Military Power Grab Eclipses Egyptian Islamists' Declared Presidential Victory

The future of Egypt is in the hands of the generals -- for now.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi and former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, a secularist, have both claimed victory in Egypt’s presidential race and each are accusing each other of cheating.  It now matters little who is declared the victor, as the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces seized power over the past week and relegated the presidency to little more than a figurehead.

The latest tally shows Morsi with a thin victory of 51% to Shafiq’s 49%. Thousands of Hamas supporters filled Palestinian streets after Morsi declared victory with the Hamas Prime Minister expressing his hope that Egypt will now “bolster the resistance of the Palestinian people.” Shafiq’s campaign is accusing the Muslim Brotherhood of “hijacking the election” and said its data shows “beyond all doubt” that he won. Shafiq is contesting the preliminary result.

The Shafiq campaign said that election observers have “spotted massive violations from Morsi’s campaign” and that the Brotherhood prematurely declared victory “in order to be able to claim vote-rigging when Shafiq wins.” The Egyptian Coalition for Election Observation has submitted reports of election violations in each side’s favor, specifically ballot-stuffing, vote-buying, ground transportation of supporters, clashes and illegal campaigning.

The Morsi campaign has also filed complaints of “soft fraud.” It says its observers have proof that ballots were printed that already had Shafiq selected and that votes were casted by the deceased and members of the security forces which are not permitted to vote.

The election took place as Islamic terrorists attacked Israel from the Sinai Peninsula. On the day that Morsi declared victory, terrorists in camouflage attacked an Israeli construction crew building a security barrier on the border with assault rifles, an improvised explosive device and an anti-tank rocket. The bomb caused the Israeli truck to crash into a ditch, killing one of the crew-members, who was an Arab citizen of Israel. The Israeli response killed two terrorists. No group claimed responsibility.

Later in the day, Israel carried out an airstrike in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, killing two suspected terrorists on a motorcycle. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad group said the two were its members and they were on a “reconnaissance” mission. The Israelis say there is no connection between the strike and the attack earlier in the day. If Palestinian Islamic Jihad was preparing an attack, then Iranian involvement should be suspected. Relations between Iran and Hamas are severely strained because the two are on opposite sides in Syria. There is no evidence of a break between Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Iran.

On Saturday, two rockets were fired from the Sinai Peninsula into Israel, landing in the Negev desert and near Eilat, with no casualties. Israeli officials told a newspaper that Hamas launched them on orders from Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Egypt, but the Brotherhood said Israel was trying to influence Egyptian voters. A senior Israeli official later denied the Brotherhood’s involvement.

The razor-thin margin between the two candidates makes it inevitable that one side will cry foul when the final outcome is declared on Thursday. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) prepared for instability and the possibility of a Brotherhood victory by essentially turning the clock back to pre-Arab Spring Egypt, obviously with the exception of restoring the sidelined President, Hosni Mubarak.

Last week, SCAF issued a decree giving the military the power to arrest civilians under broad terms. If the military feels that you are inhibiting the flow of traffic, such as by protesting, you can be placed under arrest. If the military feels you are hurting the economy, such as by going on strike, you can be placed under arrest.

The Supreme Constitutional Court, staffed by judges chosen under the Mubarak regime, then dissolved the entire parliament. The given reason was that the one-third that was supposed to go solely to independents competing in winner-takes-all races went to party members that were technically independents only because they just didn’t run under their party’s banner. The rest of the parliament was chosen based on the proportion of the vote won by the party lists. The Court also overturned a rule passed by the Islamist-led parliament that former high-level regime officials like Shafiq couldn’t hold office.

“The makeup of the entire chamber is illegal and, consequently, it does not legally stand,” the Court said. The Muslim Brotherhood declared that a “full-fledged coup” had taken place. There is no possibility for appeal because it is the court with the highest authority in Egypt.

This means that full legislative powers are in the hands of the SCAF. The generals will control the budget and will soon pick the 100-person assembly to draft the next constitution under their direction. Once the new constitution is written, it must be approved in a referendum within three months. Only then can new parliamentary elections take place, which isn’t expected to happen any earlier than December. SCAF says it is still committed to handing power over to the chosen president by July, but SCAF gets to decide how much power he’ll actually have.

SCAF has the power to accept the legitimate election results or to declare the victor that it wants. It seems to be preparing the ground to invalidate Morsi’s victory. SCAF may give the presidency to the Muslim Brotherhood in order to maintain the façade of a balance of powers and to appease its main rival while shutting out genuinely secular-democratic voices. On the other hand, SCAF may be unwilling to give up even a thimble-like amount of power. If that’s the case, then Shafiq gets the presidency.

Don’t put too much emphasis on who officially wins the Egyptian presidency on Thursday. Unlike Tunisia and Libya, regime change didn’t happen in Egypt. It was a reshuffling of regime leadership. SCAF will be writing the next constitution. The future of Egypt is in the hands of the generals, just as it was before the Arab Spring.

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