CAIRO -- As Egypt awaited the official results of its first free presidential election, the country appeared Monday to be entering a prolonged period of instability as the various bodies of government – the ruling military council, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Parliament and the assembly charged with writing a new constitution – competed for governing power.
The speaker of Parliament, Mohamed Saad el Katatni, announced that he would convene a session of the legislative body on Tuesday in defiance of the military council’s decree that it was dissolved, potentially setting the stage for a showdown in front of the building.
The Muslim Brotherhood, whose candidate, Mohammed Morsi, claimed early Monday to have won the weekend’s close runoff vote for president, dismissed as invalid the military council’s amendments to the constitution that limited presidential powers. The council also asserted that its powers extended to writing laws, yet a constitutional assembly named last week to draft a new constitution met on Monday anyway, inside the chambers of the dissolved Parliament.
Ahmed Shafik, Morsi’s presidential rival and former President Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, rejected claims that he had lost the election, saying he would file a formal appeal on Tuesday. The official election commission is expected to issue its tally on Wednesday.
Amid all the jockeying for position – and a growing chorus of Egyptians decrying the generals’ moves as tantamount to a counterrevolution against the popular uprising that toppled Mubarak – the military council held a rare press conference, where it asked the public to trust that it was only interested in preserving Egypt’s security. Maj. Gen. Mohammed al Assar vowed that the council would hand over power July 1, when the new president is to be sworn in.
“With complete authority, with all due respect, and he will be the head of state, there is no doubt about that,” al Assar told reporters.
Yet under the terms of the temporary constitution, the military council will still hold much of the nation’s governing power for at least four months afterward, while the constitutional assembly writes a new charter and new parliamentary elections are held.
As Egyptians prepared to go to the polls last week, a series of court rulings and decrees by the military council, which has ruled Egypt since Mubarak’s ouster 16 months ago, set in motion the debate of which entity had what powers. No side seems to agree on what is legal, and each governing branch is looking for interpretations that bolster its own interests.
Just as the polls closed Sunday, the military council issued amendments to the temporary constitution that greatly enhanced its already near-total power in the executive branch. It redefined the powers of the president, giving itself the final say over all military matters. Under the change, the president can’t declare war without the military council’s approval, and the council itself will decide its commanders – and when they must retire.
In the absence of a Parliament, the new president will take the oath of office before the Supreme Constitutional Court, which consists of Mubarak appointees.
The military council already had garnered newfound powers over another branch of government days earlier when the constitutional court said members of Parliament had been elected illegally, leading to Parliament’s dissolution, and leaving the military as the last remaining government institution to fill its place.