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What Egypt's President Is Up To

6:10 PM, Aug 15, 2012 • By LEE SMITH
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Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi’s housecleaning over the last two weeks—dismissing several top army officers and an intelligence chief and abrogating constitutional amendments limiting presidential power—has left observers trying to figure out the grand design behind Morsi’s actions. Some think it’s a “soft coup” against the remnants of the Mubarak regime, others lament that it signals the culmination of the Muslim Brotherhood’s victory over the army for control of Egypt, and yet others believe it is a first step toward civilian accountability in Egypt’s fledgling democracy. And now there’s a story circulating in the Egyptian media that the military leadership was ousted because it had plotted a coup against Morsi that he uncovered before it was too late.


For all the news reports there are still way too many shadows and hardly enough light to tell what it all means.

Gone from the highest ranks of the army are Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and armed forces chief of staff Sami Enan, along with the heads of the air force, air defense and navy. Tantawi was head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and interim ruler of Egypt between Mubarak’s fall and Morsi’s presidency.

The army never wanted responsibility for governing Egypt, lest its extensive business interests come under scrutiny. Instead, the army wanted to exercise its power from the shadows. According to some sources, it may have been precisely the desire of the army’s senior leadership to prove its authority that led to its downfall.

The sensational news out of Egypt today is that Tantawi and others plotted to have Morsi assassinated at the funeral for 16 Egyptian border policemen killed two weeks ago by jihadist militants in the Sinai. When Morsi learned of the plot, presumably from some of the men he has now advanced, like the new minister of defense, General Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, he got rid of Tantawi and Enan as well as head of the General Intelligence Directorate, Murad Muwafi. The spy chief seems not to have been involved in the plot, but having discovered it failed to brief Morsi directly and instead went to Tantawi with the information.

Another version of the story suggests that it wasn’t a thwarted coup that cost Tantawi and the senior leadership their positions but failed political brinksmanship. Again, the terrorist operation in Sinai and its aftermath seem to play a central part in the story.

Over the last week, the Egyptian army has been undertaking a large operation in the Sinai against radical Islamist groups that have come to dominate parts of the peninsula. The murder of the 16 Egyptian border policemen appears to have been what finally spurred the army to act, but sources explain that this operation had been planned, but delayed, for some time. Some say it may have been postponed because of the difficulties inherent in the operation, but others say it was for political reasons.

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