The brazen attack by militants in Sinai came as a shock for all. But for Mohamed Mursi, it was nothing short of a golden opportunity.
The Egyptian president used the failure of the army to effectively tackle the offensive that left 16 border guards dead, as a pretext to oust the country’s most powerful generals. On Sunday, an emboldened Mursi announced the retirement of the head of the armed forces, Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, and the chief-of-staff, General Sami Annan.
While Mursi certainly struck while the iron was hot, there’s a strong possibility that his actions will deteriorate the already tense relations between his government and Egypt’s omnipotent military. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and Egypt’s first democratically elected president have been at odds with each other since the very start.
The armed forces have been increasingly hesitant to relinquish their control on power after Mubarak’s ouster. But Mursi has shown that that he does not want to lead a puppet administration, completely subject to the military’s whim. And his decision to retire the country’s top generals, during the army’s moment of weakness, is a big assertion of civilian authority.
But the President’s surprise move has now opened another Pandora’s box of uncertainties for Egypt. Will Tantawi — Mubarak’s entrusted military man, who has dedicated 17 years as the head of the armed forces — quietly accept this imposed retirement? Will the army cow down after Mursi’s surprising move, or will it continue to step on civilian toes? How will the country’s Supreme Court — an institution clearly biased towards the armed forces — react to this development?
The answers to all these nagging questions will be revealed in due course. The one thing we do know for sure is that the people of Egypt, who shed their blood for political change, will not tolerate a coup.