Egypt's Military Leaders Move To Hang On To Power

Later this week in Egypt, the official results of the presidential election will be announced. Steve Inskeep talks to Egyptian journalist and commentator Issandr El Amrani about why there haven't been mass protests over the military council's power grab during the election.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. We're going to report next on a news story that has not happened - at least not yet. It's noteworthy that there has not yet been a mass uprising in Egypt after that country's generals moved to limit democracy.

The army supported a court ruling that dissolved the elected parliament. Then the army put strict limits on the power of the new president that Egyptians voted for over the weekend. But up to now, at least, protesters who forced out President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 have not responded in massive force.

We're going to talk about this with Issandr El Amrani. He writes the blog The Arabist. He's in Cairo. Welcome back to the program.

ISSANDR EL AMRANI: Happy to be back.

INSKEEP: Is it clear to you, Issandr, that there will not be a mass response?

AMRANI: No, it's not clear at all. You have to understand, everyone in Egypt is kind of confused right now about exactly what has happened over the last few days. We think Mohammed Morsi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, is elected president, but we won't be sure until Thursday. We think we understand that the army has changed the constitution to take most of the powers for itself, but the wording is very vague and there's still no clear idea of what it means in practice. And, today, we think that parliament has been dissolved, but the Muslim Brotherhood in particular want to hold a session, and that may be the beginning of new clashes later today.

INSKEEP: And we should emphasize, the Muslim Brotherhood had the largest fraction of that parliament that was dissolved, so I suppose they have the most to lose if parliament, in fact, stays out of session.

AMRANI: Absolutely, because they're not only losing control of parliament - and control of parliament means the ability to pass laws, the expectation that they'll be the majority the next Cabinet - but also it means losing control over writing the next constitution, which - a privilege that the army has now taken for itself.

INSKEEP: So part of this is just trying to figure out how significant these changes are. But I wonder if there's another change here, because, of course, in early 2011, there was a series of days in which the Mubarak-led government - the Hosni Mubarak-led government, as it was then - made appeals to the protesters, made demands of the protesters, insisted that protesters leave Tahrir Square, which they were occupying at that time. And again and again, the protesters simply said no, and even intensified their protests. In this case, people seem to be waiting to see what happens.

AMRANI: I think so. And you have to remember that in the last 16 months since those 18 days of occupation of Tahrir Square, a lot has happened. A lot of Egyptians are tired of the protests. The country is clearly divided. I mean, the results of the presidential election show you that. It's a fairly close election. The winner seems to have about 52 percent, but we don't know what those figures are for sure yet.

And there's a good part of the country that seems so still support the army. So it's not clear whether any confrontation with the state will take place in the same manner - especially as last year, it was relatively easy to push the army to oust a long-standing dictator that wasn't very popular. But there's no interface anymore. Now it's the pure system. And we're in a situation where the emperor is naked. The army is clearly in control in this country, doesn't seem to want to let go. And this fight could be much, much more difficult than the one against Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

INSKEEP: Are there opposition groups, opposition leaders, protest leaders from last year who are watching the events in the last several days and are thinking that maybe they don't mind too much, because an Islamist party, the Muslim Brotherhood, is the party that seems to be losing the most right now?

AMRANI: I don't think you're seeing that among the protest leaders, because most of the protest leaders and the revolutionaries that took to the square actually did not go into formal politics. But you are seeing that kind of response from many of the elected officials who just lost their jobs because they were in parliament, who feel that the Muslim Brotherhood ran parliament and abused its majority in parliament, acted very arrogantly and contemptuously over their political forces, and there's certainly a truth to that.

But from that to being happy about the dissolution of the only elected institution in the country is a bit irresponsible, and I think the army is counting on the backing of these secular forces that are more scared of the potential Islamic dictatorship of the Muslim Brotherhood than the actual military dictatorship that we live under now.

INSKEEP: Issandr El Amrani writes the blog The Arabist. He's in Cairo. Thanks very much.

AMRANI: My pleasure, Steve.

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