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Morsi Inaugerates New Egypt

President Mohamed Morsi Inaugerates New Egypt By Launching Coup D'etat Against His Own Military

Israeli Leaders Mum Over Dramatic Purge But Obviously Concerned Over Future of Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty

IsraCast Assessment: Prime Minister Netanyahu Can Be Expected To Tell President Morsi That Any Amendment To Peace Treaty Can Only Be Implemented With Israel's Approval

Mohamed Morsi (photo: Jonathan Rashad)

The shock waves are still reverberating and will for some time to come in Egypt, Israel and the entire Middle East. In a stunning coup, Egypt's newly elected President Mohamed Morsi has purged the all-powerful top brass of the Egyptian Army that has ruled the country since 1952. After his election, most pundits jumped the gun - take TIME magazine's cover story of July 9: 'The Revolution That Wasn't, Why The Generals Remain Egypt's Real Rulers'. Analyst David Essing has this assessment from Jerusalem of what is being viewed as an historic development in the country along the Nile.

 While President Morsi's stunning move does not auger well for Israel, it is still too early to kiss good-by to the peace treaty with Egypt. What is clear is that Morsi has succeeded in bringing the Egyptian army to heel after its sixty year reign of power. Even after Morsi won the presidential election on June 24th, Field Marshall Mohamed Tantawi gave him his marching orders: the Supreme Military Council still superseded the new president's powers and those of the People's Assembly. In other words, Morsi was to be little more than a figurehead. But during revolutions, timing can sometimes be everything. Morsi got his chance and he took it by an extraordinary quirk in Egyptian history.

It came in Sinai with the bloody assault by Salafi terrorists, with possible Palestinian collusion from Gaza, that killed sixteen Egyptian soldiers. (The Salafis view the Muslim Brotherhood as far too moderate for their liking). The attack enraged Egyptian public opinion and with good reason. Israeli intelligence had actually tipped off the Egyptian Army that a terrorist attack was in the offing, (until now there has been good cooperation between Israeli and Egyptian intelligence concerning terrorist activity in Sinai). However Egyptian officials, maybe trying to please the new Muslim Brotherhood management, openly accused Israel of trying to harm tourism to Sinai. Moreover, the Egyptian military totally ignored the warning. This resulted in sixteen unsuspecting Egyptian soldiers being murdered while partaking of their sacred Muslim meal to end the day long Ramadan fast. They were literally slaughtered - some reportedly had their throats slit. Exploiting their new found freedom, the Egyptian media lashed out at the 'negligence of the top brass' and demanded resignations.

New street demonstrations rekindled demands that Field Marshall Tantawi be tried for his role in suppressing the rioting in Tahrir Square. Morsi sensed the time was ripe for cutting the military down to size. He gambled that the younger commanders of the Egyptian Armed Forces would accept the purging of the top brass and, until now at least, he has proved right; the army has accepted the changing of the guard and the rescinding of the Supreme Council's restrictions on the new president and parliament.

Why does this worry Israel? The fact is the high command of the Egyptian Army actually supports the peace treaty with Israel, whereas Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood has always opposed it. In fact, army soldiers linked to the Muslim Brotherhood terrorists assassinated President Anwar Sadat in 1981 for making peace with the Jewish state. Moreover, the Egyptian military has served as the bastion of secularism against radical Islam, whereas the Muslim Brotherhood would like to see 'Shariya' religious edicts made the law of the land. Since signed the peace treaty with Israel in 1979, the Egyptian military has stuck to the letter of the demilitarization of Sinai. This was the cornerstone of the peace accord that in effect puts Israel's defensive frontier with Egypt some 200 kilometers west along the Suez Canal.

IDF soldiers during 'Cast Lead' operation

What has happened since the IDF launched its 'Cast Lead' in 2008, to suppress Palestinian rocketing, is that the terrorists have been operating from inside Sinai. This has included cross-border raids and the rocketing of the Israeli port of Eilat. At present, Israel has agreed that the Egyptian military can send seven additional battalions as well as Apache helicopters to attack terrorists roaming in what has become the 'no man's land' of Sinai. Overnight, the deadly Salafi attack on Egyptian soldiers has created a common enemy for Jerusalem and the new Morsi regime in Cairo.

But in the short run, towering over all else will be the colossal economic problems facing Morsi. Half of the eighty-two million Egyptians live below or just above the poverty line. With some two million more mouths to feed every year, fifteen million Egyptian live on less than $1 a day. Unemployment is rampant among young Egyptians, particularly the university graduates. The average age of marriage for Egyptian males is reportedly thirty-five - they tend to live with their parents until they can save up enough money to propose. (And what does that say for young Egyptian women). So despite the Muslim Brotherhood's ideology about abrogating the peace treaty with Israel and introducing shariya law, President Morsi is faced with delivering on the economy that the Egyptian military has dominated until now. (An estimated 30% of economic life is in the in the hands of the Egyptian officers).

Surprisingly, Egypt's economic growth was running at 4% to 5% before the revolution but as elsewhere around the globe there was no real trickle-down effect. The bottom line is that engineer Mohamed Morsi will have to put his Islamist ideology on hold, and start drafting a viable economic program based on Egypt's economic facts of life. Without doubt, he will need financial aid from the international community, primarily the U.S. which has already signaled its readiness to help, if Egypt keeps the peace and does not rush into an Islamist agenda. Bear in mind that Morsi won the presidential election by a bare 2% - and many of those who did vote for him did so not because they supported his Islamist ideology but because they opposed the other candidate, a former army officer. Therefore a majority of Egyptians will be demanding results and Morsi knows it. A presidential spokesman has now said that Morsi is considering an amendment of the peace treaty with Israel in order that Egypt can exert its 'full its sovereignty and control over Sinai'. A bilateral discussion with Israel on the peace treaty is possible with Israel but only on a mutual basis.

Prime Minister Netanyahu would likely respond that the demilitarization clause could only be amended with Israel's full agreement. Meanwhile Israeli leaders are keeping mum wary of being accused of interfering in Egypt's internal affairs. But if it has been a 'cold peace' that has endured between Egypt and Israel for the past thirty-three years, that peace will now turn decidedly frigid.

Finally this suggestion: Since signing the peace treaty with Israel, Egypt has been receiving $2 billion annually from the U.S. The lion's share, $1.3 billion goes for military aid. That's a total of nearly $ 43 billion dollars to the Egyptian army that has no real enemies in sight after the peace treaty with Israel. This was sort of a payoff to the Egyptian generals to keep them happy about peace with Israel. Wouldn't it make sense now to convert most of this military assistance to economic aid for Egypt's impoverished economy?

David Essing

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