By Hani Sabra
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy's sacking of the intelligence chief and other powerful security figures in the wake of an attack on Egyptian border police gave him some short term credibility. He wisely used that political capital to sideline the two most powerful members of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and cancel amendments to the interim constitution that gave SCAF legislative power. On paper, Morsy is now the most powerful person in Egypt. But claims the move is an important step toward civilian ascendency in Egypt misread both the military's ongoing strength and the motivations of the SCAF's new senior members.
A closer look at the firings reveals the limits of Morsy's power. Remember that Morsy did not elevate junior officers to fill the positions opened up by sacking SCAF head Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and army chief of staff General Sami Enan. His appointments were in fact conservative and he chose other top military men to fill the vacated posts. More importantly, Morsy would never have been able to sideline Enan and Tantawi without the support of other military leaders. That step was the Brotherhood's greatest tactical success; it was able to build strong enough links with some members of SCAF, exploiting personal differences and opportunism rather than ideology.
Senior members of the military want to benefit financially from their positions and are not a force for secularism as some observers allege. Morsy was able to convince some commanders, such as the new Minister of Defense Abdel Fattah el Sisi, that it would be better for them to tie their fortunes to the Muslim Brotherhood rather than the old guard (Tantawi and Enan were closely associated with Hosni Mubarak's regime). Morsy will need to nurture these relationships; if they feel threatened, senior officers remain powerful enough to cause the president real problems. As a result, the seesawing battle for ascendancy between the Brotherhood and the military will go on.
Hani Sabra is an analyst in Eurasia Group's Middle East Practice.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images