The actions in the past few days of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces of Egypt are almost impossible to distinguish from a coup d’état. The commanders of the military are trying to neutralize the apparent victory in the presidential election of Mohammed Morsi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, over Ahmed Shafiq, who held a number of high offices under Hosni Mubarak, the former president.
The prevalence of Islamist parties in Egypt’s two elections since the fall of Mr. Mubarak is unfortunate. The old regime’s secularism was imperfect, but the very raison d’être of the Muslim Brotherhood, and its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, is to give Islam a place in the political order similar to that held in Europe by Christianity in the Middle Ages.
SCAF, however, seems unwilling to accept the verdict of the voters. The Brotherhood and its even harder-line Salafist allies were successful in the parliamentary elections that were completed in January. It is true that the Islamist parliamentary majority overstepped in their selection of the Constituent Assembly appointed to draft a new constitution, not respecting the required proportion of independent members – and it is important for a new constitution to be based on a consensus broader than any temporary parliamentary majority.
But SCAF’s reaction has been to dissolve the parliament itself and issue an interim constitution of its own. The generals have granted themselves all the essential legislative and executive powers, including setting the budget and making war or peace; the newly elected president (the formal results are expected on Thursday) will have little authority. SCAF alone has appointed the new Constituent Assembly – it will probably be just as biased a grouping as the one chosen by the ex-parliament. Egypt entered a constitutional vacuum in February, 2011, when Mr. Mubarak was induced to resign and was not succeeded by his vice-president, but by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces. Maybe the generals do not want to rule for ever, but it is clear that they are not willing to give up power except on their own terms. They are acting like a junta; therefore, they are a junta.
More than ever, the democrats of Egypt need to organize and stand up both to the generals and the Islamists.