Pressure of power

Egypt's new Defence Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sissi receives his orders at the presidential palace in Cairo, August 12, 2012. (REUTERS/Egyptian Presidency/Handout)

Mohammad Mursi has taken the initiative once again in his fledgling and ground-breaking presidency of Egypt, with a series of moves designed to show that “the buck stops here.”

Mursi sent the country’s top two military figures – Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and General Sami Enan, the chief of staff – into sudden retirement, while cushioning the blow by naming them presidential advisers. He also appointed a vice president and ignored a set of constitutional amendments by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that limit his presidential powers.

Not surprisingly, some observers and analysts who were alarmed by the moves have been tossing around terms such as “purge” and “coup” as they grapple with the latest developments. But on the other hand, Mursi can be seen to have acted against the state of confusion in Egypt over the question of who is governing – the military, or a popularly elected civilian president?

Mursi and his supporters say that the decisions are not a case of targeting certain figures, or enhancing the power of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. Rather, they are in the interest of the country.

And the rumor mill has also been active, with talk of “agreements” that have been worked out between Mursi and the military – in this case, however, such deal-making could prove to be positive, if it ensures a smooth transition from military- to civilian-based government.

Rhetoric and rumors aside, Mursi’s actions place an enormous burden on the president, the first civilian ruler of Egypt in 60 years. By exerting his control over the military, and the judiciary, he enjoys the same type of sweeping powers as his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak.

But in the post-revolutionary climate of Egypt these days, wielding such powers only increases the pressure on Mursi to perform, and quickly, as he addresses the massive challenges facing his country.

Crowds of his supporters rushed to Tahrir Square to cheer on their president in his stare-down of the military. This public show of support is largely irrelevant, however. The Egyptian public is now in a position to demand results, and by saying that he is firmly in charge, Mursi will be held accountable for his decisions.

Thus, Mursi will have no excuses from now on, as he grapples with Egypt’s economic woes, its foreign relations, and its security situation. He will be held responsible for ensuring that Egypt’s private sector flourishes, that its religious communities co-exist, and that its citizens can take advantage of a range of opportunities that were denied to them in the past.

Mursi has his work cut out for him, and he should avoid using the power of the state in the way it has traditionally been used in Egypt.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 14, 2012, on page 7.




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