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After Parliament Dissolved, Egyptian Generals Put on ‘Charm Offensive’

June 18, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Egypt's ruling generals issued a "constitution declaration" last weekend aimed at putting in place checks on presidential powers after the parliament was dissolved. Judy Woodruff speaks to Nancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers in Cairo about the latest developments and the emerging results of the presidential election.
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JEFFREY BROWN: A short time ago, Judy Woodruff talked with Nancy Youssef, covering events for McClatchy Newspapers in Cairo.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Nancy Youssef, welcome.

First of all, where does the vote stand at this hour?

NANCY YOUSSEF, McClatchy Newspapers: Well, as of now, Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, appears to be in the lead, but Ahmed Shafiq, his rival and Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, is contesting that and says that the Muslim Brotherhood has miscounted and miscalculated and that in fact he is in the lead.

We expect official results on Wednesday, but right now the presumption in the country is that Mohammed Morsi is the next president.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And the generals have made this announcement. You were there for their news conference. Tell us exactly what they’re saying.

NANCY YOUSSEF: Well, they really made an effort today to refute claims that this is an attempt by them to launch a counter-revolution to take back power on the heels of them naming themselves in charge of the drafting of laws and issuing a temporary amendment to the constitution that really consolidated their power over the executive branch.

They announced that they would be consulted before the new president launched war, that the new president would have no say over who his generals were and that the new president would have really no say over any major military matters. So they really put on the charm offensive today and tried to reassure a rather dubious public that they’re looking out for Egypt’s interests, not just their own.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But it does sound like the powers that they say they will have, it’s pretty sweeping, isn’t it?

NANCY YOUSSEF: It absolutely is. Their argument is that in the absence of a parliament which was dissolved by a constitutional court ruling this week, that in an effort to balance the power of government that they were sort of stepping in and being the parliament and that they would sort of serve as a check to the president.

The problem is that in the checks and balances it sort of goes one way. They put in all these checks and balances on the president’s job and specifically how he conducts military security matters, but it didn’t go the other way. There were no checks and balances on the military and its powers. So they now can draft laws. They can declare war. They’re far more powerful than they were a week ago.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What are independent observers saying? Are they taking the generals at their word that they’re not trying to completely take over? How do they read it?

NANCY YOUSSEF: The independents, the liberals here, someone called them secularists, they’re frankly quite despondent, and not just about what the generals are doing, but that their revolution appears to have been lost at this point, at least in the short term.

And they didn’t have a revolutionary candidate on the ballot. They weren’t enthusiastic supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. There are some who fear what a Muslim Brotherhood presidency would look like. And so there’s a real feeling that in an effort to bring more power to the people here, they have now ended up with less and with an only quasi-ally in the Brotherhood in the presidency. They supported him, but quite grudgingly. And their reaction to his win is just as lukewarm, if you will.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But there’s no one in a position to challenge the military, is that right?

NANCY YOUSSEF: Well, that’s right. Because what happens is every time there is a challenge, it generally goes to a court system made up of Mubarak appointees.

And while they might not be aligned with the military, they’re certainly far more supportive of them than the Brotherhood. And then there’s nobody to really challenge them. And so you can go through these — the legal checks and balances established in this constitution but you always end up in the same place, which is Mubarak appointees, regime holdovers, those who benefited from and had a vested interest in, in the status quo.

And so the real criticism of the revolutionaries has been that they went into this period without really making a dent in the state itself. And so they challenged it. They forced Mubarak to resign but they didn’t change the regime in which — that he himself created. And so when they went through the process to try to bring about change, they in a sense legitimized the ongoing existence of a Mubarak-created regime.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Nancy, what do people say are the odds of another popular revolt?

NANCY YOUSSEF: Well, so far, Tahrir Square is a bit quiet. Right now, it’s dominated by people celebrating a Morsi win. I think one of the challenges in measuring that or assessing that is there’s a real feeling amongst the revolutionaries that maybe Tahrir Square is not enough anymore, that going to the square is not an efficient or a viable means to challenge the legal process.

So what we’re hearing from the revolutionaries is a real effort to recalibrate and come up with a way to come to contest and challenge what’s happening here in a more productive way. So, it is certainly possible, and I guess what I’m really saying is that the next revolt, if there is one, may look a little bit different than the one Americans are used to seeing a year ago here in Tahrir Square. It may be more nuanced, more multipronged and a little bit more sophisticated.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, even after the election, things certainly do sound still unsettled.

NANCY YOUSSEF in Cairo, thanks very much.