From the moment it was announced that Egypt's authoritarian president, Hosni Mubarak, was stepping down, experts in that country and abroad warned that the Egyptian military wouldn't be content with a limited and transitional role.
That prophecy has come to pass, posing a challenge not only for democrats in Egypt and for its newly elected president but for its ally and benefactor, the United States. The Obama administration, which earlier this year waived congressional restrictions in order to keep sending military aid to Egypt, should reconsider that decision if the armed forces continue to thwart democracy.
On Sunday, 20 minutes after the end of voting in a runoff presidential election in which Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood apparently finished first, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces issued a constitutional decree cementing its authority in both the near and long term. The order gives the military the authority to veto a presidential declaration of war, control over the national budget and immunity from presidential oversight, among other broad new powers. It follows last week's dissolution of the Islamist-dominated parliament pursuant to a decision by a panel of Mubarak-appointed judges.
Taken together, these actions undermine the assertions by the military — repeated at a news conference on Monday — that it does not seek political power. And worse may be in store. If a court disqualifies members of a constitutional convention chosen by the now-dismissed parliament, the military will name a new group of its own to write a permanent national charter. And if that document is not to the military's liking, it will be able to challenge it as inconsistent with "the revolution's goals and its main principles" or "any principle agreed upon in all of Egypt's former constitutions."