Posts Tagged ‘field marshal’

U.S., Saudi Arabia unwilling to challenge Egyptian army

July 22nd, 2012 Comments off

“…In an apparent swipe at the Brotherhood during a visit to Egypt by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Egypt’s top general, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, said the army would not allow a “specific group” to dominate Egypt…..
For now, Mursi may still be too weak, and the Brotherhood too untested, for Washington to bring decisive pressure to bear on the generals on his behalf.
“Mursi is trying to use foreign support, to the extent it is available, for a transition to a more democratic polity to enhance his powers and those of the Brotherhood,” said Kamran Bokhari, vice-president for the Middle East and South Asia at Stratfor.
But he said the military leadership remained a partner of choice for the outside world, “partly because of longstanding relations and partly because of U.S. uncertainty over the Brotherhood coming to power.”
Mursi seemed to be doing his best to have it otherwise on a visit last week to U.S. ally and regional power Saudi Arabia, whose monarchy looked on with unease last year as popular uprisings spread through the region.
While sharing similar ideology to the conservative Saudi monarchy, the Brotherhood has a popular appeal that some perceive as a threat to the authority of the Saudi government.
Mursi, surely anxious to keep vital Saudi financial aid flowing into Egypt’s depleted state coffers after he took office, did his best to mend the Brotherhood’s strained ties with the oil-rich kingdom. …”

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The Suleiman Funeral and the Problem of Who Will Attend

July 19th, 2012 Comments off

Today’s death of ‘Omar Suleiman, the Egyptian intelligence chief and, briefly., Vice President, has created something of a protocol quandary. He was, after all, Vice President of the country, in fact the only Vice President it has had since Husni Mubarak ascended to the Presidency. He also heald the rank of Major General in the Armed Forces, so he is of course being accorded a military funeral (tomorrow) and, unsurprisingly, Field Marshal Tantawi will attend.

But what about President Morsi? ‘Omar Suleiman’s record as an intelligence chief is mostly sealed, but of one thing he never made any secret: he was the inveterate foe of the Muslim Brotherhood, jailing them at home and working against their ally Hamas abroad. Will the Muslim Brothjerhood President attend the funeral of the man known for jailing Brotherhood members. (Morsi himself has spent short prisons in jail, though not the years of many of his colleagues.)

Early indications are, no: someone from the Presidential office will represent Morsi at the funeral. This could change, but it is the sort of awkward problem likely to crop up during Egypt’s transition. When Mubarak dies, the fact that he was convicted of a crime and imprisoned might mean a low-key funeral. But Suleiman is an ex-Vice President, with no convictions, though there was speculation he might have left Egypt to live in the Gulfs when he left the country after Morsi’s election.

And of course the conspiracy theorists are out in force, as is to be expected for a man with a spooky background like Suleiman’s. Either the US did him in (after all, this week’s conspiracy, as Hillary Clinton learned, is that the US is promoting the Muslim Brotherhood), or he actually died in the bombing in Damascus! 

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Morsi in Saudi Arabia: Wrong Trip, Wrong Timing?

July 12th, 2012 Comments off

Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi has left for Saudi Arabia on his first foreign visit since his inauguration. He leaves right in the middle of a constitutional crisis largely of his own making, and may be sending the wrong message at the wrong time.

On paper, the visit makes sense: Morsi wants to re-forge fraying ties with Riyadh and rebuild a onetime alliance with the Saudis; he also wants to reassure the Saudis about Iran’s gestures of friendship to Egypt now that the Muslim Brotherhood has the Presidency.

But the Brotherhood’s opponents in Egypt (and remember, Morsi got barely a quarter of the votes in the first round) suspect him of aiming to turn Egypt into something along the lines of the Saudi model, and others believe Saudi funding helped elect Morsi. (Officially, the Saudis have problems with the MB, though it isn’t the sort of open propaganda campaign waged by the UAE against the Egyptian Brotherhood. But many private Saudis support the Brotherhood.) Leaving in the middle of a confrontation with the judiciary (and indirectly, SCAF) adds to the sense that Morsi is going to ask for seek support from his Saudi patrons at a difficult time.

Going anywhere in the midst of a crisis is a questionable call. Eleven days after taking office there is still no Prime Minister and not a single cabinet member named, except for the assurance (not really Morsi’s call) that Field Marshal Tantawi will remain Defense Minister. The interim Cabinet of Prime Minister Ganzuri is presumably on its way out, the country is in a crisis, and the President is in Saudi Arabia.

I’d say it’s the wrong trip, and any trip at this time is shows questionable judgment. His opponents — who may sense weakness right now — are unlikely to miss that.

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Collision Course?

July 9th, 2012 Comments off

Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi’s order yesterday to reconvene the dissolved Parliament certainly appears to throw down the gauntlet in a challenge to the military, though so far the military response has been unclear while the Supreme Constitutional Court has reaffirmed that its decision is binding on all state authorities.

There are a few pundits suggesting that the decree actually represents a compromise with SCAF; Morsi called back the dissolved Parliament but not for a full four-year term; rather he called for new elections as soon as the new constitution is written, But if the decree represented a secret deal with SCAF, that is far from apparent so far, and the simplest explanation seems to be that Morsi has elected to move the presumably inevitable test of strength between the elected President and the military forward to his first days in office.

Yet Morsi and Field Marshal Tantawi appeared together today at a military graduation ceremony without outward indications of conflict.

The election of Morsi was seen by some as avoiding a constitutional crisis if SCAF had been perceived as rigging the election outcome; but another type of constitutional crisis, one involving a head-on clash between the executive and the judiciary with the military presumably siding with the latter. Already some of the legal arguments are centering around whether SCAF was acting in an executive or legislative capacity when it moved to enforce the court decree, since presumably Morsi has now inherited SCAF’s executive but not its legislative powers.

Once again Egypt shows its ability to have a constitutional crisis despite the impediment of not currently having a constitution.

And once again Marc Lynch’s greatest contribution to political theory, the “Calvinball” model of Egyptian politics, proves to be prescient.

UPDATE: Michele Dunne on “Morsi’s Counter Coup.”

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Is the Message Here, "We’ve Got Your Back," or "We’ve Got You Surrounded"?

July 2nd, 2012 Comments off

Friday’s feel-good day in Tahrir Square, when Muhammad Morsi pledged to exercise full Presidential powers, gave way on Saturday to the real inauguration, where he had to take the oath from the Supreme Constitutional Court that had dissolved the Parliament. He’s also had the awkward task of meeting with SCAF and seeming to offer obeisance and fealty like some feudal subordinate, though there were gratifying moments, such as when Field Marshal Tantawi saluted Morsi in a symbolic gesture acknowledging his loyalty to a civilian President (though under SCAF’s own constitutional declaration, Morsi will not have the title of Commander-in-Chief). The photo above seems particularly two-edged: is this the Egyptian military handing power to a civilian after 60 years, or is this the Egyptian military making certain that the guy in the business suit knows who’s in charge?

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Egypt’s Tantawi Pledges no first Strike Abroad, Fair Elections at Home

May 17th, 2012 Comments off

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi addressed Egyptian troops on Wednesday and attempted to raise their morale for praising them as the guarantors of Egypt’s security.

Al-Masrawi reports:

“Field Marshal Tantawi said, “We are heading in the right direction.” He deplored the allegations that sometimes issue from activist organizations “that we are in enmity with this state or that or that we will abrogate a treaty with such-and-such country”… He added, “We do not enter into war save if we are forced to and because we feel there in danger. For that reason, we must always keep our eyes wide…”

Some Egyptians are afraid that the army will attempt to tamper with the elections so as to bring Ahmad Shafiq to power. (He is a man of the old regime and only barely survived politically). He appears to have been attempting to allay those suspicions.

Incredibly, Tantawi’s speech was misinterpreted in Israel as a threat of some sort. The speech was just trying to reassert control over the troops, and to encourage them to pride in country. He implicitly criticized Egypt’s Left and far right, insisting on the foreign policy status quo, and reaffirming that Egypt’s hefty army would never be deployed aggressively.

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‘Omar Suleiman: What Does His Run Mean?

April 11th, 2012 Comments off

This is one of the better Internet comments on ‘Omar Suleiman, in part because it doesn’t require as much explanation to outsiders as most do. The caption reads “‘Omar Suleiman” but the “leiman” overlaps with the same Arabic letters in the phrase “Liman Turah” — Turah Prison, the notorious home for political prisoners outside of Cairo. It captures the darker side of Suleiman’s reputation.

Come to think of it, if there’s a brighter side to Suleiman’s reputation, it must be classified. David Kenner at Foreign Policy sums up the man’s career with links to some of the more well-known allegations against him. He was not a man who operated in the daylight, and he seems an odd choice for a political candidate. I heard him speak once, even met him briefly, but the speech was predictably off the record, so I can’t comment on it here, though it was not about intelligence matters but about his role as mediator on Palestinian-Israeli issues.

Both Suleiman and Field Marshal Tantawi have denied that Suleiman is SCAF’s candidate. While Suleiman held a general’s rank and rose through the Army, the General Intelligence Director’s job was a nominally civilian one. His power in the Mubarak regime came from his close personal relationship with Mubarak, not from the military. General Intelligence reports directly to the Presidency and thus was not under the influence of either the Ministry of Defense (the Armed Forces) or the Ministry of the Interior (which ran State Security and the multiple police agencies). While a key part of the security apparatus, he was not necessarily the only power center.

From a conventional political analysis Suleiman would not seem to be an ideal candidate. Until the last decade or so his photo was never published in newspapers. Even his name rarely appeared until he emerged as interlocutor with Israel and the Palestinians. If he’s not the Army’s candidate, why is he being treated as such a serious contender?

A common term in the past year has been fallul, the “remnants” of the old regime. But Suleiman is not a “remnant” of the old regime: he’s more like the core of the old regime. A Wikileaks cable from a US diplomat famously called him “Mubarak’s consigliere.” He presumably appeals to those members of the Armed Forces, police, security services, and others who feel the need for a strong hand to restore order and maintain stability.

When the Soviet Union fell, Western observers were startled to see some demonstrators displaying photos of Joseph Stalin. But if the 20th century taught anything, it taught that there is, for some people at least, a temptation towards choosing a strongman when society is in flux. The man on the white horse, the enforcer who will make the trains run on time. Though the 20th century also taught that this approach doesn’t work out well, it may be at work here.

And I have already noted in earlier postings that the man’s well-known antipathy to the Muslim Brotherhood (if “antipathy” is defined as “throwing all of them in jail”) makes him a Great Iron-Fisted Hope for some who fear the rise of the Brotherhood. But at what cost?

Some have said that his identity as one of the rare Upper Egyptians in a former regime dominated by men from he Delta is one of his strengths (Suleiman comes from Qena, near Luxor, and like most Upper Egyptians has strong “tribal” ties with many in the region). But the Upper Egyptian connection is not going to win any elections.

It is, of course, possible that everyone is reading too much into Suleiman’s candidacy. Perhaps he will go nowhere. But if there is about to be a wave of disqualifications (Khairat al-Shater’s pardon is too recent, Abu Isma‘il’s mother is American, etc.), many will suspect that the fix is in. But the reaction to Suleiman’s candidacy is also fierce, and the poster above is only a mild example. The hydra-head of the former regime seems to still have some life in it. The question at this point is how much.

I think it would be unwise for Americans and Israelis to look at Suleiman’s record as a friend and collaborator of both countries as a plus. For most Egyptians, he was a “collaborator” in the negative sense of that word, and is seen as doing the will of the Americans and, worse, the Israelis. In the long run, that perception just fuels anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiments, which are already strong enough.

As this campaign develops, perhaps the mystery of why Suleiman is running will become clearer. But the sense that the old regime is still struggling, Rasputin-like, back to life will linger so long as figures like Suleiman remain players in the center of the public stage.

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Krishna meets top Egyptian leaders

March 5th, 2012 Comments off

External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna met top Egyptian leaders including Supreme Council of Armed Forces chairman Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, and Prime Minister Kamal El Ganzoury during hi
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NYT: Is Fayza Abu’l-Naga Challenging SCAF?

February 15th, 2012 Comments off

This New York Times article is portraying Egypt’s Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Fayza Abu’l-Naga’s campaign against foreign NGOs as being carried out in defiance even of the Military Council. In this view, authority is increasingly divided and the Minister appears to be alienating the US without the approval of SCAF. I am, frankly, skeptical.

I know SCAF has shown plenty of signs of disorganization, internal division, and incompetence, but that doesn’t mean it’s powerless. If the Minister of International Cooperation can alienate a key ally/aid donor unilaterally, why has every other Minister in the Cabinet, including Prime Minister Ganzouri, seemed to ask SCAF’s permission  before every statement? Admittedly, the alternative — that SCAF itself is behind the campaign against NGOs — requires assuming a level of Machiavellian scheming (pledging good relations when Field Marshal Tantawi meets General Dempsey, while pursuing the NGOs at the same time) that raises plenty of questions, too.

I think the NYT article could be the correct reading, but I frankly doubt it. I’d guess (and it is just a guess) that SCAF is gambling that it can play the popular “foreign interference” card domestically (and remove annoying democracy activists in the process) without losing the US aid package, calculating that the US military values the strategic relationship too much to jeopardize it. I suspect that may in fact be true of some in the US military, but they don’t make US policy in an election year, a factor SCAF may be badly underestimating.

On the other hand, I can easily imagine the generals leaking to the NYT the “fact” that they just can’t control this rogue crazy woman in the Planning Ministry, so don’t blame them for what’s happening, blame her. But again, I’m not there; I’m going on experience and instinct, and could be wrong.

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Egypt: Parliament vs. SCAF

February 1st, 2012 Comments off

This press release from EIPR is typical of many human rights groups attitude towards Tantawi’s semi-abrogation of the Emergency Law last week:

EIPR Urges People’s Assembly to Immediately Vote to End the State of Emergency

In a letter Sent to MPs and Parliamentary Bodies: Field Marshal Tantawi’s Declaration Excepting Crimes of Thuggery is a Perpetuation of the Repressive Practices of the Mubarak State

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) sent a letter this morning to the heads of all political parties’ parliamentary bodies, as well as several independent MPs, urging them to immediately and decisively engage with Field Marshal Tantawi’s decision to “end the State of Emergency all over the Republic except when confronting crimes of thuggery.” The EIPR believes this is a perpetuation of the repressive practices of the Mubarak regime and compared Tantawi’s declaration excepting thuggery to Mubarak’s declaration excepting crimes of terrorism and drug trafficking when he extended the State of Emergency in May 2010.

To continue click here.

Do read the letter, which details more steps parliament should take, including reviewing other SCAF decrees and the penal code. Not unrelated, EIPR’s director (and an old, old friend of mine) Hossam Bahgat remarks to the AP that parliament has a duty to assume its legislative powers and review decrees issued by SCAF:

Many lawmakers and activists have already demanded that parliament review other military decrees issued since the generals took power last February, including a law banning public protest and strikes, as well as a decision to only partially lift of the hated Mubarak-era emergency laws.

The largely secular and urban activist groups want an immediate end to military rule, and have called for the army to return to its barracks before a constitution be written and a president elected.

“It is primarily a challenge for the (Brotherhood) majority,” said Hossam Bahgat, a human rights lawyer. “If the Brotherhood wants to send a message to its constituency and the public at large they are now an independent and effective legislature, they have no choice but to reopen (discussion) of these decrees.”

That’s the outline of one of the political meta-struggles between parliament and SCAF over the next few months.

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