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Egypt on a knife edge

03 JULY, 2012: Egypt’s first ever democratic election on 16-17 June, 2012, sparked celebrations tempered by concerns for long-term stability. Heading a controversial government, the narrowly elected Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood faces an array of obstacles: a tug of war with the military, a politically divided people, and a precarious economy.

Thanks to the military’s firm grip and hurried legislation, Morsi has already been stripped off most of his presidential power. He has no control of the military or legislative funding, nor will he have any say in the upcoming drafting of the constitution. “Morsi now faces a seemingly untenable situation, contending with an impatient public, a power-hungry military and an old regime apparatus that has little interest in seeing the Brotherhood succeed,” Shadi Hamid, the director of research at the Brookings Doha Center, writes in an op-ed for the The New York Times.

Morsi may have walked into “the savviest of traps,” TIME Egypt correspondent, Abigail Hauslohner concludes. “What this does is it has made SCAF [the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces] kinglike. It allows them to have this expanse of executive and legislative power, while the blame will be shifted onto the people who emerge from the ballot box,” Joshua Stacher, a political scientist and Egypt expert at Kent State University, told TIME. Morsi could be the scapegoat for pre-existing structural problems, such as the economy and tourism.

Not only does Morsi have potential political fallout to deal with, but he also must attempt to unite a deeply divided country. “If he is to become a truly representative president, he must devote himself to upholding the rights of all sections of society, including women as well as Egypt's sizeable Coptic Christian minority,” writes the Times of India. A hairline majority offers just a tenuous hold. “Mr Morsi’s victory is unlikely to end the fierce polarization of Egyptian society,” David D Kirkpatrick writes in the The New York Times.

What could this elected 60-year-old, US-educated engineering professor do to appease the people? After finagling some legislative sovereignty, that is. According to the Guardian, he could start by tackling the currently circulating list of “demands” that includes amnesty for the 12,000 youths arrested by the military; the development of an organisation for those unfairly targeted by law enforcement; and the creation of an open border between Egypt and Gaza.

According to Reuters, the most pressing issue for Morsi will be the contracting economy. “To spur growth and win over investors to trust Egypt for the long term, Mursi will have to restore stability,” Patrick Werr of Reuters writes. “To do this, he will have to build up a working relationship with generals.” Yes, the same generals who are withholding power. The key? “A cabinet that is broad based and brings in good economic expertise as well as people who have credibility outside Egypt.”

“Even if Morsi appoints a prime minister satisfactory to his erstwhile ideological opponents, he is walking a tightrope,” writes Al Jazeera. “Revolutionaries have grown extremely disenchanted, resentful and often enraged with the Brotherhood, seeing it as a devious, authoritarian and secretive society...”

Though some experts are certain Morsi will “lead” from behind as the SCAF spearheads decision making, the Times of India asserts that the generals will probably cooperate: “Failing to [grant Morsi power] would strengthen radical Islamists and could even lead to a civil war.”

And as Shadi Hamid, director of research at Brookings Doha Center, broadcast over NPR, "At the end of the day, they both want to dominate Egyptian politics. At some point, there isn't going to be enough space for both of them." — Kate Springer