“Egypt’s tremendous military might comes under Islamist control”

August 15, 2012

This is the latest in a series of occasional dispatches about the rapidly-developing situation in Egypt. It deals with what appears to be the beginnings of an Islamist take-over of one of the world’s biggest armies.


* Israeli defense analysts: “Egypt’s senior military leadership is being replaced and power now lies in the hands of Islamist president.”

* Egypt has one of the most advanced militaries in the Mideast, thanks in part to continued U.S. aid.

* Mohamed Gadallah, legal adviser to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi, says that Morsi “is studying whether to amend the Camp David Accords to ensure Egypt’s full sovereignty and control over every inch of Sinai.”

* The Revolutionary Youth Union files a lawsuit demanding that the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel be amended.

* Jonathan Tobin: “The notion that the army would or could act as a brake on the Muslim Brotherhood has been shown to be a myth. This calls into question not just the future of regional stability but the Obama administration’s equivocal attitude toward the Brotherhood’s push to power. If this is foreign policy success, I’d hate to see what failure looks like.”

* Barry Rubin: “Would Morsi dared have done this if he thought Obama would come down on him like a ton of bricks? Would the army give up if they thought America was behind it? No on both counts.”


Morsi flanked by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, and armed-forces chief Sami Anan. Shortly afterwards, he fired both of them


There is a separate dispatch about Syria today.

You can comment on these dispatches here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia. Please first press “Like” on that page.



1. “Morsi studying Camp David Accords amendment” (Al-Masry Al-Youm, Aug. 13, 2012)
2. “President Morsi’s military might” (IsraelDefense.com, Aug. 13, 2012)
3. “Pentagon: U.S. to retain close ties with Egypt’s military” (AFP, Aug. 13, 2012)
4. “Cairo coup another Obama ‘success’” (Jonathan Tobin, Contentions, Aug. 13, 2012)
5. “Has Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood staged a coup against the military?” (Time, Aug. 12, 2012)
6. “There goes the army; there goes the free media; there goes Egypt” (Barry Rubin, Aug. 11, 2012)
7. “Death of a spymaster” (Yossi Beilin, Israel Hayom, July 23, 2012)

Below, I attach seven articles about Egypt -- Tom Gross



Adviser: Morsy studying Camp David Accords amendment issue
Al-Masry Al-Youm (Cairo)
August 13, 2012


President Mohamed Morsy is studying whether to amend the Camp David Accords to ensure Egypt’s full sovereignty and control over every inch of Sinai, said Mohamed Gadallah, legal adviser to the president.

Calls for amending the peace treaty with Israel, which also governs the security presence in the Sinai Peninsula, have been on the rise since last week’s attack on a military checkpoint at the border left 16 Egyptian security officers dead.

Former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi called for the amendments Saturday. The Revolutionary Youth Union has filed a lawsuit before an administrative court demanding that the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel be amended.

Morsy has vowed several times since he took office to preserve international treaties that Egypt has signed.

Gadallah didn’t give more details on the issue while speaking to Al-Masry Al-Youm Monday. He added that Morsy would soon order the release of another batch of military detainees.

[I have not included the rest of the article here, which deals with other matters – Tom Gross]



President Morsi’s military might
Egypt’s senior military leadership is being replaced and power now lies in the hands of Islamist president
By IsraelDefense.com
August 13, 2012


The removal of the senior military leadership in Egypt has caught most of the world by surprise. New Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, initially perceived as a “puppet” of the Egyptian military, ended the rule of the military council established after the fall of the Mubarak regime in February 2011 in a show of force.

It remains unclear if the move will affect the relations with Israel, but what is clear is that Egypt’s tremendous military might is now in the hands of a president coming from an Islamist movement.

It should be mentioned in the wake of the developments in Cairo that Morsi is now in control of a military armed with the best weapons offered by US manufacturers in recent years, sponsored by Washington’s annual aid.

Much like Israel, Cairo benefits from fixed US defense aid at an amount of $1.3 billion annually. According to the agreement signed between the US and Egypt in 2007, the aid will continue at least until 2018. Egypt, already in possession of a significant aircraft fleet consisting of 217 F-16s, has ordered 20 additional multi-purpose combat aircraft valued at $3.2 billion.

Besides this deal, Egypt’s chief procurement agreements in recent years included Apache AH-64D combat helicopters (though the deal for the Longbow radar system for these helicopters has yet to be approved) and more M1A1 tanks. The Tanks are procured as parts and are assembled in Egypt.

Since the start of their procurement, Egypt’s military industry has assembled 880 tanks, and the last deal, being materialized today, includes another 125 tanks. Egypt’s navy has a standing order for the procurement of four fast missile boats from the US.

Egypt also procures weapons from other sources, in the framework of its budgetary limitations, and is currently negotiating with Germany for procuring Type-214 submarines (similar to Israel’s Dolphin submarines, which according to foreign publications can carry nuclear missiles).

It is also maintaining its military ties with Russia and former-Soviet states, both for upgrading its aging Soviet-era weapons (like upgrading APCs in Ukraine) as well as for procuring new weapon systems, such as the Russian Strelets air defense system).



Pentagon: U.S. to retain close ties with Egypt’s military
By Agence France-Presse
August 13, 2012


WASHINGTON - The U.S. military expects to maintain close ties with Egypt’s armed forces despite the dismissal of the country’s powerful defense minister, a spokesman said Aug. 13.

“We had expected President (Mohamed) Morsi at some point to coordinate changes in the military leadership, to name a new team,” Pentagon press secretary George Little told reporters.

“The United States and the Department of Defense in particular look forward to continuing a very close relationship with the SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces),” Little said.

Morsi on Sunday retired Defense Minister Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, 76, and armed forces Chief of Staff Sami Anan. He also scrapped a constitutional document that gave the military legislative and other powers.

The Egyptian president replaced Tantawi, who had forged links with top American brass over decades, with Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, head of military intelligence.

“The new defense minister is someone who’s known to us; he comes from within the ranks of the SCAF, and we believe we’ll be able to continue the strong partnership that we have with Egypt,” Little said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta “looks forward” to calling him “at the earliest possible moment,” he added.

During a brief visit to Cairo on July 31, Panetta gave no indication he expected any change in Egypt’s military leadership, but reaffirmed U.S. support for a democratic transition, saying the country has helped ensure regional stability for more than 30 years.

The White House earlier Aug. 13 urged Egypt’s military and government “to work closely together to address the economic and security challenges facing Egypt,” press secretary Jay Carney told reporters.

The United States provides about $1.3 billion annually in aid to Egypt, a key ally since the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace accord.

U.S. officials are concerned that the new leadership in Egypt may alter its foreign policy amid fears that Morsi - an Islamist and Egypt’s first democratically elected president - might seek to renegotiate the treaty.



Cairo coup another Obama “success”
By Jonathan S. Tobin
Contentions (Commentary magazine)
August 13, 2012

Last week’s terror attack on Egyptian army troops by jihadists whose ultimate aim was to kill Israelis provoked an unexpectedly harsh reaction from Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. The chaos in the Sinai is the direct result of the revolution that brought down the Mubarak regime. The Hamas government looked to benefit from the triumph of their Muslim Brotherhood allies, but the embarrassing slaughter of Egyptians by anti-Israel terrorists has led the new government in Cairo to shut down the smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza. The prospect of increased security cooperation between Egypt and the United States is slightly encouraging, though Israel’s exclusion from talks concerning its border is both spiteful and foolish.

But while the crackdown in the Sinai and along the border with Gaza may be a hopeful sign the new Egyptian government is unwilling to be dragged into conflict with Israel by the Palestinians, the real news in the aftermath of the shooting is very bad indeed. Morsi’s sacking of Egypt’s intelligence chief (who ignored warnings from Israel about a possible terror attack) is one thing, but the decision of the Egyptian leader to fire two of the country’s leading generals is more than just a personnel shuffle. If Morsi has assumed power of the country’s military, the notion that the army would or could act as a brake on the Muslim Brotherhood has been shown to be a myth. His firing of Egypt’s defense minister and the army chief of staff makes it clear the Brotherhood is now completely in control of the country. This calls into question not just the future of regional stability but the Obama administration’s equivocal attitude toward the Brotherhood’s push to power.

In the aftermath of the Egyptian election in which Morsi triumphed over the military’s preferred candidate, optimists believed the army’s acquiescence to the Brotherhood’s victory was bought by the group’s willingness to share power. The assumption was that the military would remain in charge even if Morsi would have the trappings of power. But the firing of the two defense chiefs has shown foreign observers underestimated both Morsi and the Brotherhood’s will to come out on top. It’s also apparent that such thinking overestimated the ability of the army to retain the influence it had when Mubarak, himself a former general, ran things.

The implications of what Time aptly termed a Muslim Brotherhood “coup” are far-reaching.

Morsi may not be interested in a direct confrontation with Israel or in allowing Hamas’ desire to keep the border in flames. For all of the fraternal bonds between the Brotherhood and Hamas, even Egyptian Islamists may believe, as most of their countrymen do, the Palestinians are ready to fight Israel to the last Egyptian.

But if there are no longer any effective checks on the Brotherhood, the idea that the United States or Israel can rely upon the army to keep Egypt from being transformed into an Islamist country is without any rational basis. This ought to do more than scare the country’s secular community or even the Christian Copts who constitute up to ten percent of Egypt’s population. It will mean the start of a process whereby the Brotherhood obtains control over every segment of Egyptian society and government. Optimists hope this will mean nothing worse than a copy of Turkey’s drift from secular freedom to Islamist authoritarianism under President Obama’s friend Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But no one should be surprised if a more radical group like the Brotherhood is not satisfied with that and eventually pushes for more radical changes in both Egyptian society and its relations with Israel.

The Obama administration thought it was managing the situation in Egypt via support of the military while conducting outreach to the Brotherhood. But what they find themselves with now is a situation in which the U.S. is giving $1.5 billion per year to a country controlled by an extremist group whose ideology places it in a state of continual conflict with the West. President Obama and his cheerleaders in the media may think he has deftly handled an Arab Spring which has seen the region’s most populous country transformed from a Western ally to an Islamist loose cannon. If this is foreign policy success, I’d hate to see what failure looks like.



Has Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood staged a coup against the military?
By Abigail Hauslohner / Cairo
Time magazine
August 12, 2012

It would seem that Mohamed Morsy is on a roll. Less than a week after sacking several major security chiefs, the first elected President in Egypt’s history has moved on to tackle the big guns. On Sunday, Morsy fired Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the country’s Defense Minister and powerful chief of Egypt’s military council, with whom the President has been locked in a power struggle since he took office at the end of June. Perhaps no more.

Along with Tantawi, who in the 18 months since the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak has reigned as the most powerful man in Egypt, Morsy sacked his chief of staff, Sami Anan. He fired the head of every service of the armed forces and nullified the June constitutional decree that Tantawi and Anan’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) had released to seize more power for itself. Morsy also appointed a much anticipated Vice President: Mahmoud Mekki, a prominent reformist judge.

If all that comes as a shock to many Egyptians – the Ramadan-subdued streets of Cairo flickering to life with murmurs of excitement shortly after the announcement – it wasn’t a shock to everyone. That includes the military council. General Mohamed al-Assar, a ranking member of SCAF, told al-Jazeera that Tantawi and Anan’s dismissal came through consultation with Morsy. Analysts say that’s because there was a deal involved. “I think the deal is [Tantawi and Anan] get a safe exit, and they hand the country to the Muslim Brotherhood,” says Mamdouh Hamza, a prominent businessman and pro-democracy advocate. “Because quite honestly, if we apply the same law [to the generals] that we applied to Mubarak’s family, Tantawi would be behind bars.”

The notion that immunity may have been exchanged for power troubled some of the country’s liberal youth as well, even as many other Egyptians flocked to Cairo’s Tahrir Square to celebrate what appeared to be the end of an era. “Morsy clearly won’t prosecute any murderers or torturers,” quipped Gigi Ibrahim, a young activist, on Twitter, following the announcement.

But the bigger picture is this, Hamza says: the reshuffle plays into the broader strategy of Morsy’s powerful Islamist alma mater, the Muslim Brotherhood, which most analysts agree is still calling the shots in the presidential kitchen. “They are the only ones in the kitchen, 100%,” says Hamza. “In fact, Morsy might only be the coffee boy in the kitchen.”

Long the only significant challenge to Mubarak’s 30-year rule, the Muslim Brotherhood emerged from last year’s uprising primed to become the largest political force. Its representatives won the lion’s share of parliament; and ultimately, it took the presidency too.

Sunday’s shift marks Morsy’s boldest move yet to reclaim power from the country’s powerful military council. But it follows a similar reshuffle last week in Egypt’s security sector, which included the ousting of an old regime ally, Mourad Mwafi, from the head of the country’s General Intelligence Service. The replacements in the security sector, and indeed in the military, all serve a purpose in the broader scheme of things, analysts say. “The Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t do anything off the cuff. Everything is according to plan and may be known for a few months before,” Hamza says.

Tantawi’s replacement, Abdel Fatah el-Sissi, is rumored to be a deeply religious man – perhaps the closest thing on the council to a Brotherhood ally. The new Vice President, Mekki, a top judge, was an early – but secret – Brotherhood pick for the presidency, according to Mohamed Soudan, a high-ranking Brotherhood official in Alexandria.

Along with Morsy’s newly appointed Justice Minister, Mekki will be a valuable asset as the country moves forward in drafting a new constitution. And according to Robert Springborg, an expert on the Egyptian military and a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in California: for every new hire – perhaps regardless of origin – Morsy and the Brotherhood gain an ally. “It’s Morsy and the Muslim Brotherhood who appointed them,” he says. “So their political careers are dependent on Morsy.”

Indeed, that may also be true for the new editors in chief of the country’s state newspapers – appointed last week by the Brotherhood-dominated upper house of parliament, the Shura Council.

The Brotherhood, analysts say, is slowly and deliberately arranging Egypt’s political chessboard. “They had to make sure that the media is in their hands and that the army is under their control before they go and make major changes in the Ministry of Justice and in the justice system,” says Hamza. “The next step will be the new constitution.”

The bold moves, particularly Morsy’s annulment of the military council’s June addendum to Egypt’s constitution – which had granted the military full legislative and certain executive powers – raises some questions of legality, experts say.

“It’s extralegal,” says one foreign NGO worker in Cairo, who has charted similar declarations by the military over the past 18 months. Morsy didn’t nullify all of SCAF’s decrees – only the aspects that hindered presidential power. Whereas the military had, in June, claimed full legislative authority following the Supreme Court’s dissolution of the parliament, Morsy now claims legislative control for himself. He also seized the right – from the generals – to dissolve and replace the committee tasked with drafting Egypt’s new constitution, if the committee is somehow “prevented from doing its duties,” the state-backed Ahram Online news website reported.

Egypt’s powerful generals have largely ignored Egyptian law ever since they issued their first constitutional decree in February 2011, two days after Mubarak stepped down, the NGO official points out: “So why can’t Morsy do it too?” Last February, SCAF suspended Egypt’s 1971 constitution. “They did this to legitimize their own power,” the official adds, because the constitution had stipulated that in the absence of a President, power be handed to the head of parliament or the head of the Supreme Court. Tantawi and his generals had ensured that wouldn’t happen.

But now Morsy may be following in their footsteps. The Islamist President appears – “on paper” at least – to have suddenly amassed “dictatorial powers,” writes Issandr El Amrani, a regional analyst, on his popular blog, the Arabist. For a country still struggling to shrug off the entrenched influence of its military after more than half a century of military rule, that might not be such a terrible thing, El Amrani and other analysts note. Hamza says it’s an important first step in dismantling a junta; if Morsy can remove the military from business and the public sector too, Egypt will be on its way to success, he says. But there’s no telling just how the President and the Brotherhood will move next. As for the paradigm shift and the new powers it seems to entail, says El Amrani: “It will largely come down to how he uses them.”

– With reporting by Caroline Kolta / Cairo



Egypt: there goes the army; there goes the free media; there goes Egypt
By Barry Rubin
Rubin Reports
August 11, 2012

So can you write “Arab Spring,” “free elections,” “democracy in Egypt,” and such things 100 times? This just might be somewhat in contradiction to the fact that:

Muslim Brotherhood President al-Morsi has just removed the two commanding generals of the Egyptian military. Does he have a right to do this? Who knows? There’s no constitution. That means all we were told about not having to worry because the generals would restrain the Brotherhood was false. Moreover, the idea that the army, and hence the government, may fear to act lest they lose U.S. aid will also be false. There is no parliament at present He is now the democratically elected dictator of Egypt. True, he picked another career officer but he has now put forward the principle: he decides who runs the army. The generals can still advise Morsi. He can choose to listen to them or not. But there is no more dual power in Egypt but only one leader. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces which has run Egypt since February 2011 is gone. Only Morsi remains and Egypt is now at his mercy.

Oh and to put the icing on the cake, Morsi will apparently decide who will be on the commission that writes the new constitution.

Behind the scenes note: Would Morsi dared have done this if he thought Obama would come down on him like a ton of bricks? Would the army give up if they thought America was behind it? No on both counts.

This is a coup. Morsi is bound by no constitution. He can do as he pleases unless someone is going to stop him. And the only candidate – the military – is fading fast, far faster than even we pessimists would have predicted.

Muslim Brotherhood President al-Morsi has also just named the editors of the top Egyptian newspaper and other media outlets. They are state-owned, you know, and there are a half-dozen good little independent newspapers.

But one of them, al-Destour (ironically meaning “The Constitution”), has just had a full issue seized on charges of “fueling sedition” and “harming the president through phrases and wording punishable by law.” We know this through a report in the Middle East News Agency, the state-owned monopoly.

And what was the inflammatory report? That the Brotherhood was going to seize power and that liberals and the army should join together to stop the country from being turned into an Islamist regime.

Seems to me that if it weren’t true there wasn’t any need to confiscate the issue, right? After all, everybody would have seen that it wouldn’t happen and all would have shared a good laugh!

Other columnists are charging that the Brotherhood is trying to turn their newspapers into reliable house organs rather than let them be free.

Reminds me of a personal experience I had in Cairo over thirty years ago. An al-Ahram newspaper editor was well-known for being the highest-ranking Christian in journalism. I went to see him and mentioned that I knew he was a Christian. He launched into a long lecture about how wonderfully Christians were treated in Egypt, how there was no discrimination against them, etc.

After a while I mentioned that I heard he had been on the television the previous evening but I had missed it. For no particular reason, I just asked, “How long were you on, fifteen minutes?”

Without missing a beat, he shot back: “Fifteen minutes! You’d think they’d let a Copt be on for fifteen minutes! I was on for three minutes.”



Death of a spymaster
By Yossi Beilin
Israel Hayom
July 23, 2012

Tall, upright, with a thick voice and the appearance of a man younger than his 76 years – that is what Omar Suleiman looked like. He always seemed self assured, independent and in control of the situation. Unlike other ministers in the former Egyptian government, Suleiman was not in the habit of using sentences such as “President Mubarak feels” and “in accordance with the president’s wishes.” Rather, he insisted on speaking his own mind, as he analyzed regional and global events and outlined the goals he had set out for Egypt.

He remained a general even when in civilian clothes, and was the strongest man in Egypt. What were his dreams back then, when no one would dare cross him because of the vast intelligence apparatus he commanded? Did he intend on reaching the presidency after Mubarak’s reign ended? Was he furious when he discovered Mubarak’s plan to appoint his son Gamal Mubarak to succeed him as president? Did he decide to run for president himself only after the Egyptian revolution and Arab Spring had begun? All these questions are to remain unanswered now that Suleiman is dead.

Omar Suleiman, whom Mubarak had appointed to the position of vice president only after the revolution broke out in Egypt, was nonetheless involved in every matter of government. Among other things, Suleiman dealt with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and had no problem coming to Israel and speaking to whomever happened to be the current elected official. He viewed peace between Israel and the Palestinians as a goal that would be in Egypt’s best interest, as well as achieving an internal Palestinian calm. Suleiman never achieved either of these goals, but he refused to give up and made substantial efforts toward both objectives.

To say he was a friend of Israel would be to oversimplify matters. I never heard him enthusiastically refer to Israel on any subject. He saw peace with Israel as a stepping stone to Egypt’s relationship with the U.S., which was his top priority. Maintaining a good relationship with Israel was also important to Suleiman, yet he did not refrain from criticizing different Israeli governments. He came out strongly against then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for the way he handled Gilad Schalit’s capture: Olmert first approached Schalit’s abduction by declaring there will be no negotiations with Hamas, and then expressed a willingness to negotiate shortly after his initial announcement. Suleiman criticized the Israeli government for dragging its feet, and three years prior to Schalit’s release said that Israel would eventually exchange a thousand prisoners for the life of one soldier, and so it would be a shame to have Schalit remain captive unnecessarily.

Suleiman headed the Egyptian General Intelligence Service, whose halls were characterized by a deep silence. People there were rarely seen walking around needlessly, and it was always kept clean and polished, as if an inspection was expected at any moment. The serenity Suleiman and his deputies exuded also created a sense of power. This was true up until the revolution, which triggered a series of events: Suleiman’s appointment as vice president; his announcement of Mubarak’s “resignation”; his surprise decision to run for president, which was ultimately halted because he fell 31 signatures short of the 30,000 necessary signatures. And finally, his death.

The Arab Spring ended the reign of those seemingly eternal men of power. Deliberating with the weak can be very frustrating, and there will always be those who will miss, justifiably or not, those who had held absolute power in their hands, or who at least appeared to do so. Suleiman’s death symbolizes in the most tangible way a departure from what we have become accustomed to from the most important Arab nation.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.