Egypt: End Game June 23, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Egypt.
Tags: arab spring, democracy, egypt, egypt coup, egypt democracy, egypt election, egypt military, gywnne dyer, mubarak, muslim brotherhood, roger hollander, tahrir square
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“If we find that SCAF (the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) stands firm against us as we try to fulfill the fulfill the demands of the revolution,” said Fatema AbouZeid of the Muslim Brotherhood as the final results of Egypt’s presidential election last weekend rolled in, “we will go back to the streets and escalate things peacefully to the highest possible level.”
“Now we have a new factor in Egyptian politics, the Egyptian people themselves…” she continued. “(They) will not accept a return to the old regime in any form, not after so much Egyptian blood was shed to remove it.” Well, maybe.
There’s nothing like an election to make things clear. Now all the cards are on the table in Egypt, and the last round of bidding has begun. The army has opened with a very high bid in the hope of scaring everybody else off, and now the other players have to decide whether to call or fold.
Sometimes, even in long-established democratic states, the players simply fold in order to avoid a destructive constitutional upheaval. That’s what the Democratic Party did when the United States Supreme Court awarded the state of Florida and the presidency to George W. Bush in the disputed election of 2000.
It was an outrageously partisan decision by the 5-4 Republican majority in the Supreme Court, but if the Democrats had rejected it the United States would have faced months or even years of political turmoil. If they had foreseen the devastation that the Bush presidency would cause they might have done otherwise, but at the time their decision seemed wise.
It is possible that the Egyptian “opposition” – a uneasy amalgam of the secular and leftist young who overthrew the dictator Hosni Mubarak on Tahrir Square sixteen months ago and the Muslim Brotherhood (which initially avoided direct confrontation with the old regime) – will also just fold. After sixteen months of upheaval so many ordinary Egyptians just want “stability” that the army might win a showdown in the streets.
The problem is that the Egyptian army has bid much higher than the US Supreme Court ever did – so high that if the other players fold they lose almost everything. This is a brazen bid to revive the old regime minus Mubarak, and restore the armed forces to the position of economic privilege and political control that they have enjoyed, to Egypt’s very great cost, ever since Gamal Abdel Nasser’s coup in 1952.
On 14 June, just 48 hours before the polls opened for the second round of the presidential election, Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court announced that last year’s parliamentary election, in which Islamic parties won almost three-quarters of the seats, was conducted by rules that contravened the constitution.
There was a legitimate question about whether the political parties should have been allowed to run candidates in the seats reserved for independents. No, said the court, all of whose judges were appointed by the old regime. But rather than just ruling that there must be by-elections in those seats, they declared that the whole parliament must be dissolved.
This bizarre decision presumably meant that the 100-person constituent assembly created by the parliament to write Egypt’s new constitution was also dissolved. The army still swears that it will hand power over to the new democratically elected president on 30 June – but he will now take office with no parliament and no constitution to define his powers.
Might there have been some collusion between the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the Supreme Constitutional Court in this matter? Is the Pope a Catholic?
Last Sunday, only three days after the Court handed down its judgement and just as it was becoming clear that the old regime’s candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, would probably lose the presidential election, the SCAF issued an “interim constitutional declaration”. It effectively gives the military legislative powers, control over the budget, and the right to pick the committee that writes the new constitution.
Since that committee will not report until the end of the year, in the meantime there will be no election for a new parliament. There will be an elected president, but he will not even have authority over the armed forces: the army’s “interim constitution” strips him of that power, and no doubt its tame committee will write it into the new permanent constitution as well.
The SCAF can’t have come up with all this in just 72 hours after the decision of the Supreme Constitutional Court on the 14th. There had to be a lot of coordination between the military and the Court beforehand. You could call this a “constitutional coup,” but the more accurate phrase is “military coup.” So what can Egyptians do about it?
They can go back to Tahrir Square, this time student radicals and Muslim Brothers together, and try to force the army out of politics. That will be very dangerous, because this time, unlike February of last year, the generals may actually order the soldiers to clear the square by gunfire. Or the opposition, aware that the mass of the population has no appetite for more confrontation and instability, may just submit and hope for a better day.
If it does that, the Egyptian revolution is dead.
Gwynne Dyer has worked as a freelance journalist, columnist, broadcaster and lecturer on international affairs for more than 20 years, but he was originally trained as an historian. Born in Newfoundland, he received degrees from Canadian, American and British universities. His latest book, “Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats“, was published in the United States by Oneworld.
In Egypt, a President Without Power June 21, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Egypt, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: democracy, egypt, egypt coup, egypt democracy, egypt election, egypt military, egypt parliament, egypt revolution, military dictatorship, mubarak, muslim brotherhood, roger hollander, sharif abdel kouddous
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Last week’s presidential elections in Egypt were supposed to mark the final step in what has been an arduous transition from military rule to an elected civilian government. Instead, sixteen months after President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising calling for freedom and social justice, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces has assumed near-full control of all of the key branches of state.
Shafiq (left) or Mursi (right). Either way, turmoil is guaranteed. (Photo: AP)
M inutes after polls closed Sunday evening in the country’s first-ever competitive presidential election, which pitted the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi against Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak’s last prime minister, the SCAF issued a set of constitutional amendments that strip the incoming president of almost all significant powers and cement military authority over the post-Mubarak era.
The move by the ruling generals came days after the dissolution of the popularly elected parliament by a court packed with Mubarak-appointed judges, as well as a decree by the Minister of Justice reintroducing elements of martial law to the country by granting the military broad powers to arrest and detain civilians.
“Egypt has completed its full transition into a military dictatorship,” wrote Hossam Bahgat, head of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, after the amendments were made public.
The eleventh-hour declaration awards the ruling generals sweeping powers, including the right to issue legislation in the absence of a sitting parliament, and total control over the military’s affairs, shielding the army from any presidential, parliamentary or public oversight. Most prominently, the amendments remove the president’s role as commander-in-chief—with SCAF head Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi assuming that power—effectively transforming the SCAF into a fourth branch of state, constitutionally separate from the executive, legislative and judiciary.
“The provisions really do constitutionalize a military coup,” writes Nathan Brown, an Egypt expert at George Washington University.
The military also tightened its grip over the drafting of Egypt’s new constitution by granting itself an effective veto over any clauses that don’t meet with its approval. It can even go further and directly handpick the 100-member body that will write the constitution. The Constituent Assembly, elected by the Muslim Brotherhood–dominated parliament two days before it was dissolved, faces allegations by secular forces that it is dominated by Islamists who have secured themselves the lion’s share of seats. The new amendments allow the SCAF to dissolve the current body if “encounters an obstacle”—a disturbingly vague condition—and select the Constituent Assembly themselves.
The military council further eroded the authority of the executive with another decree, made public on Monday, to form a seventeen-member National Defense Council, to be chaired by the incoming president, but which will include eleven senior military commanders and will make decisions based on a simply majority vote.
Meanwhile, the head of the SCAF Advisory Council, Sameh Ashour, suggested the winner of the election might only serve on an interim basis, until the new constitution is written. “The newly elected president will occupy the office for a short period of time, whether or not he agrees,” Ashour told Al Jazeera.
Activists and rights campaigners decried the series of moves by the military, which they said render the SCAF’s promise to hand over power by June 30 effectively meaningless. The sentiment was reflected in the front-page headline of the privately owned daily Al-Shorouk the morning after the election: “A president without powers.”
The runoff itself was deeply divisive, marked by heavy negative campaigning by both sides. Shafik, a stalwart of the former regime, campaigned on a law-and-order platform, vowing to use force to crush protesters, while vilifying the Brotherhood and pledging to act as a bulwark against the rise of Islamists in government. Meanwhile, Morsi sought to portray himself as the revolutionary candidate facing off against the remnants of Mubarak’s regime.
Both men were polarizing figures, and their candidacies evoked the binary political landscape that prevailed in Egypt in the decades leading up to the revolution. Enthusiasm among the electorate was clearly low, with many voters saying their choice of candidate was based largely on preventing the other from reaching the presidency.
The Brotherhood has claimed it won the poll, releasing figures that show Morsi with nearly 52 percent of the vote to Shafik’s 48 percent. The results appear to coincide with reports from local media outlets and independent observers. However, the Shafik campaign is vigorously denying their candidate has lost and insists Shafik came out ahead with a tally of 51 percent. Both sides have launched appeals against the conduct of the vote before official results are announced on Thursday, June 21.
The Brotherhood has come out strongly against the constitutional amendments and says it does not recognize the Supreme Constitutional Court’s ruling to dissolve parliament, a decision widely viewed as highly politicized. The army deployed troops outside the parliament on Saturday to prevent MPs from gaining access to the building.
“This is against the people’s will and the SCAF does not have a genuine intention to hand over power,” the Brotherhood said in a statement. On Tuesday, the group helped lead a protest of tens of thousands in Tahrir Square and outside parliament, along with a number of other political forces, including the Salafi Nour party and the April 6 Youth Movement.
Adding to the chaos, that very night, the official state news agency caused a firestorm when it reported that Mubarak had been declared “clinically dead” after suffering a stroke. The former president was transferred from his prison cell where had been held since June 2, after receiving a life sentence on charges of involving the killing protesters in January 2011. Conflicting reports soon emerged that he was in fact stable and on a respirator. Reports of Mubarak’s failing health had frequently appeared in the media ever since charges were brought against him last year and the latest news was treated with widespread criticism in Egypt. The next day, The New York Times reported that his lawyer denied the former president had nearly died, insisting he simply fell down in the prison bathroom.
Meanwhile, the Carter Center, one of three international organizations accredited to witness the election, expressed “grave concern” about the military’s actions. “It is now unclear whether a truly democratic transition remains underway in Egypt,” the group said in a preliminary statement released Tuesday.
In Washington, the reaction was similar from both the State Department and the Pentagon. “We are particularly concerned by decisions that appear to prolong the military’s hold on power,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
US policy towards Egypt has remained unchanged since before the revolution, when Washington backed the Mubarak regime for decades with $1.3 billion in annual military aid. In March, the Obama administration used a national security waiver to bypass new restrictions imposed by Congress that would have made aid to Egypt conditional on certification from the State Department that the SCAF was making progress on the transition to democracy. The move came in the wake of a crisis in which Egyptian authorities raided several NGOs in Cairo, including three funded by the United States, not to mention continued and widespread human rights abuses committed by the military and security forces.
“[The United States] will either have to suspend the aid or be openly in favor of SCAF’s constitutional coup if they continue it,” writes Cairo-based blogger and analyst Issandr El-Amrani. “The time has come: the US may not be able to influence developments in Egypt, but at least it can stop underwriting them.”
The presidential elections mark the third time Egyptians have gone to the polls only to find their votes rendered meaningless. A nationwide referendum on nine amendments to the constitution in March 2011 was supplanted by SCAF a few days later when it unilaterally issued a “Constitutional Declaration” that included over sixty articles. The parliamentary elections last fall were cancelled by this month’s court ruling to dissolve the People’s Assembly. Now, millions have elected a president who was stripped of most of his authority by the SCAF in a last-minute power grab.
If voting has come to mean nothing with the military in charge, the masses that united to oust Mubarak may soon begin to seek other avenues for change.