egypt got rid of military leaders who outstayed their welcome, but may instead get a more subtle military leadership that is better able to work out an understanding with a Muslim Brotherhood that seems attached to a majoritarian idea of democracy, and of course remains generally illiberal. But at least, it gets rid of what was an untennable form of direct military rule and empowers an elected civilian president. Let's hope he uses his new powers wisely. 

SCAF: Is Ruweiny being kicked upstairs or promoted?

Important news for Egypt Kremlinologists: New Central Military Zone commander appointed:

Celebrations were held Wednesday to mark the handover of leadership of the Central Military Zone to Commander Tawhid Tawfiq Abdel Samie.

The ceremony opened with a speech for outgoing Commander Hassan al-Roweiny, who was appointed assistant defense minister. Roweiny has reached the age of retirement.

Roweiny lauded the continuing support of the leaders of the armed forces, who he said helped the Central Military Zone carry out its mission and training activities after the 25 January revolution.

Roweiny is considered to be one of the most influential members of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. He told protesters in Tahrir Square in 10 February 2011 that their demands would be met.

The following day, former President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, handing power to the army.

But Roweiny later became a hated figure among revolutionary forces, especially after he accused the April 6 Youth Movement, one of the main youth groups that helped kick-start the uprising against Mubarak, of destabilizing the country. He alleged that its members are trained by foreign agents.

Two questions/consequences arise:

  1. This should mean that SCAF has a new member in General Abdel Samie, but does Ruweiny also stay on in his new capacity?
  2. Is this a promotion for Ruweiny, a way to keep him on despite his having reached the retirement age (and if that is being enforced, what about Tantawy?), or is this a way to demote him? 

Update: Another possibility comes to mind: Ruweiny is being sent to be Deputy Defense Minister for when Tantawy leaves, at which point he will become the new Defense Minister, and that this is an effort to outflank Chief of Staff Sami Enan.