Thursday, July 12, 2012

Egyptian Presidential Election Exposes Power Struggle

On May 23/24 2012, Islamist leader Mursi won the Egyptian Presidential election, which gave the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood from early election results control of the Egyptian parliament and now the presidency of the country. However, with 30 years of a Mubarak dictatorship supported by Western governments and in particular the U.S. government, the Egyptian political and constitutional battles rage on. On June 14, the Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that Egypt's lower house was void and the ruling Egyptian Military Council dissolved the lower house and took over legislative responsibilities. The Military Council has failed to reinstate the lower house despite the conclusion of 2012 elections. In addition, Egypt's highest court ruled against President Mursi from reinstating the parliament. Although Mubarak is gone, the Egyptian Military Council and Supreme Council of Judiciary Authorities are apparently full of Mubarak cronies and secularists, and they are unwilling to relinquish political power to newly elected officials. Westerners in particular should note the relative silence of western governments at the gross disregard for democratic processes by the Mubarak military and judiciary establishments.

Presently, Egypt is similar to Libya under Gaddafi in which the Libyan Supreme Command Council had totalitarian control over the country, and to Saudi Arabia in which the Saudi Royal family has totalitarian control over the country, and to Bahrain in which the Sunni kingdom has authoritarian control.

What is ahead for Egyptians? Will they lose faith in democratic processes, when foreign governments are selective in supporting them? Can they root out and replace the Mubarak military and judiciary establishments?

Commentary from The Daily Star (Lebanon):

CAIRO: Egypt’s Islamist president said Wednesday he wanted talks with the judiciary and political powers to defuse a crisis over him trying to reinstate parliament, in defiance of generals who dissolved it last month based on a court ruling.

Mohammad Mursi’s comments, which came shortly before flying to Saudi Arabia for the start of his first foreign trip, appeared to be a call for a truce to prevent the crisis from boiling over into open confrontation with the military council or the judges in his battle to wrest power.

It was the latest twist in a legal wrangle that masks a broader struggle for control of the Arab world’s biggest nation that pits Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood against a military that was in charge for six decades and an establishment still filled with officials from the era of ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

“There will be consultations among all political forces, institutions and the supreme council of judicial authorities to find the best way out of this situation in order to overcome this stage together,” Mursi said.

The saga began when the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled on June 14, before Morsi was elected, that the Islamist-led lower house was void and the then-ruling army dissolved it. The president recalled parliament this week but was slapped down in another court ruling hours after it convened Tuesday.

Mursi’s move had risked a showdown with the army, long used to having their man in charge. Previous presidents had all been drawn from military ranks and had for most of the time since the king was ousted in 1952 repressed the 84-year-old Brotherhood.

The U.S., which hands Egypt’s army a $1.3 billion subsidy each year, had urged dialogue to end the row.

According to his statement, the new president said he was “committed to the rulings of Egyptian judges and very keen to manage state powers and prevent any confrontation.”

For many Egyptians, though, the standoff threatens further uncertainty that has plagued the nation since Mubarak was toppled by mass protests in February 2011, sending the economy into a slump and tipping many deeper into poverty.The Brotherhood also faces anger from liberals and others, frustrated by what they see as a power grab by Islamists, the biggest political beneficiaries of the uprising against Mubarak. They have accused Mursi of riding roughshod over the judiciary.

Presidential spokesman Yasser Ali, in a comment on the statement, said Mursi wanted to “find a way out of the legislative vacuum caused by the dissolution of parliament.” He said the “problem was not bringing back this [existing] parliament” but added it did not make sense, from a constitutional point of view, to hand legislative power to the military. Mursi, when he recalled parliament, also said new elections would be held once a constitution was in place.

After parliament was dissolved, the army awarded itself the legislative role, a move analysts said would have boxed Mursi in and hampered his policy program.

Although liberals criticized the Brotherhood for reconvening parliament, many opposed the army for taking lawmaking powers. They could be placated, in part, with a deal to shift that role to an independent body instead of the existing parliament, declared void by the court over flaws in the way it was elected.

Leftist Hamdeen Sabahy, a losing presidential contender, had urged Mursi to respect the constitutional court ruling to help “exit the current crisis” but also called for legislative authority to be passed from the army to a separate body.

Taking legislative powers was one way for the military to keep its hand on the tiller after handing executive office to Mursi, helping it defend its privileges and status. But diplomats say it could also depend on a judiciary, which has a streak of anti-Islamist sentiment.

Senior Brotherhood official Mahmoud Ghozlan, speaking Tuesday, accused the army of using the Supreme Constitutional Court against the country’s first freely elected leader.

“It is part of a power struggle between the military council and the president who represents the people and in which the military council is using the law and the judiciary to impose its will,” he said.

Although many were surprised at how swiftly Mursi acted to defy the military, few are in doubt that Islamists have a long war of attrition on their hands to push back the army and reform an establishment packed with Mubarak-era officials.

More battles lie ahead, such as a debate over the writing of a new constitution. The army, in its decree last month, gave itself the right to form a new constitution-writing body if the one picked by parliament hits an obstacle. An earlier constituent assembly was dissolved by a court.

Turkey is the closest regional example where such a struggle has taken years. The powerful army there has gradually been rolled back by the AK Party, which has Islamist roots.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday Egypt’s military council was “ignoring the power of the people and by not accepting the current parliament, it is a real affront to the power of the people.

“We believe in our hearts that President Mursi will overcome this difficult and arduous period through consultation, dialogue and calm.”

State media reported Mursi began a two day trip to Saudi Arabia Wednesday, underscoring the traditionally close ties between the two regional powerhouses. He was met upon his arrival in Jeddah by Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul-Aziz.

Morsi, who met with Saudi King Abdullah late Wednesday, said his administration had no plans to “export” Egypt’s revolution, an implicit reassurance to Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies who have been nervous over the possibility of Arab Spring revolts reaching their shores.

He also asserted his country’s commitment to the security of Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Arab allies, a thinly veiled reference to the tension between them and Iran.

Thousands of Brotherhood members sought refuge in Saudi Arabia in the 1950s and 1960s to escape crackdowns by Gamal Abdel-Nasser, Egypt’s ruler at the time. But Saudi Arabia’s own problems with violent Islamist groups have cooled its ties with organizations espousing political Islam, like the Brotherhood.

Some 1.6 million Egyptians live and work in Saudi Arabia, which is also one of the biggest investors in Egypt.

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