Mustafa Amin writes from Cairo: So, the truce between the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and the Egyptian military is over. The lines are drawn and the battle to decide who will rule Egypt has begun.
President Mohammed Morsi, sworn in a week ago, decided to test the waters. He called on the lower house of parliament, the People’s Assembly, to reconvene. This contravened the order of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that had dissolved parliament before his election. Nevertheless parliament met for a short while and then adjourned. A symbolic victory for the Brotherhood.
However, opposition MPs were quick to condemn President Morsi’s action. One liberal member even called it a ‘constitutional coup’.
The MB has called on its followers to convene for a million man march to Tahrir Square, to underline that people power is the name of the game now.
So the gloves are off now in the battle for power in Egypt. President Morsi has the power to form a government but not to choose the defence minister. The extent of government power will be laid down in a new constitution. A Constituent Assembly is to draft one and citizens can vote for it or reject it. But there is no agreement on the composition of the Constituent Assembly. The former one was dominated by the MB and other Islamic groups. A month after the constitution has been accepted, new parliamentary elections will take place. The new parliament may have the power to elect a Prime Minister who, in turn, will nominate a cabinet. This would strip the President of much of his power. It would resolve the conundrum: is Egypt a presidential or a parliamentary republic?
The military are in the driving seat. The country only has foreign currency reserves to pay for three months’ imports. Food and other prices are rising. The country’s major currency earner, tourism, has collapsed. Foreign direct investment has almost dried up. Everyone is waiting to see who comes out on top in the struggle for power.
The MB has about a million dedicated supporters. It managed to secure five million votes in the parliamentary elections and Mursi picked up seven million in the presidential election. The latter vote was inflated as the alternative was a leftover from the Mubarak regime. The MB has aroused considerable opposition because of its arrogance and unwillingness to form coalitions. In other words, it is not very skilled at political infighting. It has now admitted that it was too confident in the past and is now attempting to reach out to others. President Morsi was, of course, not the first choice of the MB for President. He lacks charisma. Only one Egyptian in four voted for him. He sounds moderate when addressing the general public but reverts to a hard line when talking to core supporters. To them, he has said that the Quran is the constitution and that Sharia is the law.
SCAF’s tactics will be to split the opposition. Secular parties are likely to look to the military to curb the ambitions of the MB.
Egypt needs aid and foreign direct investment urgently. The obvious donors are Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. They have the wealth to promote economic growth. The United States will continue to support the military. It will also fund civilian projects. However there has to be stability before money begins to flow in. Foreign policy will not change because the military has the dominant say there.
Egypt is now in a transition phase. The roles of the President, Prime Minister and government have still to be decided. There will be dual power in the foreseeable future: the civilian government running the economy and the military running defence, security and foreign affairs. If a modus vivendi can be established, money will begin to flow in. If not, Egypt risks sliding into conflict and chaos.