Day: June 26, 2012

A smooth landing after so much turbulence?

Travel has made me late to post on the election of Mohammed Morsi as Egypt’s president, so it is unlikely I’ll say anything you haven’t heard before.  But maybe it will be useful if I explain why some like me who advocated a vote for Ahmed Shafiq is happy to see the election of Morsi.

I suggested voting for Shafiq when it looked as if the election of Morsi might give the Muslim Brotherhood a monopoly on institutional power in Egypt, as it already controlled the parliament.  Shortly thereafter, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) used a Supreme Constitutional Court decision to close the parliament and arrogate legislative power to itself.  So Morsi’s election is breaking the army’s monopoly on power, rather than Shafiq breaking the Brotherhood’s monopoly on power.  The point is the same:  Egypt is a deeply divided society getting ready to write a constitution.  The broadest possible representation in power is what the country needs.

It would be hard to resist the joy some Egyptians are expressing at the election of Morsi, who has gone out of his way to reach out to the broadest possible spectrum of Egyptian society.  He has even resigned from the Brotherhood and praised the army, underlining his intention to be the president of all Egyptians.  Some will gripe that he can leave the Brotherhood but the Brotherhood doesn’t leave him.  Others will doubt his sincerity in promising to treat women and Christians equally.  Still others will worry that his promise to uphold international agreements won’t apply to the peace treaty with Israel, on which the Brotherhood has in the past advocated a referendum.  There are enormous uncertainties surrounding Morsi.

The greatest of these is what powers he will actually exercise.  Even former president Hosni Mubarak kept a parliament, which is nice to have around when you need legislation on controversial matters of no import to the army.  Who would want to decide on the level of food subsidies in Egypt today?  Or pension payments?  Or female genital mutilation?  Not the army for sure.  It should be content to keep control of its own budget and economic enterprises while blocking any moves towards accountability for crimes committed under the Mubarak regime.  I don’t think it will be long before we see the army unhappy with its legislative responsibilities, but it will be difficult to get rid of them.  There is a strong likelihood that new legislative elections will bring another strong showing by the Islamist parties (the Brotherhood controlled 48 per cent of the seats after the last elections and the Salafists another quarter or so).

Meanwhile Morsi, has to put together a government, uncertain of its powers but confident of his own democratic legitimacy.  It is not even clear where and how he will be sworn in, though I trust they’ll figure that one out.  The SCAF will be overseeing the cabinet-formation process, and perhaps even vetoing particular names.  One of Morsi’s lieutenants is saying

It will be a coalition government without an FJP [Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party] majority and led by an independent figure.

That sounds smart to me.  An Egyptian administrative court today threw out the arrest and detention powers that the army gave itself just a few days ago.  If Morsi is patient and diligent, he may well find power on many issues gravitating in his direction, with the army content to protect its more immediate interests.

If that happens, I’ll be wondering again where the counterbalancing forces can be found.  But Egypt has already been through a lot of turbulence.  Dare I hope that, like my flight from Vienna today, things smooth out for a good landing?

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