Egypt: A Brotherhood win and probable back room deal
Jun 25, 2012Posted by Gregory Aftandilian
The announcement on June 24 that Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate Mohammed Morsi defeated former Mubarak prime minister, Ahmed Shafik, was most likely a way for Egypt's SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) to mollify the Islamist camp to preclude domestic unrest without giving up much power. Rumors abounded in Cairo that the Brotherhood had been in negotiations with the SCAF ahead of the announcement, and given the Brotherhood's penchant to participate in such talks, a back room deal is likely to have occurred. For the time being, both sides are content with what they achieved.
For the Brotherhood, the announcement of a Morsi win was a true milestone. Having been largely persecuted (first by the monarchy, then by the republican-nationalist regime) for most of its existence since 1928, the Brotherhood finally achieved official legitimacy by winning an election to the coveted position of president. The enthusiastic celebration by Brotherhood members and supporters in Tahrir Square was a genuine reflection of this pent-up feeling that they had finally made it to the presidency. Morsi did his best to quell fears that he would embark on a narrow path by claiming he would work for the benefit of all Egyptians, regardless of religion, and would abide by international treaties. As the titular head of state (although not yet sworn into office), he was then in position to receive congratulatory phone calls, including one from President Obama.
The SCAF undoubtedly would have liked Shafik, a former Air Force Commander, to have won the presidency, but pressuring the Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission to announce a Shafik win would have backfired, especially after the initial counting showed that Morsi was in the lead. Shortly before the polls closed, the SCAF, sensing a likely Morsi victory, however, issued a number of decrees that greatly reduced the powers of the presidency. These included: no control over the military and the military's budget; no power to declare war without the military's consent; the military's veto power over provisions in the yet-to-be-written new constitution; and the military's power to craft legislation in the absence of a parliament. Shortly before the presidential election, the military moved quickly to seal off parliament after Egypt's high court ruled that the parliamentary elections had been illegal. Anger over these measures, especially by the Brotherhood which lost its leadership position in parliament, would have likely boiled over into street violence if, on top of all of this, Shafik was declared the winner over Morsi. Hence, the SCAF, using the delay in election's announcement to negotiate with the Brotherhood, probably laid down some markers: we'll give you the presidency provided that you do not engage in street violence, you make reassuring remarks about international treaties, and you do not try to pursue a strict Islamist agenda.
Morsi thus comes to the presidency with very little power. There was even a remark from a SCAF adviser last week to the effect that once the new constitution is written within three months, there might be new elections to the presidency. Although the military might eventually return to the barracks, it is indicating that it will only do so after it completes a process that it will tightly control.
Now that Egypt has a Muslim Brotherhood president, the SCAF will likely ensure that the new parliament, when it is elected, will not be led by the Brotherhood. In this way, the SCAF will try to balance an Islamist presidency with a secular-dominated or an evenly-split parliament. Although the first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections resulted in the Brotherhood taking 47 percent of the seats in the People's Assembly, there is a good chance it will not achieve that victory again. Many of the votes for the Brotherhood in the late 2011 period were from non-Brotherhood Egyptians willing to give the Brotherhood a try, and they did not like the Brotherhood's performance once it actually ran parliament. The Brotherhood can probably count on about 25 percent of the electorate (about the percentage that Morsi received in the first round of the presidential elections) but it will be a real challenge to get much more. Secular forces will probably do better than before in new parliamentary elections--partly in reaction to Morsi winning the presidency--and the fundamentalist Salafis might do about the same. This will mean that parliament might have a slight secular majority or be so evenly split it will not be an effective body.
The SCAF probably hopes this type of divide and rule strategy will work toward their ultimate goal--keeping the civilian politicians away from ruling over the military and scrutinizing the military's budget. The Brotherhood is probably hoping that if Morsi becomes a popular president it will translate into eventual parliamentary wins. But whatever comes to pass later, for the time being there seems to be a truce of sorts between the military and the Brotherhood.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Center for National Policy.
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