Dina Rashed: What Morsi Could Learn From Anwar Sadat

Roundup: Media's Take

Dina Rashed is a PhD candidate in political science at the University of Chicago. Her research focuses on authoritarian regimes, armed actors, and civil-military relations.

On Sunday President Mohamed Morsi issued a new constitutional declaration making major changes in Egypt's current balance of power. According to the new declaration, the president now enjoys all powers that were vested in the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), including legislative. The president sent the defense minister and general commander of the SCAF, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the chief of staff of the armed forces, General Sami Anan, and the heads of the air force and navy into retirement. Although the reshuffle comes in the aftermath of a major a assault by militants in Sinai, it is unrealistic to think of the latest security arrangements as spur of the moment choices in reaction to the attacks. The president's decisions probably have been brewing for some time given the careful selection of succeeding generals.

The recent changes may be the most important military purges since former President Anwar Sadat's elimination of the "power centers" in the early 1970s. Faced with mounting opposition to his presidency, Sadat often collided with his predecessor, Gamal Abdel Nasser's generals especially Minister of Defense Mahmoud Fawzi, head of General Intelligence Ali Sabri, and Minister of Interior Sha'rawi Goma. The strong men showed limited loyalty to the then new president and worked to curtail his powers. However, Sadat managed to depose of the disloyal generals when a window of opportunity opened in 1971. Communication between the president and his second tier generals had been crucial to the success of the purge. Morsi's recent efforts bear many similarities to the process that took place four decades ago.

Morsi's legal powers were limited when the SCAF amended Egypt's constitutional declaration last June. The amendments stripped the incoming president of the power to appoint military personnel without the SCAF's approval. It also mandated that in the absence of an elected parliament, only the SCAF would hold the power to legislate. In a tug-of-war over legal means, the new president needed to issue another declaration to annul the earlier one. There is no doubt that Morsi and his advisors were preparing to issue another constitutional declaration, but waited for the right time in order to prevent further inflammation of the already delicate domestic situation. After all, the elected president only won a quarter of Egypt's voting power, and an unhappy public would have made such legal steps costly for him. The recent attack on Egyptian soldiers and the political embarrassment it caused to the military provided an opportune moment for Morsi to recapture the presidential powers... 

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