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Manufacturing a facade of democracy in Egypt

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All powerful Egyptian army clips powers of the newly elected president

On Sunday (June 24, 2012), Mohammed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood, was declared the winner of Egypt's presidential election run-off. He won 51.73% of the vote, beating former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq. However , shortly before the presidential vote, with the help of a Mubarak-era judiciary, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), dissolved the   parliament and gave itself the legislative power, which cuts into Mursi's powers to act.

The pro-US army, which receives $1.3 billion in U.S. military aid yearly for maintaining ties with Israel, has ruled Egypt since last year's revolution that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak. The military council has promised to oversee a transition to democracy, however, a series of decrees has led many to believe it intends to cling on to power. On June 13, the justice ministry gave soldiers the right to arrest civilians for trial in military courts until the ratification of a new constitution.

The SCAF then issued a decree on Friday (June 15) dissolving parliament in line with a Supreme Constitutional Court ruling that the law on elections to the lower house was invalid because party members had been allowed to contest seats reserved for independents.

On June 19, just as the polls were closing in the presidential run-off, the generals issued an interim constitutional declaration that granted them legislative powers and reinforced their role in the drafting of a permanent constitution. The military was also exempted from civilian oversight. Field Marshal Tantawi has also announced the re-establishment of a National Defense Council, putting the generals in charge of Egypt's national security policy.

The contentious constitutional revealed that the ruling military council will not be handing over full authority by the end of June 2012 as promised. 

The exact powers of Egypt's incoming president, and of the parliament, remain undefined, and the court-ordered disbandment of the lower house appeared to abort a committee appointed this week to draft a new constitution that would define them.

Ahram Online says the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi is to be sworn in to a truncated presidency. According to CNN, for the moment, the presidency is largely a figurehead position as Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) maintains widespread control over the country including the power to make laws and budget decisions. Egypt Independent says Morsy faces a daunting struggle for power with the country's still-dominant military rulers who took over after Mubarak's ouster in the uprising.

Constitutional Declaration

Parliamentary elections took place between November 2011 and January 2011 and finally held its first session on January 23, 2012. The Muslim Brotherhood and religious parities won the majority of parliamentary seats. However, the ruling military council retained the "authority to legislate," meaning it could act as a parliament and issue laws as well as being able to veto and promulgate legislation, as a president would.

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Tellingly, on March 12, the new Egyptian parliament unanimously voted in support of the expulsion of Israel 's ambassador in Cairo and for a halt to gas exports to Israel. The motion was largely symbolic because only the ruling military council can make such decisions, and it was not likely to impact Egypt's relations with Israel. But the move signaled the seismic change in Egypt after the ouster of longtime leader and Israeli ally Hosni Mubarak a year ago. The vote was taken by a show of hands on a report by the chamber's Arab affairs committee that declared that Egypt will "never" be a friend, partner or ally of Israel. The report described Israel as the nation's "number one enemy." The parliamentary report also called for a revision of Egypt's nuclear power policy in view of the widespread suspicion that Israel has a nuclear arsenal of its own.

On the 14 June 2012, just two days before the second round of the presidential elections was due to take place, the Higher Constitutional Court declared the election unconstitutional, on the grounds that political party candidates had been permitted to contest one-third of the parliamentary seats reserved for individual, non-partisan candidates.

One of the key legislative changes the SCAF made after the ouster of Mubarak, was that the heads of courts were appointed by the General Assembly of Judges, on the grounds of seniority, not by the president as was the case before. This allowed the SCAF to confirm the appointment of the constitutional court's new head, Judge Maher El-Beheiry. El-Beheiry will start his new role on 1 July; the day after the president is sworn in.

The president will not be able to change El-Beheiry, as according to Article 57 of the Constitutional Declaration, "judges" are not subject to removal." This also means the majority of Egypt's judges, including El-Beheiry, are Mubarak-appointees. Mubark raised the number of judges over the last 12 years which has ensured that the court is stacked in favor of the former regime.

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
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