Khairat al-Shater

"Morsi has now said, ‘I am here,’" a secular businessman said, referring to President Mohammed Morsi’s bold–perhaps reckless—cancellation of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) decree that dissolved parliament shortly before his inauguration. In two days of conversations in Cairo since then, opinions were polarized on whether the move was legal and politically necessary (a view held by Islamists and some youthful revolutionaries) or illegal and politically disastrous.  

While many observers expressed understanding for Morsi’s frustration at the conditions under which he entered office, stripped of his parliamentary majority and of many powers of the presidency, his actions have fed the widespread idea that the Muslim Brotherhood does not play by the rules and overreaches once in power.  "My father always told me, the Brothers are noble in bad times but petty in good ones," said one liberal businessman. Many were alarmed at Morsi’s taking on the judiciary as well as the SCAF, escalating a parliamentary-judiciary feud that started a couple of months ago.  
And it is clear that Morsi is likely to take more provocative steps soon. Khairat al- Shater, the Brotherhood’s Deputy Guide and main strategist who is rumored to be Morsi’s pick for Deputy Prime Minister, explained why Morsi was fully justified in overturning the parliament dissolution order. "The legal basis on which Egypt is operating now is the March constitutional declaration, which was passed in a popular referendum.  As that declaration failed to specify whether any party had the power to dissolve parliament, the Supreme Constitutional Court should have referred its decision to the parliament itself, which would revise the electoral law as required by the court, set the date for new elections, and then dissolve itself."
Al-Shater continued that the Supplementary Declaration similarly had no legal status and was "no more than political bullying." The March declaration did not specify who should take legislative power should the parliament be dissolved and al-Shater maintained that the SCAF had no right to take it.  "This puts us in a crazy situation in which legislative power will be in the hands of Field Marshall Tantawi, who in addition to heading the SCAF will also be defense minister in a government and technically will report to the prime minister under the president," according to al-Shater. "So the legislature is under the president’s supervision?"  He concluded that "We should just totally ignore the declaration, but to do so would lead to a direct confrontation with SCAF."   Despite the expressed desire to avoid a clash, another Brotherhood member suggested separately that Morsi was likely to act in the near future to cancel the declaration.
So far the struggle between the Brotherhood and their Salafi allies on one side, and the SCAF and courts on the other, has been political and increasingly litigious rather than violent. The army removed tanks that had surrounded the parliament building after the dissolution order, allowing the brief July 10 session to go forward, during which the assembly resolved to ask the Court of Cassation to decide how the Supreme Court decision invalidating the electoral law should be implemented.  It is possible that a compromise will arise allowing only some of the seats to be dissolved and reelected, although there is no precedent for that in Egypt.  But even if Cassation insisted that the entire lower house be dissolved, from the Brotherhood’s perspective it would be preferable for the assembly, not the SCAF, to control the revision of the law and timetable for new elections.
Almost all non-Islamist parliamentarians boycotted the July 10 session. Some expressed public disapproval of Morsi’s actions, while others were privately troubled, having also disapproved of the court and SCAF actions a few weeks ago. "Two wrongs don’t make a right," said liberal MP Ziad Bahaeddin.
Having complained for months about a Brotherhood-SCAF alliance, secularists now find themselves caught in the power struggle between the two.  And a division among secular politicians has become increasingly apparent; some fear the SCAF more and some the Brotherhood.  To a certain extent this seems to be a generational difference.  Middle aged and older secularists generally echoed the sentiment of a journalist in his 50s, who said, "Morsi has fallen into a trap set by the SCAF and ruined his presidency in week one."
Younger secularists, however, saw the struggle in a different light.  Mostafa Naggar, a 32-year old who was one of the few young revolutionaries to be elected to parliament, went to the July 10 session but did not participate formally.  He said, "Young revolutionaries hate both the SCAF and the Brotherhood, and our experience in parliament with the Freedom and Justice Party was an unhappy one. But for now, we think the SCAF is more dangerous."  Along similar but more extreme lines, the Union of Revolutionary Youth called on Morsi to carry through on the threat made by the parliament some weeks ago to change the leadership of the Supreme Constitutional Court, a group of Mubarak-era judges whom the Youth claim have “become the wall the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces built to counter the revolution.”
Only the energetic leftist presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi tried to make himself useful by proposing a roadmap out of the deadlock, but it was not clear his effort would have traction, as it included a change of senior judges.  Otherwise, divisions among secularists not only made them irrelevant to the power struggle—when they could be a key swing vote—but boded ill for recent efforts to unify in order to improve their chances in the next parliamentary elections.
Michele Dunne is director of the Atlantic Council’s Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.
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