The Egyptian military, which has ruled the country since the fall of Hosni Mubarak last February, has tried to limit the powers of the new parliament and president because of the parliamentary majority held by the Muslim Brotherhood, and President Mohamed Mursi’s membership in that group. Those Egyptians who oppose a religious government have been upset at the outcome of the elections and the way the Muslim Brotherhood could shape the new constitution.
But the attack on an Egyptian border post by Hamas-affiliated terrorists seeking to enter Israel through the Sinai that ended in the deaths of sixteen soldiers threw the military into a very difficult position, and allowed the President to act to curb the military’s control.
The Egyptian government has announced the retirement of 76-year-old Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, who has led the military council running the country. Also removed was military Chief of Staff Sami Enan, 64. Mursi appointed General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, 57, from military intelligence to replace Tantawi and General Sidki Sobhi, 56, from the Third Field Army based in Suez to replace Enan. The action was decided upon after meetings between Mursi and Tantawi, and appears to be supported by younger members of the military. There is no indication that either al-Sisi or Sobhi have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The American right wing has created a great deal of hysteria over the Muslim Brotherhood, muddying up “connections” to former and present terrorist groups with humanitarian aid groups and the Brotherhood, which was outlawed in Egypt for decades. However, other than the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood had the organization to mount a very successful election campaign, there is little to indicate exactly what course the Brotherhood will take in writing the new Constitution or governing the country. Mursi has already surprised many with his response to the attack on the border post, ordering bulldozers in to shut the smuggling tunnels into the Gaza Strip and sending in troops to the Sinai to find the terrorist groups operating out of there.
The majority of the Egyptian people have made it clear that they want the military to step back and allow the first purely civilian government the country has known for over 60 years to have a chance to mature. Where it goes from here is up to them.
Egypt is a nation of 80 million people. The population is diverse, culturally, religiously and ethnically. The urban population tends toward being younger and educated, globally aware, while the rural population is more traditional, older and more insular. The revolution that toppled Mubarak was started among the young and educated, who won the support of their elders in the cities. It is not a population that will easily agree to the kinds of Sharia law seen in Iran or Saudi Arabia, and it is wrong to assume that the Muslim Brotherhood will try to impose that kind of Sharia, even though their declaration of purpose supports an Islamic government. Mursi knows that he is a transitional leader, that the new Constitution may call for new elections shortly after being ratified. His role now is to try to restore order and rebuild a fractured economy, purely administrative functions. It is not up to him to chart the future of Egypt. It is up to those who will write the new Constitution. And the interim parliament and President Mursi are aware of the reality of Egypt. The Egyptian people have overthrown a president and dismantled his government, with the assistance of the military. They can do it again if necessary.