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2012-06-15

A Judicial Coup in Egypt: Muslim Brotherhood-Controlled Parliament Dissolved, Military Gains Power

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Days before Egypt’s presidential runoff, the Egyptian Supreme Court has dissolved the newly elected parliament, handing power back to the military. The court also confirmed Hosni Mubarak’s former prime minister, Ahmed Shafik, can run for president against Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi. Protests have erupted in Egypt, with critics saying the decision is tantamount to a judicial coup. We go to Cairo for an update from Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous. "These court rulings have really dealt the final fatal blow to a military-managed transitional process that’s been so deformed as to barely make sense anymore," he says. "Right now Egypt is in a state where there’s no parliament, no constitution or even a clear process for drafting one, and a presidential runoff that will leave Egypt with a ruler who will be a very divisive president." [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Egypt’s democratic transition was thrown into disarray Thursday when the country’s Supreme Constitutional Court ruled to dissolve the newly elected parliament in what critics have described as a judicial coup. The decision effectively puts legislative power into the hands of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. In addition, the court ruled that former leaders of the Mubarak regime can hold political office, effectively approving the candidacy of former prime minister and presidential hopeful, Ahmed Shafik. The court decision is a major setback to supporters of last year’s uprising, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood, which held 46 percent of seats in the newly elected parliament.

The court’s decision comes just two days before Egyptians go to the polls for a presidential runoff between Shafik and the Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate Mohamed Morsi. After Thursday’s ruling, Morsi vowed to stay in the race but said that any foul play in the election would be met by a new revolution.

MOHAMED MORSI: [translated] We will continue with our journey and observe closely. And if there’s any fraud, we already know what the consequences will be: a revolution against the criminals, a revolution against those who protect the criminals, a revolution until the goals of the January 25th revolution are fully achieved.

AMY GOODMAN: After the court ruling Thursday, protesters gathered outside Egypt’s constitutional court.

MOHAMED HUSSEIN: [translated] This ruling is void. By what logic or what justice can the one who killed our brothers and the person who was behind the camel battle and the one who was part of Mubarak’s regime and who said that Mubarak is his role model—by what logic can we return to the tyrannical old regime? Where is the justice in that? We had a revolution, and no revolution in the world brings back a tyrannical regime. This military council wants to bring back the old regime, and they want us to return back to being subservient. We will not go back to being subservient. We will continue to struggle and to struggle against Ahmed Shafik. We will go on, God willing.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, to find out more about what’s happening in Egypt, we go to Cairo to talk to Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous.

Sharif, welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about what’s developed over the last 24 hours in Egypt.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, Amy, these court rulings have really dealt the final fatal blow to a military-managed transitional process that’s been so deformed as to barely make sense anymore. Right now Egypt is in a state where there is no parliament, no constitution or even a clear process for drafting one, and a presidential runoff that will leave Egypt with a ruler who will be a very divisive president. The rulings really set off shock waves. This is the cover of a privately owned newspaper, Shorouk. The top head says, "As You Were." And it reads, "The constitutional court returns all powers to the military."

So, as you mentioned, there was two landmark rulings yesterday, the first of which was on something called a political isolation law. This was a law that was passed by the parliament in April. It was initially intended to target Omar Suleiman, who had put himself as a nominee in the race and who was, of course, Mubarak’s first and only prime—first and only vice president and who was his longtime intelligence chief. He was disqualified out of the race for technical reasons. But the law would also apply to Ahmed Shafik, who was Mubarak’s last prime minister, appointed on January 29th of 2011. So, this law would have banned any top Mubarak officials from running for office for 10 years. The law was passed. It was signed by the military council. However, the Presidential Elections Commission refused to implement the law and instead referred it to the Supreme Constitutional Court, which yesterday ruled this law unconstitutional, thereby leaving Ahmed Shafik in the race, which is scheduled—the runoff is scheduled for tomorrow.

What was more of a bigger blow was the second ruling, which was the ruling that one-third of the—the way that parliament was elected, one-third of them was unconstitutional. The way the elections were set up, the parliamentary elections last fall, was a complicated system where two-thirds of the candidates would be elected on a list-based system that’s also known as proportional representation. The other third would be individual candidates who would run for winner-take-all seats. But in a last-minute change, they allowed members of parties to run for these individual seats, as well. And it was that aspect that the court yesterday ruled unconstitutional. It effectively dissolves the parliament, the first really freely and fairly elected parliament in Egypt for many decades. And it effectively hands the legislature, the powers of the legislature, back to the military council. The military council, of course, had that power up until January of this year, when the parliament was first seated.

So, the response has been varied, but many are calling it a coup. What Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, who is a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood and a liberal Islamist thinker who came forth in the presidential race, called it—called it a coup. The Muslim Brotherhood has said it would respect the decision, but senior Brotherhood member Mohammed el-Beltagy and others have called it a military coup. Hamdeen Sabahi, who came third in the presidential race, is calling on the Muslim Brotherhood to not field its presidential candidate tomorrow, to pull out of the race, and thereby delegitimize the process. However, Mohamed Morsi, the presidential candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, as you heard in the clip earlier, has pledged to go on in the race, putting himself forward as the revolutionary candidate against [Ahmed Shafik].

So, really, these decisions yesterday were really monumental, because this transition process has—over the course of these past 16 months, there has been a crisis of legitimacy at every turn. There has been complicated court rulings at every turn, putting things into question. And right now, it seems that almost nearly all of the power is in the hands of the military council. So while many have called it a coup that happened yesterday, many also point to the fact that this was really maybe a coup on February 11th of 2011, when the military council first came to the helm of power after replacing Mubarak after he was forced out of office.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Sharif, what would happen now in terms of the ruling on the parliament? Would they have to schedule new elections? And to—because, obviously, the presidential election now comes, and if Morsi wins, he will be faced basically with being the president but having no government to work with.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: That’s exactly right. He will be president without a parliament or a constitution delineating what his powers exactly are. So it’s a very dangerous situation to be in and a very vague and unclear one. Right now, parliament—the ruling yesterday doesn’t actually—isn’t actually enforced until the military council actively dissolves parliament. But for all intents and purposes, parliament will be dissolved. The military council is the one that was scheduled to—will schedule parliamentary elections to be held. It’s very unclear when these will be held, under what rules they will be held. As with so much else in this erratic transition process, many things are vague.

But what is clear is that the military council has really taken control of the basic aspects of what we were supposed to have been building in a post-Mubarak state these last 16 months. I mean, we spent three months going to parliamentary elections, and that’s just been voided. There’s been no reform in the security apparatus. There’s been no reform of the media. There’s been no reform of the judiciary. So, really, the Mubarak regime is still very much in place. And to top it all off, its last prime minister is now in a runoff against the Muslim Brotherhood, which is really the same political landscape that Egypt has had for many decades now.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And is there any sense of possible exhaustion among the population in terms of the continued turmoil that might lead to a movement basically to restore order and which would benefit the old Mubarak regime and those members of that old—of that old regime?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, I mean, there has been this idea of people being tired of what they call a security vacuum. Police have not been really deployed on the streets. There has been—protests have continued for these last 16 months. Many say that they lack the leverage that they once had to actually effect change. Ahmed Shafik himself ran on a law and order platform, which seems to have resonated with large segments of the electorate that placed him second in the first round of the elections.

However, I think his election—or his success may also be attributed to the patronage networks that really were part of the former National Democratic Party, Mubarak’s party, that we didn’t see really in the parliamentary elections but seem to have come back with a vengeance in the presidential elections. I just went to a conference of his a couple of days ago, and there were leading members of the National Democratic Party, the now-dissolved party. Mustafa al-Fiqi and Jehan Sadat, the wife of the assassinated former president, was there, all supporting Ahmed Shafik for president, supporting him as a bulwark against the rise of the Islamists, against the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood. So, he’s really had—has a lot of support from the state that the protesters rose up against last year to try and topple.

AMY GOODMAN: Sharif, earlier this week, Egyptian activists unveiled a campaign to boycott the elections, calling it a false choice under ongoing military rule. Boycott organizer Tarek Shalaby said Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF, have effectively rigged the election to ensure their continued dominance. This is what he said.

TAREK SHALABY: So, they do that, and therefore, what they’re trying to do is they’re trying to show us that there’s no other way for the revolution to continue, except for collaborating with SCAF in these elections that they’ve made for us. And obviously they make these elections customized specifically for them, so that the result that comes out, whatever it is and whoever it is, works perfectly for them. And that’s why what we need to do is we need to reject these elections, refuse to collaborate with them, and make sure that we organize ourselves and do go for labor strikes and for demonstrations and sit-ins, because that’s how we use popular masses and the workforce to cripple the regime and to bring it down and make it lose its power. And that’s how there could be a balance of power, and then we can bring change that way.

AMY GOODMAN: And Sharif, this news just in: in an interview with The Guardian, Mohamed ElBaradei says he will not vote in the presidential election this weekend. He expects Shafik to win but has harsh words for the Muslim Brotherhood. If you could comment on the boycott movement and also, as all these decisions came down yesterday, Shafik sounding like he had won, in a statement that he was making to the public, and the anger of Mohamed Morsi.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, the boycott movement has certainly grown, especially after the first round of the—the results of the first round of the presidential election. There were a number of—I’d say a small core of revolutionary youth who boycotted the first round of the presidential election, saying that the entire process being led by the military council was illegitimate. But this boycott is being pushed further right now, and I think it’s growing. There’s been people like Alaa Al-Aswany, who’s a leading intellectual here, who was previously backing Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, has now said he’s going to boycott. As you just said, Mohamed ElBaradei said he’s going to boycott.

So there’s a leading movement against it, because—for a number of reasons. One is seeing as—the elections as being rigged, the whole process as being rigged. There were certainly questions surrounding the first round. The Presidential Elections Commission behaved suspiciously by distributing last-minute voter lists and not allowing monitors into the aggregation of vote counts. And so, there’s questions of legitimacy surrounding the poll, but also the outcome of the poll, pitting the Muslim Brotherhood, which is, you know, a conservative Islamist group that is in many ways the mirror establishment to the one that has ruled Egypt for 60 years—highly disciplined, highly hierarchical, secretive, with its own set of patronage networks—of course, not guilty of the same crimes as the regime, so perhaps the comparison is unfair, but I’m pitting that against really a stalwart of the former regime. And so, telling people that there is—it’s not just these two choices. There is a third choice, and that choice is to refuse to participate in this process. A lot of people are going to go in, and have done so already in the ex-pat vote of people voting abroad, Egyptians, have spoiled their ballots, written "Down with military rule" on their ballots. So, the turnout was—the first round of the elections was much lower than the parliamentary elections, and many expect that when the polls open tomorrow, that there will be fewer people going to the polls, as well.

There’s also just one other thing I—a very important point to mention that was announced this week was that the Justice Ministry decreed basically giving military officers, intelligence officers, military police the right to detain and arrest citizens, to arrest civilians. This actual decree was announced on the 13th but was actually made on June 4th. And that’s just four days after Egypt’s 30-year emergency law finally expired, you know, a small gain in this transitional process, where Egypt had lived under emergency law for so long, and now the minister of justice issues this decree basically allowing these widespread powers of search and detention by the military. Seventeen Egyptian human rights groups condemned it, calling it a worse substitute than the state of emergency. So, all of these factors combined—with these court rulings, with Shafik in the race—really throw the entire transitional process into question, and many say that it’s, in fact, dead.

AMY GOODMAN: Sharif Abdel Kouddous, I want to thank you very much for joining us. Of course, we’ll speak to you next week at the end of this election cycle to see what happens. Sharif Abdel Kouddous is a Democracy Now! senior correspondent, speaking to us from Cairo, Egypt. To see all of his reports all through the Egyptian revolution, you can go to our website at democracynow.org.

When we come back, former presidential candidate, consumer activist Ralph Nader on President Obama and Mitt Romney, their speeches on the state of the economy in the battleground state of Ohio, and much more. Stay with us.

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