High Court or Tahrir Square: Morsi's presidential oath dilemma

Ekram Ibrahim , Tuesday 19 Jun 2012

If Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi wins Egypt's presidential poll, he will likely face a legal dilemma as to where he should take his presidential oath of office

Mohammed Morsi
Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood candidate for the presidential elections Mohammed Morsi attends a rally in Cairo's Tahrir square after Mubarak verdict on 2 June, 2012 (Photo: AP)

Egypt's first post-Mubarak president will be formally announced on Thursday. As exciting as this is for Egyptians, who for the past 30 years have not taken part in a presidential poll the results of which were not known in advance, the entire electoral process remains riddled with ambiguities – not least of which is the issue of where the next president will take his oath of office.

The addendum to last year's Constitutional Declaration, issued last Sunday by Egypt's ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), calls for the new president to take the presidential oath before the general assembly of Egypt's High Constitutional Court (HCC). This is laid down in Article 30 of the controversial addendum, which states: "In the event that parliament is dissolved, the president will be sworn into office before the High Constitutional Court's general assembly."

In light of preliminary results suggesting a victory for Mohamed Morsi, speculation abounds as to how – or, more importantly, where – the Muslim Brotherhood candidate will be sworn into office.

If Morsi does, in fact, win the election, he will face a dilemma. If he adheres to the terms of the SCAF's constitutional addendum and swears the oath before the HCC's general assembly, "this will be a declaration of his approval of the HCC's legitimacy," American University in Cairo history professor Khaled Fahmy told Ahram Online.

This would put Morsi in a difficult spot, as the HCC is the legal body that recently ruled Egypt's Parliamentary Elections Law – which regulated last year's parliamentary polls – to be unconstitutional, leading to the dissolution of Egypt's Islamist-led People's Assembly (the lower house of Egypt's parliament).

The Muslim Brotherhood, for its part, officially announced its refusal on Monday to dissolve the assembly, announcing plans instead for a Tuesday mass demonstration in Cairo's Tahrir Square and before parliament headquarters to protest the decision. Saad El-Katatni, MP for the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and speaker of the dissolved People's Assembly, called on the SCAF on Sunday to "respect the will of the people" who voted in parliamentary elections late last year and "safeguard the revolution's democratic accomplishments."

Some revolutionary forces are calling on Morsi to refrain from taking the oath before the HCC, after the latter declared parliament to be unconstitutional. The April 6 Youth Movement, which supported Morsi in the presidential runoff against Mubarak-era premier Ahmed Shafiq, has called on the Brotherhood candidate, if he wins the race, to take his oath of office in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

Mazhar Shaheen, preacher at the Omar Makram Mosque (located adjacent to Tahrir Square) known for his revolutionary positions, has called on Morsi to take the oath in the iconic square – considered a symbol of Egypt's January 25 Revolution – next Friday. Shaheen, however, does not see Tahrir as an alternative venue for taking the oath, but rather as a complimentary one to the HCC.

Morsi so far made it clear that he will not take his presidential oath in the square. However, this does not mean that he will not go directly to the heart of the revolution afterward. After all, the Muslim Brotherhood president will need the blessings of Tahrir  to be able to deal with the hurdles ahead.

Taking the oath in Tahrir Square is not a new idea. Former prime minister Essam Sharaf, who served as PM in the wake of last year's uprising, took his oath of office twice: once in Tahrir Square, during a Friday mass protest in March 2011, and a second time before SCAF head Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi.

Ousted president Hosni Mubarak, who remained in power for 30 years, used to swear his oath in front of parliament before each presidential term. In accordance with Article 79 of Egypt's Constitution, the president of the republic must take the following oath before he can exercise his executive prerogative: "I swear by Allah the Almighty to sincerely maintain the republican system, to respect the constitution and law, to work in the interests of the people, and to maintain the independence and territorial integrity of the homeland."

Questions as to whether the SCAF would consider a presidential oath taken in Tahrir Square legal, or whether Morsi would choose Tahrir as his oath-taking platform rather than adhering to the terms of the constitutional addendum – which has been rejected the Brotherhood – remain unanswered until now.

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