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July 12, 2012

Manufacturing a facade of democracy in Egypt
Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood is sworn-in as a defanged President of Egypt

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

U.S. president Abraham Lincoln defined democracy as: 'Government of the people, by the people, for the people.'  However, this definition does not apply to Egypt where the pro-US army receives $1.3 billion in U.S. military aid yearly for maintaining ties with Israel.

On June 30, 2012, Mohammed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood was sworn-in as a defanged President of Egypt while more than 30-year old emergency law remained enforced. Also, before his swearing-in, the military junta dissolved the democratically elected parliament in which Mursi's party was in a majority. In the absence of parliament, Mursi took oath before the Supreme Constitutional Court as Egypt's fifth head of state since the overthrow of the monarchy some 60 years ago. 

Later at a military ceremony was held at the Heikstep military base east of Cairo, where Field Marshal Tantawi saluted Morsi as he arrived and awarded him the "shield of the Armed Forces" ― the Egyptian military's highest honor. Morsi also received a 21-gun salute before he and Tantawi addressed the ceremony. "We have kept the promise that we made before God and the people. Now we have an elected president who takes over the keys for ruling Egypt through a direct and free vote," said Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, addressing his guest as "Mr President."

However, his statement does not mean that generals were retiring to barracks to leave civilians completely in charge. The generals have created a National Security Council to formulate key domestic and foreign policies. Military officers outnumber civilians sitting on the council by about two-to-one, and decisions are made by a simple majority. The military has also declared itself the legislative power. It gave itself control over the drafting of a new constitution.

On June 24, Mohammed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood, was reluctantly declared the winner of Egypt's presidential election run-off. He won 51.73% of the vote, beating former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq. However, shortly before the presidential vote, with the help of a Mubarak-era judiciary, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), dissolved the parliament and gave itself the legislative power, which cuts into Mursi's powers to act.

The pro-US army has ruled Egypt since last year's revolution that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak. The military council has promised to oversee a transition to democracy, however, a series of decrees has led many to believe it intends to cling on to power. On June 13, the justice ministry gave soldiers the right to arrest civilians for trial in military courts until the ratification of a new constitution.

On June 15, the SCAF then issued a decree dissolving parliament in line with a Supreme Constitutional Court ruling that the law on elections to the lower house was invalid because party members had been allowed to contest seats reserved for independents.

On June 19, just as the polls were closing in the presidential run-off, the generals issued an interim constitutional declaration that granted them legislative powers and reinforced their role in the drafting of a permanent constitution. The military was also exempted from civilian oversight. Field Marshal Tantawi has also announced the re-establishment of a National Defense Council, putting the generals in charge of Egypt's national security policy.

The contentious constitutional revealed that the ruling military council will not be handing over full authority by the end of June 2012 as promised.

The exact powers of Egypt’s incoming president, and of the parliament, remain undefined, and the court-ordered disbandment of the lower house appeared to abort a committee appointed this week to draft a new constitution that would define them.

Al-Ahram Online says the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Mursiis to be sworn in to a truncated presidency. According to CNN, for the moment, the presidency is largely a figurehead position as Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) maintains widespread control over the country including the power to make laws and budget decisions. Egypt Independent says Morsy faces a daunting struggle for power with the country’s still-dominant military rulers who took over after Mubarak’s ouster in the uprising.

Parliament meets for five minutes

Surprisingly, on July 8, President Mursi issued a decree, convening the dissolved parliament to meet on July 10. Restoring parliament would mean taking power away from generals who ran the country for more than 16 months after the 2011 revolution that ousted president Hosni Mubarak.

On July 10, 2012, Egypt's parliament reconvened  in defiance of the order for its dissolution, though it quickly adjourned. The parliamentary session lasted only five minutes, beginning after a brief speech from Speaker Saad al-Katatni, who said that the legislative body had gathered only "to review the court rulings, the ruling of the Supreme Constitutional Court." "I want to stress, we are not contradicting the ruling, but looking at a mechanism for the implementation of the ruling of the respected court. There is no other agenda today," he added.

Speaker Katatni then proposed that parliament seek help from an appeals court in implementing the Supreme Court ruling. Parliament approved Katatni's proposal and adjourned. Ahram Online reported that parliament's decision to defer to the courts is being seen as a "possible compromise between the Muslim Brotherhood and Military Council, thus staving off what looked to be a serious constitutional and political crisis."

On July 11, President Mursi announced that he wanted talks with the judiciary and military to defuse a crisis over him trying reinstate parliament in defiance of generals. "There will be consultations among all political forces, institutions and the supreme council of judicial authorities to find the best way out of this situation in order to overcome this stage together," Mursi's statement said.

Parliamentary elections took place between November 2011 and January 2011 and finally held its first session on January 23, 2012. The Muslim Brotherhood and religious parities won the majority of parliamentary seats. However, the ruling military council retained the “authority to legislate,” meaning it could act as a parliament and issue laws as well as being able to veto and promulgate legislation, as a president would.

Tellingly, on March 12, the new Egyptian parliament unanimously voted in support of the expulsion of 's ambassador in Cairo and for a halt to gas exports to Israel. The motion was largely symbolic because only the ruling military council can make such decisions, and it was not likely to impact Egypt's relations with Israel. But the move signaled the seismic change in Egypt after the ouster of longtime leader and Israeli ally  a year ago. The vote was taken by a show of hands on a report by the chamber's Arab affairs committee that declared that Egypt will "never" be a friend, partner or ally of Israel. The report described Israel as the nation's "number one enemy." The parliamentary report also called for a revision of Egypt's nuclear power policy in view of the widespread suspicion that Israel has a nuclear arsenal of its own.

On the 14 June 2012, just two days before the second round of the presidential elections was due to take place, the Higher Constitutional Court declared the election unconstitutional, on the grounds that political party candidates had been permitted to contest one-third of the parliamentary seats reserved for individual, non-partisan candidates.

One of the key legislative changes the SCAF made after the ouster of Mubarak, was that the heads of courts were appointed by the General Assembly of Judges, on the grounds of seniority, not by the president as was the case before. This allowed the SCAF to confirm the appointment of the constitutional court’s new head, Judge Maher El-Beheiry. El-Beheiry will start his new role on 1 July; the day after the president is sworn in.

The president will not be able to change El-Beheiry, as according to Article 57 of the Constitutional Declaration, “judges… are not subject to removal.” This also means the majority of Egypt’s judges, including El-Beheiry, are Mubarak-appointees. Mubark raised the number of judges over the last 12 years which has ensured that the court is stacked in favor of the former regime.

The constitutional addendum announced by the SCAF on 18 June, as the presidential runoff polling stations closed, assigned yet more authorities to the SCAF. It was called by many as another military coup.

Under the addendum, the SCAF would be responsible for deciding on all issues related to the armed forces including appointing its commanders and extending the terms in office of the aforesaid commanders, effectively making the military council immune.

The president cannot declare war without the approval of the SCAF. In addition, should there be domestic unrest within the country the president would have to ask permission of the military council for assistance.

Now that the president is no longer head of the police, effectively the president has absolutely no control over weaponry or an armed force.

Egypt's infamous emergency law re-imposed

It may be recalled that Egypt’s infamous emergency law, which had given President Hosni Mubarak and his police forces vast authority to crack down on dissent, expired on May 31, 2012 and officials said they were disinclined to extend it.

Suspension of the law, which had been in effect for more than 30 years, was among the key demands of revolutionaries who toppled Mubarak on Feb. 11, 2011. Human rights activists hailed its expiration as a historic milestone and among the most important dividends of last year’s popular revolt. “It’s a law that symbolized the extraordinary powers given to the police, which created an environment in which forced disappearances and torture happened regularly,” said Heba Morayef, a Cairo-based researcher for Human Rights Watch.

The Brotherhood, a venerable organization, was among the opposition groups in the country that suffered most from the law. Many of the organization’s leaders were imprisoned for years, without due process, based on the government’s contention that they posed a security threat.

However, just days before the presidential vote, on June 13,  the Egyptian government announced that military police and intelligence officers have been given the right to detain civilians.

The decree was dated June 4, meaning it was issued just four days after the expiration of Egypt’s infamous emergency law, which for decades gave the state broad powers to imprison political activists which posed a threat to the ruling party.

The new edict authorizes military and intelligence officials to detain civilians for numerous alleged offenses, including disobeying orders, blocking traffic and going on strike.

Mohamed el-Beltagui, a senior lawmaker from the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, denounced the decree, calling it a return to a system of “violation of public freedoms.” He said parliament would hold an emergency hearing on the move and would seek to fight it in the court system. However, the parliament was dissolved.

Human rights organizations criticized the decision, saying it suggests that the military is reluctant to fully yield power to an elected president later this month.

Who is Mohammed Morsi?

A U.S.-educated engineer, Mr. Mursiwill be the Arab world's first freely elected president, the Wall Street Journal said adding: " That he hails from a conservative Islamist party, with offshoots in nearly every Muslim-majority country, is certain to reverberate beyond Egypt's borders―particularly in other Arab states still in the throes of revolution."

Mursiwas born in 1951 in the Delta province of Sharqiya. He studied engineering at Cairo University before he went to the University of South California to pursue a PhD. According to his resume posted on a Muslim Brotherhood’s website, Mursiworked as assistant professor at California State University Northridge in the early 1980s.

He returned to Egypt in the mid-1980s to teach at Zagazig University’s Faculty of Engineering.

In 2006, Mursiwas detained for seven months on grounds of participating in a protest denouncing Mubarak’s interference with the judiciary. On the early morning of 28 January 2011, Mursiwas arrested along with several Muslim Brotherhood leaders as part of Mubarak’s last desperate measure to preempt the sweeping protests that were set to kick off on that day.

During his parliamentary tenure from 2000 to 2005, Mursiinitiated several motions to expose government corruption. He also called for several political reforms including the abolition of the notorious political parties law, the empowerment of municipal councils, the lifting of the state of emergency and all restrictions on the press and student political activities. Mursiwas also an outspoken critic of the Egypt-Israel gas deal.

He also had filed an information request alleging that there are pro-American forces within the government seek to weaken Al-Azhar and religious education.

Hours after the result, Mr Mursi resigned from his positions within the Muslim Brotherhood including his role as chairman of its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) as he had pledged to do in the event of his victory.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the chief editor of the Journal of America