|Tuesday, May 21, 2013|
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EGYPTEarly danger signals for Morsi
08/07/12, Isaac Umunna
Egyptian democratically elected new leader President Mohammed Morsi with military chiefs in Cairo. Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi is on the right
Seeking to assert his authority, Egypt's new president, Mohammed Morsi, dares the military and the country's apex court, thus laying a foundation for what promises to be a stormy tenure.
If early signals are anything to go by, then it is safe to conclude that Egypt's new leader, Mohammed Morsi, is guaranteed a stormy tenure. Morsi had hardly settled down in office when he stepped on powerful toes in his bid to assert his authority. Eight days after he took office, Morsi on July 8 annulled the Supreme Court's dissolution of the Islamist-dominated parliament. "President Morsi has issued a presidential decree annulling the decision taken on June 15, 2012 to dissolve the people's assembly, and invites the chamber to convene again and to exercise its prerogatives," the official MENA news agency reported.
It said the presidential decree stipulates "the organisation of elections for the chamber, 60 days after the approval by referendum of the country's new constitution and the adoption of a new law regulating parliament."
In response to Morsi's directive, the parliament, half of whose members are from the Muslim Brotherhood-backed Freedom and Justice Party and another quarter comprising hard-line Salafists, reconvened July 10 in Cairo, the Egyptian capital. The sitting was, however, boycotted by liberal groups which argued that the presidential decree violated the powers of the judiciary. A few hours later, the Supreme Court issued a fresh order, declaring that Morsi had acted illegally in summoning the assembly. The president, however, insists that the parliament had been elected in a free and fair ballot and had been entrusted with drafting a new, democratic constitution.
The military, which handed over power to Morsi on June 30, also disapproved the president's action. The Muslim Brotherhood, from which Morsi resigned as leader after his election as president, has lined up behind him. The Brotherhood accused the Supreme Court of seeking to monopolise power and demanded a referendum. It is pushing for a confrontation with the generals and the Supreme Court.
As matters headed towards the boiling point, Morsi saw the need for caution and issued a statement accepting the Supreme Court's ruling on the fate of the parliament.
Ahead of Morsi's inauguration as president, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) had assumed legislative power in the absence of a parliament. SCAF in addition named a defence council to oversee national security and foreign policies while also declaring it would maintain control of all military affairs. But Morsi is indignant that "the army now returns to his original role, protecting the nation and its borders."
"Today, the Egyptian people established a new life for complete freedom, for a true democracy," Morsi had said after taking the oath June 30 in a historic ceremony in Cairo. "I swear by almighty God that I will uphold the republican system and respect the constitution of the law and look after the interests of the people," he added.
Morsi said the Egyptian people had "laid the foundations for a new life, for full freedom, a genuine democracy, for putting the meaning and significance of the constitution and stability above everything else."
He assured that his government would be based on the democratic pillars of "the constitutional court, the Egyptian judiciary, and the executive and legislative powers." Morsi's oath of office had originally been scheduled to take place at the parliament before the Supreme Court altered the plans.
On the eve of his swearing-in, Morsi, a strict Islamist educated in the USA, had taken to Cairo's Tahrir Square before thousands and declared that the people are the source of his authority as president. "The whole nation is listening to me," he said in the televised address. "There is no authority above the authority of the people."
Analysts said the speech was aimed at Egypt's ruling military council, which appears reluctant to fully hand over power to the elected government.
Morsi was declared president-elect by Egypt's electoral commission on June 24 after a runoff with Ahmed Shafik, a former air force general who served as Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister. The military had taken control of the country following the ouster of Mubarak by a popular uprising in February 2011. Tried and sentenced to life imprisonment on June 2 for allegedly ordering the killing of peaceful demonstrators during the "Arab spring" protests that eventually swept him out of power, Mubarak is said to be on life support after suffering a massive stroke. His sons are also on trial for various offences.
Morsi had been expected to focus on forming his government and getting Egypt's economy back on track. The economy has remained in crisis since the popular uprising that scared away tourists and foreign investors, who have yet to return since the ouster of Mubarak.
But the economy appears not to be Morsi's priority. How the drama plays out remains to be seen.
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