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But Morsi’s choice of a replacement for Tantawi indicates that America might not be at a choosing point yet. Sissi gained notoriety after defending the practice of “virginity tests” conducted on female protesters in Egypt who were arrested during the Tahrir Square demonstrations that led to Mubarak’s ouster. But for Americans he was a well-known figure years before, thanks to the Pentagon’s close cooperation with Egyptian military intelligence, which Sissi headed. Prior to that, he spent several years training in the United States, as had many other top Egyptian military commanders.
“These new appointees, the new leaders of the military, are all people that we have worked with before,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in an August 13 press briefing.
Statements by officials such as Nuland and others following the events in Egypt made it clear that the Obama administration still viewed the SCAF and the military chiefs as its main interlocutors in Cairo. Most of America’s $1.5 billion in annual assistance to Egypt is given for military purposes and managed by the army.
But while trying to put a positive face on Morsi’s latest move, the administration is watching with concern other moves by the Egyptian president. Morsi took away many of the SCAF’s authorities, which were granted to the military council in a March referendum and were meant to expire only after the nation’s new constitution is adopted.
“Essentially, Morsi has changed Egypt’s constitution by fiat,” David Schenker, director of the program on Arab politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote in a recent article. “[I]n the process, [he] afforded himself control over the military, all legislative powers and the makeup of the assembly that will write the new constitution.”
Schenker further noted that while “curtailing military power may prove popular in Tahrir Square, the constitutional ramifications will likely prolong instability in a country already beset by significant economic, security and political challenges.”
Contact Nathan Guttman at firstname.lastname@example.org