While the world persists in looking for signs of pragmatism in the Egyptian
president, Mohamed Morsy is quietly taking over all the power bases in the
Having gotten rid of the army old guard, he replaced them with
his own men – officers belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood or known
sympathizers. Then he turned his attention to the media, replacing 50 editors
working for the government’s extensive and influential press empire – including
Al- Ahram, Al-Akhbar, Al-Gomhuria. He is now busy appointing new governors to
the 27 regions of the country.
Hosni Mubarak used to choose retired
generals he could depend on for these sensitive posts; Morsy is hand picking
party faithful. At the same time upper echelons in government ministries and
economic and cultural organizations are methodically being replaced. The Muslim
Brotherhood is fast assuming total control. For many observers, the deployment
of army units in Sinai is more about proclaiming Egyptian sovereignty in the
face of Israel than actually fighting Islamic terrorism.
Drafting the new
constitution is their next objective. Brothers and Salafis make up an absolute
majority in the Constituent Assembly. Liberal and secular forces are
boycotting its sessions, and the Supreme Constitutional Court is examining a
request to have it dissolved since it does not conform to the constitution
because of its overly Islamic composition; a decision is expected in
The assembly, however, is not waiting. According to
various leaks it is putting the final touch to a constitution where all laws
have to conform to the Shari’a and special committees will supervise the media
and forbid any criticism of Islam and of the Prophet. In the wings is the
creation of a Committee of Islamic Sages supervising the law-making process and
in effect voiding of substance the parliament elected by the people, though it
is not clear yet if, when and how it will work. What is clear is that a
parliament made of flesh and blood individuals is against the very nature of the
Shari’a, where all laws are based on the Koran and the hadiths. This is a far
cry from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Morsy has been
careful to speak about creating “a civil society”; it is now obvious that what
he meant was a society not ruled by the army, and not a secular society. Indeed
he had promised to appoint a woman and a Copt as vice presidents, but chose
Mohamed Maki, a Sunni known for his sympathy for the Brotherhood and
incidentally or not the brother of the new minister of justice,
Prof. Ahmed Maki, known for his independent stands and opposition to
Mubarak, but who had carefully concealed his support for the Brothers.
is worth stressing that the Brotherhood is still operating under conditions of
utmost secrecy, as it had been doing during the decades of persecution. How it
is getting its funds, who are its members and how they are recruited is not
known, nor is its decision-taking process. The movement has no legal existence
since Gamal Abdel Nasser officially disbanded it in 1954.
That state of
affairs was not changed while the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces ruled the
country, since apparently the movement did not apply for recognition, fearing
perhaps it would have to reveal some of its secrets. Now that it has created its
own political party, that the members of that party make up nearly 50 percent of
the parliament and that one of their own has been elected president, can the
movement remain in the shadows?
Morsy did announce that he was resigning from
the Brotherhood, but there is no doubt that he will remain true to the tenets
and the commands of its leaders. This is making people increasingly uneasy. They
had other expectations of the revolution.
Opposition to an Islamic regime
is growing, though it is far from being united. The three small liberal parties
that had had very little success in the parliamentary elections have now set up
a new front, The Third Way, to fight the Brotherhood’s takeover. Hamdeen Sabahi,
leader of the nationalistic Karama (Dignity) Party, who had garnered 18% of the
votes in the first round of the presidential election, has launched “The Popular
Current” promoting the old Nasserist pan-Arab ideology.
Some of the
nongovernmental media are vocal in their criticism of Morsy, though it can be
costly: Private television station Al- Pharaein – “the Pharaohs” – was shut down
after it called to get rid of Morsy; its owner, Tawfik Okasha, well known for
his hostility to the Brothers (and to Israel) and who called for a massive
demonstration this Friday, was put under house arrest, as was the editor of the
daily Al-Dostour that had criticized the president. The editors of two other
dailies – Al-Fajer and Saut el-Umma – were questioned. Other papers such
as Al-Akhbar stopped publishing opinion pieces from their regular collaborators
known for their opposition to the Brothers; well-known publicists left their
page blank in a gesture of solidarity for their colleagues.
that his takeover will strengthen the opposition. He has not forgotten that he
barely mustered 25% of the votes in the first round of the presidential election
– down from the nearly 50% who voted for his party’s candidates in the
parliamentary elections. He also knows that the people are no longer afraid to
take to the streets to protest – and that it is now said that a new dictatorship
is replacing the old – the only difference being that the new ruler has a
However, for now he is devoting all his energy to his fight
with the judiciary, long known for its independent stands. The Supreme
Constitutional Court is being asked to rule the Brotherhood Movement illegal,
and therefore to proclaim that the Liberty and Justice party it created – and
which won 50% of the seats in the parliament – is illegal as well, and therefore
to invalidate the election of Morsy, candidate of a movement and a party that
are both illegal. Morsy sent his new justice minister to browbeat the court, but
the judges refused to back down. The president is now working to limit the
prerogatives of the court in the new constitution and will start “retiring”
senior justices appointed by Mubarak.
Friday’s demonstration will be the
first real test for the Brotherhood. It is taking no chances and security forces
will be deployed around its institutions throughout the country. A cleric
at Al-Azhar issued a fatwa calling for the killing of whoever protests against
the rule of the Brotherhood; the resulting uproar was such that he was disavowed
by some of the leaders of the movement. However, whatever happens Friday will
not deter them from their goal – a thoroughly Islamist Egypt.
is a former ambassador to Egypt.