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Egypt’s consolidation of power… What's next?

The power struggle has been resolved in favour of Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Now is the time to continue the democratic process and rebuild the fast-deteriorating economy

Taher Helmy , Thursday 23 Aug 2012

While Egypt’s Armed Forces were securing Sinai, President Mohammed Morsi took measures to secure the executive branch’s power.  In a series of well-calculated moves, Morsi first eliminated the heads of central command, the military police and presidential guard, i.e. all those who can move ground forces, as well as the head of intelligence. The top brass came next: Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi and General Sami Annan were retired, decorated and appointed presidential advisors. General Al-Assar, a key contact with the US who retained his position, announced that the changes had been coordinated with the SCAF.

A few days after the, then head of military intelligence, General al-Sissi was appointed Minister of Defense, almost all high level military positions were reshuffled.

In the same stroke President Morsi made Judge Mahmoud Mekki his vice president, having appointed his older brother, Ahmed Mekki, Minister of Justice a week earlier; both are Islamists. This represents a rapprochement with the judicial branch of government and guarantees Morsi a say in the appointment of new judges.

All of these moves were not unexpected. President Morsi needed to build his own team, like any new administration. Tantawi, who had acted essentially as interim president for the last 18 months, had already accepted the post of Minister of Defense in Morsi’s new cabinet. As head of the armed forces, this gave him extensive powers, compounded by the Supplemental Constitutional Declaration issued by the SCAF just before handing over power to Morsi, that gave SCAF legislative power until Parliament is  re-elected. The situation was untenable; a ship can only have one captain. 

President Morsi rescinded the Supplemental Constitutional Declaration, bringing the legislative branch into his remit, leaving the military no say in drafting the constitution and the military budget no longer immune from civilian oversight. With these astute moves, the president has consolidated executive, legislative and, to some extent, judiciary powers and eliminated all notable opposition. This is unprecedented in Egypt’s history; the presidencies of Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak never held this much power.

Some may argue the legality of rescinding the Constitutional Declaration, but it is now a fait accompli. Nor does it matter whether President Morsi was the sole architect of these moves or performed them in compliance with Muslim Brotherhood leadership or even under foreign advice as claimed by some. But this is no time for bickering. We have to move forward to make Egypt productive. Now that the balance of power is in the president’s favor, so is the responsibility for what happens next; with power comes responsibility, the greater the power the more compelling the duty to administer it wisely.  In a democracy, government acts in the interests of the people and is answerable to them. 

The big question is how Morsi’s government will rebuild the fast-deteriorating economy, Egypt’s most pressing concern. The task is no less than turning the country around at a time when commodities prices are rising worldwide, the global economy is in bad shape and Egypt is impacted by conflict in Syria and potential power-keg of Iran, not to mention within its own borders in Sinai.

Fixing the broken economy will require the participation of all Egyptians, including skilled expats. Unfortunately, while Egypt needs all its resources more Egyptians are traveling abroad to seek jobs and opportunities and taking the talents they acquired in the last 20-30 years with them. The situation is reminiscent of the so-called brain drain that followed the 1952 Revolution and could have similarly grave consequences.Egyptians should not be leaving, they should be coming back. 

For Egypt to move forward domestic and international investors and the work force needs to feel secure and confident in state support, not just for business but for democratic principles. Now that the president has unprecedented powers, it is his responsibility to use them to ensure that everyone is included and dealt with equitably. This is the time for true leadership.

So far President Morsi has done very little to bring the country together. A transparent, predictable economic environment inspires confidence – but that’s not the kind we have. Surprises were one of the hallmarks of the Mubarak years, often damaging our economic growth or giving too little too late but we can no longer afford haphazard governance. Without transparent and consistent policy making, there will be no confidence and no investment.

The power struggle that has plagued Egypt since February 11 seems to have been resolved in favor of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, which means accountability starts now. It’s up to President Morsi to prove that the democratic process continues, despite fears at home and abroad that it is threatened. Every step he makes from now on will send a message to Egyptians and the world of his intentions. Safeguarding democracy, even if that means that four years from now he is displaced, would be Mohammed Morsi’s legacy as Egypt’s first freely elected president.  If he applies the same strategic skills in democratically managing the country and economy as he did in consolidating his powers, Egypt has a chance of recovery. That remains to be seen.


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