Egypt Chooses A President
MR. KOJO NNAMDI
From WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, New York Times' columnist Gail Collins on wealth, a lot of stuff, but especially Texas' oversized influence on the national agenda. But first, a day after Egyptians went to the polls in a historic presidential election, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate is claiming victory.
MR. KOJO NNAMDI
As the country awaits the official results due on Thursday, people around the world are asking what an Islamist president will mean for Egypt. The victory comes after a series of moves by the Egyptian military to hold onto power and retain control of a country that's been in a state of flux for more than a year.
MR. KOJO NNAMDI
The mass demonstrations in Tahrir Square were the highlight of the Arab Spring and the catalyst that led to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. But actions in recent weeks by the military and the nation's highest court are calling the revolution's gains into question.
MR. KOJO NNAMDI
Joining us now by telephone is Ashraf Khalil, he's a journalist and author of "Liberation Square: Inside the Egyptian Revolution and the Rebirth of a Nation." He joins us by phone from Cairo. Ashraf Khalil, thank you for joining us.
MR. ASHRAF KHALIL
No problem, good to be here.
Joining us from studios on the campus of Georgetown University is Samer Shehata, professor of Arab politics at Georgetown University. Samer, thank you for joining us.
PROFESSOR SAMER SHEHATA
If you have questions or comments for us, call us at 800-433-8850. Ashraf Khalil, what we're hearing here is that Egyptian news organizations are declaring Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi, the winner of yesterday's presidential election. But the campaign of Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak's last prime minister, is also claiming victory. What's the word on the ground there?
Well, as you said, the Muslim Brotherhood is declaring victory. A couple of hundred people are celebrating on their behalf in Tahrir Square right now, but it might be too early for that. According to all the numbers, Morsi has held a slight lead and that means shrunk, since this morning, but he's still holding up. But the official numbers are not in and it's very, very tight.
And will the official numbers be in any time before Thursday?
Yeah, Thursday they'll be -- maybe not before then, but you'll have them by Thursday.
Samer, analysts were predicting that if the balloting was fair, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate would win. What does his apparent victory, for the time being, tell us about the election itself?
Well, you know, at the broadest level, it tells us that people have rejected the old regime candidate. I mean, this is one of the things that this runoff election was characterized by. We had two polarizing figures, neither of which managed to get more than 25 percent in the first round of the elections and in fact, as Ashraf has written over the weekend, more people went out to vote against one of the two candidates than to actually vote for them.
But what it does tell us, at the very least, is that more people voted against Ahmed Shafik, Mr. Mubarak's last prime minister and a long-time core member of the Mubarak criminal regime. More people voted against him than voted for Mohammed Morsi, representing the Muslim Brotherhood, but also representing change, if not revolution representing change from the past.
Samer, the election follows a ruling by Egypt's military council establishing an interim constitution and giving itself broad powers. And that follows a decision by the country's highest court to disband the parliament. Is the military effectively in control of the government?
Yes, very much so and the military has been in control of the government from the time that Mubarak stepped down until the present. And they've done a terrible job of managing the country since and they have not been sincere in terms of wishing or implementing their promise of a democratic transition.
And that's what happened last Thursday and Wednesday, first with the minister of justice, again an appointee of essentially the military, essentially re-implementing martial law, giving military officers and intelligence officials the right to arrest and detain individuals, and then, of course, the ruling by the Supreme Constitutional Court the next day invalidating the election law and therefore invalidating or dissolving parliament and allowing Mr. Mubarak's last prime minister to run for office.
Many people have called it a coup. It certainly was a power grab. And then, the constitutional declaration that the military announced just yesterday and this morning that also reduces, significantly, the power of the next president, who in all likelihood is going to be Mohammed Morsi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party.
In case you're just joining us, that is Samer Shehata. He is a professor of Arab politics at Georgetown University. He joins us from studios at Georgetown. Joining us by phone from Cairo is Ashraf Khalil. He's a journalist and author of "Liberation Square: Inside the Egyptian Revolution and the Rebirth of a Nation." Ashraf, I'll start with you first this time. Some people are calling the election result a rebuke of the military's power's grab, while other people say that under the new military charter, the president will essentially be a powerless figurehead. What's your view?
Well, I think both could be right. I'm sure that a lot of voters, as Samer said and as voters were telling me, that this is really a vote where each side has brought about a 25 percent hardcore block to the table and everybody else is just somebody who is voting against the other guy.
And so it will be taken as a rebuke because you would win largely on the back of the people who were voting against Shafik, in some cases the people who were holding their nose while voting for the Muslim Brotherhood, but -- anybody but Shafik. At the same time, you do have a power grab. You do have Mohammed Morsi, according to the amendment that Samer was talking about, that will release in a mid-vote count last night, the president would essentially not be the commander-in-chief of the military.
So you know, you would essentially have to get their permission to do anything and it's very unlikely. Today, the generals held a press conference and said, oh, no, the president will be powerful. The president will be able to choose his own defense minister and I find that highly unlikely. So I think they have successfully escaped the (word?) oversight, which was one of their endgames from the very start.
I don't think the SCAF ever wanted to run Egypt. That's a huge headache. They just don't want to have to answer to any civilian and they're pretty much 90 percent of the way toward that goal.
Samer Shehata, powerless figurehead?
Certainly his powers are significantly reduced. It's yet to be determined what remaining powers Mr. Morsi will have. I mean, I don't think he's going to be reduced simply to the official who greets foreign dignitaries at the airport, but as Ashraf has said, the constitutional declaration limits the power and the institution of the presidency significantly.
He will have no say whatsoever in any of the affairs of the military with regard to appointments, transfers and so on. He doesn't have the ability to declare war by himself, not that that's likely, he has to have a consultation with the military.
The military, the military council will essentially play the role of the legislature, of the parliament that has been dissolved, making laws. It is quite likely that they will have the ability to appoint the constituent assembly in its entirety that is tasked with drafting Egypt's constitution. And also in the constitutional declaration is a clause that opens up the possibility of the military playing a larger role in domestic security.
And so I think it is not mistaken for people to say, at the very least, this is a power grab as well as last week's ruling by the Mubarak-dominated Supreme Constitutional Court.
If that's the very least, what would be the very most, that this is essentially a military coup?
Well, you know, people called last week, this could be called a military coup and last week's coup was a judicial coup by the Supreme Constitutional Court. We have to remember here that there are very serious interests, economic, political and personal interests at stake.
The military council that has been running Egypt is all Mubarak-appointees. They're part of the hardcore of the deep state. They are responsible for and should be accountable for the deaths of civilians that have taken place at least since Mubarak stepped down and until the present, that is the excessive use of violence against civilian protestors that took place at a number of different instances in the last 16 months.
And they're quite likely, quite likely involved in some very serious issues of corruption that involve them and involve the military institution more generally and so not to mention other members of Mubarak's state, in different state institutions that are hanging on. So there's a power struggle going on and has been going on over how much change there will be, whether there will be any change and how deep, if any, democratic consolidation will take place in Egypt.
There hasn't been a revolution in Egypt. Mr. Mubarak was removed, but the Mubarak regime still remains in place.
Ashraf Khalil, what does that say? What does the presidential election and the Court's recent dissolution of the parliament say, or mean for the young people who swarmed to Tahrir Square and pressed for revolutionary change in Egypt?
Well, the mood in that camp is interesting. I mean, there is disillusionment, but there's also -- I'm hearing a lot of voices that are kind of trying to rally the cause and say look, even if this does mean essentially the end or blunting of the achievements of the January 25th Revolution, look at what we've achieved. Look how much it has changed. We'll never go back to the Mubarak days and even, you know, under a Brotherhood flag, even under President Ahmed Shafik, if that so happens, that Egypt has changed, that generations have been energized.
So I think there's an acknowledgement that, you know, the momentum that we had, that people had a year ago is gone and the state has regrouped and that perhaps people underestimated the resilience of the state. But there are a lot of people that are basically saying, okay, this just turns into a five and ten-year fight, instead of an 18-month fight. So people are just losing, but there's some silver lining and optimism.
If you have questions or comments for us, you can call us at 800-433-8850 or go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. Here is Gerald in Northwest Washington. Gerald, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
Ah, good afternoon. I've been listening since this whole thing with the Arab Spring. I think, God, it's really unfair and somewhat ridiculous, as far as I'm concerned, to expect after one year, a revolution, to expect all of these great results. It doesn't happen that way.
If you take a look at any revolution, it takes time. I think it's unfair to the Egyptian people, to the people who fought in this revolution, to expect all of these great results after one year. That's not going to happen. It's never happened during the course of a revolution, any revolution. The American Revolution, even after they resolved their issues, they had to go back and amend the articles of confederation and do a constitution.
So and the Russian revolution, any revolution and...
Samer Shehata, what Gerald seems to be saying is that we're expecting too much, too soon.
Well that's completely correct. I mean, I think the old joke is, in fact, it happened that Zhou Enlai, the former premier of China, when asked by Henry Kissinger what he thought of the French Revolution said, well, it's still too early to tell and, of course, revolutions do take time. We're not incognizant of that.
What we are saying is that there are forces that are preventing democratic consolidation and real change in Egypt intentionally and they're claiming to be the defenders of the revolution, midwifing a transition to democracy, committed to the causes and the principles of the revolution. And in fact, they're acting exactly the opposite of that. That's what the claim is that I think Ashraf, myself and many people feel that's going on in Egypt and has been going on over the last 16 months.
Ashraf Khalil, you have said there has been some celebration on the part of people supporting the Muslim Brotherhood who think that their candidate has won the presidential election. But what's the general mood like in Cairo today?
Honestly it's been calm. It feels like this is kind of a downbeat election. I mean, partially because of the dissolution, because of the active boycott, because it was so damn hot these last few days that it really -- the voting days were frantic. The period that we're in now feels like this weird unexpected calm before multiple storms coming. There's a fight coming over the constitution.
There's a huge fight coming over the parliament. The parliament has been dissolved by court order controlled by the Brotherhood. And the Brotherhood is planning to convene on Tuesday the parliament. And they might stage locked doors and soldiers. We really might have a -- it sounds like something out of a Hollywood movie, but it sounds like -- things are building towards a physical standoff outside the parliament building. So right now things are calm, but nobody believes it's going to last.
And Samer Shehata, regardless of the military or the judiciary exercising a level of influence in what's going on there, how will the rest of the world react if indeed the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood is victorious in this presidential race? It's a group that still makes some people nervous, both in the region and in the West.
MR. SAMER SHEHATA
That's very correct. At the same time though I think many governments, including the government of the United States, has gotten to know members of the Muslim Brotherhood, members of the Muslim Brotherhood parliamentary block and the leadership. And they have accommodated themselves to the reality of Islamists' success after revolutions are changed in the Arab world, whether it's in Tunisia or Libya or in Egypt.
MR. SAMER SHEHATA
And in fact, as you know, Senator Cary, I think Assistant Secretary Burns, Senator Lindsay Graham, John McCain and others have met members of the Muslim Brotherhood. They have been entertained here in Washington and have entered the White House. And there is a readiness to do business. And when it comes to the business the Muslim Brotherhood doesn't seem to want to threaten American interests, at least in the short term very severely.
MR. SAMER SHEHATA
So I think the fears are overblown with regard to, you know, Camp David Accord which will continue the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel military cooperation between the United States and other kinds of interests that the United States has with Egypt.
Samer Shehata is a professor of Arab politics at Georgetown University. Samer, thank you for joining us.
Ashraf Khalil is a journalist and author of "Liberation Square Inside the Egyptian Revolution and the Rebirth of a Nation." Ashraf, I don't know if you also want to respond to the last question I asked Samer.
Give it to me one more time. What is the question?
The question was whether there's still likely to be nervousness in the region and in the west if the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood emerges victorious?
Sure. No, I agree with Samer. I think a lot of that is overblown. They're not going to do anything with Camp David. If Camp David changes in any way, it will be in -- or if the relationship in Israel changes in any way, it will be in getting Egypt more leeway to deal with (unintelligible) into the Gaza Strip. I think that was a very popular move and whoever becomes president is probably going to want to see that.
As far as the U.S. relationship, I don't think it'll be a problem. People will accommodate them. As Samer said, the brothers are capital at the end of the day. You know, they like money and, you know, that works for the American government.
Ashraf Khalil, thank you so much for joining us. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll be talking with New York Times Gail Collins. Her latest book is called "As Texas Goes...How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda." I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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