Looking at all the challenges that Egypt is facing, most notably the economic crisis that urgently requires a return to national stability, newly-elected President Mohamed Mursi – by annulling the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF] dissolution of parliament –chose to fight his first battle over powers. This battle contains significant confrontation and tension. If Mursi, supported by the Muslim Brotherhood, is seeking to challenge SCAF and strip it of the powers that it has acquired as a result of the Interim Constitutional Declaration, then he is making a big mistake! This is because, by doing so, Mursi will be initiating a confrontation with the judiciary and the Supreme Constitutional Court, inciting public fears that the Brotherhood are seeking to dominate and monopolize all authorities and powers in Egypt.
This decision incited many judges and judicial officials to rush to warn against any aggression towards the judicial authorities by annulling the law, stressing that Mursi had exceeded his authority and overstepped the powers of the Supreme Constitutional Court. The Supreme Constitutional Court has the sole authority regarding issuing rulings on the constitutionality of laws and legal rulings, whilst its rulings are legally binding on all authorities. A president who argues that the Interim Constitutional Declaration is unconstitutional and illegitimate cannot perform his duties by ignoring the rulings of the Supreme Constitutional Court and granting himself the power to issue judicial interpretation over legal decisions. This is something that must not be allowed, otherwise the fundamentals of the state and the basis of democracy will be null and void. In addition to this, the warnings of those who said that the Brotherhood are the last group to abide by the law or lay the foundations for democracy would be proven right.
Some may argue that this decision was issued by Mursi, not the Muslim Brotherhood, and that following his election, the Egyptian president announced his resignation from the Muslim Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice party, stressing that he would be the president of all Egyptians. However in reality this talk about his resignation was unconvincing, nor was it required, as Mursi was the chosen presidential candidate of a particular party and current and did not run for the presidency as an independent. Thus, it is not convincing that he should subsequently emerge and announce his resignation from the Brotherhood because he wants to be the president of all Egyptians. Even if this was the case, what is the problem if the president is affiliated to a certain political party, and he demonstrates this affiliation in broad daylight, rather than under the cover of night? Presidents in all democracies in the world are elected whilst representing a political party, and they do not hesitate to overtly say that they are implementing the policies of their political party. This is a state of affairs that has never previously aroused suspicions of divided loyalty, nor were these rulers ever viewed as solely representing their own partisan interests, rather than all citizens of the country.
The problem with the Muslim Brotherhood is that they want to be engaged in politics, but behind the scenes. Therefore they form a party, choose a leadership, and then this party announces that it has no official ties to the Brotherhood. Following this, the political party choses a candidate to run for the presidency, mobilizing support for this candidate and organizing demonstrations and rallies in order to guarantee victory, and then once this candidate is announced as president, he claims that he is no longer a member of this party! They do all this whilst the general public sees the Brotherhood leaders and spokesmen speaking about the newly-elected president, his plans and programs, as if they are responsible for this. Similarly, we see the Brotherhood moving in harmony with the Freedom and Justice party and backing all the president’s statements. In this case, how else would we explain the meeting that was held by the Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau and Shura Council on Saturday night – described as an important and urgent meeting – which coincidentally took place on the eve of Mursi’s surprising decree to recall parliament? This is a decree that some described as a political earthquake, whilst others saw it as an explosion in the battle over powers. How else can we explain the Freedom and Justice party’s announcement of demonstrations organized and initiated by Cairo mosques to support Mursi’s decree? How should we view the slogans chanted by Brotherhood demonstrators on Sunday night in Tahrir Square, including chants like “Freedom and Justice…Mursi has men behind him” and “Live free, die happy, a revolution once more”?
There can be no doubt that this form of democratic muscle-flexing is an addition to the series of threats and challenges that are hindering the endeavour to establish a democracy based on the respect for institutions, the judiciary and the law. There can be no true democracy, which functions properly with correct mechanisms, unless the executive, legislative and judicial authorities are separate and well-respected, not to mention respect for the fourth estate, namely the media. Furthermore, this form of democracy can only be established if there is also a constitution present, whilst the rule of law must be respected, and everybody must be subject to this. This is because the law is the major guarantor of rights and it alone can specify the duties and authorities of each party, without this a state would be subject to the whims and desires of those with influence and power.
It is clear that the Brotherhood were seeking to consolidate the president’s powers and revive the Islamist-dominated parliament. This is something that would not only have meant the withdrawal of SCAF’s legislative powers, but would also ensured the Brotherhood’s complete dominance over Egypt’s legislative and executive authorities during the constitution-drafting phase, which will determine the path that Egypt will take in the future. It is no secret that from the outset, the Brotherhood maneuvered to postpone the constitution battle until after the parliamentary and presidential elections. The Brotherhood were well aware that as the most organized political force on the ground, they had a good chance of winning early elections, and this allowed them to reap the fruits of the Egyptian revolution, before others political forces could match their readiness. When they achieved their victory in the legislative elections, they dominated the Constituent Assembly, which was in charge of drafting the constitution. This, however, caused the Brotherhood to come under heavy criticism which ultimately resulted in a decree to dissolve the assembly. The Constituent Assembly was later returned to work, however the Administrative Court is scheduled to look into the complaints raised about this assembly next September. Therefore the Constituent Assembly appears to be in a race against time to finish drafting the Constitution before next September. What was striking in this regard is that Mursi’s recent decision to revive parliament was linked to a decision that this parliament would have approval over this constitution, and that new parliamentary elections would only be held following the approval of the constitution. This is to say that if the Constituent Assembly is hindered for any reason and its work is delayed, parliament would have remained operative – according to the decree – for a long period of time, or at least until its four-year term was completed.
The battle over powers and authorities in Egypt has now begun, and this is a battle that is taking place on more than one level. This battle may have entered its most dangerous stage, because much will depend on its results, not just for the Muslim Brotherhood, but also their opponents and Egypt as a whole.