As Egypt’s “Arab Spring” grinds on, it takes a step back from the democratic transformation fought for in Tahrir Square. An odd tale of conspiracy, assassination and intrigue appearing in Western and Middle East media earlier this month offers a peek into the power moves in play in Cairo.
The Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram of Oct. 12 was first to report that Egyptian security forces raided the home of a man who planned to assassinate Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi during his visit to Alexandria the following Friday. His motive was unknown. The suspect was arrested and his home proved to hold quantities of ammunition, explosives, maps of Morsi’s route and communications and eavesdropping equipment.
Other media excitedly predicted that Morsi’s murder would send shock waves through the region and likely spark a resurgence of the violence plaguing Egypt since last year’s Tahrir Square revolution led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.
But DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence and Cairo sources have discovered that the report was pure invention. There was no plot to assassinate the Egyptian President Morsi, the police made no arrests and no arms were impounded.
So who planted the wholly fictitious report?
Morsi’s growing unpopularity due to his lackluster performance
It was Morsi himself and his advisers. They hatched the plot story as a desperate ploy to reverse the president’s plunging popularity on the Egyptian street less than three months after he won his country’s first democratic election in June.
Quiet surveys of Egyptian city dwellers’ expectations of the new president showed that 51 percent believed he must "strengthen the Egyptian economy" and 35 percent demanded that he "fight corruption."
Asked whether they were satisfied with Morsi’s performance, 65 percent replied in the negative.
Just one percent of those surveyed thought he should “strengthen Islam in Egypt."
Although the president was acclaimed at first for his smooth takeover of government out of military hands, today, the survey shows the supreme military council to be the most the most popular body for the country’s 90 million inhabitants. Its performance in the interim months between Mubarak’s overthrow and Egypt’s first democratic elections was praised by 81 percent of Egyptians surveyed. 67 percent wanted the army to have a bigger role in Egypt’s political life.
The survey therefore clearly registered popular Egyptian disappointment in their new president, antipathy for radical Islam and a nostalgic longing for the generals’ return, even though they all dated from the Mubarak era.
Another statistic from the same survey gave Morsi 49 percent support, and showed 58 percent apprehensive of the Muslim Brotherhood president making Egypt "too Islamic."
The Cairo media are hurling their sharpest arrows at him. Never before have they devoted so many inches to criticizing or ridiculing an Egyptian president for doing so little.
Brotherhood grabs chance to plant el-Shater in presidential palace
The Muslim Brotherhood quickly seized on their big chance to weigh in.
Mohamed Morsi, who graduated from the University of South California with a doctorate in materials science, was their second choice as presidential candidate. He was put forward only after their chief strategist and financier, the millionaire tycoon Khairat el-Shater, was disqualified by the Electoral Commission over a past criminal conviction.
Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie decided that Morsi’s growing unpopularity, his inability to produce remedies for a failed economy and, most of all, his less than ardent devotion to the Brotherhood’s radical tenets, had made him ripe for the push.
After a series of consultations, the Brotherhood’s Shura Council decided on a quiet pro-Islamist coup. Their favorite el-Shater would be installed in the presidential Ittahdiya Palace in Cairo after all and then proceed to strip the president one by one of his prerogatives and spheres of responsibility.
This shift in power was signaled outwardly only by a press report which offered more questions than answers.
In the second week of October, the Egyptian daily Al Watan reported the presidential appointment of Khariat el-Shater as a kind of senior economic advisor. He would report exclusively to the president and no other official. To pursue his duties, the new adviser was given his own office in the presidential palace.
El-Shater strips Morsi of powers
The paper reported suggestions that El-Shater was given the appointment to pacify him and paper over the growing rift between him and the president. It added that while the appointment had not been verified by the presidential office, the report would give readers a sneak peek into the current thinking in leading political circles in Cairo.
This careful wording covered the decline of President Morsi’s authority and fortunes, as disclosed here by DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources:
– President Morsi can’t throw his rival out of the palace, because his mandate from the Muslim Brotherhood does not empower him to defy its Shura Council decisions;
– El-Shater has supplanted the president in the management of the political, economic and military relations between Cairo and Washington;
– The Islamist tycoon has commandeered all the communication channels between Cairo and Riyadh, including the direct link from the presidential palace in Cairo to the royal palace in Riyadh and military and intelligence ties. President Morsi and his staff no longer have access to these connections.
– Relations with Qatar and its ruler Sheikh al-Thani are now managed exclusively by the Muslim Brotherhood strongman. Our sources report that he was actively involved in the emir’s recent visit to the Gaza Strip and Palestinian policy.
(See the article in this issue – Why Are Gulf Emirs Ardently Wooing the Palestinians?)
Egypt’s allies starting moving their business to the usurper
– Morsi has been usurped by the Islamist millionaire in the management of Cairo’s most delicate foreign policy issues with regard to the Syrian conflict, Hizballah and Iran.
Cairo has along history of adversity with Tehran. El-Shater is now exclusively in command of the edgy Muslim Brotherhood ties with the ayatollahs.
According to the updated American-conducted opinion survey, a majority of Egyptians have shifted over in favor of a relationship with Tehran. Indeed, 61 percent sympathize with Iran's program to develop nuclear weapons, and only 30 percent dislike it. President Morsi’s decision to renew diplomatic ties with the Islamic Republic after a 30-year break is endorsed by 65 percent of Egyptians.
Already, Washington, Riyadh, Qatar and even Jerusalem have taken to channeling their business with Cairo through El Shater’s office in the Ittahdiya Palace rather than through the presidential bureau next door. Egypt’s outside connections have clearly come to terms with the Muslim Brotherhood coup unfolding quietly Cairo, which DEBKA-Net-Weekly is first to uncover in this exclusive article.