After Mursi’s recent decree to grant himself absolute power, and to render his decisions infallible and immune, without anyone being able to appeal or hold them to account, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt are showing signs of the same disease that inflicted their counterparts in Sudan, namely a lust for authority and domination, and an inability to coexist with democracy, embrace pluralism and distribute power. The Islamists in Sudan established an autocratic regime with their coup against legitimacy and democracy 23 years ago, and they continue to maneuver and make desperate efforts to keep the regime under their complete control for years to come. Here we see the Brotherhood in Egypt trying to overthrow democracy early, and to expropriate all powers for their president and impose their vision on the imminent draft constitution, so that the next phase is tailored to their own measurements.
The on-going battle in Egypt today is being conducted on a number of fronts, but with the same goal, namely to enable the Brotherhood to take over power and hold all the keys. It seems that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood want to take shortcuts and monopolize power early before the equation changes on the scene or in the wider region. They want to seize the opportunity – as they see it – to impose their views and power through successive shocks. Ever since they jumped upon the revolutionary bandwagon, for they were latecomers, not instigators, the Brotherhood have been maneuvering to impose their control over the scene. Sometimes, they worked together with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and held negotiations behind the backs of other political forces. They opposed any voice that called for the constitution to be drafted before elections were held, and then they urged for elections to be held as soon as possible because they were the most organized and best funded entity in the country. When the Brotherhood achieved victory in the parliamentary elections, they began to impose their agenda and pass laws that served their goals. When the presidential elections were conducted they took to the squares and threatened violence if the results did not declare victory for their candidate. When Mursi won the presidency, the battle to seize power truly began. The supplementary constitutional declaration was abolished, and the SCAF leadership, along with other senior military figures, were forced into retirement. Following this, we saw the first round of the judicial battle, with the Brotherhood’s attempt to revoke the constitutional court’s decision and reinstate parliament last July. This was followed by round two, with the decision to dismiss Egypt’s public prosecutor from his office and re-appoint him as an ambassador; a decision that was rejected by the judiciary who described it as an assault upon the judicial institution, forcing Mursi to retreat and postpone the battle.
Today Mursi and the Brotherhood are completing their battle against the judiciary with a third attempt, namely a constitutional declaration that fortifies the president’s decisions retroactively. Mursi has also dismissed the public prosecutor once again, without granting him an ambassadorial position this time, as revenge for his previous refusal to resign or leave office gracefully. If the Brotherhood is able to pass this constitutional declaration, or even part of it, then inevitably they will next direct their arrows towards the Supreme Constitutional Court.
The manner in which the constitutional declaration was announced indicates that the decrees were always ready and the Brotherhood were simply waiting for the right opportunity to announce them. The decrees were issued directly after the Gaza truce in which Mursi played the role of a mediator with the Hamas “brotherhood”, for which he received compliments from the West and America, including President Obama. Mursi wasted no time in rushing to cash in his new credit, and so he issued his constitutional declaration that provides him with powers Mubarak never dreamed of. It was noticeable that while the presidential spokesman read out the provisions of the constitutional declaration, the new public prosecutor was also being sworn in in front of Mursi. This shows that the timing was intended, and that the man was always ready to take the oath in front of the president. Likewise it was noticeable that as soon as the presidential spokesman finished reading the declaration, Brotherhood affiliates began marching in demonstrations that seemed to be pre-arranged in support of the president’s decisions.
If the decrees really were cooked up in the Brotherhood’s kitchen, then their talk now about dialogue, or about the decrees only being temporary, is nothing but an attempt to distract the opposition while the president continues to try and divide the ranks of the judiciary and gain time until the constituent assembly completes the draft constitution. In the same manner the Shura Council is also fighting a battle with the media in order to tame or control it, and I think that more great battles are still to come, such as a future struggle for control of Egypt’s trade unions. When the Brotherhood supporters demonstrated in favor of Mursi’s constitutional declaration, some of them carried banners calling for the media to be cleansed. This is not the first time that such slogans have been raised, for the leaders of the Brotherhood have always been critical of the media and have accused it of bias against them. Now, through the Shura Council, the Brotherhood has been able to appoint some of its affiliates at the head of some newspapers, in a series of appointments that were conducted a short while ago. It is also noteworthy that the constituent assembly rejected journalists’ demands for the draft constitution to explicitly prohibit newspapers being shut down or confiscated, and to prohibit sanctions that infringe upon the freedom of publishing. This is something that had led the journalists union to join those who have withdrawn from the Constituent Assembly.
Those trying to defend Mursi’s decisions by saying that they were taken to protect the revolution and to accelerate the implementation of its goals, and those who call for the opposition to engage in dialogue instead of demonstrations, are trying to block the sun with a sieve. This is not the first time that Mursi has taken a surprising decision in an attempt to grab additional powers, or to change the rules of the game. Likewise, this is not the first time that he has taken a controversial decision without consulting other political and civil forces, and therefore when his aides talk about the importance of dialogue now, this is effectively meaningless. If Mursi and the Brotherhood were serious about dialogue then they would have engaged in this before issuing the decrees, not afterwards, and the same goes for if they were keen on the principle of consultation, which they claim is at the heart of their ideology and their approach to work. These decrees mark Egypt’s return to the era of individualist rule; they do not strengthen democracy or pluralism, nor do they support the principle of the distribution of power and authority. When the Egyptians elected Mursi they wanted to turn the page on authoritarianism, not replace it with a regime where the president can seize absolute power and complete immunity by virtue of an individual decision, giving him the right to do what he wants without anyone holding him to account.
If Mursi and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood are behaving in such a manner now, then how will they act when they are fortified by the new constitution, and when they complete their project to hold all keys to power? This is the question that frightens many, and this is the essence of the current battle.