By ZVI MAZEL / Act for America
With rise of Morsy, a new dictatorship may be replacing the old while world persists in looking for signs of pragmatism.
While the world persists in looking for signs of pragmatism in the Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsy is quietly taking over all the power bases in the country.
Having gotten rid of the army old guard, he replaced them with his own men – officers belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood or known sympathizers. Then he turned his attention to the media, replacing 50 editors working for the government’s extensive and influential press empire – including Al- Ahram, Al-Akhbar, Al-Gomhuria. He is now busy appointing new governors to the 27 regions of the country.
Hosni Mubarak used to choose retired generals he could depend on for these sensitive posts; Morsy is hand picking party faithful. At the same time upper echelons in government ministries and economic and cultural organizations are methodically being replaced. The Muslim Brotherhood is fast assuming total control. For many observers, the deployment of army units in Sinai is more about proclaiming Egyptian sovereignty in the face of Israel than actually fighting Islamic terrorism.
Drafting the new constitution is their next objective. Brothers and Salafis make up an absolute majority in the Constituent Assembly. Liberal and secular forces are boycotting its sessions, and the Supreme Constitutional Court is examining a request to have it dissolved since it does not conform to the constitution because of its overly Islamic composition; a decision is expected in September.
The assembly, however, is not waiting. According to various leaks it is putting the final touch to a constitution where all laws have to conform to the Shari’a and special committees will supervise the media and forbid any criticism of Islam and of the Prophet. In the wings is the creation of a Committee of Islamic Sages supervising the law-making process and in effect voiding of substance the parliament elected by the people, though it is not clear yet if, when and how it will work. What is clear is that a parliament made of flesh and blood individuals is against the very nature of the Shari’a, where all laws are based on the Koran and the hadiths. This is a far cry from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Morsy has been careful to speak about creating “a civil society”; it is now obvious that what he meant was a society not ruled by the army, and not a secular society. Indeed he had promised to appoint a woman and a Copt as vice presidents, but chose Mohamed Maki, a Sunni known for his sympathy for the Brotherhood and incidentally or not the brother of the new minister of justice, Prof. Ahmed Maki, known for his independent stands and opposition to Mubarak, but who had carefully concealed his support for the Brothers.
It is worth stressing that the Brotherhood is still operating under conditions of utmost secrecy, as it had been doing during the decades of persecution. How it is getting its funds, who are its members and how they are recruited is not known, nor is its decision-taking process. The movement has no legal existence since Gamal Abdel Nasser officially disbanded it in 1954.
That state of affairs was not changed while the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces ruled the country, since apparently the movement did not apply for recognition, fearing perhaps it would have to reveal some of its secrets. Now that it has created its own political party, that the members of that party make up nearly 50 percent of the parliament and that one of their own has been elected president, can the movement remain in the shadows?
Morsy did announce that he was resigning from the Brotherhood, but there is no doubt that he will remain true to the tenets and the commands of its leaders. This is making people increasingly uneasy. They had other expectations of the revolution.
Opposition to an Islamic regime is growing, though it is far from being united. The three small liberal parties that had had very little success in the parliamentary elections have now set up a new front, The Third Way, to fight the Brotherhood’s takeover. Hamdeen Sabahi, leader of the nationalistic Karama (Dignity) Party, who had garnered 18% of the votes in the first round of the presidential election, has launched “The Popular Current” promoting the old Nasserist pan-Arab ideology.
Some of the nongovernmental media are vocal in their criticism of Morsy, though it can be costly: Private television station Al- Pharaein – “the Pharaohs” – was shut down after it called to get rid of Morsy; its owner, Tawfik Okasha, well known for his hostility to the Brothers (and to Israel) and who called for a massive demonstration this Friday, was put under house arrest, as was the editor of the daily Al-Dostour that had criticized the president. The editors of two other dailies – Al-Fajer and Saut el-Umma – were questioned. Other papers such as Al-Akhbar stopped publishing opinion pieces from their regular collaborators known for their opposition to the Brothers; well-known publicists left their page blank in a gesture of solidarity for their colleagues.
Morsy knows that his takeover will strengthen the opposition. He has not forgotten that he barely mustered 25% of the votes in the first round of the presidential election – down from the nearly 50% who voted for his party’s candidates in the parliamentary elections. He also knows that the people are no longer afraid to take to the streets to protest – and that it is now said that a new dictatorship is replacing the old – the only difference being that the new ruler has a beard....
However, for now he is devoting all his energy to his fight with the judiciary, long known for its independent stands. The Supreme Constitutional Court is being asked to rule the Brotherhood Movement illegal, and therefore to proclaim that the Liberty and Justice party it created – and which won 50% of the seats in the parliament – is illegal as well, and therefore to invalidate the election of Morsy, candidate of a movement and a party that are both illegal. Morsy sent his new justice minister to browbeat the court, but the judges refused to back down. The president is now working to limit the prerogatives of the court in the new constitution and will start “retiring” senior justices appointed by Mubarak.
Friday’s demonstration will be the first real test for the Brotherhood. It is taking no chances and security forces will be deployed around its institutions throughout the country. A cleric at Al-Azhar issued a fatwa calling for the killing of whoever protests against the rule of the Brotherhood; the resulting uproar was such that he was disavowed by some of the leaders of the movement. However, whatever happens Friday will not deter them from their goal – a thoroughly Islamist Egypt.
The writer is a former ambassador to Egypt.