The overthrow of Egyptian President Morsi is the biggest blow to the Muslim Brotherhood since its founding in 1928, but we mustnâ€™t allow our joy to make us overlook one disappointing fact: The Defense Minister is widely reported to be an Islamist and the new â€œconstitutional declarationâ€ declares Sunni Sharia to be the â€œmain source of legislation.â€
The military that sidelined Morsi was led by Defense Minister General Abdul-Fattah al-Sissi. It is often forgotten that Morsi chose al-Sissi to be the top military official. He replaced General Tantawi, who analysts hoped could stop the Brotherhoodâ€™s expanding grip on power.
Dr. Daniel Pipes writes that a historian discovered that al-Sissi even helped identify officers loyal to Tantawi so they could be discharged. When al-Sissi was picked, it was correctly viewed as a major Islamist victory.
Zeinab Abul Mahd, an expert on the Egyptian military and professor at American University in Cairo, said that he was â€œknown inside the military for being a Muslim Brother in the closet.â€ A leading pro-military presenter on television, Tawfiq Ukasha, referred to al-Sissi as â€œtheir manâ€ in the military. His wife dressed in the full niqab, an act of such adherence to Sharia law than many Islamist women donâ€™t go that far.
The Muslim Brotherhood denied that al-Sissi is one of its official members, but a Brotherhood leader conceded that he is part of the â€œfamily.â€ The Brotherhood is an ideology. You donâ€™t have to be a card-carrying member to be a part of it. Even Morsi wasnâ€™t officially a member of the party after he took office, even though he was the Brotherhoodâ€™s official presidential candidate.
So, then why did al-Sissi turn against Morsi?
First and foremost, he had to. The anti-Morsi demonstrations were, by some counts, the largest political protests in human history. The Egyptian military views itself as the guardian of the country. The internal unrest was bound to spiral out of control if the crisis wasnâ€™t solved, and the military is much larger than just al-Sissi. If he hadnâ€™t acted, other military leaders would have found a way to.
It is also likely that al-Sissi was genuinely disappointed in Morsiâ€™s performance. Morsi succeeded in alienating a huge amount of those who voted for him. Al-Sissi may be an Islamist, but Islamists often disagree on how to implement their agenda.
Despite his prestigious title as Interim President, Abli Mansour owes his power to al-Sissi. He even quoted al-Sissi when justifying his authority, reflecting his subservience. The Islamist bent of al-Sissi and perhaps his fellow senior military officers can be seen in the new “constitutional declaration.”
Ahram Online summarizes the declarationâ€™s Article 1 as â€œÂ the Arab Republic of Egypt is a democratic system based on citizenship, that Islam is the religion of the state, Arabic is its official language and the principles of sharia law derived from established Sunni canons are its main source of legislation.â€
As the newspaper reported, the liberal opponents of Morsi that were elated at the militaryâ€™s intervention were disappointed. The National Salvation Front, a liberal bloc led by Mohammed El-Baradei, said they werenâ€™t even talked to before the declaration occurred. The Salafist Al-Nour Party is also upset, but for precisely the opposite reason: It isnâ€™t tough enough on establishing Egyptâ€™s â€œidentity,â€ meaning having Sharia as the sole source of legislation.
Al-Sissi and the military at least wants to appear to be governing in conjunction with the non-Brotherhood parties and genuine about restoring the democratic process. It has unveiled a roadmap to quickly hold elections, though there are some unclear parts about the plan.
A founder of the Social Democratic Party, a liberal, is the new Prime Minister. The militaryâ€™s first choice was El-Baradei, also a democratic liberal, but the Salafists stopped it. He is instead a Vice President for foreign affairs.
El-Baradeiâ€™s ascent is a step in the right direction for Egypt, but donâ€™t get too excited. He has a record of hostility to the U.S. The Muslim Brotherhood originally rallied behind him as the Mubarak regime teetered on the edge because, as one Brotherhood official explained, â€œThe Brotherhood realizes the sensitivities, especially in the West, towards the Islamists, and weâ€™re not keen to be at the forefront.â€ He thankfully defended the Brotherhood as being â€œin no way extremistâ€ and comparable to evangelical Christians in America.
If the military does permit a legitimate democratic process to unfold, the people will have the opportunity to accept or reject a draft constitution. Polls have found that a strong majority of Egyptians support the implementation of Sharia law, including its hududÂ (fixed criminal punishments) like executing apostates and stoning adulterers. Hopefully, the Egyptiansâ€™ experience of Islamist rule has changed that.
If Al-Sissi and his military colleagues cement their power using Sharia, then Morsiâ€™s ouster will only go down as a defeat for the Muslim Brotherhood and not a defeat for Islamism.
To put it another way, we will have mistaken an Islamist primary for a general election between the ideological camps.Â
Ryan Mauro is the ClarionProject.orgâ€™s National Security Analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and is frequently interviewed on Fox News.