Muslim Brotherhood Mohamed Morsi and SCAF Are Locked in a Relentless Power Grab in Egypt

Anyone familiar with Egypt’s political landscape knows that the transition to freely elected civilian rule would be difficult. It has been just over a week since Mohamed Morsi became Egypt’s first democratically elected president, and already he is starting his own power grab by defying court orders and reinstating parliament.

In the days immediately before the presidential winner was announced, Egypt’s constitutional court declared that the parliamentary elections were illegally conducted. The main reason for their decision was that the Muslim Brotherhood contested seats that were reserved for independent candidates. Further supporting the ruling was the finding that said that former National Democratic Party (NDP) members, the party of Hosni Mubarak, could not legally be barred from running for public office, a ban that was in place when the parliamentary elections were conducted.

Upon the decision of the court, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) ordered the dissolution of parliament and granted themselves wide-sweeping powers, including the task of drafting the newest constitution. In his response, Morsi ordered parliament be reinstated with the proclamation that it would be dissolved and new elections be held 60 days after the ratification of the new constitution.

By engaging in this double speak, it appears as though he is hoping the people won’t notice he is trying to implement his own power grab. By allowing the parliament, dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi Nour party, to write the constitution he is trying to ensure his own agenda is satisfied prior to the parliament’s dissolution. It is highly anticipated that the MB will lose its dominance when new elections are held.

Adding to the irony of the situation is the contempt with which Morsi is showing for the rule of law. In an interview conducted last year, prior to his candidacy for president, Morsi was asked about religion being required on national ID cards. His response said that the courts have final decision and they would respect the decision of the courts. He proclaims support for the courts in the situation of ID cards, but is blatantly acting in contempt of the constitutional court when it is in his own party’s interests.

Whoever ultimately oversees the writing of the Constitution is going to have tremendous influence in the future of Egypt. Egypt under Mubarak was almost painfully secular. Despite adopting the first name Mohamed to show his solidarity with his people as well as his reverence, religion was often marginalized in society. Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood were persecuted for years. Meanwhile his wife, Suzanne, routinely rejected displays of religiosity, going so far as to refuse to allow pictures of women in hijabs associated with projects bearing her name or with which she was associated. As such, it is expected that SCAF would continue a fairly secular progression with the Constitution. A Constitution overseen by an MB and Salafi Parliament would probably not be as secular.

As such, the power struggle between SCAF and President Morsi continues. Tahrir square continues to see increased mobilization on the weekends and during key strategic periods. On Tuesday when Parliament met briefly, the MB bussed supporters in, though turnout was far less than previously witnessed for anti-SCAF demonstrations. Even today, when Tahrir is typically the most crowded, the square was mostly empty except for a few small groups of enthused Morsi supporters.

While the current situation most certainly illustrates a power struggle, and arguably an attempted power grab by Morsi, I do not think this will turn violent. The lack of full parliamentary support is key. Many liberal and independent candidates refuse to participate in the reconvened parliament even though they know that its dissolution may result in the loss of their seats. The liberal parties seem much more willing to dissolve the Parliament and take their chances that a new more liberal body is elected at the next round. By not having full support in their efforts to retake the Parliament, the power of the president and of the ruling MB is significantly weakened; a daunting prospect after having only served two weeks in office.