CAIRO — In the sparsely decorated waiting area just outside the Kafr el-Sheikh governor's executive offices, a photo montage depicts the governor overlooking scenes from his Nile Delta province. The artwork is dedicated to "His Excellency, Governor Saad Pasha al-Husseini."
It's an awkward way to address Husseini, to say the least. The Ottoman honorific "pasha" was phased out after Egypt's 1952 revolution, and its aristocratic connotation hardly suits a man who only two years ago was living on the edge of the law as a top leader in the Muslim Brotherhood, then an outlawed Islamist organization that built its reputation on providing social services to Egypt's impoverished masses.
The Brotherhood, however, has embraced the newfound trappings of power with gusto. "They were in prison two years ago," an aide to Husseini tells me. "They enjoy the cars and apartments they get as officials."
Now that the Brotherhood has climbed to the top of Egypt's political heap, it is doing everything it can to stay there. Brotherhood officials emphasize that their string of electoral victories since Hosni Mubarak's ouster two years ago has given them "legitimacy" -- a word that Muslim Brothers reflexively invoke to defend everything from President Mohamed Morsy's mass appointment of Muslim Brothers to top political posts to his Nov. 22 constitutional declaration granting him total authority.
But despite the Brotherhood's political power, it exerts virtually no control. Ever since Morsy's constitutional declaration and the rushed constitution-writing process that followed, a series of mass demonstrations, workers' strikes, and police-versus-protester clashes have plunged the country into near-chaos. Egypt's already weak economy is now in free fall, episodic instability has forced the military to assume control over three cities along the Suez Canal, and al-Gamaa al-Islamiya -- a U.S.-designated terrorist organization -- has deployed members to patrol the mid-Nile city of Asyut.
The Brotherhood's single-minded pursuit of power has catalyzed significant resistance to its rule, and thus contributed to Egypt's instability. But the Islamist movement shows no sign of changing course, apparently believing that further consolidating its power is the only way it can stymie what it views as a broad conspiracy against its rule.
In interviews that I conducted during a recent trip to Egypt, leading Muslim Brothers overwhelmingly traced this supposed conspiracy back to "feloul," an Arabic term referring to "remnants" of the previous regime. "Feloul are working against Egypt," Governor Husseini told me. "They're extremely against the ruling system now because the [president] is from the Muslim Brotherhood."
Mohamed al-Beltagy, a former parliamentarian who now sits on the executive committee of the Brotherhood's political party, was even more explicit. "There is a part of the system that, until now, is still connected with the old regime," he said. "This is found in many of the [state] apparatuses, like the police, media, and judiciary."