Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi amassed an incredible amount of power Sunday after sacking several key security chiefs from the ruling military council and taking back authority that had previously been stripped from him. Is Egypt's first elected president steering the country toward autocracy? The question has split international observers following Morsi's ouster of Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the 76-year-old embodiment of the old order, and other top generals.
While some see Morsi's surprise gambit as the rightful assertion of civilian-controlled government, others see it as a radical power grab giving the Muslim Brotherhood unchecked influence over parliament, the military, and the presidency. Either way, with the military showing no signs of resistance, Morsi has become the singular force of power in the country. As regional analyst Issandr El Amrani notes: "Morsi has effectively, on paper, dictatorial powers." Is this a welcome development?
Yes, it could be: As Amrani notes on his popular blog The Arabist, it all depends on how Morsi plans on governing. On the one hand, the putsch breaks a stalemate between the military and Morsi and "gets rid of what was an untenable form of direct military rule and empowers an elected civilian president." On the other hand "These moves will be seen by many opponents of the Brotherhood as a power grab, and the fact that Morsi has amassed considerable power (again, on paper) is indeed cause for concern." Still, where the U.S. is concerned, the country is taking it in stride. The Washington Post's David Ignatius reports the U.S. has warily endorsed the new defense minister, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, that Morsi installed. "U.S. officials specifically discounted rumors that were circulating late Sunday that Sissi is an Islamist with secret connections to the Muslim Brotherhood," he reports. "To the contrary, officials say, Sissi is well known to the U.S. military after spending a year of professional training in the United States and was regarded as a generally effective head of military intelligence."
No, this is problematic: Pointing out one of the downsides, Mamdouh Hamza, a businessman and pro-democracy advocate, tells Time this amounts to a total Muslim Brotherhood takeover. “They are the only ones in the kitchen, 100%,” said Hamza. “In fact, Morsi might only be the coffee boy in the kitchen.” Among many things to watch for is if Morsi entrenches power within the judiciary, a move that could really destroy any semblance of a separation of powers and would cause alarm among U.S. officials, notes Ignatius. "Worries about the judiciary were prompted by another Morsi move Sunday — to appoint senior judge Mahmoud Mekki as vice president. The fear is that Mekki, as a former jurist, might reject rulings by the courts," he writes. Also, conservative hawk Barry Rubin notes that the Brotherhood has also taken control of the media. "Muslim Brotherhood President al-Mursi 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." One of the more immediate questions from a U.S. policy standpoint is whether Morsi, unchecked, will maintain the 1979 peace deal between Egypt and Israel. Speaking to Reuters, a senior U.S. official says it's unclear. "This is an internal political matter for Egypt and it's too soon to say what the potential implications might be." the official said.