Mohamed Mursi, the newly elected Egyptian president who rose through the ranks
of the Muslim Brotherhood, is waging an all-out war against the Supreme Council
of the Armed Forces, which has severely curtailed his executive prerogatives.
Though the generals did transfer the power to the president in an impressive
ceremony, they don’t intend to let him rule alone and are mustering their
considerable political and economic forces to fight what they see as an Islamic
takeover of the country. In a somewhat bizarre twist, both parties are turning
to the courts to defend their positions.
Even before the results of the
election had been announced, the Muslim Brothers lost their strongholds one by
one. First came the dissolution of the parliament, where they and the Salafis
held threequarters of the seats; then the SCAF published a constitutional
declaration granting the generals not only legislative powers but effective
control on the drafting of the constitution, the preparation of the budget and
all military matters from preparing and managing the budget to promoting
officers to top positions – depriving the president of his traditional role as
head of the armed forces and preventing him from declaring war without the
express consent of the army.
Mursi retains the right to name the prime
minister and the ministers; he can issue presidential decrees; and that’s about
it. This is an intolerable situation for the Brotherhood. After 84 years of
bitter fighting, during which many of their leaders have been executed and
thousands of their militants thrown in jail, they have clawed their way legally
to the top, dominating the parliament and the Constituent Assembly and seeing
one of their own elected president. They will not easily accept the stripping
away of their hard-won gains; while they are currently trying to get the courts
on their side, they are ready to use force if necessary.
One of the first
acts the president took was to issue a presidential decree convening the
parliament – in defiance of the decision of the Supreme Constitutional Court,
which had ordered its dissolution because elections had not been carried out in
compliance with the law. The parliament, duly convened and in a short –
12-minute – session, decided to ask the Cairo administrative court to review the
decision – in spite of the fact the Supreme Constitutional Court is at the top
of the legal pyramid in Egypt and its decisions cannot be
Predictably, the lower court declared itself incompetent and
Mursi reluctantly accepted its ruling – for now. The Brothers know that should
new parliamentary elections be held, they have no hope of repeating their
stunning victory. Egyptians are increasingly disenchanted with a movement that
has reneged on one promise after another (they had pledged not to present a
candidate for the presidency, for instance) and squandered parliamentary
discussions on ways to implement the Shari’a (Islamic law) instead of tackling
the country’s more urgent problems.
Yesterday the Cairo administrative
court sat to discuss three burning issues: 1. A decision was postponed on a
request to dissolve the Constituent Assembly, which is in charge of drafting the
constitution, because its members are mainly Islamists and all segments of the
population are not represented.
2. The court said it did not not have the
jurisdiction to rule on a request to dismiss the constitutional declaration
issued by the SCAF curtailing the prerogatives of the president and decided to
defer it to the Supreme Constitutional Court.
3. There is still a
standing request to dissolve the upper house of the parliament, since it was
elected in the same manner as the lower house.
Without waiting for the
results, Mursi had tried another ploy to prevent the dissolution of the
Constituent Assembly: he affixed his signature to the law that created the
assembly – a law voted on by the parliament – and then claimed that only the
Supreme Constitutional Court could decide whether or not it was valid. The issue
is whether a law passed by a parliament that was declared illegal since its
inception and has been dissolved as such can be valid.
Various courts are
expected to rule in September on the legality of the Muslim Brotherhood
After all, it was officially dissolved by Gamal Abdel Nasser in
1954. Neither Anwar Sadat, who freed the thousands of militants in jail at that
time, nor Hosni Mubarak, rescinded the dissolution order. Though its existence
was not legal, the movement managed to survive and expand. A number of its
members were elected to the parliament as “independents” or through the Wafd
party. After the fall of Mubarak, the SCAF freed the Brothers who were still in
jail and let the movement act openly – but the Brotherhood never registered as a
political organization. It is generally supposed that it did not want to declare
its aims publicly (which is a requirement for any organization asking to be
registered) – which are imposing the Shari’a in Egypt and reviving the
For all intents and purposes, the movement remained illegal.
This did not stop it from forming a political party , the Freedom and Justice
Party, which was approved by the SCAF even though the election laws the SCAF
itself had issued prohibited the creation of a party on a religious basis. Now
there are a number of legal proceedings challenging the creation of the party,
some demanding that the presidential election be annulled because Mursi’s
candidacy was presented by an illegal party. Needless to say, all this is the
equivalent political dynamite, and intense pressure is being brought to bear by
the Brothers to defuse the situation.
And while these arcane and
Byzantine discussions are ongoing, Egypt is rudderless. No one has the authority
to deal with the deepening economic crisis.
Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri
tendered his resignation when Mursi took office and now heads a caretaker
government; the new president is still looking for a suitable prime minister. He
has pledged that he will not give the post to a Muslim Brother – a pledge he may
or may not keep – but finds few takers; Many, like Mohamed ElBaradei, refuse to
be a front for an Islamic government.
With no one at the helm, currency
reserves are fast running out. Tourism is down, exports are down, foreign
investments are down and the hungry are getting hungrier. Thousands of needy
people press daily at the gates of the presidential palace, hoping for a word
with the president, and the police are forced to block the access roads. While
Brothers and SCAF generals are engaged in a bitter fight, the fate of the
country – and some say of the revolution – appears to be in the hands of the
courts. Unfortunately, neither party is likely to take a defeat lying
The writer, a Fellow of The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is
a former ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden.