Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Egypt’s former President Mohamed Mursi was engaged in a political tug-of-war with his former colleagues on the Muslim Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau during his brief, doomed presidency, Mursi-era officials have told Asharq Al-Awsat.
Asharq Al-Awsat correspondents in Cairo and Alexandria interviewed a number of Mursi-era officials and senior Brotherhood figures who were involved in high-level decision-making during Mursi’s year in office, and revealed new details about what took place behind closed doors in meetings between the Islamist president and senior Muslim Brotherhood figures.
A high-ranking military officer, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media, said that the Muslim Brotherhood leadership—particularly General Guide Mohammed Badie and deputy Khairat El-Shater—were unimpressed by Mursi’s first days in the presidential palace. Mursi launched his presidency with a number of speeches and statements in which he stressed that he would eschew partisan politics and seek to be president for all Egyptians. However Badie and Shater worried that Mursi, who had officially resigned from the Brotherhood before the elections, was turning away from the group.
Mursi’s relatively open approach towards Egypt’s liberal and secular political powers and his initial exclusion of the Brotherhood from the affairs of the state also provoked the ire of the Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau.
“One month after Mursi came to power, things started to calm down a little and everyone seemed to have accepted the status quo, including Mursi’s opponents in the presidential elections. The new president was meeting with the country’s top politicians, including former presidential candidates, and receiving media figures, writers and journalists, among others,” the military official said.
The Islamist president was also pursuing a more friendly relationship with key state apparatus, including the police, military and judiciary.
“We received information that the Guidance Bureau feared that the affairs of state were preoccupying Mursi and that he could turn against them in the same way that former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat turned against his aides when he first came to power in 1981,” the senior Egyptian military officer said.
“The Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau convened a special meeting at its headquarters in Mokattam [to discuss these fears]. The meeting was chaired by Badie, and Shater also attended,” the source added.
According to the sources, Shater, the Muslim Brotherhood’s top financier, had a complicated relationship with the new president. Shater had initially been the Brotherhood’s top pick as a presidential candidate, with Mursi included only as a backup. However, after Shater was disqualified from the presidential elections, Mursi found the Brotherhood’s hopes riding on his shoulders.
Shater wanted Mursi to take tangible steps to involve the Guidance Bureau in decision-making and the running of the affairs of the state, the Egyptian military source told Asharq Al-Awsat.
After the meeting, attendees decided to immediately head to the presidential palace where they met with Mursi for the first time since he came to power.
“Shater came in first and . . . ushered General Guide Badie to sit in the president’s chair,” one of Mursi’s guards told Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity.
According to the source, there were between seven and nine people in the meeting, including Mursi, Badie, Shater, and Brotherhood politburo chief Essam El-Erian and former general guide Mahmoud Ghozlan.
“My job was to stand behind the president at all times. Therefore, it was not easy for them to keep me out of the room,” the bodyguard said.
“Badie sat in the president’s seat at the head of the table while Shater sat on his right-hand side. Everyone else sat down on the remaining chairs with Mursi taking the last chair, the one opposite the door,” the former presidential guard said.
During the meeting Badie and Shater criticized Mursi for not involving them more in executive matters. When Mursi sought to defend himself, Shater told him to keep silent, the source said.
They also informed him that he must meet with the Brotherhood leadership every Thursday, adding that he should not contact any political side or receive foreign delegations without checking with them first.
The allegations, which come just over one year since Mursi was ousted, appear to confirm popular fears Mursi maintained close links with the organization, and that its leadership sought to insert itself into the policy-making process.
Military sources also told Asharq Al-Awsat that Mursi had been pressured by the Brotherhood to issue the controversial Constitutional Deceleration of November 2013 which prompted large-scale protests against his rule. The presidency was ultimately forced to withdraw the Constitutional Declaration under public pressure, with the incident significantly weakening Mursi’s rule.
The Egyptian military officer, who served close to Mursi throughout his year in office, told Asharq Al-Awsat that Mursi may not even have read the controversial statement before signing it.
“Mursi received a phone call form the Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau. They told him they had drawn up a constitutional declaration . . . and that he better sign it,” the officer said.
With Mursi’s trial set to resume on Saturday, and Cairo clamping down on the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood organization across the board, perhaps it is only expected that secrets of the Mursi era are now starting to come out.
This is the first of a two-part series looking at secrets from within Egypt’s presidential palace.