Analysis: Again at the crossroads

Votes still being counted, official results not expected until Thursday, but Muslim Brotherhood's Morsy proclaims victory.

Muslim Brotherhood's presidential candidate Mohamed Morsy 37 (photo credit: Suhaib Salem / Reuters)
Muslim Brotherhood's presidential candidate Mohamed Morsy 37
(photo credit: Suhaib Salem / Reuters)
Votes are still being counted and official results are not expected until Thursday, but Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsy has proclaimed himself triumphant in Egypt’s presidential election and his partisans are already celebrating a “victory” that rival Ahmed Shafik is hotly contesting.
The situation is both chaotic and volatile. The parliament has been dissolved and so has the constitutional assembly, which was assigned to draft the new constitution. Without a constitution, nobody knows what powers will be vested in the presidency.
In an attempt to clarify the situation, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) on Sunday issued a “constitutional declaration” granting greater powers to the army, setting down a timetable and detailing the prerogatives of the new civil institutions by amending some of the dispositions of the temporary constitution adopted by referendum in March 2011.
The Muslim Brotherhood vehemently opposed the move, which its believes is intended to curb its influence.
And nearer to Israel, terrorists attacking from Sinai, whether part of Hamas or of other organizations, are banking on Morsy’s victory and greater hostility of the Egyptian regime toward Israel.
As things now stand, the constitutional declaration severely curtails the prerogatives of the president and enhances those of the army.
There is nothing to indicate that it will be a transitory measure; on the contrary, it is meant to remain in force under the future new regime since the SCAF is invested with the right to take part in the drafting of the constitution even after the president takes office.
The president will still be nominally the commander in chief of the army but will not be able to declare war without the agreement of the generals.
Only the SCAF will be empowered to promote officers.
Legislative power is once again vested in the army, which will also set up the panel to draft a constitution to be ratified by referendum. Should the panel not complete the task in the time allotted by the SCAF, the army itself will draft the constitution. Parliamentary elections will not be held before the constitution is ratified.
However, the army said it would hand over power to the president by the end of June, after the constitutional court swears in the president.
Will it work? What if Shafik is elected? Will the Brotherhood, the Salafis and the young revolutionaries accept him? The Brotherhood has already said it would take to the streets to protest what it calls a treasonous move. How would the army cope with mass demonstrations? If Morsy is declared the winner, he will fight what he sees as an attempt by the army to take over – from dissolving the parliament to “usurping” the drafting of the constitution. It is fairly obvious that Islamist forces cannot expect to repeat their stunning victory at the polls last winter; it is also clear that the Brotherhood wants a largely Islamic constitution and needs to be heavily involved in its drafting.
It is no less obvious that one of the main objectives of the constitutional declaration is to protect the army, to grant continued immunity to the generals sitting on the SCAF even if the Muslim Brotherhood does win rule of Egypt. On the other hand, the Brotherhood will do its utmost to oust the SCAF members – who were part of the old regime – and promote a slew of new officers ready to do its bidding.
The complex relationship between the SCAF and the Brotherhood has vital implications for Israel. The Egyptian army is not interested in initiating a confrontation with Israel; hence, perhaps, the true significance of the disposition forbidding the president to declare war without the agreement of the army, since it is hardly likely that Egypt would declare war on its other neighbors such as Libya or Sudan.
The army intends to continue being the regime’s “silent partner,” as was the case during the Mubarak years.
Whether this will work is another matter.
Regarding relations between Egypt and Israel, Shafik might be more inclined to expand them for the benefit of his country. Though there is nothing to indicate that the Brotherhood would cancel the peace treaty and send troops into Sinai – which could be a casus belli – it would probably pay lip service to the treaty and keep relations to a minimum, but open the border with Gaza and let people and commodities go through.
Such a move would strengthen Hamas and enable the organization to get ahold of state-of-the-art weaponry to intensify its attacks on Israel.
Recent attacks on the Negev might be a harbinger of things to come.
The writer, a fellow of The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden.