When President Mohamed Morsi and his allies in the Muslim Brotherhood pushed through a new constitution last month, liberals feared it would enable them to put an Islamist stamp on the Egyptian state, in part by purging nearly half the judges on the Supreme Constitutional Court.
But those warnings are turning out to be premature, at the very least, as the court itself made clear last week at its opening session, its first meeting under the new charter.
The president of the court sneered with disdain at a lawyer for the Muslim Brotherhood trying to address the reconfigured bench, stripped of 7 of its 18 members. “As if you left a court to be spoken of like this!” Judge Maher el-Beheiry snapped. He had already declared that the court, perceived as an enemy of the Islamists, “can never forget” the Brotherhood’s protests against it during the constitutional debate.
In the two years since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, Mr. Morsi and the Islamists have trounced their political opposition again and again at the polls and have accumulated unrivaled political power.
But Judge Beheiry’s rebuke was a vivid reminder that their political victories have not yet translated into real power over the Egyptian bureaucracy. Mr. Morsi still appears to exercise little day-to-day authority over the judiciary, the police, the military and the state-run news media. (...)
Although Mr. Morsi has the legitimacy of a democratic election, he has inherited the still-intact remnants of Mr. Mubarak’s authoritarian state, built on fear, loyalty and patronage, and much of it permeated by a deep distrust of the Islamists.
Mr. Morsi and his allies are now only beginning to attempt to exert some control over the body of the state that would allow him to put in effect a social, economic and political program. And his ultimate success, or failure, will help decide some of the most pivotal questions concerning Egypt’s future, for better or worse.