- Published on Wednesday, 18 July 2012 07:48
- Written by Yusuff Fernandez
Last 24 June, the Muslim Brotherhood's presidential candidate Mohammed Mursi was named as the new Egyptian president after defeating his rival, the former Mubarak-era prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq. However, his victory is not expected to bring normality back to the country quickly as a major part of power is still in the hands of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).
Mursi's victory represents a remarkable victory for the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization which had been outlawed and systematically suppressed for decades, including under the three-decade regime of toppled president Hosni Mubarak. During the election campaign, Mursi benefitted from the electoral work of the organization's grassroots network and his highly organised campaign team.
Mursi is the Arab world's first elected Islamist president after more than a year of popular uprisings that ousted some autocrats and fuelled the rise of Islamist forces in the whole region. His victory also signifies the end of a 60-year of military monopoly on the presidency. The previous presidents, who ruled the country since the Free Officers' coup in 1952 – Mohamed Naguib, Gamal Abdel-Nasser, Anwar El Sadat and Hosni Mubarak – all came from within the military's ranks.
The SCAF´s grip on power
Mursi's victory, however, does not mean that the military junta is willing to loosen its current grip on power. Recent decisions by the SCAF have given the military junta expanded powers at the expense of both parliament and the presidency. Late on Sunday June 17th the SCAF released an addendum to the military-authored March 2011 Constitutional Declaration.
The articles of the amended Constitutional Declaration put the SCAF in sole charge of the armed forces and its affairs, including selecting military leaders and the defence minister. The president will also not be able to declare a state of war or order the deployment of troops, even to contain domestic disturbances, without the SCAF's consent, according to the terms of the constitutional addendum.
"The addendum means that the SCAF has become a state above the state, with wide legislative and executive powers, a veto on constitutional and other political matters, and stands immune to any challenges," liberal political analyst Amr Hamzawy said via Twitter. Alaa El-Aswany, an Egyptian journalist, adds: "The Constitutional Deceleration is a complete turn against the revolution and it makes the president a mere affiliate of the military council".
Moreover, the dissolution of parliament's lower house by the Supreme Constitutional Court, under SCAF's control, has given the military junta full legislative and executive authority until a new People's Assembly can be elected. The SCAF has also threatened to use an "iron fist" against protesters, and has deployed troops and armoured vehicles in front of several public buildings in Cairo.
With its attitude, the military has clearly signalled that it did not intend to hand power over to the Muslim Brotherhood. It has dissolved the parliament and the constituent assembly, which were both dominated by the Islamists. "The establishment is still there and they have an ideology against the Brotherhood," said Said Sadek, a professor of political sociology at American University in Cairo. "They were trained to look at the brotherhood and political Islam as the enemy".
However, the military fear a popular uprising if they appear to be openly hostile to people's willingness. Therefore, there were rumours about intensive behind-the-scenes negotiations between the SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood over a deal to give Mursi the largely powerless presidency in return for the Islamists' acceptance of some of the SCAF's recently acquired powers. Mohamed El Baradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is said to be involved in mediation between both sides. Some reports indicate that shortly after he talked with the Muslim Brotherhood over a possible cabinet post, including the post of prime minister, he met with Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of the SCAF.
Another problem is the scope of the military's role in the economy. According to different estimates, their companies and industries account for around 8%-40% of the country's gross national product. The business interests are represented by opaque holding companies such as the NSPO, the Organisation of Arab Industrialisation, the Ministry of Military Production, and the al-Nasr Company for Services and Maintenance, according to the Financial Times.
"The military business sector is a black box" says Tamer Maher, managing director of Bi Technologies, a Cairo-based software company. "It is impossible to tell which companies are doing what, which are making profits and which aren't".
Therefore, the military junta and some bureaucratic sectors could be tempted to make Mursi a lame-duck president or a figurehead and prevent him from implementing the Muslim Brotherhood's program or his own ideas for the development of the country. "President Morsi will struggle to control the levers of state", said Elijah Zarwan, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. "He will likely face foot-dragging and perhaps outright attempts to undermine his initiatives from key institutions. Faced with such resistance, frustration may tempt him to fall into the trap of attempting to throw his new weight around", Zarwan told Reuters. "This would be a mistake".
However, Mursi has two cards to play in this game with the military. Firstly, he is trying to set up a real front of revolutionary forces for change. The Brotherhood has announced on its Twitter page that Morsi had begun talks to form a presidential team and a government with representatives of all the parties that supported the revolution.
After a few days of meetings with other revolutionary parties and organizations, such as the April 6th Youth Movement and secular Nasserites, leftish and liberals, Mursi held a press conference in which he announced the formation of a national front. In order to dismiss allegations that the Muslim Brotherhood wanted to monopolize power, he said that he would appoint a prime minister who is not member of his organization and assign other cabinet posts to non-Islamist figures.
The second card is popular protests. According to a recent Gallup poll, 58% of Egyptians are no longer willing to let the army have a role in politics. Protests have been going on since the junta dissolved the parliament earlier this month, even after the announcement of Mursi's win. The parties supporting the revolution are also saying loudly that they reject the military's latest moves. And, in spite of some threats to use force against "rioters", Egyptian generals are aware that they are too weak to launch a crackdown campaign against their own people.