As Egyptian Air Force jets entertained adoring crowds with an unannounced airshow over the centre of the capital Thursday, police forces across the country were executing arrest warrants for some 260 Muslim Brotherhood leaders and padlocking media outlets associated with the once-banned organization.
The unhesitating crackdown, coming as soon as the constitution had been suspended by Egypt’s military leadership, brought a degree of menace to a day that will be recorded as the date Adly Mansour, an obscure constitutional judge, was sworn in as Egypt’s sixth president. He was appointed Wednesday night by military chief General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi after elected president Mohammed Morsi was removed from office.
Mr. Mansour will have a tough enough time. He has the near-impossible task of meeting the high expectations of a jaded people.
While most Egyptians are still glowing with excitement at having helped remove a failing president from office, the clock already is ticking for Mr. Mansour.
In quick order, Mr. Mansour is expected to assemble a council that will draft a new constitution for the country, under which the people will vote for a new parliament and president. At the same time, he also must appoint an interim government that will tackle the country’s tanking economy.
The people turned on his predecessor, Mr. Morsi, after less than a year when he had failed to stop the slide of financial reserves, failed to conclude a rescue plan with the International Monetary Fund and failed to prevent shortages of the most basic commodities.
While the role of Egypt’s military casts a shadow on Mr. Mansour’s appointment – possibly jeopardizing U.S. military aid to Egypt – the presence of his military backers is a comfort to the novice political leader.
As far as the Egyptian people are concerned, it is the army, and especially its leader Gen. al-Sisi, who is running the show. If things go badly, it will be the general who can expect to get a lot of the blame.
Certainly his fingerprints were on the order to crack down on the Brotherhood’s media. Four Islamist television stations were shut down, and the Brotherhood’s newspaper was banned. As well, the offices of Al Jazeera’s Egyptian affiliate were raided and several journalists arrested.
A security official said the stations were shut down over suspicions of incitement. He did not elaborate.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and a prominent Egyptian liberal, defended the arrests of Brotherhood members and the closing of Islamist television outlets.
“The security people obviously are worried – there was an earthquake and we have to make sure that the tremors are predicted and controlled,” Mr. ElBaradei said in an interview with The New York Times.
“But nobody should be detained or arrested in anticipation unless there is a clear accusation, and it has to be investigated by the attorney-general and settled in a court,” he added.
Mr. ElBaradei, who may play a role in the interim government, vowed to ensure that “everybody who is being rounded up or detained, it is by order of the attorney-general – and being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood is no crime.”
“I would be the first one to shout loud and clearly if I see any sign of regression in terms of democracy,” he said.
Mr. Mansour, who had been a strong critic of Mr. Morsi’s Islamist-oriented constitution, was sworn into office in the chamber of the constitutional court in which he presided. Visibly nervous, he swore to uphold the laws of the country, though the constitution itself has been suspended.
Later he praised the young people who had helped oust Mr. Morsi. Then, he invited leaders of all political parties to join him in mapping out a plan for this demanding upcoming year.
Mr. Morsi tried to do the same thing when he took office, but few took him up on his invitation, believing it was not a sincere offer.
“He never wanted to listen,” Amr Moussa, former Egyptian foreign minister and candidate for president last year, said yesterday. “He rejected all suggestions of compromise.”
“You couldn’t work with a man like that.”
Another thing going for the new interim leader is the whole-hearted support of Saudi Arabia. King Abdullah greeted the news of Mr. Mansour’s appointment – and especially the news of Mr. Morsi’s ouster – with great satisfaction. He extended effusive praise to the Egyptian military that “managed to save Egypt from this dark tunnel,” a reference to the hold on the presidency and parliament by the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization despised by the House of Saud.
That new-found support, last voiced for Hosni Mubarak when he was Egypt’s president, could translate into additional financial support, something badly needed in the country.