As I sat with friends today in the chic, laid-back and very upscale Cafe Cabana in Maadi, a woman sat down with her laptop at a well-located table in the shade, near the bar. “That’s her table,” my friends told me. “She comes every day, sits there for hours. But if someone else takes her table, she raises hell, or just stands there glaring until they leave. They always do.” Apparently she’s a good enough customer to make it worth the management’s while. And indeed — how does one remove a power figure who simply (unlike my two-year-old) lacks the manners to know what sharing is?
Tonight it is becoming clear [update 3am at least it seems?] that SCAF has decided not to rig the presidential elections: preliminary tallies, from manual vote-counting being shown live on TV, show the Brotherhood’s Morsi with a strong early lead. (Live tallies here; have not seen tallies of spoiled ballots anywhere.) Instead, SCAF has decided to string up the whole presidency on puppet strings: a supplementary Constitutional Declaration, revealed tonight (Arabic here), takes away virtually all of the future president’s powers, including the power to act as commander-in-chief, name the defense minister, oversee the military budget, or declare war. It seems constitutions are being lowered from the sky here article by article, as the need arises; new articles abrogate the old ones; sound familiar maybe?
And there’s this bizarre status of forces declaration:
Article 53/2: If the country faces internal unrest which requires the intervention of the armed forces [ya’ni ey, dah?], the president can issue a decision to commission the armed forces – with the approval of the SCAF – to maintain security and defend public properties. Current Egyptian law [i.e., the martial law declaration revealed last week?] stipulates the powers of the armed forces and its authorities in cases where the military can use force, arrest or detain.
Also SCAF has revealed that it plans to push through a new constitution and install a new parliament in the next two months, i.e. force elections (yay! another pointless referendum! more pointless elections! and during the heat of Ramadan, why not?):
Article 60 B: If the constituent assembly [i.e, constitutional convention] is not completely formed within a week’s time, the SCAF will form a new constituent assembly – representative of all factions of society – to author a new constitution within three months from the day of the new assembly’s formation. The newly drafted constitution will be put forward after 15 days of the day it is completed, for approval by the people through a national referendum. [What if they reject it?] The parliamentary elections will take place one month from the day the new constitution is approved by the national referendum.
All of which gives SCAF at least two and a half branches of the government – three if Cairo goes for Shafik. Then what? Some revolutionaries and fellow-travelers are proclaiming that the revolution must continue. But the grisly news from Syria is an effective cautionary example (just as the example of US-led “maqrata” in Iraq probably delayed by several years any Syrian efforts to pursue democracy).
As I came into my hotel a couple of hours ago, the two men at the desk (the older one had voted for Shafik holding his nose and fearing theocracy, the younger for Morsi holding his nose and hating military dictatorship) were watching returns on TV and eager to vent. We went back and forth for a while: could the Brotherhood be trusted to relinquish power four years from now (but what power?), having broken every promise they’ve made in the past year and a half? But then it was the Shafik supporter who said, commenting on the Constitutional Declaration and the figurehead presidency it creates: “We’ll be like England now. He’ll be like the Queen.” I said maybe we could celebrate his birthday every year. We all laughed ruefully and said good night.