Morsi takes on Egypt's military

Was the new Egyptian president neutered before he even entered office?

After a quiet opening fortnight, Mohamed Morsi's presidency has taken a confrontational turn.

Two decrees in the space of a week have boosted the newly elected president's credentials as an adversary of Egypt's junta, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). The first launched a new investigation into the deaths of protesters in the wake of the January revolution. If allowed to conduct its business unimpeded, this could prove damning for individuals within the military’s command structure. The second, meanwhile, called for the reinstatement of the country's newly elected parliament, a body that had been dissolved by the military on the eve of the presidential vote. 



Some believed Morsi’s influence had been neutered before he had even entered office. Despite assuming the trappings of power, he faces significant limitations on his ability to act.

The military-led transition that followed the fall of Hosni Mubarak saw a series of political maneuverings that cast doubt on the likelihood of an election taking place at all.

The SCAF had continuously reshaped the contours of the electoral race, aided by a proactive judiciary that disqualified three front-running candidates and declared that the law governing last year’s parliamentary elections was unconstitutional. Weeks of political and legal uncertainty were then compounded as the polls closed on June 18: an eleventh hour decree by the junta reclaimed key executive powers for itself, notably reserving the right to oversee the writing of a new constitution if existing drafters fail to perform adequately.

Furthermore, the military-drafted budget that came into force on Morsi’s first day in office leaves little room for new policies. Almost eighty percent of spending has already been allotted to subsidies, public sector salaries, and debt repayment, leaving only a small tranche with which to fulfill campaign promises on improved public services.

Yet despite these constraints, Morsi has now fired his opening salvos across the bows of SCAF authority. In calling for the reinstatement of the Muslim Brotherhood-led parliament, he is openly defying the generals. According to constitutional expert Dr Nathan Brown, this represents ‘a serious confrontation. This is an attempt to roll back the clock, but this time with the presidency in [Brotherhood] hands and with the SCAF fully committed to its June supplementary constitutional declaration.’

Nevertheless, the move may be less radical than it first appears. Morsi’s decree rejects the SCAF’s most recent political manipulations, but at this stage continues to comply with aspects of the political roadmap put forward by the junta in June. This emphasised the temporary nature of Egypt’s parliament, declaring that: "elections will take place one month from the day the new constitution is approved by national referendum."

In addition, the scope of Morsi’s latest decree remains limited. In targeting the SCAF’s dissolution of parliament, he has avoided the potential for a bolder challenge against the legal ruling which made this possible in the first place. This suggests that the move is more symbolic than it is motivated by a genuine belief that he holds the power to reinstate parliament.

After weeks of debate over the potential shape of a Morsi presidency, its contours are beginning to emerge. His approach to the parliamentary issue reveals a pragmatic attitude to challenging the military, testing the waters without disrupting them altogether.

The inevitable upshot of this opening gambit will be a revived debate over the parliament’s dissolution, pushing the issue back into the open and eliciting a greater degree of clarity over its future. A smart move, it seems, and one that appears to have knocked the usually confident SCAF off-kilter. The junta’s reaction will reveal much about where power really lies in the new Egypt.

 

Egypt's president, Mohamed Morsi. Photograph: Getty Images
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Jeremy Corbyn sat down on train he claimed was full, Virgin says

The train company has pushed back against a viral video starring the Labour leader, in which he sat on the floor.

Seats were available on the train where Jeremy Corbyn was filmed sitting on the floor, Virgin Trains has said.

On 16 August, a freelance film-maker who has been following the Labour leader released a video which showed Corbyn talking about the problems of overcrowded trains.

“This is a problem that many passengers face every day, commuters and long-distance travellers. Today this train is completely ram-packed,” he said. Is it fair that I should upgrade my ticket whilst others who might not be able to afford such a luxury should have to sit on the floor? It’s their money I would be spending after all.”

Commentators quickly pointed out that he would not have been able to claim for a first-class upgrade, as expenses rules only permit standard-class travel. Also, campaign expenses cannot be claimed back from the taxpayer. 

Today, Virgin Trains released footage of the Labour leader walking past empty unreserved seats to film his video, which took half an hour, before walking back to take another unreserved seat.

"CCTV footage taken from the train on August 11 shows Mr Corbyn and his team walked past empty, unreserved seats in coach H before walking through the rest of the train to the far end, where his team sat on the floor and started filming.

"The same footage then shows Mr Corbyn returning to coach H and taking a seat there, with the help of the onboard crew, around 45 minutes into the journey and over two hours before the train reached Newcastle.

"Mr Corbyn’s team carried out their filming around 30 minutes into the journey. There were also additional empty seats on the train (the 11am departure from King’s Cross) which appear from CCTV to have been reserved but not taken, so they were also available for other passengers to sit on."

A Virgin spokesperson commented: “We have to take issue with the idea that Mr Corbyn wasn’t able to be seated on the service, as this clearly wasn’t the case.

A spokesman for the Corbyn campaign told BuzzFeed News that the footage was a “lie”, and that Corbyn had given up his seat for a woman to take his place, and that “other people” had also sat in the aisles.

Owen Smith, Corbyn's leadership rival, tried a joke:

But a passenger on the train supported Corbyn's version of events.

Both Virgin Trains and the Corbyn campaign have been contacted for further comment.

UPDATE 17:07

A spokesperson for the Jeremy for Labour campaign commented:

“When Jeremy boarded the train he was unable to find unreserved seats, so he sat with other passengers in the corridor who were also unable to find a seat. 

"Later in the journey, seats became available after a family were upgraded to first class, and Jeremy and the team he was travelling with were offered the seats by a very helpful member of staff.

"Passengers across Britain will have been in similar situations on overcrowded, expensive trains. That is why our policy to bring the trains back into public ownership, as part of a plan to rebuild and transform Britain, is so popular with passengers and rail workers.”

A few testimonies from passengers who had their photos taken with Corbyn on the floor can be found here