Muslim Brotherhood, Military At Odds In Egypt

Robert Siegel talks to Michele Dunne about the power struggle in Egypt between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military. Dunne is the director of the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

In Egypt, today, another round in the struggle between the new president and the parliament on one side and the military and the courts on the other. The parliament was convened by order of President Mohammed Morsi in defiance of a court ruling that had declared the country's parliamentary election invalid. Morsi is an Islamist, as are the majority members of parliament.

Today's session was a challenge to the courts and the generals, but it lasted just five minutes. Then, Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court ruled to halt Morsi's decision to recall parliament after the session was over. Michele Dunne is director of the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center on the Middle East. She is in Cairo.

And Michele Dunne, in this complicated series of moves and countermoves, who won today or who blinked?

MICHELE DUNNE: Well, certainly, I think the military leadership blinked in the sense that they removed their tanks from around the parliament and they allowed the parliament to meet. They did issue a statement objecting to what Morsi was doing, but it was quite mild mannered. And they're also allowing a very large demonstration to go forward right now in support of Morsi's decision.

SIEGEL: And those demonstrators in support of Mohammed Morsi, are they in support of constitutional procedure or are these supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, saying that they're supporting their side?

DUNNE: They're primarily supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. There are one or two youth movements who have been demonstrating along with the Brotherhood and that's because they objected to the dissolution of the parliament, the first freely elected parliament of the revolution.

SIEGEL: So what do you make of this? Is it an example of some deft politicking and using symbolic gestures as opposed to force to argue ones point or is this still just a collision that is going to be unavoidable at some point in the coming months?

DUNNE: It could be week and months. It could be years between the Brotherhood and the military as the two major powers in the country and with other players like in this case, the courts, sort of coming into it from time to time. What Morsi has said here with his decree cancelling the dissolution of parliament, is I am now here and I'm not going to accept the conditions that the military tried to impose upon me in this presidency.

SIEGEL: Has Egypt's economy, has it rebounded much since last year?

DUNNE: No. Egypt's economy is still very much in the doldrums. I'm hearing very worrying signs that Egypt is going to have trouble even buying the foodstuffs it needs in the next month or so. Perhaps the collapse of the currency, this is all still very much on the horizon, the near horizon. What Egypt really needs to do is get a standby agreement from the International Monetary Fund, but that's going to require a little bit more political stability.

SIEGEL: I assume that tourism has not recovered in Egypt yet.

DUNNE: Tourism has not recovered. I'm staying in a large hotel in Cairo right now and they told me there's something like 7 percent occupancy.

SIEGEL: Seven percent.

DUNNE: Yeah. Tourism is way, way down.

SIEGEL: When you talk to Egyptians, whom do they hold accountable for, let's say, the economic crisis that could leave them unable to afford food? Do they say the generals are stopping us from progress, and these politicians keep on fighting amongst themselves? Who's held to blame by the ordinary Egyptian?

DUNNE: The economy has become a hot potato and I think it's the one thing that the military leadership is eager to hand off to the Brotherhood because it's going to be really difficult to get the economy back on its feet again. And they want to see the Brotherhood take the blame for this. Now, the economy, at this point, is very low, but it's not disastrous.

But if there would be a disaster in the next few months, they'd like to see the Brotherhood get the blame for that.

SIEGEL: Michele Dunne, thanks a lot for talking with us once again.

DUNNE: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's Michele Dunne of the Atlantic Council. She spoke to us from Cairo.

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