Brotherhood Struggles to Translate Power Into Policy in Egypt

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CAIRO -- When President Mohamed Morsi and his allies in the Muslim Brotherhood pushed through a new constitution last month, liberals feared it would enable them to put an Islamist stamp on the Egyptian state, in part by purging nearly half the judges on the Supreme Constitutional Court.

But those warnings are turning out to be premature, at the very least, as the court itself made clear last week at its opening session, its first meeting under the new charter.

The president of the court sneered with disdain at a lawyer for the Muslim Brotherhood trying to address the reconfigured bench, stripped of 7 of its 18 members. "As if you left a court to be spoken of like this!" Judge Maher el-Beheiry snapped. He had already declared that the court, perceived as an enemy of the Islamists, "can never forget" the Brotherhood's protests against it during the constitutional debate.

In the two years since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, Mr. Morsi and the Islamists have trounced their political opposition again and again at the polls and have accumulated unrivaled political power.

But Judge Beheiry's rebuke was a vivid reminder that their political victories have not yet translated into real power over the Egyptian bureaucracy. Mr. Morsi still appears to exercise little day-to-day authority over the judiciary, the police, the military and the state-run news media.

"If you think of the main pillars of the bureaucracy, the Brotherhood has not gotten control of them yet, and I don't think they will completely," said Hani Shukrallah, 62, the left-leaning editor of an English-language state news Web site who was recently was asked to retire by its new management. "There are so many people who are very difficult to bring to heel," he said. "I think we are in for several years of turbulence where state power is diffused."

Although Mr. Morsi has the legitimacy of a democratic election, he has inherited the still-intact remnants of Mr. Mubarak's authoritarian state, built on fear, loyalty and patronage, and much of it permeated by a deep distrust of the Islamists.

Mr. Morsi and his allies are now only beginning to attempt to exert some control over the body of the state that would allow him to put in effect a social, economic and political program. And his ultimate success, or failure, will help decide some of the most pivotal questions concerning Egypt's future, for better or worse.

On the one hand, the bureaucracy's resistance could prevent the Islamists from consolidating their power, imposing their ideology, or, as some liberals say they fear, building a new dictatorship. But the failure to exert control could also prolong vexing social problems, like the collapse of public security because of the withdrawal of the police.

The analysts say that Mr. Morsi is clearly working to install networks of allies over key parts of the state. He has named Brotherhood members as governors in 7 out of 28 provinces. In a recent cabinet shake-up, he named another Brotherhood member as minister of local development, who under the new Constitution could have new powers over day-to-day local government.

His Islamist allies in the legislature named at least 11 fellow Islamists, including at least 3 ultraconservatives, to the 27 seats on the newly empowered National Council for Human Rights. The Constitution and other new rules give it the authority to regulate election observers, investigate human rights violations and act as a public ombudsman.

But Mr. Morsi's attempts to consolidate his power have often yielded equivocal results. He finally persuaded Egypt's top generals to relinquish their authority over the civilian government last August. But in December, the Islamist-backed Constitution granted the generals broad immunity and autonomy from civilian control, in an apparent quid pro quo.

Brotherhood leaders acknowledge they face deep resistance. When the president took office, the holdover staff was destroying his faxes and mail in small acts of sabotage, said one senior Brotherhood leader, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid further inflaming the tensions. In the Interior Ministry, which nominally reports to the president, rank-and-file officers remain all but openly antagonistic to Mr. Morsi and his party.

During the contentious run-up to the constitutional vote late last year, the police failed to increase security outside Brotherhood offices as one after another were vandalized and often burned. And when protesters clashed with Islamists outside the presidential palace, the police effectively vanished from the scene. "It seemed like a clear mutiny," said Heba Morayef, a researcher with Human Rights Watch.

"It was as if the arm of the state was striking at its own head," the senior Brotherhood leader complained.

The police say the lesson they learned from the revolution against Mr. Mubarak was not to stand against protesters on behalf of an individual president.

"It fills me with pride that a police officer was the one who opened the improvised metal gate for protesters during the march to the presidential palace to allow them to continue," said Ahmed Mansour al-Helbawi, the head of a police union that claims to have 400,000 members. "The protesters carried him on their shoulders and chanted: 'The people and the police are one hand.' "

Mr. Helbawi said the officers were no longer willing to use force against demonstrators even outside the presidential palace. But he acknowledged that the police still show no such hesitation when protesters approach their own headquarters.

As for the failure to protect the offices of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, "If I protect the F.J.P., then I must also protect the Wafd Party and the Constitution Party and every other party there is!" Mr. Helbawi said, adding that the police would never again "turn into the ministry of just one political party," as it was under Mr. Mubarak.

Mr. Morsi has tried to extend control over the police and removed the interior minister, who presided over last month's debacle and was a Mubarak enforcer who had run the Cairo district during the brutal crackdown two years ago. But Mr. Morsi replaced him with another longtime Mubarak-era police official, Mohamed Ibrahim, in an apparent bid to avoid an even broader police insurrection. (Groups claiming to represent the police have still circulated anonymous calls for a police protest over the dismissal this week.)

Mr. Morsi's allies have not fared much better in trying to gain control of the official state news media, one of the most visible bellwethers of their hold on the bureaucracy. The Islamist-controlled upper house of Parliament replaced the top officials, but state television still provides evidence that many of the tens of thousands who work in the state news media oppose the Brotherhood.

The host Hala Fahmy, for example, opened a show by accusing the new government of selling out the "martyrs" and theatrically holding up a shroud to show she was ready to join them. She is now off the air, pending an investigation of the outburst.

"There are 40,000 people working in the building," said Ehab El Mergawi, a state television news producer who is also a member of the leftist April 6 group. "And I think 35,000 out of those can't stand the Muslim Brotherhood."

Emad Shahin, a political scientist at the American University in Cairo, said that so far the Brotherhood takeover sometimes appears to be working in reverse. "You feel that the institutions are taking over Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood," he said, "not the other way around."

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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