Egyptian supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohamed Morsi, celebrate next to a giant poster of him at his campaign headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, June 24, 2012. Mohammed Morsi was declared Egypt’s first Islamist president on Sunday after the freest elections in the country’s history, narrowly defeating Hosni Mubarak’s last Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq in a race that raised political tensions in Egypt to a fever pitch. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
Last week’s presidential elections in Egypt were supposed to mark the final step in what has been an arduous transition from military rule to an elected civilian government. Instead, sixteen months after President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising calling for freedom and social justice, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces has assumed near-full control of all of the key branches of state.
Minutes after polls closed Sunday evening in the country’s first-ever competitive presidential election, which pitted the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi against Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak’s last prime minister, the SCAF issued a set of constitutional amendments that strip the incoming president of almost all significant powers and cement military authority over the post-Mubarak era.
The move by the ruling generals came days after the dissolution of the popularly elected parliament by a court packed with Mubarak-appointed judges, as well as a decree by the Minister of Justice reintroducing elements of martial law to the country by granting the military broad powers to arrest and detain civilians.
“Egypt has completed its full transition into a military dictatorship,” wrote Hossam Bahgat, head of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, after the amendments were made public.
The eleventh-hour declaration awards the ruling generals sweeping powers, including the right to issue legislation in the absence of a sitting parliament, and total control over the military’s affairs, shielding the army from any presidential, parliamentary or public oversight. Most prominently, the amendments remove the president’s role as commander-in-chief—with SCAF head Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi assuming that power—effectively transforming the SCAF into a fourth branch of state, constitutionally separate from the executive, legislative and judiciary.
“The provisions really do constitutionalize a military coup,” writes Nathan Brown, an Egypt expert at George Washington University.
The military also tightened its grip over the drafting of Egypt’s new constitution by granting itself an effective veto over any clauses that don’t meet with its approval. It can even go further and directly handpick the 100-member body that will write the constitution. The Constituent Assembly, elected by the Muslim Brotherhood–dominated parliament two days before it was dissolved, faces allegations by secular forces that it is dominated by Islamists who have secured themselves the lion’s share of seats. The new amendments allow the SCAF to dissolve the current body if “encounters an obstacle”—a disturbingly vague condition—and select the Constituent Assembly themselves.
The military council further eroded the authority of the executive with another decree, made public on Monday, to form a seventeen-member National Defense Council, to be chaired by the incoming president, but which will include eleven senior military commanders and will make decisions based on a simply majority vote.
Meanwhile, the head of the SCAF Advisory Council, Sameh Ashour, suggested the winner of the election might only serve on an interim basis, until the new constitution is written. “The newly elected president will occupy the office for a short period of time, whether or not he agrees,” Ashour told Al Jazeera.