Egypt’s Military Cements Its Powers as Voting Endshttp://www.nytimes.com/2012/
CAIRO — The Muslim Brotherhood on Monday projected its candidate as the winner of Egypt’s first competitive presidential election, hours after the ruling military council issued an interim constitution granting itself broad power over the future government, all but eliminating the president’s authority in an apparent effort to guard against a victory by the Islamist candidate.
The military’s new charter is the latest in a series of swift steps that the generals have taken to tighten their grasp on power just at the moment when they had promised to hand over to elected civilians the authority that they assumed on the ouster of Hosni Mubarak last year. Their charter gives them control of all laws and the national budget, immunity from any oversight, and the power to veto a declaration of war.
After dissolving the Brotherhood-led Parliament elected four months ago, and locking out its lawmakers, the generals on Sunday night also seized control of the process of writing a permanent constitution. State news media reported that the generals had picked a 100-member panel to draft it.
“The new constitutional declaration completed Egypt’s official transformation into a military dictatorship,” Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, wrote in an online commentary. Under the military’s charter, the president appeared to be reduced to a powerless figurehead.
Though final results are not available yet, by early Monday morning the Brotherhood was projecting its candidate, Mohamed Morsi, the winner, and its leaders escalated their defiance. After meeting with Gen. Sami Hafez Enan of the military council, the Brotherhood-affiliated speaker of Parliament, Saad el-Katatni, declared that the military had no authority to dissolve the Parliament or write a constitution. He said that a separate 100-member panel picked by the Parliament would begin meeting within hours to write up its own constitution — raising the prospect of competing assemblies. And Saad El Hussainy, leader of the Brotherhood’s parliamentary bloc, said that the group’s lawmakers would show up at Parliament as scheduled on Tuesday morning. The generals having stationed military and riot police to keep the lawmakers out, potentially setting the stage for new clashes in the streets.
The military’s moves were “a new episode of a complete military coup against the revolution and the popular will,” said Mohamed El Beltagy, a leading Brotherhood lawmaker, said in a statement online.
The generals have not spoken publicly or explained their actions, which have been announced without fanfare in the official news media. A rushed decision issued Thursday by a Mubarak-appointed court had initially provided at least a legal veneer for the dissolution of Parliament, but the swift consolidation of power has quickly taken the feel of a counterrevolution in the making.
The military’s charter “really does complete the coup in many obvious ways,” said Nathan Brown, an Egypt expert at George Washington University, in an e-mail message. It brings back martial law and protects the military from any public, presidential or parliamentary scrutiny. And it perpetuates the generals’ dominance of the political system.
The presidential runoff had already become a critical battle in a long war between the generals and the Brotherhood, which for six decades constituted the primary opposition. Mohamed Morsi, an American-trained engineer who once led the Brotherhood’s small bloc in the Mubarak-dominated Parliament, is up against Ahmed Shafik, a former air force general and Mr. Mubarak’s last prime minister. He is campaigning as a new strongman who can restore order and prevent an Islamist takeover, pledging to bring back central elements of the old police state.
The military’s shutdown of Parliament has turned the race into something close to a life or death struggle for the Brotherhood. It demoralized Egypt’s Islamists and democrats alike, and at the same time energized Mr. Shafik’s supporters. And the sudden possibility that the revolt that defined the Arab Spring could end in a restoration of military-backed autocracy has once again captivated the region.
The Brotherhood began predicted a win for their candidate as soon as the polls closed.“Morsi is way ahead,” Murad Mohamed Ali, a Brotherhood spokesman, said in a telephone interview. “The results were surprising even to us.” Six hours later, the Brotherhood said Mr. Morsi was leading by more than a million votes with 97 percent of the votes counted. State media and independent analysts put him ahead as well, but officials results were not yet known.
Ahmed Sarhan, a spokesman for Mr. Shafik, also insisted his candidate was winning. “Mission accomplished,” he wrote in a message online.
A few moments later, Mr. Sarhan issued a written statement accusing the Brotherhood of a host of campaign law violations, including tearing down Shafik posters, bribing and intimidating voters, and “ballot rigging and stuffing.”
The Shafik campaign did not present evidence for the allegations, but its statement added: “The Muslim Brotherhood’s systematic election violations prove how the M.B. does not believe in freedom of choice and democracy unless this democracy brings them to power.”
A military helicopter buzzed low over Cairo as voters went to the polls, recalling the fighter-jet flyovers of Tahrir Square in the days when the generals first took power, at the end of last year’s uprising against Mr. Mubarak.
An activist organization that played a leading role in that revolt, the April 6 Youth Movement, said in a statement Sunday that the police had arrested 30 of its members the previous day, apparently for standing near polling stations holding up pictures of those killed during the uprising last year. The group said at least five of its members remained in custody.
Meanwhile, the Mubarak-appointed judges charged with overseeing the vote held news conferences leveling accusations at the Muslim Brotherhood that seemed intended to scare away voters. First, the judges suggested that the Brotherhood had infiltrated an official printing facility to produce pre-marked ballots favoring their candidate. But state news media later reported that none appeared to have been used, which would have required a voter not noticing the pre-marked ballot.
Then the judges also suggested that the police had found evidence that the Brotherhood was planning violence. Hatem Bagato, the general secretary of the election commission, said three operatives had been arrested outside a polling station with a laptop computer containing photographs of “military training in other countries.” In a statement, the Brotherhood denied any connection with the laptop’s owners or any plans for violence and threatened to sue the commission for violating electoral rules by campaigning against Mr. Morsi.
Mr. Shafik has said he could collaborate well with the generals. If Mr. Morsi wins, it would begin a new struggle within the government. The Brotherhood would have the legitimacy of winning the presidency and leadership of Parliament, but the generals all the guns.
In an interview, Mokhtar El Ashry, head of the legal committee of the Brotherhood’s political party, said the group had been counting on winning the presidency to help restore the Parliament, relying on traditions and precedents in Egyptian law that empower the president to settle disputes between the branches of government.
“It is a coup, but a soft coup that uses the law,” he said. But he acknowledged that it might also take pressure from the streets. “They are not playing legally,” he said.
Kareem Fahim, Mayy El Sheikh and Dina Salah Amer contributed reporting.