Since Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi came to power on June 30, 2012 with a majority that did not exceed 51 percent, it was obvious that he was going to have problems in dealing with two institutions: the army and the judiciary. Mursi enjoyed the support of all Islamist factions in addition to a limited portion of civil powers that chose to vote for him.
Mursi’s first standoff with the judiciary came on July 8 when he restored the dissolved, predominantly-Islamist, People’s Assembly, Egypt’s lower house of parliament. This placed him in a confrontation with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, civil opposition, represented by former presidential candidates Hamdeen Sabahy and Amr Moussa and former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohamed al-Baradei, and the judiciary. Eventually, Mursi yielded to pressure and took back his decision four days after it was issued.
It was then that the Muslim Brotherhood realized it had to carefully plan for the upcoming confrontations with its adversaries. They started with the army. On Aug. 12, following the killing of Egyptian soldiers on the border with Israel, Mursi dismissed the head and members of the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces and cancelled the supplementary constitutional declaration the council had issued. Mursi was, thus, able to get rid of his main rival, the de facto ruler of Egypt since Mubarak stepped down on Feb. 11, 2011.
This decision was to a great extent supported by several civil powers in addition, of course, to Islamists. For Mursi, that was a good opportunity to win civil powers to his side and his first attempt at doing so was through appointing several of their prominent figures as his advisors.
Mursi’s third battle was with the judiciary once more when he decided to oust the prosecutor general following the acquittal of suspects in the attack on protestors on Feb. 2, 2011, also known as the Battle of the Camel and taking advantage of the angry reactions the verdict triggered. Again, the judiciary, the Judges’ Club in particular, emerged triumphant and the president’s plan was aborted on the grounds that his decision was neither legal nor constitutional. It was made obvious then that the president was abusing his power, but it was also obvious that the battle with the judiciary had not ended at that point.
During the first three battles, the Egyptian people were relatively absent from the scene with the institutions involved (the presidency, the army, and the judiciary) playing the major part. However, the president was gradually losing popular support and members of the elite and civil powers that used to support him started realizing that he is turning into a totalitarian ruler.
This change was aided by several factors like the mounting tension between Islamist and civilian members of the Constituent Assembly, in charge of drafting Egypt’s first post-revolution constitution, and the presidency’s obvious bias towards the ultra-conservative Salafis who wanted to impose their view on the application of Islamic laws in the constitution.
This tension reached its peak with the withdrawal of representatives of Egypt’s three main churches from the assembly as well as the remaining civil figures. The assembly was thus rendered almost purely Islamist and the legitimacy of the constitution was put to the question.
In the meantime, the Brotherhood realized that time was running up and that the assembly needed to get the job done by mid-December and that failing to meet the deadline would mean the group’s failure in the first major political test since they came to power. That is why the Brotherhood was left with no alternative except extending the deadline. They also had to guard the assembly against the Supreme Constitutional Court, which was expected to dissolve it on December 1. The Consultative Assembly, Egypt’s upper house of parliament, also predominantly Islamist, was threatened as well with facing the same fate.
It was against this backdrop that Mursi came up with the new Constitutional Declaration, which immunized both the Constitutional Assembly and the Consultative Assembly, dismissed the prosecutor general, and made the president’s decision uncontestable in court. The president, therefore, waged war on both the judiciary and the civil powers. What he did not anticipate, however, was the popular reaction that was immediately demonstrated in the massive protests that swept the streets of Egypt to condemn the declaration. The reaction was also felt in the president’s close circle with his advisors from the civil powers submitting their resignation, thus undermining the façade of diversity in the institution of the presidency.
Consequently, Mursi is now left with no supporters other than members of the Muslim Brotherhood, with even the Salafis taking a neutral stance together with the police and the army, and with many enemies, on top of which are civil factions, the judiciary, and most Egyptians.