Egypt: Muslim Brotherhood claim presidential win amid big street protests

Egyptians protest the delay in announcing the presidential election results in Tahrir Square, June 22.
Saturday, June 23, 2012

Official results were yet to be announced on June 24, but it appears Muhammad Morsi, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood (MB) candidate, has won the second round of Egypt's presidential elections, held over June 16 and 17.

The election took place amid huge protests in Tahrir Square and around the country against moves by the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) to dissolve Egypt's elected parliament.

Morsi's opponent, Ahmed Shafik, also declared victory on election night. Shafik, who is a former prime minister during the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak, said there was no way Morsi had secured the million-vote lead his camp claimed.

Election contest

In the lead-up to the second round of voting, the April 6 Youth Movement, a key group in the uprising that brought down Mubarak last year, declared its support for Morsi's campaign.

In a statement on May 28, the Revolutionary Socialists backed Morsi, describing Shafik as the "face of the counter-revolution". It said that without a candidate standing clearly for the revolution, all supporters of the revolution should unite behind Morsi.

The statement attributed Shafik's success in the first round to "the smear campaigns, systematic repression and intimidation of the social and popular forces".

An independent election monitor supported by Middle East Voices substantiated Morsi's claim of leading with about 51.8% of the vote.

Much of the attention, however, was taken up with the SCAF's maneuvers to limit the power of the winner.

Military coup

After the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) ruled on June 14 that the Parliamentary Election Law regulating last year’s elections was unconstitutional, the SCAF issued a decree dissolving the Islamist-majority parliament on June 17.

The day before the ruling, the justice ministry decreed that military police and intelligence officers could arrest civilians. This continued the legacy of the state of emergency, which legally ended at the start of June.

Al Jazeera English quoted Mohamed Beltagy, a Muslim Brotherhood member, describing the decree as a "military coup" that had not been discussed in parliament.

On June 17, Ahram Online reported that Saad El-Katatni, speaker of the parliament, had told the SCAF he would continue to convene the body despite its dissolution.

The SCAF has also issued a "supplementary constitutional declaration" seizing many presidential powers for itself.

Armed forces were deployed in great numbers across Egypt before the announcement of official results — originally scheduled for June 21.

Amr Ahmed, from the Egyptian Socialist Party, told Green Left Weekly: "There are four main points to the declaration. First, that the SCAF are the only ones responsible for everything relating to the military, the appointment of leadership, and [Field Marshall] Tantawi is to hold the power of Commander in Chief and Secretary of Defence.

"Second, that the SCAF must approve any declaration of a state of war. Third, the SCAF will hold the authority of parliament until a new one can be elected. Fourth, the SCAF will control the body to draft a new constitution within three months, to be approved by a referendum after that.

"So at present, you can see the SCAF will remain in the scene regardless of who is the president ... they will be like a marionette in the hands of the military."

Responses

The US government has signalled concerns with the situation. Hillary Clinton responded to the declarations with a statement on June 14 calling for the military authorities to "fully transfer power to a democratically elected civilian government as planned", said Ahram Online.

However, the US's actual role, beyond rhetoric, has not been to help a transition to democratic rule in Egypt. In March, Clinton waived the requirement for certification of basic human rights conditions in the country before the country's US$1.3 billion in military aid could be released, the March 26 New York Times said.

Initial protests at the dissolution of parliament drew thousands to the streets on June 15. On June 18, a joint statement was issued by a variety of left forces to "announce [the signatories'] complete rejection of the Supplementary Constitutional Declaration".

The statement called for the president-elect to reject the Supplementary Declaration, cancel exception measures issued by the military and refuse to take the oath of office before the SCAF reverse the parliament dissolution.

The statement called for a protest in Tahrir Square on June 19. Tens of thousands of people rallied in the square that night.

The Muslim Brotherhood called for its supporters to join the protests throughout the week, launching its own vigils in public squares throughout the country against the coup.

Ahmed told Green Left Weekly: "What's happening now has nothing to do with the goals of the revolution or the people, but is part of the ongoing conflict between the SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood for power and influence in the state."

Since the first-round elections, when all candidates reflecting the demands of the revolution were defeated, Egypt's revolutionary camp has been split on how to approach the electoral processes and the political sphere.

One issue that has caused controversy for the Muslim Brotherhood is the question of sexism and sexual harrassment. This was brought to the fore in December, when footage of a female protester being beaten and stripped half-naked in Tahrir by soldiers spread online.

Ahmed said: "On this issue there is no conflict between the SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood said that it was the fault of the protester for being in Tahrir Square that this happened to her."

Where to for Tahrir?

The "leaderless" approach of the Tahrir revolutionaries, uniting around basic demands for democratic and economic reforms, has been a factor in the lack of significant wins in the political sphere for the demands of the revolution beyond holding elections and the trial of ex-dictator Hosni Mubarak.

"We have pushed to take some advancements and achievements, but they have all been taken up by the Brotherhood," Ahmed told GLW.

"We need to create a third power, an organisation of the revolution, to represent its agenda and goals, and lead people towards the revolution's milestones.

"The Egyptian Socialist Party is seeking to create this third political force with other figures on the left that can represent the revolution."

Writing on her blog Tahrir & Beyond on June 17, Gigi Ibrahim, a leader of the Revolutionary Socialists, said: "The revolution has no machine, no organised group, no political party sufficient enough to adopt the revolution's goals and capable of fighting the two most organised and biggest threatening machines to the revolution, the NDP [Mubarak's party] and the Muslim Brotherhood, and the SCAF."

During the election campaign, the workers' movement has continued to push for economic and political reforms in workplaces across Egypt.

Public transport workers in Cairo went on strike for two weeks in March, demanding the removal of corrupt Mubarak-era officials as well as a bonus equal to 100 weeks’ pay.

On March 27 they went back to work, winning their demands for improved pay and conditions.

The strong showing in the first round of the presidential elections by left-wing candidate Hamdeen Sabahy, who ran on a platform of expanding subsidies and state investment, shows good prospects for building on the demands of workers and democracy activists in the political sphere.

Sabahy came a close third in the first round.

The question now is whether the revolutionaries will find the political vehicle to unite and mobilise around their demands, or whether the manouevering between the SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood will stagnate the revolution.