May 23, 2013
Dispatches From Cairo: Of Presidents and Pharaohs
Posted on Jun 18, 2012
CAIRO—Surprise. Surprise. Once again Egypt has proved to be unpredictable.
Though the official announcement of the winner in the presidential election isn’t due until later this week, results on Monday showed a clear majority for Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, over regime candidate Ahmed Shafiq. But watch out for flames shooting from the military dragon.
In the hours since the closing of the polls Sunday night, a new constitutional decree was instituted by the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces, giving legislative authority and constitution-writing power to the generals and thereby drastically reducing presidential power. It obviously was a regime move against an opposition victory in the race for the presidency.
The SCAF has been the de facto ruling body since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster in February 2011. The new constitutional change tightens its grasp on power in the face of a possible handover of the reins to a civilian, giving the military control of all laws and the national budget, immunity from prosecution, and the authority to veto any declaration of war (which many in the West will see as a good thing in light of the Muslim Brotherhood’s hard stance against Israel and its stated intention to seek dissolution of the 32-year-old Camp David peace treaty with that nation).
Further confusing the situation is the fact that the election outcome may be revoked by authorities until the end of the month, at which time an elected civilian government is supposed to take control. This gives the SCAF time to readjust its tactics.
After dissolving the Islamist-majority Parliament and the constitution-writing committee last week, the SCAF acted quickly to assemble its own 100-member constitution-drafting panel, people who presumably know how to create a constitution that will satisfy the military.
Saad Katatni, the Muslim Brotherhood head of the disbanded Parliament, insisted that the military had no authority to dissolve the legislature or write a constitution. He claimed that Parliament had chosen its own 100-member panel and had already begun meetings to draft a constitution. In effect, this creates a competing legislative assembly.
With soldiers and riot police officers barring the way, Parliament members have been kept out of the Parliament building, and the lockout will continue Tuesday morning. Saad Hussainy, the leader of the Brotherhood’s parliamentary bloc, said the group’s MPs would show up at the Parliament as scheduled Tuesday morning. The probability of a street confrontation is high.
“Down, down with military rule!” supporters at Morsi’s campaign headquarters cried before his victory speech Monday afternoon. “I thank Allah,” Morsi said, “for guiding Egypt to this straight path, the path of freedom and democracy.” He promised to represent all Egyptians, including the nation’s Coptic Christian minority and those who had rallied against him. Many of those who opposed him were motivated by fear of a Brotherhood-directed government.
Egypt’s Sufis—members of Islam’s mystical branch, rejected by the fundamentalists—were among the strong backers of Shafiq. This support was bolstered in the days before the election by another burning of a Sufi shrine.
On Sunday, to the sound of military helicopters circling over Cairo in a demonstration of the regime’s presence and power, I and some companions accompanied the elderly mother of one of us to a polling station for aged voters. She greeted many there, most leaning on canes, and joked “Power to the canes!” causing them to laugh. She went in to happily color her little finger with purple ink. She is an adherent of a strain of Islam that differs with the Muslim Brotherhood, and she voted for Shafiq.
In reaction to the closure of the Parliament, Egypt’s Islamists and democrats alike were demoralized and supporters of the military regime’s candidate were initially energized. However, the sudden realization that the revolution so dearly paid for could end in a return to a military police state prompted even many of those who detested the Brotherhood to vote for its Mohamed Morsi over the military’s Gen. Ahmed Shafiq.
Liberals are afraid of the notion of a Muslim Brotherhood covert international Islamic agenda and the risk of loss of their personal, moral and religious freedom. Artists, musicians, writers, filmmakers, intellectuals and others were torn between betraying the revolution and the prospect of being forbidden freedom of expression under Islamist government-enforced Shariah law. Some simply did not believe that a vote for Morsi would actually count.
“It was just that I could not bear to think of what we went through, the martyrs who died to free us of this regime, and then to vote for it to come back,” Amira, an actress and activist, told me. But she was in shock when the vote count showed Morsi had won. “I want to cut my hand off,” she said.
Others—fearing loss of freedom, perhaps Egypt becoming Islamized like Saudi Arabia or Iran—either disqualified their votes by writing in “The martyrs” in protest or they voted for Shafiq.
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