The challenges facing Egypt’s new President

The long-awaited result of Egyptian presidential elections that saw Mohamed Morsi pronounced victorious was received by many Egyptians gathered in Tahrir Square with cheers of joy almost equal to the celebration there 16 months ago when it emerged Mubarak had stepped down.

If the fall of Mubarak unified Egyptians in the feeling that change was coming, yesterday’s jubilation varied in its motives.

For Morsi’s supporters it was a dream come true.

For those whose vote for Morsi was primarily motivated by opposition to Ahmed Shafik and his links to the Mubarak regime, it was a fresh chance to continue to push for the objectives of the “25 January Revolution” when the the Muslim Brotherhood played (albeit belatedly) an important role in increasing the number of protesters on the streets.

For others, it anticipates a replay of a power struggle between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military generals that has been going on for decades.

No doubt, Sunday’s result were extremely disappointing for Ahmed Shafik’s supporters, who continued to the very last minute – and despite initial result in favour of Mohamed Morsi – to believe their candidate was going to win.

Their convictions that Shafik was set to win were comforted – perhaps – by the recent political developments that unfolded progressively like an Egyptian soap opera.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) regained the upper hand at a time when many people were expecting the curtain to fall with the generals exiting the political scene as long promised.

However, the SCAF does not seem to accept a secondary role in today’s Egypt.

With the recent additions to the Constitutional Declaration, the SCAF has granted itself unrestrained powers with huge political and human rights consequences for the country.

Many considered the SCAF’s turn a “soft coup d’Etat”.

With parliament dismantled by the Supreme Constitutional Court ruling on 14 June on the invalidity of the parliamentary elections, the SCAF has now returned to ruling by issuing decrees and controls all matters relating to the armed forces, free from any civilians oversight.

A key addition permits the President to call on the army to combat “internal unrest”, giving the armed forces powers to arrest and detain civilians and outlining conditions where they are entitled to use force against protesters or anyone deemed threatening security.

The amendments to the Constitutional Declaration, combined with the long wait for the final result of the presidential elections, did not bode well in a country where tensions and concerns seemed to simmer under a thin veneer for the last months, not least regarding the outcome of the “25 January Revolution” in achieving dignity and social justice.

With the announcement of the election result, some of these concerns remain. While some see the election of Mohamed Morsi as Egypt’s first civilian President to be a leap forward, others – fearing the impact on Copts and women – question the degree of commitment of the Muslim Brotherhood to the full realisation of human rights, despite reassurance by Morsi in his recent speeches that he is committed to establishing a civilian, democratic and constitutional state.

After months of unrest and uncertainty, many now look to the new President to steer the country towards establishing the rule of law, to realise the demands of last year’s uprising, to end impunity, to rein in and reform the security forces, to guarantee equality for all, to cite but a few of the challenges Egyptians will want their newly elected President to meet.

Many believe that because of the repression the Muslim Brotherhood was subjected to during the last decades, they will be more sensitive to advancing fundamental freedoms. For years, members of the Muslim Brotherhood were subjected to arrests and detention and unfair trials, including before military courts. Amnesty International took action in many of the cases, including Mohamed Morsi himself when he was arrested in January 2006 and 2011.

Big challenges certainly lay ahead of Egypt’s new President in order to improve the human rights situation in a country with entrenched abuses. Nonetheless, the biggest immediate challenge Egypt faces is writing a new constitution.

Given the President’s power, granted by this month’s amendments to the Constitutional Declaration, to appeal against certain provisions of the draft new constitution President Mohamed Morsi must now champion human rights of all Egyptians without discrimination and ensure fundamental human rights principles are enshrined in the constitution. Egyptians deserve nothing less.