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Sharif Abdel Kouddous: Historic Egypt Election Outweighed by Continued Dominance of Military Rule

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Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi has become Egypt’s first-ever democratically elected president after beating out former Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik. Despite his historic victory, Morsi will face major challenges under Egypt’s ruling military council. The council recently issued new restrictions on the incoming president’s authority and will retain control of Egypt’s budget and legislation. “This has been a flawed [transition] process,” says Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous. “June 30th, which is when there’s supposed to be a handover of power, isn’t a real handover of power at all.” [includes rush transcript]

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

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to Egypt, where President-elect Mohamed Morsi has toured his new office in the presidential palace and is working on forming a new government. Tens of thousands celebrated the results of the historic presidential elections in Cairo’s Tahrir Square over the weekend. Muslim Brotherhood candidate Morsi was declared the winner a week after the vote was held. He picked up 13.2 million votes, or 51 percent, beating out former Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik, who received 12.3 million. In his victory address, Morsi vowed to respect Egypt’s international obligations as well as human rights at home.

PRESIDENT-ELECT MOHAMED MORSI: [translated] I approach all of you on this day we are witnessing on which I have become, thanks to God and to your will, the president to all Egyptians. And I will treat all Egyptians the same and respect them equally. We will respect agreements and international law, as well as Egyptian commitments and treaties with the rest of the world. We will work to establish the principle of Egyptians and its civil identity as well as human values, especially freedom and the respect of human rights, the respect of women and family rights, as well as children, and to do away with any discrimination.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Expectations are high for the first freely elected president in Egypt, and a webiste called has already been set up to monitor his progress.

President Obama called President-elect Morsi and congratulated him following his victory. Speaking Monday, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland explained what President Obama had said.

VICTORIA NULAND: As the president made clear in his phone call, we want to see President-elect Morsi take steps to advance national unity, to uphold universal values, to respect the rights of all Egyptians, particularly women, minorities, Christians, etc.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the significance of Morsi’s electoral victory, we’re joined now by Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous. He is just back from Cairo. We last saw you, Sharif, overlooking Tahrir. Talk about the significance of Morsi’s victory and just who Mohamed Morsi is.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, it’s a very significant victory. He’s the first democratically elected Islamist president in the Arab world, the first civilian president ever in Egypt’s history, and his win really marks a victory over the lingering remnants of Mubarak’s regime—old party patronage networks, ex-party officials, media figures, state bureaucrats—who really rallied around Ahmed Shafik in a desperate bid to support his presidency and beat the Muslim Brotherhood, but they failed.

But Morsi himself, really, his history is not one typical of leading Brotherhood members who had years of imprisonment and sacrifice to the organization. He graduated from the Faculty of Engineering from Cairo University in 1975. This is at a time, really, when there was a rise in Islamist politics within campuses, that was in fact encouraged by Anwar el-Sadat to counter the left, which was big on campuses at the time. He then went to study, to pursue his Ph.D. in the University of Southern California. He worked as assistant professor at California State University, Northridge. He has—two of his five children were born in the United States, are entitled to U.S. citizenship. And he returned to—and he’s fluent in English, of course. And he returned to Egypt in 1985.

And this really marked the beginning of his slow ascent in the organization of the Brotherhood, eventually serving on the influential Guidance Bureau. Many see his position in the Brotherhood as due to his close relationship with Khairat El-Shater, who is really the group’s top financier and leading strategist, and because of his obedience, because of his skill as an organizational man, really he rose through the ranks of the organization. In April 2011, he was named the president of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. He—well, in 2000, he was elected to parliament, and this really was when his name first started bandying around. He’s really a conservative’s conservative within the organization. He has not been afraid of using, injecting religion into a lot of politics during his time as a parliament member, speaking out against movies and music that he deemed too liberal and things of this nature. He also put forward things against corruption that was occurring within the National Democratic Party and so forth.

So, it remains to be seen how exactly he’ll perform. Many see him—he also pledged and has done—resigned from the Muslim Brotherhood and resigned from the party, once he was elected. So we’ll have to see where it goes. Already, he has met with Tantawi, the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the de facto ruler of Egypt right now. He met with the Supreme Council of Armed Forces and has already backtracked on his earlier criticism of the military council, saying how the military has—was wise and praised its wisdom in running the transitional period and its transparency and democracy, really going back on what the military council has really done, which was a very erratic, erroneous, very flawed transition process, which really, on June 30th, which is when there’s supposed to be a handover of power, isn’t a real handover of power at all.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: But Sharif, some people have suggested that this was a vote not so much for the Brotherhood or for Morsi as against the Mubarak regime, you know, and Shafik was obviously a prime minister under Mubarak.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, there was certainly a large member of—there was the core of the Brotherhood who obviously voted for Morsi. But, yes, a lot of his support came as an anti-Shafik vote, as a vote against the former regime. The celebrations in Tahrir Square, I would—I really doubt they would have been that big if Shafik wasn’t the person who lost against Morsi. If it was a revolutionary candidate that lost to him, I very much doubt there would have been the celebrations in the streets. So it marks an important victory over Shafik and the ruling party regime.

However, what is being handed over on June 30 is, I think, the essence of the problem. As we discussed last week, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, minutes after polls closed in the presidential election, submitted a set of constitutional amendments that severely restrict the powers of the president, that the main crux of which is that he’s not—the president is not the commander of the armed forces. That goes to Tantawi, and that effectively enshrines the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces as a fourth branch of government that’s a constitutionally separate institution from the presidency and parliament and the judiciary. And this is really the main battle, is against the military council.

So, what stands right now is for Morsi—there’s apparently negotiations for him to name his cabinet and name a prime minister. Supposedly they’re considering Mohamed ElBaradei as prime minister. But ElBaradei himself has said that he would not accept a position like that, a couple of weeks ago, because ElBaradei himself refused to run for president in January because, under the rule of the military council, he saw it as a flawed transition.

AMY GOODMAN: And then announced he wouldn’t vote.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And then, yes, boycotted the vote himself. So I doubt that he would accept a position as prime minister, but we’ll have to wait and see. Morsi has pledged to name three vice presidents, one of which will be a Coptic Christian, of Egypt’s minority—

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Is that normal, three vice presidents? Is that—

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, we’ve never had a vice president in Egypt until January of 2011, when Mubarak appointed Omar Suleiman as his first and only vice president. So these are positions all being negotiated.

AMY GOODMAN: Sharif, many of Mohamed Morsi’s critics have expressed concern about his affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood. This is Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, who himself resigned from the Brotherhood when he decided to run in the presidential election.

ABDEL MONEIM ABOUL FOTOUH: [translated] We need to move forward. I’m calling upon the national political forces to obligate President Mohamed Morsi to achieve his commitments. He vows to achieve them, and I’m congratulating him on his victory. I’m calling upon the forces to push him to fulfill his commitments, to convert it from just promises into facts. We do not expect only televised speeches from him, but we need him to fulfill his commitments. Firstly, he should be an independent president with no links to the Muslim Brotherhood and to the Freedom and Justice Party.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh. Your response? He was with the Brotherhood, but he quit.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: He was a longtime member of the Muslim Brotherhood, a leading member, in fact, one that helped arise the resurgence of the Brotherhood on campuses in the '70s and early ’80s. He left the group last year when he decided to run for president, going back on his pledge—the Muslim Brotherhood pledge not to field a presidential candidate. He has, since then, come into confrontation with the leadership of the Brotherhood, primarily Khairat El-Shater, and has been seen as really a candidate, a presidential candidate, that was in the spirit of the revolution, supported by a lot of revolutionaries, had a campaign which was really a rainbow coalition that had liberal seculars to ultra-conservative Salafis, ultimately came fourth in the presidential race in the first round. But he's been critical of the Brotherhood because they have really, over the transitional period, left many of the revolutionary principles that people fought and died for and sided with the military council on many issues in pursuit of their own interests.

And we’ve already seen kind of this backtracking now. There’s four very important—there’s a sit-in that’s continuing in Tahrir right now, and the Brotherhood is calling for four things, one of which is the annulment of the constitutional amendments that take away power from the presidency; also reinstating parliament, which was dissolved just a couple of weeks ago, where the Muslim Brotherhood really had a plurality of votes in that body; to annul a military judicial decree that gives the military widespread powers of arrest and detention. So, the Brotherhood is holding this sit-in. It’s still there, but there’s conflicting reports from senior Brotherhood members who are kind of also negotiating and backtracking. So, we’ll have to see where that goes. There’s also a bunch of court cases that are in play right now. Right when we’re talking right now, there’s one that may be ruled today which would annul that very pernicious decree by the Ministry of Justice to really restore elements of martial law to Egypt and allow the military, military intelligence, to arrest and detain citizens. There’s also another very important court case, which is—will decide whether parliament can be reinstated.

So what happens right now is that some element of executive power will be handed over to Mohamed Morsi at the end of the month. There’s negotiations around the constituent assembly, which will draft the country’s new constitution, which is really the crux of the new Egypt. And the military has reinstated control over this process. It can veto any element of the constitution it doesn’t like before it gets drafted. If it doesn’t agree—if there’s any, quote-unquote, “obstacles” that this consistent assembly encounters, then it can dissolve that entire body, appoint its own constituent assembly, which will write the constitution within three months. After that, there’s a referendum on the constitution. And we don’t know, but we may also reelect the president, as well, after a new constitution. So Mohamed Morsi may only be an interim leader.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: In addition to the constraints that you’ve outlined on presidential power, there have been reports in the media that SCAF, the military, will retain control of all of the key ministries—interior, foreign affairs, justice and defense.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, Mohamed Morsi has the right to name all the ministers, and that’s what the Supreme Council has said. But no one is under any illusion that really these key ministries, which they are called the “sovereign ministries” in Arabic, will be appointed really by the military council. There’s no way, I believe, Morsi would name anyone else other than Tantawi as defense minister or really name someone who is a civilian reformist over the interior ministry. So, you know, we’ll have to see where that goes.

AMY GOODMAN: And could the SCAF, the armed forces, just call for a new election in four months, and Mohamed Morsi would be out?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Yes. The SCAF has made up the rules as it went along throughout this transitional period. This has been a flawed process from the beginning. And really, the biggest failure by many of the civilian political forces was to accept, back in March of 2011, the military to oversee what was a transition to a civilian democracy.

AMY GOODMAN: And where is Ahmed Shafik?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Ahmed Shafik apparently flew to the United Arab Emirates today with his—all of his children, some of his grandchildren, just hours after the general prosecutor opened up charges of corruption against him.

AMY GOODMAN: Wow! Well, Sharif Abdel Kouddous, I want to thank you for being with us. It’s so great to have you back here in New York. I know you’re headed right back to Cairo. Sharif Abdel Kouddous is Democracy Now! senior correspondent in Cairo.

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