Wed, Jul 04, 2012 - Page 9 News List

Newly elected Egyptian president faces tough power struggle

By Omar Ashour

“You are the authority, above any other authority. You are the protectors, whoever seeks protection away from you is a fool ... and the army and the police are hearing me,” Egyptian president-elect Mohamed Morsi told hundreds of thousands in Tahrir Square on Friday last week.

Imprisoned following the “Friday of Rage” on Jan. 28 last year, Morsi took the presidential oath in Tahrir on a “Friday of Power Transfer” — but he almost did not.

Ten days earlier, on June 19, I was with a group of former Egyptian MPs in Tahrir Square. One received a telephone call informing him that a senior Muslim Brotherhood leader was coming to announce that the group was being blackmailed: Either accept the constitutional addendum decreed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which practically eviscerated the presidency, or the presidential election’s outcome would not be decided in the Brothers’ favor. An hour later, the senior figure had not shown up.

“The talks were about to collapse, but they resumed,” the former MP said. “Hold your breath.”

The victory of the Brotherhood’s Morsi in Egypt’s first free presidential election is a historic step forward on the nation’s rocky democratization path. His challenger, former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, had no chance of winning a clean vote, despite the support of a huge state-controlled propaganda machine and various tycoons.

“How many people can they trick, convince, or buy? We don’t have that short a memory,” a taxi driver told me when I asked whether he would vote for Shafiq.

Indeed, the Egyptian revolution has defeated Mubarak’s regime and its remnants three times since January last year: first with Mubarak’s ouster, then in the parliamentary elections held earlier this year and now with Morsi’s victory. And yet a military-dominated regime remains a real possibility. The series of decisions by the ruling SCAF just before the presidential vote clearly indicated that the military has no interest in surrendering power.

The most radical of these decisions was to dissolve parliament, for which 30 million Egyptians voted, based on a ruling by a SCAF-allied Supreme Court. The junta then assumed legislative authority, as well as the power to form a constitutional assembly and veto proposed constitutional provisions. It also formed a National Defense Council (NDC), dominated by the military: 11 army commanders versus six civilians — assuming that the interior minister is a civilian.

Meanwhile, efforts to clamp down on protests have continued. The justice minister, a Mubarak-era holdover, granted powers to the military intelligence and military police authorities to arrest civilians on charges as minor as traffic disruption and “insulting” the country’s leaders.

Now the hard part begins for Morsi, who confronts an intense power struggle between the beneficiaries of Mubarak’s status quo — generals, business tycoons, National Democratic Party bosses, senior judges, media personnel and senior state employees — and pro-change forces, whose largest organized entity is the Brotherhood.

The junta certainly has no intention of abandoning its vast economic empire, with its tax-free benefits, land ownership and confiscation rights, preferential customs and exchange rates, and other prerogatives. It has also no intention of surrendering its veto power, including over national security, sensitive foreign policy (specifically regarding Israel and Iran), and war making — hence the NDC.

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