A president for all Egyptians
Egyptians marked an unprecedented milestone in their history when President Mohamed Mursi was declared the winner of a hectic and lengthy presidential race Sunday by the Presidential Elections Commission. Not only did Egyptians elect their president for the first time ever, but President Mursi narrowly won the race with 51.7 per cent in a region whose leaders never accepted for decades a result less than 99.9 per cent, ridiculing any meaning of democracy or elections.
Many would argue that the powers of the elected president were limited, and determined in advance by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), whose leaders issued a series of binding decrees, only days before the announcement of the result, to assure that any coming president would not dare to interfere in the affairs of the huge military establishment, and to largely retain control of major decisions related to national security in the hands of SCAF's commanders. The so-called "complimentary constitutional declaration" also gave SCAF a veto in drafting the country's new constitution.
However, room is obviously open for compromise between the army generals, who have been in control of power in Egypt for the past 60 years, and President Mursi, whose key challenge is to prove that he is a president for all Egyptians and not only for the country's largest political force, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, to whom he owes his victory. Hopefully, both SCAF and the new president will grasp the clear sense of optimism that prevailed among the majority of Egyptians after Mursi was declared the winner, even among those who voted for Mursi's adversary, Ahmed Shafik.
President Mursi has already taken positive steps, meeting in his first two days in office with SCAF commanders, the acting pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church, families of the martyrs of the 25 January Revolution, chief judges, and -- significantly -- leaders of the Interior Ministry to whom he gave assurances that there were would be no retribution against them, even if they were the same people who ordered his arrest, among scores of other Muslim Brotherhood leaders, only three days after the outbreak of the popular uprising against former president Hosni Mubarak.
Yet, Egyptians are expecting immediate decisions that can meet their high expectations, and their eagerness to restore stability, security and improve the economy. It is not acceptable to remain for days in a state of confusion over the procedures for swearing-in the president, marking the official assuming of his powers. So far, everybody has been confused by contradictory statements on whether this would happen in front of the Supreme Constitutional Court, as stated in the recent decrees issued by SCAF, or in front of the dissolved parliament.
The Muslim Brotherhood insist that the ruling issued by the Supreme Constitutional Court on 14 June, finding unconstitutional the elections law that governed the election of parliament, does not mean dissolving the entire parliament, and they are obviously seeking to alter that ruling so that the new president would be sworn-in in front of the People's Assembly where they maintain a 70 per cent majority with the Salafist Nour Party. The Administrative Justice Court decided Tuesday to rule on this matter 9 July. But the country cannot wait until then. Many Egyptians believe that present fighting over the dissolved parliament now belongs to the past, and they want to move on.
Worse than this legal stand-off is the fact that many Muslim Brotherhood leaders have disregarded the fact that President Mursi is no longer the leader of their Freedom and Justice Party, but the president of Egypt, and they have been issuing statements in his name. Many Egyptians are already worried about the future relation between Mursi and the supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Badie, whom he once swore allegiance to. It definitely adds to that worry when they find out that Mursi's decisions are being taken by the Brotherhood's Guidance Bureau or its Shura Council. It was indeed wise that the presidency office issued a statement Tuesday underlining that only Mursi's spokesman reflects his views.
We also expect President Mursi to decide soon on the formation of a new Cabinet aimed mainly at restoring security and improving the economy. That will be another test for him on whether he truly wants to become a president of all Egyptians. President Mursi repeatedly promised during his campaign that he would form a Cabinet, and appoint vice presidents, from the wide spectrum of Egypt's political parties. Now it is time to put those promises into effect and lead Egypt towards the creation of its new republic. Being a democratically elected president is indeed a major achievement, but ruling with only a near 52 per cent majority is also a very difficult task.