A Harbinger of Things to Come? The Retirement of General Tantawi and the Elevation of Abdel al-Sisi

Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi with Chief Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi

The retirement of Muhammad Tantawi as head of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) and Defense Minister puts the Freedom and Justice Party, and by extension the Muslim Brotherhood, in a very interesting and somewhat precarious position. Tantawi's replacement, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi is as yet an unknown quantity. Al-Sisi was promoted from his post as the director of Military Intelligence. 

The shake-up follows a tumultous week in which 16 Egyptian troops were killed in the Sinai . Islamist groups residing in Gaza were suspected, and retaliatory strikes by the Egyptian military against Islamist factions have killed between 5-7 people, according to differing reports. Following these raids, President Morsi dismissed General Murad Mowafi, head of the intelligence services. Mowafi had been appointed to the position by Hosni Mubarak not long before Mubarak's resignation. Mowafi was selected to fill the role formerly occupied by General Omar Suleiman, who was elevated to the position of vice-president. 

The consequences of the staff change will affect not only the military, but the economy as well. Under Mubarak, the military controlled approximately 40% of the economy through a labyrinthine network of vertically- and horizontally-integrated manufacturing, agricultural, and commercial ventures. With Mubarak-era generals in place, it seemed unlikely that the FJB or MB would be able to marshal the resources necessary to mount a challenge to this system. Replacing the generals could indicate an attempt to shift the basis of a large part of the Egyptian economy away from personal and kinship ties to a more institutional structure. 

This has resonated among protesters - thousands took to Tahrir square in support of the changing of the guard. Al-Sisi has aroused suspicions among certain segments of youth protesters; he is accused of ordering "virginity tests" upon female political prisoners to prove that the army had not sexually abused him. Al-Sisi reversed this policy without taking personal responsibility of it, but he is still mistrusted by youth and women's movements. 

Toyotas of War

Diwaniyya Contributor