18 Jun 2012

Egypt’s military clings to power despite vote

Foreign Affairs Correspondent

Moves by Egypt’s military to limit the powers of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi, likely winner of the presidential election, may yet produce a more democratic Egypt, writes Jonathan Rugman.

The move by the supreme council of the armed forces – the military rulers in control since the ousting of Hosni Mubarak – came at the conclusion of a two-day presidential run-off, adding to the political turmoil that raised questions about the stability of the fragile democracy.

Even with no constitution, no parliament and, possibly, no power, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi declared victory on Sunday over Ahmed Shafik, who was Egypt’s last prime minister in the last days of Mubarak’s regime.

Shafik, though, refused to concede, saying votes were to still to be tallied in his stronghold districts, including portions of Cairo.

The military council will release details of an interim constitutional declaration Monday, said Mohamed Askar, the council’s spokesman.

Under the declaration, the military council retains the power to make laws and budget decisions for the country until a new constitution can be written and a new parliament elected.

High court ruling

It is the latest political twist to arise during Egypt’s historical elections, following a high court ruling just days before the run-off that invalidated parliament and paved the way for the military council to dissolve the legislative body.

While votes in Cairo, the country’s largest population center, were still to be tallied, unofficial results released by the state-run Al-Ahram news website early Monday showed Morsi leading elsewhere in the country with 11.2 million votes, or 52.3 per cent, compared with 10.3 million for Shafik.

In a victory speech, Morsi did not address the move by the military council. Rather, he used the platform to try to allay fears that he would impose an Islamist state, promising “a civil, patriotic, democratic, constitutional and modern state”.

“No one’s rights will be left out of it, and no-one will dominate over the other. The strong will not oppress the weak, and the weak’s rights will not be forgotten because of irresponsibility,” he said during a speech at his campaign headquarters in Cairo.

How bad are things in Egypt?

“That depends on how you measure progress within the last 24 hours versus the long list of setbacks,” writes Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jonathan Rugman.

“Firstly, the progress: Egypt appears to have undergone its first ever competitive, free and relatively fair presidential election, with more than one candidate on the ballot. Early indications are that Mohamed Morsi of the once outlawed Muslim Brotherhood has won. If true, this is an extraordinary moment after 60 years of autocratic military rule. The vote count was even shown live on television, though the rival candidate, a remnant of the old regime, is disputing the result, which appears to be close.

“Now the setbacks: Egypt’s military council is cutting off Mr Morsi at the knees before he comes anywhere near the presidential palace; last night the council issued a new charter giving the military control over all laws and the national budget, plus control of the process of writing a new constitution; this is on top of the reintroduction of elements of martial law and judges dissolving parliament last week.”
Read more on Jonathan Rugman’s blog

No parliament

Even as Morsi’s supporters gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square – considered the heart of the February 2011 uprising that led to Mubarak’s downfall – to celebrate, concerns were being raised about what the military council’s decree meant for the fledgling democracy.

“There is no parliament and there is no constitution,” said Hamdi Nayim, who joined the celebration in the square.

“We need to make this constitution very quickly, and we need to fight with the army… We will not be satisfied if the army will control us and govern us here.”

While the votes were counted, both sides traded allegations of voting irregularities at the hands of the other.

The supreme presidential electoral committee approved licenses for 53 organizations to observe the elections, including at least three international groups: the US-based Carter Center, the South Africa-based Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, and the Arab Network for Monitoring of Elections.

Shafik’s campaign filed more than 100 complaints, alleging “ballot rigging and stuffing”.

It also accused the Muslim Brotherhood of bribing voters with “large sums of money and food” to back Morsi, while intimidating and threatening violence against Shafik’s supporters.

The Muslim Brotherhood, in a statement posted on its website, denied the allegations and accused Shafik’s camp of bribing voters.

Both sides have called for an investigation.