Egypt’s newly elected president, Mohammed Mursi has said he wants talks with other institutions to resolve a constitutional crisis stemming from his attempts to reinstate the previously elected and disbanded parliament. This has set off a standoff with judges and the military over this past weekend. We may recall the parliamentary chamber was dominated by Mr. Mursi’s Islamist allies which were shut down by the military before he took power. Some feel this dispute could threaten to throw Egypt back into political chaos.
The Egyptian Supreme Constitutional Court had initially ruled that some of the seats in parliament’s lower house were unconstitutional because (election) rules had been breached leading the military to then dissolve the whole chamber. But it was unclear whether the military had the authority to shut the parliament. Mr. Mursi reignited the dispute Sunday when he ordered parliament to reconvene, a decree that was later overruled by the court. Today, Mr. Mursi’s office said the decision to reopen parliament was intended to fill a power-vacuum claiming, he is “committed to the rulings of Egyptian judges and very keen to manage state powers and prevent any confrontation. 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”.
Mohammed Mursi, of the Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) Freedom and Justice Party, was elected in June in the country’s first ever freely contested leadership vote after the fall of Hosni Mubarak nearly 17 months ago. Mursi captured 52 percent of the vote while Ahmed Shafiq, the preferred candidate of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and former Mubarak, Prime Minister, got 48 percent of the vote. The military elbowed their way into a power-sharing pact by dissolving the parliament after the MB won most of the seats of any group in the late 2011/early 2012 parliamentary elections and then ostensibly changed the Constitution guaranteeing a power-sharing relationship.
Imagine the feeling of Mohammed Mursi sitting in the Presidential palace this past month trying to comprehend how he occupies an office held by his arch-nemesis for three decades. It is the bewilderment of many in the West too; how could an avowed member of the Muslim Brotherhood, so feared under the Mubarak and Sadat presidencies wrest power from the status quo after months of turmoil throughout the Arab Spring?
As I walked the streets of Cairo this past winter and asked the same questions of the average Egyptian, a common theme seemed to surface…Egyptians crave and need change. Many told me, in spite of the radical concerns, the MB offered change; food in the bellies of the poor, improved health care for all and hope for the highly educated and unemployed masses that feel the 21st century has left them behind. Mursi has his work cut out for him; taking on the task of restoring a country ravaged by political upheaval but more importantly turning around a staggering economy in the Arab world’s most populous nation. To a large extent, the high unemployment, rising prices and shortages in basic needs and commodities drove folks to the polls begging for hope and change. When I asked people about concerns they may have had about the loss of secularism through the implementation of an Islamic government, many just shook their heads and told me the masses are uneducated and many are illiterate, they get their information at their local mosque and the MB “promised the world”. Equally perplexing is the radical Islamic Salafist party candidate came away with over 20 percent of the vote. Coptic Christians make up only 10% of the Egyptian population and many have concerns with the new MB-led presidency. We have seen the increased violence against the Christian population in Egypt as well as in other dominantly Muslim countries in recent months and so what does the new MB presidency portend for the future of the Coptic Christian minority? (See January 7, 2001 WIRETAP BLOG, The Silence is Deafening) Some of the young Christian participants in the Arab Spring, Tahrir Square uprisings now wonder, what has our fight brought us, have we “shot ourselves in the foot”? Some have expressed concern in tweets, asking about rumors circulating that Christians may have to pay a “jizya”, a tax that early Islamic rulers demanded form non-Muslim subjects. Even Tariq Ali, the British Pakistani activist posted on Facebook, “Congratulations to the Sunni version of Iran”.
But then it should come as no surprise, as we have seen in other places such as the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya and now, Egypt, “democratic” elections don’t always bring “democratic” institutions or democratic-leaning parties to power. Jeffersonian democracies don’t spring to life without certain pre-existing political, social, judicial and economic conditions.
Is Mohammed Mursi a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”? Only time will tell. The MB has a worrisome history going back to 1929 fomenting violence, terrorism and an extremist Islamic agenda. They were responsible for the assassination of Anwar Sadat and hold or have held many leadership positions in Al-Qaeda. Their published motto is as follows, “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Qur’an is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.” Their links to Hamas in Gaza, near the Egyptian Sinai border, and the West Bank is of significant concern to U.S. and Israeli security services. Mursi himself stated in the first days of his presidency that he gets his “power from God”, a chant we’ve heard before from the radical Sh’ia-backed theocracy of Iran. I also found another statement made in his first days in office somewhat troubling, inappropriate and “stick in the eye” to America. Mursi stated that the “Blind Sheik”, Omar Abdel Rahman, responsible for the deaths and injuries of numerous Americans in the 1993, World Trade Center bombing, should be freed. The Blind Sheik is serving a life sentence in federal prison for his part in the attack on the World Trade Center as well as his conspiracy to bomb and destroy other New York landmarks such as the Lincoln Tunnel, the United Nations and 26 Federal Plaza. Abdel Rahman headed up a Muslim Brotherhood cell of the very extreme Egyptian terrorist group, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya which took over a Hoboken, New Jersey mosque in the early 1990’s. From there, Rahman, along with Ramzi Yousef (also serving life in federal prison) and their cohorts plotted and carried out their death and destruction plan against New York City targets. Why would Mursi make such an outlandish statement although, when pressed, he quickly backed away and went mum on the subject? As an engineer with a degree from USC in Los Angeles, Mursi also claimed that 9/11 was some type of “conspiracy” claiming his engineering “expertise” doesn’t allow him to believe airplanes could have taken down both towers.
The U.S. gives Egypt $1.2 Billion (yes, with a B!) each year. The basis of that generous aid package goes back to the 1978 Camp David Peace Accords when we brokered an Israeli, Egyptian, Middle-East peace deal that Egypt signed off on and quickly took to the bank. Heretofore, the military has benefitted from the bulk of that money. Will the current power-sharing arrangement between the MB and the military keep the radical elements within Mursi’s party at bay or will we have to reassess our relationship with Egypt and our yearly “foreign aid” package? Only time will tell.