The elected president, Mohamed Morsi, purged the top brass that had constrained his authority. With civilian rule asserted, Morsi's own Muslim Brotherhood must now also bend to popular will and not use the state to hold onto power.
AP Photo/Egyptian Presidency
Now well into its second year, the Arab Spring advanced in a surprising way this week, but not in the streets or by bloodshed.
On Sunday, Mr. Morsi sacked the top commander, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, as well as other top officers. Many of them had long served Hosni Mubarak, the dictator who was ousted last year. They had placed threatening constraints on the young democracy, such as a veto over the writing of a constitution.
Civilian oversight of the military is a basic pillar of any democracy. Morsi’s move helps cement that concept in Egyptian society, which has been ruled by Army leaders for 60 years, starting with Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Backroom struggles with the military may continue, but the move serves as a beacon for other Arab nations whose rulers still rely on weapons for legitimacy – even though Arabs today are less fearful of standing up for civic virtues such as individual rights.
Morsi probably worked with younger officers to achieve this so-called soft coup. They have been promoted. He was also helped by the Aug. 5 attack by jihadists on a Sinai border post with Israel, in which 16 Egyptian soldiers were killed. The military looked weak.