Monday, 18 June 2012
Egypt’s Military Softens Tone as Vote Count Favors Islamist
Patrick Baz/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
CAIRO — Faced with the popular election of the first Islamist head of state in the Arab world, Egypt’s ruling generals sought on Monday to soften the appearance of their supreme authority as they entered a period of negotiations with the prospective president over the balance of executive, legislative and military power.
In a two-hour news conference, members of the ruling military council made no reference to the election results, which by early morning showed that Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood had defeated Ahmed Shafik, a former Air Force general and Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, in the runoff to choose Egypt’s first democratically elected president. The ballots were counted in front of television cameras and party observers in polling places around the country to prevent fraud, and independent observers concluded that Mr. Morsi had won by a margin of about four percentage points, or about a million votes.
The election officials will not formally confirm the results until later in the week, however, and Ahmed Sarhan, a spokesman for Mr. Shafik, insisted on Monday that the general was the true winner and the Brotherhood had “terrorized” voters. He offered no evidence, and both the state-run and unofficial media reported that Mr. Morsi had a decisive lead in the vote count.
The ruling generals had stunned Egyptians on the eve of the vote by dissolving the Brotherhood-dominated Parliament and claiming all legislative power for themselves in an apparent attempt to foreclose the possibility that Islamists could control both the presidency and the legislature.
Though they acted under the veneer of a court ruling rushed out last week by a panel of Mubarak-appointed judges, the power grab erased their promise to turn over all power to elected civilians by the end of this month, and both liberals and Islamists denounced the move as a military coup. The court ruling dispirited Brotherhood supporters, energized Mr. Shafik’s backers, and led many Egyptians to expect that either the psychological effect of the takeover or more direct intervention would push Mr. Shafik to the presidency.
In the aftermath of Mr. Morsi’s victory — considered an upset by many, despite the Brotherhood’s proven popularity and political clout — the generals sought Monday to reassure the public that they had no intention of re-establishing a military-backed autocracy, although they did not back away from their effective seizure of legislative power.
“Trust the armed forces,” two representatives of the military council, Gen. Mandouh Shahin and Gen. Mohamed el Assar, repeated many times over the course of the news conference. “We don’t want power,” both also said repeatedly, citing the presidential election as proof of their good intentions.
Despite their seizure of Parliament, they promised a grand celebration at the end of the month to mark their formal handover to the new president.
They insisted that the legislative power they had claimed for themselves was “restricted.” Although they acknowledged that they would have a monopoly on all lawmaking powers and control of the national budget, they said that the new president — presumably Mr. Morsi — would retain a veto over any new laws. The president will also name the prime minister and other cabinet officials.
The generals said they regretted shutting down the elected Parliament. They described the Parliament as one of their proudest achievements since they took power amid Mr. Mubarak’s ouster. They were forced to close the legislature because of the court’s ruling, the generals said.
But in the past, similar court cases have taken years instead of days to decide, and have ended in public referendums on the status of the Parliament. In this instance, the generals shuttered the Parliament the morning after the ruling and stationed soldiers and police outside to block lawmakers from entering.
The generals also declined to back away from the core of an interim charter they issued late Sunday night, just as the polls closed, that removed the military and the defense minister from presidential authority and oversight. They also defended their imposition of martial law, granting the military the power to detain civilian for trial in military courts.
Moreover, the generals specifically suggested they might use such powers to keep the Parliament closed. Brotherhood lawmakers have denied that the military or the court had the authority to close the Parliament, and they have vowed to show up at the chambers as scheduled on Tuesday. And as an example of the potential need to apply martial law, the generals suggested that if someone sought to enter the building “to commit a crime” the soldiers could potentially detain them for military trial.
On the question of a permanent constitution, the state media reported late Sunday night that the generals had picked their own 100-member panel to draft a permanent charter, casting aside the similar panel picked by the Parliament. The generals said on Monday that those reports were premature. A separate court case could strike down the Parliament-picked assembly on Tuesday, putting it in jeopardy, the generals said, so they were merely prepared to pick their own panel.
Officials of the Brotherhood, meanwhile, said that their constitutional assembly would convene, to begin its work in defiance of the generals. They insisted the struggle had only begun.
“It is a chess board,” said Jihad el Haddad, an adviser to the Brotherhood’s lead strategist, Khairat el Shater, describing the group’s next steps after its electoral victory. “They made a move and we made a move.”
He said the group was determined to contest the dissolution of Parliament and the creation of another constitutional assembly, and it had deliberately positioned two of its parliamentary leaders beside Mr. Morsi for his victory speech Monday morning in order to project a united front.