Playing to form?
It took 10 days for President Mohamed Mursi to issue his first bombshell decree, reports Amani Maged
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File photo of leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood with Mursi during the press conference
In spite of the intense political polarisation in the run-up to the presidential elections the announcement of victory for Mohamed Mursi instilled cautious hope. The inaugural speeches he delivered reinforced a growing confidence among broad sectors of the public that this modest man would indeed mark a turning point in the hitherto autocratic style of Egypt's presidents. Then this seemingly unassuming man took everyone by surprise, issuing an executive decision to reconvene the People's Assembly and hold new legislative elections within 60 days of the promulgation of the new constitution. It was a direct countermand to Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi's decree dissolving the People's Assembly.
Some analysts have interpreted this step as an attempt to assert the powers of his office, which he had occupied for 10 days, so as to demonstrate that he possessed and could exercise his full authorities and rights as president. The National Front, formed shortly before the final results of the presidential elections were announced, held that Mursi had done the right thing. It was a step, argue its members, towards the fulfilment of the revolution and the restoration of the sovereignty and right to self-determination to the Egyptian people.
Others have suggested that the move was part of a strategy to reorder interim phase arrangements, a tactic designed to gain time for the Constitutional Assembly, to which many liberals object as an Islamist-dominated body, to continue with its work and force SCAF to hand over full power to a civilian authority without holding new presidential elections.
Tareq El-Bishri, the chief architect of the constitutional amendments that were put to a referendum on 19 March 2011 and that formed the basis of the "roadmap" for the transitional period, made no mention of whether or not elected bodies should continue to serve after the new constitution is promulgated. This implicitly left it open to the members of the Constitutional Assembly to determine whether or not those bodies should complete their constitutionally stipulated terms. However, according to some analysts, SCAF interpreted this differently because it intended to use the promulgation of a new constitution as an instrument to cut short Mursi's presidential tenure and thereby shunt the Muslim Brotherhood out of the executive branch as it sought to oust them from the legislature through the dissolution of the People's Assembly.
Other observers maintain that Mursi's decree to reinstate parliament was deliberately confrontational, designed to hasten a clash between the Muslim Brotherhood and SCAF. Apparently, SCAF received no advance notice of the decision. They further hold that the move was potentially reckless because it would intensify political tensions. It would have been wiser for the Muslim Brotherhood and SCAF to meet in order to iron out their differences and make some compromises rather than propelling the two sides towards the brink of an open clash.
Some political quarters were deeply incensed by Mursi's decree, which they describe as an affront to the Egyptian judiciary. Mamdouh Hamza, a lawyer and political activist, went so far as to urge the army to dismiss the president, prevent him from entering the presidential palace, and prosecute him for violating the authority of the judiciary.
Others disagree. The Mursi decree, the say, was a ploy that was a prelude to an agreement in accordance with which SCAF would get a part of what it wants, namely a new parliament within a few months, while the Islamists would be able to avert a situation in which SCAF controls the legislature.
But Mursi's executive decree did not just provoke an immanent crisis between the army and the Muslim Brothers. Statements issued by a number of judges have exposed seething tensions between the judiciary and the two-week-old executive and the acrimony has quickly leaked out from behind closed doors to become sensational fodder for national and satellite television screens.
The decree also stirred considerable confusion in society and sparked an anti-Muslim Brotherhood phobia fed by fears that the Muslim Brothers truly plan to take over society and indoctrinate it into their creed. Here was evidence that the president does not respect the rulings of the very institution before which he was pledged into office. This shows that the Muslim Brothers plan to take over the judiciary as well, and that the FJP, from which Mursi ostensibly resigned, instructed him to issue the decree to reinstate parliament, or so these arguments go.
The FJP has so far been unable to allay the anxieties of a large segment of Egyptian opinion that suspects the Muslim Brotherhood of planning to seize control over all branches of power. Nor were the party's attempts to reassure the public aided by the fact that the Islamist-dominated Shura Council issued a decree that brought a spate of new appointments to the positions of editor-in-chief of the country's national newspapers.
The Shura Council had remained seated while the People's Assembly was suspended. It is the official "owner" of national newspapers and has the authority to make such appointments in accordance with certain pre-established criteria. Nevertheless, a large portion of the journalistic community not only objects to these criteria but to the fact that the press should be subordinate to the Shura Council in the first place.
Meanwhile, much of public opinion is disappointed by the fact that the cabinet headed by Kamal El-Ganzouri remains in power. The FJP, through its majority in parliament, tried on more than one occasion to have the government dismissed. Their inability to do so, they say, was one of the reasons why the party fielded a candidate for president, the initial choice being Khairat El-Shater. Now that can replace the cabinet they seem loath to do so.
Many now ask why that cabinet is still functioning, especially given the FJP's repeated claims it has a coalition government already to hand. Apparently, this is not quite the case. There are still differences among the political forces over who would head the new cabinet and negotiations have stalled among the partners over the distribution of ministerial portfolios.
That no new cabinet has been appointed does little to put to rest widely held suspicions that the Muslim Brothers are trying to take over the country and that the supreme guide, Mohamed Badie, and his powerful right hand man Khairat El-Shater, are the ones pulling the strings. While some shades of political opinion are pleased with President Mursi's decree, which they view as a sign of his resolve to assert the authorities of his office, general alarm over Muslim Brotherhood designs is mounting. The Muslim Brothers will find it difficult to reassure the Egyptian public that the "ikhwanisation" of government and society is not part of their lexicon.