5 Things the Muslim Brotherhood’s ‘Countercoup’ Tells Us About Egypt

President Mohamed Morsy's recent actions in Egypt is telling of the country's state of affairs — and the continuing struggle among its power players

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Amr Nabil / AP

Supporters raise a poster of Egypt's Islamist President Mohamed Morsy as they celebrate in Tahrir Square, birthplace of the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak 18 months ago, in Cairo on Aug. 12, 2012

4. Egypt’s Institutions Are Weak and Lack Legitimacy

In the 18 months since Mubarak’s ouster, Egyptian power struggles have been waged according to a fluid and changing set of rules, the enforcement of which has been uneven, and the prevailing assumption has been that the rules are about to be changed. It is supposedly a revolution, after all, which involves upending the rules of the Mubarak era and drafting a new constitution that will set the rules of a democratic political contest. Right now, however, it’s a game without clear rules, and without a referee.

There’s no constitution, and a democratically elected parliament has been dissolved by a Mubarak-appointed judiciary that sought explicitly to limit the power of elected institutions in favor of military control. Between them, the generals and the judges sought to make nonsense of democratically elected institutions and enfeeble the presidency while executive power remains in the hands of SCAF. Now, Morsy seems to have struck back, but many fear that he’s playing the same game, the rules of which are not entirely clear.

“Morsy acted extralegally,” says Hanna. “That’s not a moral or political judgment — revolutions often involve upending the existing legal political frameworks. And the one he was overturning was also established extralegally by the SCAF. The point is that Egypt’s institutions have been weakened to the point that there’s no institution adjudicating the battle for power. The result, until now, has been a series of competing power grabs between the generals and the Muslim Brothers.”

But, he warns, the political tug-of-war between these rival power centers does little to build and legitimize the institutions necessary for a democratic transition: “Those seeking to build a stable democratic Egypt shouldn’t feel more comfortable with President Morsy amassing overwhelming executive authority over the political and constitutional process than they have been with the SCAF amassing that same authority.”

Progress will come only when those holding the reins are able to make the decisions that are best for the process of civilian democracy itself rather than the decisions that boost the narrow interests of their own factions in the near term. Even if he’s succeeded in rolling back military authority, it’s not clear whether or not Morsy will use the resulting space to build a wider democratic consensus rather than simply build the Brotherhood’s own power.

(MORE: Egypt’s Morsy Walks a Political Minefield in Sinai Crisis)

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