An Egyptian court today invalidated a government decree that effectively restored Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year state of emergency. The court ruling reverses a recent edict allowing the military to arrest civilians, a move that threatened to reverse the country’s democratic transition.
The ruling came as venue for the swearing-in of Mohammed Morsi (left) as Egypt’s first Islamist president has become the latest contentious issue between the Islamists and the ruling military.
“Legally he will decide where he will be administered the oath,” said Abdel Moneim Abdul Maksoud, head of the Brotherhood’s legal team. “From our perspective and from a legal perspective, the parliament is not dissolved so technically he can swear the oath in front of parliament. The last constitutional amendment made by SCAF is legally null and void so the part that says Morsi has to swear his vote in front of the supreme constitutional court is null and void.”
The Islamists must adopt a more inclusive approach to government, observers suggest, if it is to reassure would-be investors and retain the support of its current allies opposed to a perpetuation of military rule.
“Morsi has no other choice but to reach out to all political forces. Not only to fulfill his pledges by forming a coalition government, but also to strengthen his legitimacy in the face of” the military, said Khalil al-Anani, an expert on Islamist movements at the UK’s Durham University.
Brotherhood officials have hinted that the group may even forego Cabinet-level representation and establish a non-partisan coalition, perhaps with Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, as prime minister.
“The cabinet will not include members of the Muslim Brotherhood unless he sees a specific person that is perfect for the position,” said Kamel Mandour, a Brotherhood lawyer. “It’s a very critical time, so I expect the cabinet to be divided up among all political groups.”
But some observers are skeptical that the group can shed its sectarian impulses or that strictly conservative Morsi will be prepared to make the necessary compromises on issues like sharia’s role in the constitution.
“Division of power issues remain unresolved,” says Hani Sabra, an analyst and Egypt expert at Eurasia Group. “It remains to be seen whether or not Morsi will keep the promises he made to the non-Islamist revolutionary forces a few days ago regarding the government’s composition and the constitution-writing process. The Brotherhood’s track record on keeping its promises to this bloc is poor.”
Critics of the Islamist groups claim that the last parliament, of which 70 percent came from the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi parties, was ineffective. Making matters worse, a number of scandals and embarrassing incidents overshadowed the groups’ reputation, including one widely reported incident of an ultraconservative Salafi lawmaker who claimed that bandits attacked and brutally beat him, but it was later revealed that he had gotten a nose job. Earlier this month, a second hardline lawmaker from Al Nour party was charged with “violating public decency,” after he was found in a parked car engaging in intimate relations with a 23-year-old woman wearing a full face veil.
The newly-elected president “will strengthen his hand not by relying entirely on the Brotherhood but by reaching out to democratic political forces opposed to it,” writes the FT’s Roula Khalaf:
The Brotherhood weakened its cause in recent months when it alienated liberals and insisted on controlling the panel that will draft the constitution. One of its gravest mistakes has been to assume that the democratic game allows the majority in parliament to impose its will over the direction and make-up of the state.
Islamists and secularists remain deeply divided over key issues, including the role of sharia or Islamic law in a new constitution.
Ideology “has been the biggest stumbling block in this transitional stage,” said Mina Khalil, a Cairo-based Harvard law fellow at the Hisham Mubarak Law Center. “You need to have a consensus for the constitution to work, and if that fails then Morsi risks having SCAF step in and taking over the process.”
It is unclear whether today’s court ruling “was part of any army-Brotherhood compromise on Egypt’s future governance,” reports suggest.
Following the election of the Brotherhood’s Morsi as Egypt’s first Islamist president, the group’s officials are negotiating with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to “define the president’s authority and salvage at least part of the dissolved parliament, in return for concessions that would safeguard some military privileges.”
“We do not accept having a president without powers. The solution being worked out now is scaling back those restrictions so that President Morsi can deliver to the people what he promised,” said Essam Haddad, a presidential aide:
Mursi, seeking to fulfill a promise of inclusive government, will then name six vice-presidents – a woman, a Christian and others drawn from non-Brotherhood political groups – to act as an advisory panel, said Sameh el-Essawi, another aide to Mursi.
The presidential election has set the stage for a tussle between the military, which provided Egypt’s rulers for six decades, and the Brotherhood, the traditional opposition – sidelining secular liberals who ignited the anti-Mubarak revolt.
Haddad said the military would keep control of its budget and internal affairs but the generals would have to keep their hands off the stalled constitutional assembly. In its power grab, the army gave itself the right to veto articles of the constitution that the assembly will draft, angering the Brotherhood, which itself wants a big say.
“The negotiations involve loosening the grip of the generals on the constitutional assembly so that it can draft the new constitution without interference,” Haddad said.
Known as a conformist in a group marked by Leninist levels of organizational discipline, Morsi will struggle to balance the Brotherhood’s interests and ideology with the need to placate the group’s secular allies and the ruling military.
“[The Brotherhood] will accommodate [the army] on some issues and flex their muscle quietly to remind people of their capacity but not to become so threatening that they shut everything down,” says Jon Alterman, head of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “The hard question for Morsi is how do you get that balance right, and how do you go for the fact that people in [your] organisation will differ with you about the balance that you strike.”
The Islamists face a dilemma, writes Peter Mandaville, director of the Ali Vural Ak Center for Islamic Studies at George Mason University and a former member of the U.S. State Department’s Policy Planning Staff:
Having been short-changed at the hands of the SCAF by losing both their legislative power base and the prospect of full executive authority, they possess an unprecedented opportunity to rally popular sentiment to their cause. But doing so would lead inevitably to a direct confrontation with the generals, and it is not clear how far the Brotherhood is willing to push in this direction. The military as an institution remains broadly popular, and the Islamists know that at the end of the day, they will need to accommodate themselves to a political environment in which the military holds ultimate sway over matters of national security for some time.
If he is to stand up to the SCAF, Morsi will “need to cement new alliances and reduce the number of enemies who could be co-opted by the generals,” analysts suggest.
“If they want to confront the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, they need at least some liberals and leftists to join their cause,” says Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Centre. “We have to watch how sincere the Muslim Brotherhood is in its efforts to reach out to a more diverse constituency.”