Contemporary street art in Cairo. (Amr Dalsh / Courtesy Reuters)
Earlier this year, the Muslim Brotherhood announced that it was reneging on its promise not to field a candidate in the 2012 presidential election, held this week, arguing that it had been forced to seek executive power. The Brotherhood said that the parliament, in which it won a plurality of seats in early 2012, had no real authority. Even after the parliamentarians were seated, the military-led Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) retained the power to nominate the cabinet, and the generals continually intervened in the process of constitution drafting. There was something to the Brotherhood's point: days before the presidential election, Egypt's highest court, headed by an appointee from the era of former President Hosni Mubarak, dissolved the legislature.
With the parliament losing power by the day, the presidency looked like a last refuge for the Brotherhood. And its candidate, Muhammad Mursi, appears to have won in a closely fought race. If the initial results hold up -- at the time of this writing, the Electoral Commission is still reviewing the more than 400 appeals filed by the two campaigns -- the victory will be in name only. Despite gaining executive authority in principle, Mursi will have little power in practice. After months of subtler maneuvering, the military did away with the charade of a democratic transition in a series of power grabs that bookended the presidential vote. The first salvo was the re-imposition of martial law on June 13. Then, just as the polls were closing on June 17, the generals issued a supplemental constitutional declaration that granted them legislative authority and reinforced their role in the drafting of a permanent constitution. Not to be reined in, the brass also exempted itself from civilian oversight, giving itself the right to appoint and promote its own leadership, manage its own economic projects, and conclude arms deals. Finally, on June 18, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi announced the reestablishment of a national defense council, which puts the