There isn’t a country in the world where the role of president doesn’t automatically bring with it all kinds of institutional challenges, even threats. What makes the situation in Egypt so unique, though, is not just the battle for control but the fact that the power struggle between the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the public and now the new President is such common knowledge.
Looking at the pictures of the first hours and days of the Morsi administration, it’s fascinating to scan these pictures — mindful of power dynamics and physical nuances such as facial expression and body posture — knowing that what we’re looking at is in no way a joyous or a perfunctory series of pomp-and-circumstance moments, but instead an incredibly fraught and fierce nonverbal chess game.
Because a new president is such a rare commodity, Egyptian having not seen another president since forever, and certainly not someone joined at the hip with the military, the Middle East News Agency handouts are fascinating. Of course, in the reformulation of government, it makes perfect sense that the new president would need to be shown his office. The fact that he’s a lot closer to the door than the desk, however, is well representative of the ambiguity. (For fun, you might compare this shot with the one the White House circulated on and about Obama’s first Oval day.)
Personally, I find these other photos of (the solitary) Morsi with Mr. Ibrahim, the head of the dreaded Interior Ministry and the rest of the “Police Generals” quite chilling, given the sidelong glances, the glazed looks, the fact some of them seem like clones and the fact we know what we know.
What can you say here but “watch your back”?
In most any other government publicly unfolding, we “could only imagine” the posturing and the jockeying and the tension between the head of state and the junta. In this case, however, there is nothing to imagine. These players are in an all-out political war, and we have a front row seat.
(photo 1: EPA. photo 2 & 3: AP Photo/Middle East News Agency, Handout caption: In this photo released by Middle East News Agency, the Egyptian official news agency, President-elect Mohammed Morsi, center, meets with Egyptian police generals and Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim, fourth left, in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, June 26, 2012. The military has pledged to turn power over to a civilian government once a new president is named. On Sunday, June 24, 2012, Islamist Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was declared Egypt’s first freely elected president in modern history. caption 3: In this photo released by Middle East News Agency, the Egyptian official news agency, President-elect Mohammed Morsi, bottom row left, poses for a portrait with Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim, bottom row left, and Egyptian police generals in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, June 26, 2012. The military has pledged to turn power over to a civilian government once a new president is named. On Sunday, June 24, 2012, Islamist Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was declared Egypt’s first freely elected president in modern history.)