Mohamed Mursi, Egypt’s first freely elected president, takes his oath of office on Saturday, but the Islamist leader’s ability to shape the Arab world’s most populous nation is already constrained by army-decreed interim constitutional measures.
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, the last day of voting in a presidential run-off.
Here is what the declaration means for presidential powers:
The army dissolved the Islamist-dominated lower house of parliament after the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that the election process had been flawed. Under the new military decree, the assembly’s legislative powers pass to the army council.
The president can veto 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 appoints the cabinet. But the government, like the president, is restricted in 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 Constitution
Drawing up a constitution to replace the one that underpinned Mubarak’s autocratic rule has provoked months of wrangling between the SCAF, Islamists, liberals and other factions.
The stakes are high because the constitution will determine the balance of power between parliament and president, the role of the military and the extent to which Islamic law or sharia will be imposed.
The Islamist-led parliament tried twice to appoint an assembly to draw up the document. The first was dissolved by a court after liberals and others challenged its make-up as overly Islamist. The second faces a legal challenge on similar grounds.
In the SCAF’s constitutional declaration, the president, the army and other senior officials can all veto any article drafted by the body drawing up the constitution – a recipe for gridlock.
The declaration also says that if the constitutional assembly encounters any hurdles in completing its job, the SCAF has one week to form another assembly that represents “all forces in society”, handing the military another trump card.
Declaring a War
The president can declare war only with the SCAF’s approval under the army’s new rules. Unlike past presidents, he will not have the title of supreme commander of the armed forces until a new constitution is written. SCAF’s head now takes that role.
The army receives $1.3 billion a year in U.S. military aid in support of Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty 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, not the president, decides all matters related to the armed forces, including their budget, a potential flashpoint in any 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. He can ask the army to protect vital state facilities and help uphold public security, a role previously handled mostly by police.
Taking the Oath of Office
If parliament is dissolved, as it was by court order only days before the presidential run-off, the new president takes the oath of office before the Supreme Constitutional Court.
(Article by Edmund Blair and Tamim Elyan; Editing by Alistair Lyon and Kevin Liffey)