Muslim Brotherhood clashes with Army over Egypt’s Constitution
(Originally published by the Conservative Middle East Council)
Before presidential elections are due to take place in May 2012, Egypt’s transition timetable dictates that a new constitution should be drafted and promulgated. In charge of drafting this constitution is not a council of legal experts but a constituent committee made up of 100 members appointed by the parliament. Over the weekend it was announced that 50 of its members have been appointed from within parliament and the other 50 from various fields, and include a football player and a singer.
Islamist candidates dominate the committee, while the representation of women and Coptic Christians is nominal. In response, there has been a broad outcry among the public that could very possibly lead to a complete collapse of this committee and the drafting process. Many of the small number of figures from the liberal and secular streams who had been included on the committee list, such as Amr Hamzawy, Mona Makram Ebeid and Sameh Ashour, have already withdrawn.
Signs that a controversy was approaching came when the Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the majority party since elections earlier this year, announced that 50% of the constitutional committee members would come from parliament. This contradicted their earlier promise that parliamentary members would form a maximum of 40% of the members.
This seems to have confirmed fears that Islamist parties, most notably the majority FJP and the Salafist al-Nour party, which is the second largest party in parliament, would use their parliamentary dominance to control the drafting of the constitution. It was to avoid this scenario that many liberal activists and the Tahrir Youth had protested last year for a constitution to be drafted before parliamentary elections were held.
Despite the inclusion of two figures linked to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) in the committee, Mustapha Bakry and Major Shahin, parliament’s appointments have also sparked considerable anger within the SCAF. Observers of the political scene in Egypt had expected that a dispute between the MB and SCAF over the role of religion and the power of the army was inevitable. There have already been some uneasy statements from the MB. The MB’s official page on Facebook launched a poll asking people whether they are “ready to demonstrate and return to Tahrir in case the SCAF took over the political powers of the state.”
To forestall SCAF criticism of the make-up of the constitutional committee, the MB also released a statement on Sunday criticising the government led by Kamal al-Ganzouri and questioning SCAF’s intentions.
This has provoked discussion among the Tahrir Youth on Facebook, Twitter and blogs, who are struggling with the question of whether they could stand with the Muslim Brotherhood and accept their call to demonstrate if the SCAF did not hand over power. The Tahrir Youth, who have been excluded from the political process, will remember how the Muslim Brotherhood seemed to make a complete alliance with the SCAF at critical moments since the uprisings.
Banner reads: “We didn’t die for the Muslim Brotherhood to write the constitution” Source:https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=339935896052399&set=a.184816008231056.43992.184779868234670&type=1&theater
In fact, after the resignation of former president Hosni Mubarak on 11 February 2011 and the transfer of power to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the MB distanced themselves from the demonstrators. After it was clear the FJP would gain a majority through elections, they plainly stood with the SCAF and the government against any further demonstrations that might destabilise the elections process.
The SCAF has reacted more decisively to the statements of the MB and released a hostile counter-statement, rejecting the accusations that they seek to remain in power. In the statement, the SCAF made an explicit reference to what happened in 1954 when the MB clashed with the Free Officers, then led by Gamal Abdul Nasser, who had taken power in the July 1952 Revolution. In that scenario, after the Muslim Brotherhood had attempted to assert political authority, Nasser arrested many of their members and prohibited the MB altogether.
In 2012, the main card held by the SCAF is a court decision, announced on 21 February, which declared the parliamentary elections invalid. This decision has not yet been acted upon but can be conceived of as a card held by the SCAF as a warning to the MB, which can be used to pull away political power from them if they cross the red line. This would be a last resort though. Unlike in 1954, the 2011 uprising was led by the Egyptian people rather than a small group of army officers. While those who protested in 2011 may not return to Tahrir for the Muslim Brotherhood, they would return for the sake of the political process.