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Egypt – Who is in charge?

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Eg2Mohamed Morsi won the presidential run-off against Ahmed Shafiq and became the new President of Egypt on June 30th. Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, is painfully aware of the limitations imposed on his office. On the one side, popular support to the Muslim Brothers declined sharply in the past year. Voters turned out en-masse to elect a new parliament. Yet, while Egyptians gave the Islamic movement an overwhelming majority in the National Assembly, things took a different turn for the highest office of the country, about 10% of voters stayed away from presidential elections. Besides, Ahmed Shafiq – the candidate Morsi faced at the run-off and the last Prime Minister under Mubarak – enjoyed the support of those faithful to the old regime and garnered 48.3% of the vote. On the other hand, the military establishment made it clear that the president will not enjoy full powers since they will be in charge of many aspects of State administration.

After a few days in power, Morsi reconvened the National Assembly, which had been disbanded by the Constitutional Court. The Court declared some of the dispositions of the electoral law anti-constitutional because they contravened the principle of equality among candidates. Since the National Assembly had been elected based on such law, the Assemble lacked legitimacy. A similar ruling followed the 1987 and 1990 elections. The newly elected president had to back down, and accept the ruling of the Court, which has a long tradition of independence from political influence. The question now Eg3is how to solve the impasse and form a new National Assembly in a short time. The first matter at hand will be the drafting of a new Constitution. Certainly the Muslim Brothers will try to affect that process and review the status of the military. The power struggle between the Brotherhood and the military might last for years to come.
On the international scene, Egypt’s allegiances are under scrutiny. There are three main questions: relations with the USA, with Israel and with Iran. It is not by chance that US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, met Morsi on July 18th. The USA supports the military machinery and generously funds the annual budget of the government. The meeting ended with a mutual agreement. While sections of the Brotherhood called for a re-evaluation of the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) remains determined to sustain the agreement. To make things clear, the SCAF recently decreed that a National Defence Council – formed mainly by soldiers – would determine any changes to Egyptian foreign policy for the foreseeable future.
Relations with Iran might prove more difficult to evaluate. The two Islamist movements – the Brotherhood and the Shiites – share some common ancestry. It was a Persian Shiite intellectual, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, whose teaching in Egypt revived the Islamic movement and influenced Hassan al Banna, founder of the Muslim Brothers. And it was the radical teachings of the Egyptian Eg4Muslim Brother Sayyid Qutb that gave a rationale to the Shiites of Iran to fight the Shah. The man who translated Qutb’s works into Farsi was none other than Ali Khamenei, today’s Supreme Leader in Iran. The Muslim Brothers are divided on how to proceed when it comes to Iran. Some argue that the common revolutionary battle against Western values and Israel makes them natural allies. Others insist on the practical value of keeping their distance from Tehran. President Morsi, is tiptoeing through the elaborate relationship with Iran, trying to keep everyone happy.
On the home front, one of the big questions yet without answer is the fate of the Christians. Christians are a minority, making up 9% of the population. For years, they have been treated as second class citizens. They have also been the target of Islamic violence before and after Mubarak’s fall. Catholic Bishop Kyrillos William, administrator of the Coptic Catholic Patriarchate of Alexandria, expressed his hopes for Egypt’s Christians following the election of Mohamed Morsi. “The future will not be worse than what we have had before,” said he. Bishop William expressed his confidence that President Morsi will keep promises he made after the elections to govern for everyone regardless of religion. “In Egypt we all are Egyptians – whether Christians or Muslims – and the president has promised that there will be a Copt and a woman appointed as vice-presidents. Although we still do not know who will be appointed, we trust he will keep his word”. Bishop William said the post-election situation of the Christians in Egypt is not one of persecution – adding “it is better here than in many other countries”.

Saddiq al-Mahdum

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