For months now, it has seemed that this play [between the military and the Brotherhood] had no end. The Brothers have long maintained a vision of society that resonates with many Egyptians but very little in the way of means to transform these ideas into reality. The military is an exact mirror image of the Brothers. The officers have no coherent and appealing worldview, but they have had the ability to prevent those who do from accumulating power and altering the political system. The result has been a stalemate, marked by a series of tactical political deals that only last until circumstances force the Brothers and the officers to seek accommodation.
But the Rafah killings may well have tipped the scales. As weak as Morsy’s position seemed to be, two distinct advantages have enabled him to spin the attack to his political advantage: the utter the incompetence of Maj. Gen. Murad Muwafi, the head of the General Intelligence Service, and the very fact that Morsy is a popularly elected president.
On the first count, Muwafi admitted that his organization intercepted details of the attack before it happened, but that he and his team never “imagined that a Muslim would kill a Muslim brother at iftar in Ramadan.” He then passed the buck, lamely offering that he had given the information to the proper authorities, presumably the Ministry of Interior. Muwafi may have been using the reference to Muslims’ killing of fellow Muslims while breaking fast to cast suspicion on the Israelis — no matter that this theory is demonstrably untrue — or because it reflected the complacency of the Mubarak era of which he is a product. Either way, it played to Morsy’s advantage.
Under Mubarak, Muwafi would likely have gotten away with his ineptitude. No doubt, there were intelligence failures during the Mubarak era, but the former president and his minions could always count on force and state propaganda to cover their tracks. (It is important to remember that however unseemly it was for the Muslim Brotherhood to blame Israel for the Rafah attacks, it is a tactic that Hosni Mubarak perfected during his three decades in power.A little more than a month after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, for example, Mubarak told an Israeli TV audience, “You are responsible [for terrorism].”) But old tricks don’t always work in the new Egypt. Muwafi’s admission that the GIS knew an attack was on the way provided Morsy with an opportunity to clean house — a stunning move made possible only by the fact that he can claim a popular mandate. Out went Muwafi, North Sinai governor Abdel Wahab Mabrouk, and Hamdi Badeen, the powerful commander of the Military Police.
The SCAF, the GIS, and Ministry of Interior may yet respond, but they are in a difficult political position. How do they justify opposing the president for removing the people ostensibly responsible for failing to prevent the deaths of Egyptian troops? In the new, more open Egypt, people are demanding accountability and Morsy is giving it to them, which may be why Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the SCAF, has so far yielded to Morsy. Yet Tantawi’s position is made all the more precarious because if he does not respond in some way, he is signaling that there is no price to be paid for defying Egypt’s defense and national security establishment, opening the way to further efforts to undermine the deep state.