The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged Military
Media, the regime, and censorship in Egypt

Our own Nour Youssef has a piece in the Guardian about the Egyptian media, the role it has played in the events of recent years, and the complicated system by which it stays in alignment with regime interests. It has interviews with a who's-who of prominent TV hosts and is chock-full of incredible quotes. 

“I would say anything the military tells me to say out of duty and respect for the institution,” says Ahmed Moussa, one of the most popular TV presenters inEgypt.
Moussa has no qualms admitting on air his relationship with the authorities – and his vocation to serve them. He claims he would also extend the same courtesy to the police, he said but he “might stop and think a little first”.
Sharing Moussa’s sense of duty towards the military is the veteran talk show host Mahmoud Saad, from Al-Nahar TV. “The military should never, ever, ever be covered,” he says, shaking his head. “You have to let them decide what to say and when to say it. You don’t know what will hurt national security.”
But it’s also the power to influence people that appeals to him, he says. “It’s a beautiful feeling knowing that when you swing right,” he says as he swivels his upper body right, “the people will swing right. “And when you swing left,” he goes on, swivelling in the opposite direction “the people will swing left.”


Civilian-military relations in Egypt

This quote from an AP story on the reshuffling of SCAF (because some of its members have become ministers) and the creating of the National Defense Council (a body combining civilian ministers and generals) is very telling of the state of civilian-military relations in Egypt:

Retired Maj. Gen. Abdel-Rafia Darwish, a military analyst, said the reshuffling of the council prevents the president from interfering in military affairs.
"What if the president is a civilian?" he asked. "He might take a decision that is wrong and that could harm the military." However, other experts described the changes as no surprise and in line with the new constitution.

In most other places, of course, the conversation is more about protecting the civilians from the military.

A definition of excessive force

AP, reporting on yesterday's killing of at least 50 Muslim Brotherhood supporters: 

The shootings Monday of Morsi supporters prompted questions about whether troops used excessive deadly force, an accusation the military dismissed as unfair.

"What excessive force? We were dealing with people shooting at us with live ammunition," chief military spokesman Co. Ahmed Mohammed Ali told The Associated Press. "It would have been excessive if we killed 300."

Confident in the army's position, Ali asked those at a televised news conference to stand in silence to mourn the dead. Later he expressed regret for the loss of life, but did not accept blame for the killings.

Morsi and the Military

Morsi and Egypt's Military - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East

Good piece by Yezid Sayigh on Egypt's military and the deal it made with Morsi on the constitution, which grants it unprecedented autonomy:

The Muslim Brotherhood’s detractors have repeatedly accused it of concluding a secret deal with the EAF to allow it to assume office. But Egypt is nothing like Sudan, for example, where a tight-knit alliance between the National Islamic Front and Gen. Omar al-Bashir reshaped state power as well as the legal and constitutional frameworks, and moreover purged non-Islamists from the military from 1989 onward.
In any case, the deal in Egypt is anything but comfortable. The Brotherhood and Morsi may interpret the constitutional provisions relating to the EAF as demarcating and separating the military and civilian spheres, as a precursor to asserting civilians’ political preeminence. But the formal autonomy granted to the EAF extends well beyond its own “professional” affairs — such as doctrine and arms procurement, or even the defense budget — and will be very hard to roll back in future.
This is not a challenge for Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood alone, nor is it a problem only of their making. The transfer of power from military rulers to civilians always involves compromises backed by explicit and implicit understandings: whoever won last year’s parliamentary and presidential elections was going to have to grapple with the EAF’s privileged position. And with the exception of the Tahrir Square revolutionaries and Constitution Party head Mohamed ElBaradei, none of the principal political parties or presidential candidates since the ouster of Mubarak proposed curtailing the EAF’s prerogatives and immunities any further than Egypt’s new rulers have done.

One point of disagreement I have is with another passage:

Unlike other parts of the state apparatus, the EAF sees itself as an autonomous institutional actor with a privileged political role. This was made evident on Dec. 11, when Defense Minister Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi invited Morsi, cabinet ministers and a wide spectrum of “political parties and forces” and public figures to what he called a “social dialogue.” Although El-Sisi’s spokesperson insisted that this was not a “national political dialogue,” issuing the invitation was an unmistakably political act, undertaken unilaterally and without prior consultation with either the president or the head of the cabinet of which the defense minister is a part.

Actually I think other parts of the state apparatus — the Interior Ministry, the judiciary, the ministry of foreign affairs, the intelligence services — see themselves as deserving of similar autonomy, they're just less able to get their way. And al-Sisi's invitation for dialogue was as much about the army's interference as the sense, at the time, that the crisis and division was unnecessary and dangerous.

Morsi and the deep state, cont.

Egypt: The president, the army and the police - Egypt - Ahram Online

This is a new line of attack in the anti-Morsi media — apparently grounded in some truth — regarding changes to regulations on buying land in Sinai. The conspiracy theory version is that there is a grand scheme to allow Palestinians from Gaza to resettle in Sinai or render permanent Gaza's division from the West Bank and turn Sinai into Gaza's hinterland. The more interesting aspect of this, however, are the lingering signs of tension between the military and the Morsi administration. As this report shows, on some issues it's clear who calls the shots:

A recent decree issued by Minister of Defence Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi restricting the right to buy property in Sinai to second-generation Egyptian citizens had come against the wish of the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, according to a military source.

The decree, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity, was issued after the minister became aware of a Palestinian-Qatari scheme to buy territory in Sinai “supposedly for tourism related projects."

The source added that the minister “informed” the president before taking he took the decision “with  unprecedented support from within the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the wider military community.

"Many of us [officers and soldiers] died to retrieve this land; we did so not knowing that Morsi would one day compromise the country's right to Sinai - for whatever reason. Whatever the reason, Sinai is a red line. We will support our Palestinian brothers in every way possible but Sinai is not for sale," the source said.

Of course the presidency is denying this, saying the new orders came from Morsi. Read on from some acid quotes on intelligence and security from a presidential aide.

Egypt's Military Industrial complex

Profile: The Arab Organization for Industrialization

A nice overview of the core of Egypt's military-industrial complex by Omar Halawa in Egypt Independent:

It has its own bylaws and a supreme committee headed by the president, who is joined by the AOI chief executive, and the members of the board who are the factory heads and legal advisers.

According to official data released by officials in March, the AOI makes an annual net profit that ranges between LE470 million to LE475 million from a yearly total sales volume of LE3.4 billion.

Officials from the AOI say the profits are not pocketed by the state, but are reinvested in the company.

Michael Collins Dunn has more remarks on the AOI here.

The article largely covers the lack of accountability of the AOI. I think it's also worth thinking about its future mission in post-Mubarak Egypt. Soon enough, political forces will articulate (perhaps with the younger generation of officers now in charge) the need for a different military doctrine, and different procurement methods. Consider that in the 1980s Egypt abandoned its ballistic missile system (and, allegedly, a covert nuclear weapons program very much in its infancy), and in the 1990s was said to have allowed its chemical weapons program to lapse. Will these things be reconsidered in the future? I think when it comes to developing certain technologies where Egypt has lagged — it's almost a certain thing.

Sedky Sobhy's thesis makes the rounds

Glad to see that a bunch of news outlets picked up the thesis by Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Armed Forces Sedky Sobhy I highlighted a few days ago. Some wanted to interview me but unfortunately I was not available, but here's a couple of links. 

Research paper offers insight into Egypt's new armed forces chief (McClatchy)

Professor Douglas Lovelace, the director of the Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute and Sobhy's adviser, remembered him as a "bold thinker," charming and a "very impressive officer" who often offered thoughts counter to the conventional thinking at the time.

"I do recall he was provocative and an original thinker," Lovelace said. "It was not surprising that he would either fail completely or rise to the top."

Egypt general's paper offers insight into thinking (Reuters)

Do leave links to any others in the comments.

Springborg: Egypt's Cobra and Mongoose Become Lion and Lamb?

Egypt's Cobra and Mongoose Become Lion and Lamb?

Robert Springborg updates an earlier column for Foreign Policy arguing that the military and the Brotherhood have decided to co-exist rather than turn Egypt into an Islamist state:

A second, more accurate interpretation is suggested by a new analogy to replace that of the deadly cobra and mongoose to characterize relations between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood. It is that the lion of the military and the lamb of the Brotherhood will lie down together, but as separate, distinct beings each with its own purpose. While there are certainly already fellow travelers of the Muslim Brotherhood in the officer corps and many officers who will see advantage now in associating themselves with it or at least not opposing it, the corps as a whole is not about to become the striking arm of the Brotherhood. Its primary incentive for facilitating Tantawi's removal was not Islamist commitment, but accumulated dissatisfaction with the Field Marshal's debasement of their institution and its capacities, triggered by his inept political maneuvering. The agreement between key officers, on the one hand, and Morsi and his allies, on the other, will have been based on a division of roles and responsibilities in which the military as an institution continues to be the dominant actor in the formation and implementation of national security policies. The assumption underlying the agreement will have been that the re-professionalization of the military and the exercise of constitutional power by the civilian government, presently dominated by the Brotherhood, are compatible, indeed reinforcing objectives. Both sides, in other words, will have professed their respect for constitutional, legal, and professional norms and their centrality to the new relationship. The lion and the lamb, in short, have opted for coexistence, rather than a struggle akin to the cobra and mongoose fight in which one would ultimately destroy the other.

Whether this agreement proves to be durable or not will depend on numerous factors, key being respect for it by either side. If the Brotherhood seeks to impose its will on the state and nation, including the military, it will meet a reaction from the officer corps. This, and even the threat of it, combined with ongoing and probably intensifying civilian opposition, is likely to cause the Brotherhood to move carefully, whatever its real intentions. While a new form of anti-democratic political influence over the military could still result, were the Brotherhood actually to consolidate total power, the removal of the Mubarak military high command was the necessary, if not sufficient condition to begin the long march to institutionalized, civilian, democratic control of Egypt's armed forces. For that reason alone it is a positive step, if one with other potential dangers.

He has good stuff in there about the steps taken to secure himself by Morsi — getting control of Central Security Forces, sacking Mowafi and Ruweini, etc.

I have a column coming out in The National tomorrow, just written this morning, that takes a similar view and offers some advice for the rest of the political actors in this.

From alarm to relief in Washington amid Egypt’s military shakeup

From alarm to relief in Washington amid Egypt’s military shakeup

Karen DeYoung reporting for the Washington Post:

The Obama administration’s first reaction to Sunday’s news that Egypt’s military chiefs had been forced from office was deep alarm. The surprise announcement from Cairo seemed to signal that Washington’s worst fears about the direction of the Egyptian revolution were coming true.

Political developments in Egypt during the past year have occurred at a speed that has often overwhelmed U.S. policymakers. The one constant seemed to be the military and its longtime chief, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi. His dismissal increased concerns about how much leverage Washington would retain as Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi consolidated power.

By early Monday, the administration had exhaled a collective, if perhaps temporary, sigh of relief. The newly named defense minister and armed forces commander, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, is well-known to U.S. officials. He had “espoused cooperation with the United States and the need for peace with neighbors,” an administration official said.

That would suggest that the administration did not know about this and was caught off-guard. Which was my intuition. It's significant because it highlights — even if Egypt remains allied to the US, as I think it will — how little control Washington has on events and how little it is "in the loop." Which means, basically, a more independent Egypt. 

What do Egypt's new top generals think of Amreeka?

Some of the military officers who have risen to prominence after the recent shuffle/purge/power grab in the senior ranks of the Egyptian military are pretty unknown. The military is an isolated institution, and only a few of its members became very public figures over the last year and a half. There have been many rumors that the new top honchos are American favorites, chiefly on the spurious ground that they have been in contact with the US in the past. The truth is we don't know much about them, or specifically how they feel about the United States. 

Wouldn't it be nice if one of these guys had written, say, a 10,000 word essay on his views of the future of US strategy in the Middle East?

Well it turns out one of them — no less than Sedky Sobhy, the new Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, the number two in the hierarchy — did just that while studying in a military school in the US, as many Egyptian officers do. And he's written a rather thoughtful essay advocating for one of my pet causes: a complete US military withdrawal from the Middle East. It's titled "THE U.S. MILITARY PRESENCE INTHE MIDDLE EAST: ISSUES AND PROSPECTS" and was carried out as part of a Masters in Strategic Studies at the US Army War College in 2005, when he was Brigadier General. It's available on a US army website

Here's the basic gist from his conclusion:

The future challenges and prospects ofthe U.S. military presence inthe Middle East in general and Gulf in particular are inseparable from the overall U.S. national security strategy in this region. This national security strategy cannot define the issues within the narrow geographic context of the Gulf region and its oil resources, or the narrow confines of rather outdated "containment" concepts. It is this author's opinion that the security challenges for the U.S. interests inthe Middle East and the Gulf, including Iraq, are interlinked with the ideological foundations that underpin these challenges. The solutions of security challenges inthe Gulf will not necessarily be solely found in Baghdad or in the Gulf itself. These solutions will find their ideological underpinning ifthe U.S. were to truly work for a permanent settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The U.S. can continue to pursue its current strategy in the Gulf that is largely based on its U.S. military presence and potential. This strategy will not lead to the solution of political problems that are deeply rooted in ideological, religious, and cultural causes. The U.S. and its willing partners will continue to be immersed in a long-term asymmetric military conflict without clear political and ideological goals. Truly international cooperation, and heeding the ideological, religious, and cultural concerns of the Arab and Muslim world, can successfully change the current course of events.

I don't agree with everything but I like the way he thinks. Some choice excerpts after the jump.

On US-Arab miscommunication:

There is a fundamental lack of understanding and communication between foreign policy makers in United States Administrations and the political regimes, societies and cultures in the Arab states of the Middle East. This gap in understanding and communication has been exacerbated since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack against the United States, and the subsequent U.S. military interventions inAfghanistan and Iraq. This gap can be explained by outlining certain parameters that affect commonly held United States perceptions about the Middlle East. First, United States policy makers operate in a strictly secular democratic system of government where the separation of religion(s) and the state is defined by the U.S. Constitution, and is strictly enforced. The Islamic religion is strongly interlinked to various degrees with the functioning of most Arab governments and their respective societies." Although many Arab governments operate on the basis of legal civil codes, the Islamic religion still exercises a paral- lel and strong influence on governmental institutions. Second, Arab regimes generally do not function along the lines of United States and Western conventionally accepted principles and processes of democratic governance.

On the US military footprint in the Gulf: 

Since the United States strategic goals of containing Iran are not necessarily dependent on the presence of large numbers of U.S. ground troops in the region, assuming that Iraq becomes "normal," large numbers of U.S. ground forces can still depart from the Middle East and the Gulf. Essentially, the United States military posture inthe Middle East and the Gulf can return to a state similar to that following the 1990-1991 Gulf War. For example, a United States Army mechanized or armored brigade-size force can still be based inone of the Gulf Arab monarchies friendly to the U.S., e.g., Kuwait or Bahrain, that can act as a "tripwire" in the case of Iranian military adventurism in the Gulf. However, it was this level of United States military presence in the region that invited the destabilizing ideological effects that gave rise to radical Islam and Al Qaeda terrorist activities. Thus, the focus should be on the total withdrawal of United States ground forces from the region. 

On alternative strategies to a heavy military presence for the US:

Rather, the emphasis is likely to be on small special forces units that will have the dual role of intelligence collection and counter-insurgency and counter- terrorism operations, can be supported by air and naval assets, and by larger military units with high mobility as the need arises, e.g., the operations of U.S. Special Forces and U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) assets in Afghanistan immediately following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack against the U.S. The presence and operations of such United States military units in the Middle East will not be without ideological and political risks. It is almost certain that Arab societies will view the presence and the operations of such United States military units in the Middle East with suspi- cion if not outright hostility. The lack of transparency that accompanies the presence and the operations of United States special forces formations will be viewed by the "Arab street" and the popular mass media outlets in the Middle East as potentially undermining or manipulating national democratization processes. Interestingly, such suspicions may also be based on fact. The U.S. Department of Defense is assuming a larger role in the conduct of paramilitary intel- ligence operations in foreign countries, where such operations will not be under the oversight of the U.S. Congress, and will not be coordinated with U.S. ambassadors or CIA chiefs of stations in these countries

On fundamentals of US strategy in the region:

The United States regional strategy inthe Middle East needs to be redefined since itcannot continue to simply revolve around the issues of national security for Israel and military security of the Middle Eastern oil supplies and reserves. This redefinition must include the direct constructive engagement of all actors inthe Middle East, and must be expanded to include non-state actors and groups. For example, the United States unwillingness to hold direct contacts and negotiations with the Palestinians in the 1960s and the 1970s - the Pale- stinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and Yassir Arafat were viewed as "terrorists" by Washington - severely delayed the start of the Palestinian - Israeli peace process. Similarly, only recently we have seen a more significant turn in the policies of the Bush Administration policies vis-a-vis the indirect albeit important constructive engagement with the Islamic Republic of Iran while previous opportunities for direct negotiations have been lost.

On lost US socio-economic influence:

The former socioeconomic influence of the United States in the Middle East has largely been replaced by the EU. The Euro-Med Association Agreements into with Arab countries and Israel contain concrete provisions that gradually but materially influence the implementation of concrete human rights protection and economic liberalization measures more than the U.S. rhetoric for democratization in the Arab Middle East societies. Thus, it is not surprising that certain Palestinian and Israeli prominent politicians and scholars have even broached the thought of a departure from a stand-alone Palestinian state in favor of a Palestinian-Israeli federation that would seek and gain membership in the EU.

On democratization and the need for parallel economic and political liberalization, something that did not happen in the Gamal years:

A  United States restated priority for implementing peaceful democratization in the Middle East must be accompanied by solid and well funded socioeconomic initiatives that encourage parallel political and economic liberalization. More often than not, United States policy makers fail to address the issue that political liberalization threatens the economic and business interests of ruling elites in various Arab countries in the Middle East, and that these interests are often embedded in the heavy institutional involvement of the government in the domestic economies. In addition, institutional corruption in these countries is considered and readily accepted as a "cost of doing business." These institutional parameters not only fail to raise the living standards and the employment levels in these societies but also provide a solid recruiting ground for the supporters of radical Islamic movements.

On the Israel question:

Nothing defines better the ideological struggle that the United States has to overcome in the Middle East than the hostility and negative perceptions that exist in the region because of the U.S. unique and one-sided strategic relationship with Israel.

. . . 

Israel's ability to receive U.S. military assistance without any attached political conditions or constraints, poses unique challenges for the credibility of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Although the U.S. is the donor of such massive military assistance to Israel, the U.S. has not chosen to use this military assistance as a lever in order to influence Israeli policy making for the resolution of crises that threaten international peace and stability in the Middle East. 

. . .

A new United States strategy in the Middle East that will impartiallyfocus on the application of principles of justice and international law in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and other Middle East issues will go a long way in dramatically changing Arab popular perceptions about the U.S. in the region of the Middle East. For example, in the current debate centering on the potential use of the Iranian civil nuclear program for the clandestine development of nuclear weapons the United States has carefully abstained from discussing Israel's possession of a nuclear arsenal. This strategy and its concrete implementation will be a potent weapon in the war of ideas that the United States so far is waging rather unsuccessfully among the broader masses of the Muslim populations in the Middle East (the "Arab street"). The popular percep- tion that the United States truly adheres to principles of justice and international law not only will undermine the ideological base of extremist Islamic groups such as Al Qaeda, but it will also strengthen the cooperative anti-terrorist struggle that is waged by the U.S. and Arab Middle East governments. Under such circumstances, the presence of U.S. military forces inthe Middle East will become increasingly unnecessary. 

[Thanks, K.]
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. 

Moustafa: Don't call the SCC's decision on parliament a dissolution

Tamir Mousfata weighs in with an interesting comment on the headline of this NYT story on the scuffle over the dissolution of parliament: "Egypt’s Military and President Escalate Their Power Struggle". He writes in a comment to the story:

The headline for this article is incorrect and terribly misleading. The Supreme Constitutional Court ruling on June 14 did not disband parliament, it only invalidated part of the election law. It was the military that disbanded parliament as an opportunistic move, but it is not the role of an unelected junta to dissolve parliament. The SCC reaffirmed its ruling as political theatre, as its ruling still stands. Morsi's presidential decree seeks to dissolve parliament in an orderly fashion, without the military calling the shots. The New York Times should make a correction, as the current headline and much of the text of the article simply presents the spin that SCAF would like to put forward.

Moustafa is Associate Professor at Simon Fraser University and the author of a book that speaks to the heart of the matter: The Struggle for Constitutional Power: Law, Politics, and Economic Development in Egypt.

His comment, which is in line with my own analysis (as well as that I think the SCC's June 14 decision is ridiculous and the reaction of the Egyptian judicial establishment in general to Morsi's decree preposterous and dishonest — more on that later) and that of many other experts on Egyptian constitutional matters, is telling of how much the discussion of this struggle has been skewed. In a way, one can hardly blame the NYT's headline writers when the Egyptian media is largely framing this in the same manner, as are politicians and many senior judges. My instinct tells me that the latter, in particular, are full of crap when they complain of the decree being "an attack on rule of law" while Morsi's defense that he is not challenging the courts but the SCC's right to dissolve parliament not only entirely plausible, but laudable.

Unfortunately he did not think through the politics very well here, and may lose this battle. The last saving grace for him may be, ironically, upcoming decisions by the administrative courts — otherwise his best bet will be a quick move to hold new elections. 

Awesome Google Maps mashup of Egypt's retired army generals and where they've landed

Askar Kazeboon (The Military are Liars), the Egyptian activist group that sprang up to put the lie to the claims of the SCAF and state media after the Maspero and Mohammed Mahmoud St. massacres, have put together this amazing Google Maps-powered database of where retired military officers have landed -- highlighting the common practice of senior officers being given golden parachute that land them softly into positions of influence in the civilian bureaucracy across the country.

It's hard to explain, so just explore it: [Ar]. As you zoom into the map, you get more detail as to where they are.

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