The World from Berlin 'Egypt's Moment of Truth Has Arrived'

The World from Berlin 'Egypt's Moment of Truth Has Arrived'

Der Spiegel

14 August 2012

President Mohammed Morsi has made the bold and surprising move to disempower the Egyptian military, but many questions still remain about the country's democratic future. German commentators on Tuesday praise his political finesse but worry Morsi may be paving the way for an Islamist state.

Freshly inaugurated Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi surprised his countrymen and the world on Sunday with a daring move to take back power from the strong grip of the military.

In what has been widely seen as a well-timed, politically clever move, Morsi forced seven top-level officers into retirement, including Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi. The head of the old-guard military leadership, Tantawi effectively took charge of Egypt via the powerful military council following the fall of former dictator Hosni Mubarak last year. Then, just before Morsi, the country's first democratically elected president, took office on June 30, the military had most of his presidential powers removed.

But on Sunday Morsi's spokesman said that this constitutional declaration had been scrapped. The country now awaits the creation of a new constitution that will be approved via referendum, after which a new parliament will be elected.

Tantawi and his number two, Gen. Sami Anan, are set to be kept on as advisers in Morsi's government, and so far the military has not rebelled against the president's power play, which involved hiring younger officers as replacements. There was no "negative reaction" within the military, according to an anonymous official quoted by the official news agency on Sunday.

"I did not mean to send a negative message about anyone, but my aim was the benefit of this nation," Morsi said in a speech on Sunday. His spokesperson also said his decision aimed to "pump new blood into the military establishment in the interests of developing a new, modern state."

Celebration in Cairo

Morsi and his fellow Islamists from the Muslim Brotherhood were not expected to act so quickly in removing the military from power, but the president appears to have taken advantage of a moment of weakness. The military has been embarrassed by its failure to thwart an attack by militants at the Sinai border that killed some 16 Egyptian guards, and has since launched a large deployment in the area.

Thousands of Morsi's supporters reportedly gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square to celebrate his success. But on the international level, there is some concern that he could use his new power to create an Islamist state.

Reaction from officials in Washington to Morsi's military shake-up was calm, however. "We had expected President Morsi at some point to coordinate changes in the military leadership to name a new team," said US Defense Department press secretary George Little. The most important thing, US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland added, is that both sides "keep working well together to advance the goals of the democratic transition in Egypt."

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle expressed concern for the democratic future of Egypt, though. "These are fateful days for Egypt," he told dailyRheinische Post on Tuesday. "The future of the country will be decided by the citizens and the political institutions."

German media commentators on Tuesday praised Morsi's political skill, but expressed fears about the next steps he might take.

Conservative daily Die Welt writes:

"This is yet another development that is hard to interpret. It could be that, in a bid to gain better stature, Morsi has stepped out from behind the military's shadow and asserted the primacy of politics. That would be a first step in the necessary post-military state. But it could also be that Morsi is now beginning to remove the last big obstacle on the path to an Islamic government. Then the primacy of the military would be replaced by that of religion."

"But for the sake of the country, the region and the world, let's hope that Morsi is a brave man who can also show courage towards his own side in the same way he showed it towards the military. If this is the case, he has a balancing act ahead of him."

Conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"The Islamist appears to have handled the situation skilfully. … But much will depend on how Morsi exploits this new room to maneuver. He can lead Egypt into democracy, or he can choose further Islamization. The only certainty is that he must act."

"The expectations on the street are high. The Egyptians want a better future -- not tomorrow, but today. The first freely elected president will be measured by whether he can fulfil these expectations. But the revolution is taking place in fits and starts, and Egyptians' lives won't improve immediately this way."

Left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung writes:

"The political disempowerment of the military leadership is the most important development for Egypt since the fall of Mubarak. President Mohammed Morsi has shown great skill. He managed to split the military leadership and get the members of the military council to participate in their own political displacement. Simultaneously, Morsi also had the dismissed generals highly decorated once again, effectively honoring them away."

"With this, he has made himself secure in two ways: The retired military men remain legally untouchable, an important step in ensuring that they wouldn't organize any resistance for a possible putsch. And, as the new presidential advisers, they are not allowed to leave the country without his permission. That means that legal steps against them can't be ruled out for the future. The fact that the military has remained quiet so far speaks to the president's elegant tactics."

Financial daily Handelsblatt writes:

"Egypt's moment of truth has arrived: Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's Islamist president, had done what was practically unthinkable, and removed the military from power. No one knows whether this volte-face in the power struggle will last or if it will spark retaliation from the military. But it was overdue if the most populous Arab country wants to move on more than a year after the fall of its long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak."

"Egypt is going under economically. … That's why the country desperately needs peace and stability, in addition to the fact that success in the Egyptian revolution would send a positive signal to the entire region. … But the danger that a brutal power struggle might break out between the old guard and the Muslim Brotherhood unfortunately can't be ruled out. That's why economic aid from the West is even more important to help stabilize the country. But so far there has been little more than a few encouraging words."