Egypt´s New Top General Has U.S. Ties (WSJ) WALL STREET JOURNAL) By MATT BRADLEY in Cairo and ADAM ENTOUS in Washington 08/14/12)
WALL STREET JOURNAL
WALL STREET JOURNAL Articles-Index-Top
After President Morsi´s Shake-Up, Military Is Run by Soldier Familiar
to Washington; Generals´ Retreat Seen as Tactical
Egypt´s new top military officer is a known commodity in Washington
who has long-standing ties to the U.S., Obama administration
officials said Monday, playing down the impact of the previous day´s
power shake-up in Egypt.
U.S. military contacts with Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who was
appointed defense minister on Sunday, date back more than 30 years to
a U.S. infantry basic training course he took at Fort Benning in
Georgia in 1981, officials said. He has more recently met with senior
U.S. officials including President Barack Obama´s top counter-
terrorism adviser. U.S. officials expressed confidence that Gen.
Sissi will maintain close ties with the U.S., which provides Egypt
with $1.3 billion a year in military aid, and uphold Egypt´s peace
deal with Israel.
Analysts in Egypt, meanwhile, expressed skepticism that President
Mohammed Morsi´s surprise power shuffle would meaningfully dilute the
power of Egypt´s military, which has dominated the country´s politics
Gen. Sissi was appointed after President Morsi dismissed powerful
Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and canceled a constitutional
declaration that had buttressed the military´s expansive political
power in the wake of last year´s ouster of then-President Hosni
Mubarak. Mr. Morsi´s moves appeared at first as a counter-coup, but
the generals´ apparent capitulation may also turn out to be more of a
tactical retreat than a lasting defeat, say people close to the
Mr. Morsi faces huge challenges if he hopes to truly unravel the
military from the Egyptian state, a process that analysts and
observers say could take generations. The military enjoys profound
public loyalty, an expansive commercial empire and the support of a
judicial system that has repeatedly ruled in its favor.
"Will the military leave completely…? I don´t think so," said Mona
Makram Obeid, a member of the civilian advisory council that has
consulted with the military since late 2011. "They have the economic
power, they have the military power and they have, no matter what,
the love and respect of the great majority of the people."
Egyptians are now waiting to gauge whether Egypt´s judiciary, which
is known for its public hostility to Islamists, will mount a
challenge to the president´s newly expanded authority.
By annulling the military´s constitutional declaration and declaring
expanded powers for himself, Mr. Morsi acted in direct defiance of
Egypt´s Supreme Constitutional Court. The court approved the
declaration last month on the grounds that the
country´s "revolutionary" political circumstances empowered the
military to make unilateral changes to the constitution.
But with few rules guiding Egypt´s nascent political system, any
looming fight between the judiciary and presidency is impossible to
Mr. Morsi´s decision deviated from legal norms, said Tareq al Bishri,
a judge with Islamist sympathies. Zakariya Abdel Aziz, a judicial
reformer, countered that the late June constitutional change was
illegitimate and that Mr. Morsi can now, as Egypt´s executive,
overturn the change made by the military when it held executive
It remained unclear what, if any, negotiations or wrangling had
preceded Mr. Morsi´s move. Muslim Brotherhood officials confined
their statements to praise for Mr. Morsi´s "revolutionary" decision.
Egypt´s senior generals offered no public comments and made no
obvious countermoves, which several observers took as a tacit
While the Obama administration wasn´t caught off-guard by the choice
of Mr. Sissi, it was taken aback by the timing, officials said. U.S.
officials had expected Mr. Morsi to shake up the military´s ranks,
but they believe he opted to use a security crisis last week in the
Sinai—in which militants killed 16 Egyptian soldiers at a border post
with Israel—as political cover to recast the Supreme Council of the
Armed Forces, the body Field Marshal Tantawi once led.
U.S. officials said that as a former head of Egyptian military
intelligence, Gen. Sissi has close ties to the U.S. military and
intelligence agencies. Mr. Obama´s top counterterrorism adviser, John
Brennan, dined with Gen. Sissi during a visit to Cairo in October, a
sign to the visiting Americans that Gen. Tantawi wanted to put Gen.
Sissi forward as a future leader. Gen. Sissi has also had extensive
contact with the U.S. Ambassador to Egypt, Anne Patterson.
"This is someone who we´ve worked with for a long time, who has shown
himself to be eager to work with the United States, who sees the
value of peace with [Egypt´s] neighbors," a senior Obama
administration official said of Gen. Sissi. "What I think this is,
frankly, is Morsi looking for a generational change in military
Mr. Sissi´s appointment may also represent an ideal compromise
between the secular-minded military old guard and Mr. Morsi´s
Brotherhood. People with knowledge of the Egyptian military said Gen.
Sissi has a broad reputation within military circles as a Muslim
Brotherhood sympathizer, a rare trait in a military culture inured
"Sissi is known inside the military for being a Muslim Brother in the
closet," said Zeinab Abul Magd, a professor at the American
University in Cairo and an expert on Egypt´s military.
In a statement to the state-run media, the Egyptian military denied
that any of its officers have partisan affiliations. U.S. officials
said such "rumors" are frequently made about Mr. Morsi´s appointments.
Gen. Sissi´s appointment reflects the staying power of Mr. Mubarak´s
old military order, said analysts and people close to the military.
Ms. Obeid said the military´s apparent concession on Monday marked
little more than the inevitable end of what she called Egypt´s "two-
headed presidency"—the untenable power-sharing that often placed Mr.
Morsi and Field Marshal Tantawi at odds.
The field marshal led the generals´ disastrous foray into domestic
politics after they assumed power from Mr. Mubarak in February 2011,
threatening the armed forces´ once-unshakeable public prestige.
By withdrawing from domestic political life and sacrificing a few top
officials, a layer of more junior officers may have been seizing an
opportunity to preserve the privileges and esteem they enjoyed before
Egypt´s revolution last year, said Ms. Obeid and other political
"This seems to be a move to preserve the military´s long-standing
privileges as opposed to a move to back the military´s purely
national defense mission," said Hisham Sallam, an analyst and editor
at the Middle East political blog Jadalliya. (Copyright © Dow Jones &
Company, Inc.) 08/14/12)
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY