x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Morsi to be sworn in, then maybe sworn at

Many of Egypt's 85 million people will watch closely to see whether Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood can honour the grand promises they have made.

Mohammed Morsi takes the oath of office as Egypt's fifth president before the Supreme Constitutional Court today to crown the Muslim Brotherhood's remarkable rise from outlawed organisation to government.

For Mr Morsi, 60, it will be the final step of a bumpy and somewhat heroic journey from the Brotherhood's "spare" candidate to the winner of a closely contested presidential run-off against Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq.

Soon after the ceremony, many of Egypt's 85 million people will watch closely to see whether Mr Morsi and his Brotherhood can honour the grand promises they have made, which include allaying fears about possible domination and courting allies from liberals, leftists, Christians and secularists.

Egyptians will keep a keen eye on who gets to be his first prime minister and who will be in the Cabinet. Then comes the question of how will Mr Morsi takes the fight to the military that has tried to curtail the new president's powers.

In the week since he was declared the winner of the election, Mr Morsi has sought to be everything to everyone, talking about tolerance, inclusion and equality before the law. He has been photographed welcoming church leaders at the presidential palace and warmly greeting families of the protesters killed during the anti-Mubarak uprising. He has also received intellectuals, many of whom are liberals and leftists, and assured journalists of their freedom and independence while he is president.

Many doubt whether Mr Morsi's outreach and generous promises - he says he will name a Christian and a woman as vice presidents - represent a genuine shift of policy on the part of the Brotherhood. Their doubts are compounded by the absence of any mention of the implementation of Islamic law, the Brotherhood's longtime goal.

Others believe the outreach is dictated by the group's pragmatic approach to politics. The Brotherhood has no experience in governance and needs technocrats from all fields to help it run a country with a seemingly endless number of problems. They also believe that only when the Brotherhood is backed by a diverse alliance can it realistically hope to pressure the military into giving up the overwhelming powers it intends to keep.

The military, by far the country's most powerful institution, grabbed massive powers just as the polls were closing on the second day of voting in the June 16-17 run-off. It is now the sole legislative power, has control over the drafting of a new constitution and has created a National Security Council that will have the final say on key domestic and foreign policies. On the council, there are twice as many generals as civilian members, with decisions made by a simple majority.

The Brotherhood has sought to pressure the military into giving up some of its powers and reinstate those it has taken away from Mr Morsi. Several hundreds of its hard-core supporters are camped out in Cairo's Tahrir Square in opposition to the military's power grab. The group also organised a series of, anti-military protests elsewhere, the latest of which was yesterday, to press demands for the generals to give up power.

Unfortunately for the Brotherhood, its fight against the military has failed to attract the support of the leftist and liberal groups behind the anti-Mubarak uprising.

Only the hardline April 6 movement has joined the group in its trial of wills against the generals, along with the ultraconservative Salafis and the Islamist Al Wasat party.

Regardless, the military is showing no sign of giving in to pressure to relinquish its powers.

Two senior members of the ruling military council insisted in a television interview on Wednesday that there would be no going back on a "constitutional declaration" issued last week that gave the military legislative powers and control over foreign affairs as well as the drafting of a new constitution.

The armed forces, said Major General Mahmoud Hegazy, would continue to be the "trustworthy guardian" of the nation and its people. When pressed to explain what the role of "guardian" entailed, Maj Gen Mohammed El Assar abruptly chipped in: "Interpret it any way you like."

The final word was Gen Hegazy's. The military, he said, would protect the country from external as well as domestic threats.

 

foreign.desk@thenational.ae