On Eve of Vote, Egypt’s Military Extends Its Power (NY) TIMES) By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK CAIRO, EGYPT 06/16/12)
NEW YORK TIMES
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CAIRO — Egypt’s military rulers moved to consolidate power Friday on
the eve of the presidential runoff election, shutting down the
Islamist-led Parliament, locking out lawmakers and seizing the sole
right to issue laws even after a new head of state takes office.
The generals effectively abandoned their previous pledge to cede
power to a civilian government by the end of the month, prolonging
the increasingly tortuous political transition after the ouster of
Hosni Mubarak last year. The power play has also darkened the
prospects that Egypt, the most populous Arab state and one that
historically has had tremendous influence on the direction of the
region, might quickly emerge as a model of democracy for the Middle
Their moves, predicated on a court ruling on Thursday and announced
with little fanfare by the state news media, make it likely that
whoever wins the presidential race will — at least at first — compete
with the generals for power and influence. The military counsel also
indicated through the official news media that it planned to issue a
new interim constitution and potentially select its own panel to
write a permanent charter. The generals have already sought permanent
protections for their autonomy and political power.
The military’s power grab, which many critics have called a coup,
presents a new obstacle to the ascent of the Muslim Brotherhood, the
Islamist group that is Egypt’s largest political force. After 84
years in the shadows of secular monarchs and military autocrats, the
Brotherhood dominated last fall’s parliamentary elections; it began
drawing up plans to revise the Constitution and government
ministries, and appeared poised to claim the presidency as well.
Then on Thursday, the nation’s highest court issued an order
dissolving Parliament, on the grounds that political parties had
wrongly been allowed to compete for the one-third of seats designated
for individual candidates.
Now, even if the Brotherhood’s presidential candidate, Mohamed Morsi,
wins the runoff, his power may be circumscribed by a military-issued
interim constitution as well as the generals’ hold on legislative
power, at least until new parliamentary elections are held.
The outcome of the race, however, remains impossible to predict. Mr.
Morsi’s opponent, Ahmed Shafik, a former air force general and Mr.
Mubarak’s last prime minister, was long considered an inside
candidate to succeed Mr. Mubarak under the old one-party autocracy.
Mr. Shafik has campaigned as a strongman who can restore order and
hold back the Islamists. Many observers say he has benefited from
favorable coverage and editorials in the state news media as well as
from statements and actions by sitting public officials warning
against the Islamists.
In response to the ruling on Parliament, the Muslim Brotherhood
sought to portray the presidential runoff as the last stand of the
“Here comes the counterrevolution, plainly witnessed by all, so
everyone knows that we are facing a defining moment and a critical
turning point,” Mr. Morsi said Friday in a statement that was echoed
by surrogates for his campaign. “We are now facing a heinous coup,”
he added, calling it “the last card of counterrevolutionary players.”
Eschewing protests, Mr. Morsi urged supporters to join a “million-man
march to the ballot boxes, because then the forces of darkness will
not dare falsify your will.”
Brotherhood officials insisted that Parliament was still in business
despite the soldiers guarding the doors. They continued to argue that
the Supreme Constitutional Court had no authority to dissolve
Parliament, citing precedents in which the previous Parliament had
rebuffed such judicial interventions. They discounted the reports in
the state news media that the military council had assumed
legislative authority, and also wrote off the soldiers and the riot
police officers barring entrance to Parliament.
“It is nothing more than a show of force,” said Jihad al-Haddad, an
adviser to the Brotherhood’s chief strategist, Khairat el-
Shater. “The Parliament is still intact.”
“We don’t know anything yet because this was a political decision and
not a legal decision,” Mr. Haddad added, noting that Egypt remained
under the convoluted authority of a hodgepodge of military
declarations and pre-existing rules.
The impending presidential vote appeared to divert energy from
protests, and a march to Tahrir Square drew a relatively small crowd
of a few hundred.
Officials in Washington also raised concerns. Defense Secretary Leon
E. Panetta said in a statement that he had called Egypt’s top
military officer and de facto head of state, Field Marshal Mohamed
Hussein Tantawi, and “highlighted the need to move forward
expeditiously with Egypt’s political transition, including conducting
new legislative elections as soon as possible.”
Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, an influential Democrat,
threatened to seek to withhold American aid to Egypt. The dissolution
of Parliament “obviously throws into question the future of the
transition,” he said in a statement. “I would not want to see the
U.S. government write checks for contracts with Egypt’s military
under the present uncertain circumstances.”
The results of the first round of the presidential election appear to
make Mr. Morsi the favorite. He and other Islamist candidates
combined won nearly half the vote, while Mr. Shafik and the other
former Mubarak government official in the race, Amr Moussa, won only
about a third. Mr. Morsi needs to peel off only a sliver of the votes
given to other more secular candidates critical of the Mubarak
government in order to win.
“By the numbers, Morsi should win, if the vote is free and fair,”
said Samer S. Shehata, an Egyptian-American political scientist at
Some outside the Brotherhood blamed its conservative leadership —
mainly represented by its lead strategist, Mr. Shater — as having
provoked the crackdown by moving too fast to take power rather than
working in concert with others. Former members said the efforts by
the Mubarak-appointed judges and generals to block the group’s
electoral successes would only strengthen the hand of its
“The leadership convinces itself and the members of a feeling of
persecution — that the group is being tracked and hunted and
restricted even when it has part of the power — and this feeling has
always been used as an excuse,” said Mohamed Habib, a former deputy
chairman of the Brotherhood. The attacks by government officials,
liberals and the media enhance “the feeling of persecution,” he said,
and weaken the argument that the group should open up.
Mr. Haddad, the adviser to Mr. Shater, said the Brotherhood always
expected a long struggle to wrest power from the military and
business elite. “It is not easy to uproot the military’s grip on the
state,” he said. “We are planning for a 7- or 10-year process.” Mayy
El Sheikh and Liam Stack contributed reporting. (Copyright 2012 The
New York Times Company 06/16/12)
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