Egypt's new leaders take heat from all sides as they plow ahead

Even supporters of ex-president Morsi's ouster say the military has too much power – and that leaders are repeating mistakes made after Mubarak's fall.

Manu Brabo/AP
Supporters of ousted Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi, pray after breaking their fast during the Islamic month of Ramadan, in Nasr City, Cairo, Wednesday, July 10.

Egypt’s new political roadmap has been panned by political camps that initially backed the military's takeover, exacerbating the challenges faced by the new government in achieving consensus and reconciliation in a profoundly divided country.

On Monday, Egypt’s interim president, Adly Mansour, adopted a temporary constitution outlining the powers of the presidency and providing a timetable for the transition of power from an interim government to a new president and parliament. But even groups that supported Morsi’s ouster say the timetable is rushed, and that it hands too much power to the military while repeating the mistakes that characterized a botched attempt at political transition after the 2011 revolution. The new constitutional declaration does little to help build the sort of consensus that Egypt so desperately needs in coming months, say experts.

"What mistakes are being repeated?" asks longtime Egypt scholar Nathan Brown in a recently published analysis. "Start with a constitutional declaration written in secret and dropped on a population that, still basking in revolutionary goodwill, is not reading the fine print. Then add a considerable measure of vagueness, an extremely rushed timetable, critical gaps and loopholes, and a promise that everyone gets a seat at a table but not much of a guarantee that anybody listens to what is said at that table."

"The generals are clearly calling the shots of the short term, but there's just enough opacity, and a dose of influence for civilian officials and politicians, that it's not clear where the real responsibility lies."

'A new dictatorship'?

The harshest criticism has come from the group responsible for mass demonstrations that culminated in the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi. In a series of messages on its official Twitter account, Tamarod (‘Rebellion’) claimed that the transitional roadmap “founds a new dictatorship."

The National Salvation Front (NSF), the leading liberal opposition bloc, also condemned the declaration: “Officials responsible for formulating this declaration failed to discuss it with political and youth forces in contravention to previous promises,” it said in a statement.

Criticism by Tamarod and the NSF is particularly significant, because both groups offered significant public backing to the military’s decision to oust Mr. Morsi, describing the move as a realization of the popular will.

A 'shocking' constitution

Minority groups have added their voices to the condemnatory chorus. The Maspero Youth Union, a Coptic activist group, described the temporary constitution as “shocking.” In a statement on Tuesday, the group said that the new roadmap “is not compatible with the ideals of the 30 June uprising [...] that went out for a civil state that upholds religious and cultural diversity.” The new document specifies sharia law as the “main source of legislation.”

The criticism underlines the difficulties now facing Egypt’s transitional government. Political polarization had steadily increased throughout Morsi’s year in office, and since his ouster, it has reached dangerous levels.

Over the past two weeks, bloody clashes have taken place across the country between supporters and opponents of the former president. Hundreds have been killed and thousands injured. 

On Monday, at least 53 Morsi supporters died after the Egyptian military opened fire during dawn prayers. Described by Muslim Brotherhood officials as a “massacre,” the incident inflamed an already combustible situation between Islamist groups and the military, which stepped in to remove what Islamists describe as their "legitimate" president.

Ongoing crackdown on Brotherhood

Meanwhile, the Brotherhood are facing an ongoing crackdown that could make short-term political participation very difficult. Egypt's new leaders have moved swiftly to neuter the political power of the former president's supporters. More than 300 arrest warrants have been issued for members of the Brotherhood, and media channels sympathetic to its message have been shut down.

On Wednesday, Egypt's public prosecutor ordered the arrest of more leading Brotherhood figures on charges of inciting violence. However, by late evening, Brotherhood officials reported that no arrests had taken place.

But the new prime minister says that Islamists will not be excluded from the new government on the basis of their political affiliation.

"I don't look at political association," Hazem el-Beblawi told Agence France-Presse. He said that Brotherhood candidates would be considered if they were qualified for the job at hand. "I'm taking two criteria for the next government. Efficiency and credibility."

Egypt's transitional cabinet is expected to be formed by early next week.

But as the Brotherhood’s political future remains in flux, many have turned their anger toward to the United States, arguing that the Obama administration’s support for the Egyptian military reveals a hypocritical approach to democracy.

Outside the Rabaa El Adaweya mosque, where supporters of Morsi are camped out to demand his reinstatement, supporters express a deep sense of grievance.

"America told us we had to have a democracy. But when we elected a president they didn't like, they changed their mind. Everyone here sees through this so-called superpower," said Abdelrahman Shahban, an oil worker who had traveled from Alexandria to join the protests in support of Morsi.

"America has always wanted to control us," added his brother, Abdullah. "But it's never usually this blatant. Obama is supporting the traitors who stole our legitimate president. Instead of respecting the popular will, he's boosting the forces that turned on Dr Morsi."

A longtime supporter of successive Egyptian administrations, the US gives an annual support package of $1.3 billion to the country’s military. A slated delivery of four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt is still "scheduled as planned," a senior US official told Reuters yesterday, following news that Obama has ordered a review of aid to its Middle Eastern counterpart.

The Obama administration has struggled to deal with the semantics of Egypt's latest crisis, avoiding labeling it as a coup. Under US law, this would require America to halt an annual aid package.

But according to Egypt scholars, Mr. Mansour's constitutional declaration has settled the debate over the nature of the military's maneuver once and for all.

"The State Department lawyers who have been tooling over whether President Mohamed Morsi's removal was a coup can now desist," concluded Brown. "Mansour's declaration puts it in black and white – at least for those who can read right to left."

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