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Muslim Brotherhood Rises Under a Military Thumb

Morsi supporters celebrating his victory in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Credit: Khaled Moussa al-Omrani/IPS.

CAIRO, Jun 28 2012 (IPS) - The Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi faces a host of daunting political hurdles after being officially declared Egypt’s first freely-elected president on Sunday.

“Due to ongoing political jockeying between the Brotherhood and the ruling military council, it remains uncertain until now what state institution Morsi will swear the oath of office in front of,” Abdel Ghaffar Shukr, founder of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party told IPS.

On Sunday (Jun. 24), Egypt’s presidential elections commission finally announced official results of a hotly-contested Jun. 16/17 runoff between Morsi and presidential rival Ahmed Shafiq, the Mubarak-era premier widely seen as the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) candidate of choice.

Morsi won 51.7 percent (some 13.2 million votes) against 48.3 percent for Shafiq (some 12.3 million votes).

Yet even before he is formally named president, Morsi faces enormous political hurdles due to a battery of recent judicial rulings and military decrees that vastly undermine Egypt’s parliament and presidency.

On Jun. 14, Egypt’s High Constitutional Court (HCC) ruled that a parliamentary elections law – which regulated last year’s legislative polls – is unconstitutional. The following day, the ruling SCAF ordered the dissolution of the People’s Assembly (the lower house of Egypt’s democratically-elected parliament), almost half the seats of which had been held by the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice and Party. The move left legal experts scratching their heads.

“The ruling failed to provide any legal rationale for dissolving the entire assembly,” Atef al-Banna, professor of constitutional law at Cairo University told IPS. “The court only found one-third of the seats in the People’s Assembly – those reserved for independents but which were contested by party-affiliated candidates – to be constitutionally questionable.”

The military council went further on Jun. 17 when it issued an ‘addendum’ to the Constitutional Declaration (issued by the SCAF in the wake of last year’s Tahrir Square uprising and approved via popular referendum). Issued as polling stations were closing their doors following the presidential runoff (and before votes had been counted), the addendum expands the SCAF’s considerable powers at the expense of parliament and – more importantly – the presidency.

For one, it transfers full legislative powers – along with control over the constitution-drafting process – from the now-dissolved People’s Assembly to the SCAF; secondly, it transfers major executive prerogatives, including the power to declare war, from the presidency to the military council; and thirdly, it stipulates that the new president must be sworn into office – in the absence of a functioning parliament – before the HCC.

“This ‘addendum’ effectively makes Egypt’s military a state within a state,” political analyst Abdullah al-Sennawi told IPS. “According to its terms, Egypt’s next president would have to share his democratically-mandated executive authority with the SCAF.”

The move, al-Sennawi added, “represents nothing less than a soft coup against Egypt’s post-revolution democratic transition.”

Al-Banna was no less critical of the controversial addendum. “Last year’s Constitutional Declaration was put before a popular referendum for endorsement,” he said. “Technically, therefore, this ‘addendum,’ too, should be subject to public approval.”

Since Jun. 19, tens of thousands of Islamist-leaning demonstrators – led by the Brotherhood – have been camped out in Tahrir Square to demand the reinstatement of parliament’s lower house, and cancellation of the SCAF’s constitutional addendum.

The addendum’s stipulation that the president-elect must be sworn into office before the HCC, meanwhile, has presented the Brotherhood with another dilemma.

“According to the constitutional addendum, Morsi must be sworn in before the HCC to become president, even though the Brotherhood rejects both the addendum itself and the HCC ruling that led to the People’s Assembly’s dissolution,” said Shukr.

Within recent days, the Brotherhood has issued conflicting statements as to which state institution Morsi would, in fact, take the oath of office before. Some have said he would do so before the dissolved parliament; others that he would do so before the HCC; and others still that he would be sworn in at a ceremony in Tahrir Square.

According to the SCAF’s official electoral timetable, Egypt’s new president is supposed to take the oath of office on Saturday (Jun. 30).

Morsi is currently in talks with the SCAF in hopes of reaching agreement to amend the constitutional addendum and reinstate the dissolved People’s Assembly, so that he might be sworn in before parliament.

His prospects, however, appear bleak. On Tuesday (Jun. 26), SCAF member Mamdouh Shahin told journalists that Morsi would “comply with the law and take the oath of office before the HCC.”

The situation, meanwhile, has also brought the Brotherhood and its president-elect under pressure from their secular-revolutionary allies.

On Tuesday, the April 6 youth movement – which played a prominent role in last year’s uprising and which threw its weight behind Morsi in the recent runoff – warned that taking the oath of office before the HCC was “tantamount to recognising this ‘constitutional addendum’ that leaves Egypt under the de facto control of the military.”

On Wednesday (Jun. 27), Morsi’s presidential office stated that it would definitively announce the location of the oath-taking ceremony the following day. Before dawn on Thursday, however, the state press cited an official source as saying: “If Morsi isn’t sworn in before the HCC on Saturday…the SCAF reserves the right to declare the office of president void.”

“Morsi may have won the election,” said Shukr, “but the ongoing struggle between the SCAF and the Brotherhood for control of the country is far from over.”

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