Nine months ago, in November of 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood won almost half of the seats of the Egyptian “Peoples’ Council,” thus translating the long-standing support of the population into a political asset of undeniable strength. This success encouraged them to contend for the presidency as well, and in June their representative – Mohammad Mursi – won this exalted office. The Supreme Military Council, the military body that had been managing affairs in Egypt since Mubarak was sent packing in February 2011, ground its teeth with rage, and the head of the Council – Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi – who was suspected of intending to remain in control until the end of his days, announced again and again that he does not intend to turn into Mubarak number 2. Despite this, there was an open rivalry between the military and the Brotherhood: on one side is an unelected body, which is powerful, violent, hated, secular, self-interested, armed, hierarchical, obedient and disciplined; and on the other hand there was an elected body, supported by the public, not violent, religious, ideological, connected to the population and perceived as the embodiment of the dream of many years.
During the past months, especially since Mursi was elected in June, Egypt seemed like a rickety cart, pulled by two horses, but each in its own direction. Each horse tries to step on the other’s hoofs, trying to negate the strength of the other, despite the fact that both of them know that they are destined to pull the cart together. The Supreme Constitutional Court dispersed the parliament, thus pulling an important rug out from under the feet of the Brotherhood. The Supreme Military Council issued an order to freeze the powers of the president, but then Mursi cut off the head of the military snake, Tantawi, Commander in chief Anan, Head of General Intelligence Muaffi, and a long line of officers, “tails” of the old regime, who had been appointed by Mubarak, with one decision that appeared as if it was exploiting the attack on the Kerem Shalom Crossing two weeks ago.
As of the writing of these lines, not a word of public outcry has been heard by all of the symbols of Mubarak’s regime that Mursi sent packing, and the impression that is created is that they have accepted the decision and quietly left their offices . It could be that they indeed have accepted this “boot upwards”: Some of them have joined the “presidential team” as very close advisers to Mursi so that he would be able to keep an eye on their doings, and some accepted high positions in public service.
But behind the scenes a difficult struggle was being played out: In the middle of last week, President Mursi held a discussion of the Council of National Defense in his office, which dealt with the implications of the terror attack at the Kerem Shalom Crossing and with the security situation in Sinai. Mursi, Tantawi, Anan and other senior officers were all participants in this discussion, during which Tantawi claimed that Egyptian intelligence had information on the involvement of Palestinian elements in the attack, and that Israel had paid them. Therefore – in his view – Egypt must hermetically close the Rafah Crossing, because of the threat to Egyptian national security that it poses. Mursi became enraged and said: “I do not believe that a Palestinian would do this, and if you had prior information about it why did you not act appropriately? I will not permit the closing of the crossing because I don’t suspect that Hamas took part in the action.” Tantawi rejected the words of the president and emphasized that the Supreme Military Council had decided to close the Rafah Passage completely, and perhaps it would be opened in the distant future. “We, the military people, are in charge of that.” With these words, Mursi answered sharply: “I am the high commander of the Egyptian military.” The meeting dispersed after deciding to deal with the centers of terrorism in Sinai with full determination and without any sensitivity, without the “Supreme Court” or the prying eyes of human rights organizations, as is commonly done in the Arab world. Last Saturday, the president met with Tantawi and Anan, and did not reveal to them that he was about to fire them within a few hours.