Mohamed Mursi, Egypt’s first freely elected president, has yet to take the oath of office, but his ability to shape the Arab world’s biggest nation is limited before he even starts by interim constitutional measures decreed by the army.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has held executive powers since Hosni Mubarak was ousted last year, issued a constitutional declaration on June 17, just as counting in the presidential vote got underway, Reuters reports.
Below is an explanation of what the declaration means for presidential powers:
The Islamist-led lower house of parliament was dissolved by the army after the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that the process by which it was elected was flawed. Under the army’s constitutional declaration, parliament’s powers to legislate pass to the military council.
The president has the power to object to any draft law proposed by the SCAF using its legislative powers. But the army council, acting for parliament, can block any legislation proposed by Mursi.
APPOINTING A GOVERNMENT
As under the old constitution, the president has the right to pick and appoint the cabinet. But the government, like the president, faces restrictions on what legislation it can pass. The president also has power, in theory, to appoint or dismiss government officials, such as police officials, regional governors and the state prosecutor.
WRITING A NEW CONSTITUTION
Drawing up Egypt’s constitution to replace an old one that underpinned Mubarak’s autocratic rule has been the subject of months of wrangling between the SCAF, Islamist, liberals and other political forces.
It is a high-stakes debate because the constitution will set out how the new Egypt will be ruled – determining such issues as the balance of power between parliament and the president, the role and influence of the military and the extent to which Islamic sharia law will be imposed.
The Islamist-led parliament has tried twice to appoint an assembly to draw up the document. The first assembly was dissolved by a court after liberals and others challenged its make-up saying it did not represent Egypt’s diversity. A second assembly faces a fresh legal challenge after similar criticism.
In the SCAF’s constitutional declaration, the president, the army and other top officials all have the right to veto any article drafted by the body drawing up the constitution. That could quickly lead to deadlock.
Under the constitutional declaration, if the assembly tasked with writing a new constitution faces any hurdles in completing its job, the SCAF has one week to form another assembly that represents “all forces in society”.
This again hands the military a trump card.
The president can only declare war with the SCAF’s approval.
The army receives $1.3 billion a year in U.S. military aid because of Egypt’s peace deal with Israel. It will not want that threatened by any conflict or to be dragged into another war with Israel after 33 years of peaceful co-existence.
OVERSEEING MILITARY MATTERS
The SCAF is responsible for deciding all matters related to the armed forces. The head of the SCAF, rather than the new president, will be the head of the armed forces until a new constitution is written. This for now puts the army’s budget out of control of the president, a potential flashpoint in the struggle to bring the army under civilian control.
DEALING WITH DOMESTIC UNREST
The president can call on the military to deal with domestic “disturbances” after getting the approval of the SCAF. The army can be called on by the president to protect vital state facilities and to participate in upholding public security.
TAKING THE OATH OF OFFICE
In the event that parliament is dissolved, which it was by court order only days before the presidential run-off, the new president takes the oath of office in front of the Supreme Constitutional Court.
Until now, the Muslim Brotherhood – the group banned under Mubarak and from which Mursi resigned after his election – has insisted that the new president will only take his oath in front of parliament. The group insists the dissolution was illegal.