Millions of Egyptians went to bed last night thinking they had elected a president with full executive powers and woke up this morning in a military dictatorship. Just after the presidential polls closed, the generals granted themselves sweeping powers in a constitutional declaration that completes the coup started by dissolving parliament.
If the generals have their way, Egypt's new president will not be able to legislate, control the budget, appoint members to a committee writing the new constitution, declare war or change the membership of the military council which assumes all these powers. The president will be able to appoint a cabinet and approve laws but whole swaths of policymaking – such as defence, national security or indeed the military's vast commercial empire – will be a closed book to him.
To add insult to injury, the next president will have to swear his oath of allegiance before a constitutional court composed of Mubarak-era place men.
The most important power the military council retains is to prevent the president from changing its membership. Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Mubarak's defence minister for 20 years, is, apparently, commander-in-chief for life.
The next president will not be officially declared until Thursday, but the Muslim Brotherhood has already claimed victory on the basis of results announced by election officials at individual counting centres, which gave Mohamed Morsi 51.8% against 48.1% for Ahmed Shafiq, the candidate backed by the military and the old regime.
A new day in the life of Egypt's turbulent revolution dawns on a legal and constitutional mess. While the Brotherhood accepted a ruling by the constitutional court last week annulling the election of one-third of the Islamist-dominated parliament, neither it nor independent constitutional experts accept the right of the court to dissolve parliament itself. That, according to Tariq al-Bishri, the constitutional expert who drew up a transitional declaration which was approved in a referendum in March 2011, can only be done by the new president. Only he has any executive authority after his election. The military are supposed to give all of theirs up.
So alongside Morsi, when he declared victory last night, stood the speaker of parliament. Parliament may be inquorate and unable to sit but it still claims that it exists as a body. So indeed, the Brotherhood claims, does the committee it set up to write the constitution. Very quickly two parallel and competing structures of state are emerging this morning – both claiming legitimacy.
Clearly the revolution has some way to go. But at least this election has cleared away some of the obscuring debris. If the voting figures are confirmed, the Brotherhood has twice demonstrated that it is a major political force in the country – and this despite its mistakes, its U-turns, a lacklustre candidate, doubts about its true purpose, the fact that it lost more than 5m votes between the parliamentary election and the first round of the presidential one.
It has done so against a formidable headwind of opposition – from the media, from liberals who mounted a boycott and a campaign to spoil ballot papers, from Mubarak's intelligence apparatus, from the intelligentsia, from the Cairo middle class, from all those other Arab autocracies who fear the same thing happening on their patch (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the Emirates). The Brotherhood can be accused of many things, but it can not be said to lack democratic legitimacy in Egypt.
All the others are leaders without real parties behind them. If you are the only person in the playground, you call yourself the captain. Few of the parties that Mubarak allowed to operate are currently in existence, so the liberal secularists, leftists, youth movement and the Christians in Egypt are at ground zero of their political life. And it shows. Divided, they are meat and drink to a military council that has just declared it will continue in perpetuity.
If the 1,200 young people said to have been killed during the uprising against Mubarak (plus 8,000 wounded) did not make their sacrifice in vain, the overwhelmingly clear mission of all those groups that took part in the revolution is to unite around a common purpose – to disband the military council, clear away the old regime, send the army back to the barracks and establish democratic institutions.
To continue to declare a plague on both their houses, meaning both the military and the Brotherhood, is not just self-indulgence. It is political folly, wherever you are on the secular or religious spectrum. The revolution has to finish first, and the important – less telegenic – part begins today.
This article was amended on 18 June 2012. It originally stated that none of the parties Mubarak had allowed to operate were currently in existence. This has been corrected