Wednesday marked the second time in two years that the Egyptian military has intervened within the domestic politics of the country. General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, leader of the SCAF, announced the removal of President Mohamed Morsi and the suspension of the constitution. Amidst the ongoing and rapid developments, it is hard to say what exactly will happen in the near future, although that obviously has not stopped commentators and pundits from trying.
One thing we can already talk about, though, is the debate over whether or not to call this a military coup. The military was quick to say on Monday that its ultimatum did not represent a military coup, although Morsi was quick to proclaim the contrary. Sisi made his announcement alongside military, political, and religious leaders in order to appear as a unified group. Already the Egyptian Ambassador to the United States has claimed that today's events comprised a "popular uprising" rather than a coup.
It is a strange occurrence. Rarely does a coup receive such strong public support. Even in the United States, a quick glance on Facebook or Twitter shows a variety of both celebrations and criticisms to the coup. And all of this just demonstrates the unique levels of trust that the Egyptian people place in their military.
With the collapse of the public trust, the army remains the only credible and reliable institution. An oft-cited Zogby poll from May gives the Army a 94% approval rating. In the same poll, Morsi's favorability rating was 28%.
In addition, the relationship between the military and the public has a long and complicated history in the country — one that dates back to the military coup that brought Gamel Abdel Nasser to power in 1952. The military has often held significant influence over the state indirectly through the presence of military officers in the nation's elite.
Much of the analysis in the coming days will focus on the Muslim Brotherhood and the future of Islamic politics. The focus will reflexively shift from Sisi and the relationship between the SCAF and state power. And that is a problem.
The Egyptian military is the most powerful entity in the country and that "[it] operates like a state within a state." It has one of the largest militaries on the African continent — with nearly 470,000 active duty personnel. While budgets and revenues remain confidential, it appears that the military comprises only around 2% of GDP expenditures, but provides a vast amount of GNP revenues through its production of services for the civilian economy as well as military hardware.
Even those who support the military's actions against Morsi must recognize this path could lead to a dangerous precedent. The military cannot see itself as the ultimate representative of the will of the people. That belief automatically precludes the central government from fulfilling that role. The military retains its popularity because it appears insulated from the corruption of the central government. The question remains whether it can sustain that reputation the longer it holds the keys of state power.