Why Doesn’t Egypt’s Military Do Something About Morsi’s Power Grab?
December 2, 2012 - 9:04 am
The simple answer is that Morsi bribed the soldiers in the new constitution by allowing them to keep their independence from the legislature and run their own foreign policy. The Egyptian parliament will have no control over the military budget and, in return for this, the military has accepted Morsi as president of Egypt.
Egypt’s military played a decisive role in the 2011 uprising that ended the rule of former dictator Hosni Mubarak in the face of a popular uprising. The generals are likely to stand aside this time, however, as Egypt’s new Islamist president Mohamed Morsi consolidates his hold on power, and demonstrators clog Cairo’s Tahrir Square in protest, Egypt watchers say.
Signs of the military’s shift are evident in the proposed constitution that has prompted strong opposition in the square, says Eric Trager, an analyst at the Washington Institute who has studied the Muslim Brotherhood organization that backs Morsi.
“The military gets something in the constitution and it has an incentive to play along with the Muslim Brotherhood,” Trager says.
The constitution, drafted without input from secularists and Christians and passed Thursday night in a rushed session of parliament, preserves the military’s control over its budget and foreign policy, meaning it can maintain peace with Israel and retain billions of dollars of U.S. aid, Trager says.
The military did not withdraw its representative from the constitutional assembly that drafted the document. And it did not protest earlier this year, when Morsi retired 70 senior officers and replaced the top generals after security lapses in the Sinai Peninsula.
It appears that the Brotherhood and Morsi have solidified a deal with the military in which Morsi is the political leader of Egypt, Trager says.
The military controls a large part of the economy, in addition to advancing its own interests in foreign policy, and as long as a Morsi-led government allows them that kind of independence, it isn’t likely that the soldiers would intervene in any Islamist-secularist street fight.
White believes the generals, who control a huge segment of Egypt’s economy, are waiting to see if Morsi backs down, which would leave him weakened and damaged politically, or if the situation worsens.
Others doubt the military will want to step back into the role of ruler and decider in case of street battles between Islamists and the opposition.
“Crowd control is not their (the military’s) forte,” says David Schenker, director of the program on Arab politics at the Washington Institute.
This raises the question of just how much pull Morsi has with the military. They would probably act if there was full-fledged chaos in the streets that threatened the stability of the regime, but short of that, what incentive would they have to intervene? They would only lose popularity and respect with the Egyptian people if they took part in a Mubarak-style crackdown. Morsi will apparently have to rely on his police force and Muslim Brotherhood-paid gangs who have appeared in recent days going after opposition protestors.
A referendum on the new constitution will be held December 15. Until then, things are going to be dicey for Morsi and the Brotherhood.