A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Morsi Win (?) But With Military Rule: SCAF Drops All Pretense

In retrospect, the military coup in Egypt did not take place on Thursday when the Supreme Constitutional Court dissolved Parliament, and it did not take place over the weekend when SCAF rewrote the Constitution yet again, this time to basically say it can do whatever it wants to. The military coup in Egypt took place on February 10, 2011, the day before Husni Mubarak stepped down, when the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, a statutory body which had not held a publicly announced meeting in years, met and issued "Communiqué Number One." Egypt has been under military rule ever since, but it was a "transition," so that was all right. Now we are seeing what it is transitioning to.

The (apparent and still unofficial) victory of the Muslim Brotherhood's Muhammad Morsi has surprised many who thought the fix was in for Ahmad Shafiq, but SCAF's move over the weekend has stripped him or any other civilian President of any real authority. (And as some are warning, there is no guarantee the official results won't be, uh, slightly different.)

Consider: Under the "revised Constitutional Declaration" SCAF has released, it will have legislative powers until a new Constitution is adopted. And to that end, it may name the constituent assembly. And, just to be safe, if it doesn't like the constituent assembly, it can dissolve it and name another one. Why doesn't it just write the constitution itself? Come to think of it, it just did. Also, credit Nathan Brown for picking up on a detail others seem to have missed:
Article 53: The incumbent SCAF members are responsible for deciding on all issues related to the armed forces including appointing its leaders and extending the terms in office of the aforesaid leaders.  The current head of the SCAF is to act as commander-in-chief of the armed forces and minister of defense until a new constitution is drafted. 
Under the existing statute, SCAF is headed by the President of the Republic in his constitutional role as Commander in Chief. But "until a new constitution is drafted" (and they've already taken care of that little detail), they're having none of an elected civilian Commander-in-Chief: the "incumbent" SCAF members make all military decisions, appoint members and set their terms (another provision bars the President from declaring war without their approval). And Tantawi is Commander-in-Chief, not some civilian.

Forever? Of course not, just "until a new Constitution is adopted." See Catch 22 above.

So are they going to let Morsi win? I don't know, but does it matter? They'd be wise not to pull the (much devalued) prize away at this point,which could produce an open revolt by the Brotherhood; better to have an elected, but powerless, figurehead. They're going to need somebody to blame when people finally notice the economy is a disaster. And a co-opted Brotherhood could be helpful in many ways, as long as Morsi understands who is co-opting whom.

I expect there's going to be a lot more to say on these matters.

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