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Brotherhood leaders

Despite widespread speculation to the contrary, the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing -- the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) -- has consistently ruled out the possibility of forming any strategic alliance with the Salafist Nour Party. Although the two parties have been indiscriminately – and incorrectly -- lumped together as "Islamists" by some observers, the FJP has been keen on maintaining its distinctly moderate outlook by focusing on nationalist alliances instead of ideology-based ones and prioritizing public policy over religious agendas.  

The Muslim Brotherhood, much like other parties, was caught off guard by the Salafis electoral gains in the latest People's Assembly elections. With almost a quarter of the seats, the Nour Party came in second to the FJP, and the former’s leader has been nominated for the influential post of deputy speaker of the People’s Assembly, scheduled to convene for its first session on January 23.

A challenge for the FJP now is to maintain its inclusive policy toward other parties without falling into the trap of ideological polarization, and without excluding the Salafis either. The FJP’s track record throughout the transitional phase has proven that it is not seeking strategic alliances with the Salafis nor with other Islamist parties per se, but rather cross-ideological coalitions that can achieve "consensus." The FJP’s commitment to coalition-building gave rise to the Democratic Alliance for Egypt (DAE) in the months following the ousting of Hosni Mubarak, a coalition that started with 13 parties from across the political spectrum aimed at uniting diverse parties around a common political agenda. The DAE was later converted into a powerful electoral coalition which garnered 47 percent of the seats in PA elections. As the only non-ideological coalition competing in the last elections, the DAE offered a middle-of-the road alternative between the secular-dominated Egyptian Bloc, and the Salafi coalition led by Nour Party.

Furthermore, the FJP sought to allay fears of an "Islamist Government" by insisting on its intention to form a coalition government. This would be based on the 11 parties currently in the DAE together with other parties and independents expected to join FJP's coalition from outside the alliance. This indicates that FJP still abides by MB's old—yet still valid—motto "Participation rather than Domination." Based on the same logic behind the traditional slogan, the FJP has stated that it will not field a presidential candidate affiliated with the Brotherhood.

The same applies to the FJP's proposed parliamentary agenda. Unlike its Salafi counterparts, the FJP does not seem to be preoccupied with the strict application of Sharia law. The party is fairly confident that the majority of Egyptians support the second article of the 1971 constitution, which states that "the Principles of Islamic Shariah are the main source of legislation," and that the majority of secular parties also agree with that article. Therefore, the FJP has prioritized socioeconomic reforms that constituted the core of the Revolution's demands.  The FJP is aware that what matters most to the millions of underprivileged Egyptians who voted for the party is not simply the reinstating of religious values in society, but more importantly how an FJP-led government would be able to alleviate their deteriorating economic conditions caused by decades of authoritarian and corrupt rule. 

Moreover, the FJP has offered a set of reassuring gestures concerning its adherence to the civil and democratic state. In a recent article outlining the vision of the party, Mohamed Morsi, FJP Chairman, reiterated that one of his party's goals is the "establishment of the modern Egyptian civil, constitutional state, based on freedom and democracy," after highlighting twelve challenges perceived to be the party's priorities, on top of them "the principles of liberty and equality" as Morsi states. The party also emphasized respect for press freedom after rumors that accused the FJP of seeking to restrict freedom of expression in the media. In addition, following the latest raids on Egyptian NGOs – following accusations of illegal foreign funding – the FJP denounced the crackdown, stressing "the importance of the role played by civil society organizations in monitoring government actions, assisting it in reaching the public, and preventing its security forces from returning to the policies and practices of oppression and injustice and tyranny that prevailed in the days of the defunct former regime, by monitoring the actions and movements of these forces, and conveying this information to the public in a completely transparent process."  

While the above examples provide ample evidence of FJP's willingness to undertake the role of a responsible political player in post-revolutionary Egypt, it is yet to transform words into actions as it gears up for the establishment of Egypt's long-awaited democracy. The enormous challenges ahead require national consensus and unity towards achieving the goals of the revolution. Apparently, the FJP is aware of the delicate balancing act that is needed to build a politically and ideologically inclusive coalition, and is therefore treading very cautiously. 

Sondos Asem is a political commentator affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and a leading voice in Egypt’s social media sphere. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow Sondos on Twitter @SondosAsem. 

Photo Credit: BikyaMasr

"Those traitors who take US money want to ruin the country!"

The latest insult to Egyptian non-governmental organizations -- still reeling from the most recent raids that took place on December 29 -- has come in the form of a new draft law put forth by the interim government to regulate the activities of civil society groups and associations. Mohammed al-Demardesh, Legal Advisor with the Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs, announced the proposed "Law on Associations and Foundations" on January 18, intended to replace the highly controversial and restrictive Law No. 84 of 2002 governing the formation, funding, and operation of civil society organizations. Rights groups have reacted strongly to the proposed law, condemning the closed discussion surrounding its submission.

On January 19, nine Egyptian NGOs issued a joint statement rejecting the regulations, warning the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) against supporting Mubarak-era policies that would inevitably produce yet another confrontation with the Egyptian people. The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) also held a meeting with civil society representatives and rights groups today to discuss the failings of the current draft and propose an alternate law that would allow NGOs to operate freely.

The proposed draft law, essentially a resubmission of a March 2010 draft by former Mubarak-era Minister of Social Solidarity Ali al-Moselhy, remains problematic in many respects. The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law’s (ICNL) Legal Advisor for the Middle East, Kareem Elbayar, summarized his initial observations:

May eliminate the legal basis for many human rights organizations as well as other groups. A number of Egyptian human rights organizations organize as civil companies. Under the draft law, they would be required to register as associations or foundations. This could be problematic, because under the Law on Associations and Foundations the government has broad discretion to deny registration. Even if the groups manage to register, they would be subject to the restrictive provisions of the law, including provisions limiting access to foreign funds and affiliation with foreign organizations. (Preamble, Article 3).

Requires approval of the Ministry of Social Solidarity before an Egyptian organization may affiliate with a foreign organization. (Article 12).

Restricts foreign funding of Egyptian associations and foundations as well as domestic fundraising; both require the approval of the Minister of Social Solidarity (Articles 13, 14).

Limits associational activities. Associations will only be allowed to work on issues related to “social welfare and development and enlightenment of society” as defined by the Ministry of Social Solidarity, and will not be allowed to work in more than two issue areas without permission from the government (Article 9). The government may interpret the promotion and defense of human rights as falling outside of the permissible fields.

Raises the minimum number of founders of a new association from 10 to 20, and the minimum initial endowment for foundations to LE 100,000 (Article 1), making it more difficult to register new organizations.

Mandates registration of all associations and foundations (Preamble Article 3), and imposes criminal penalties on individuals who establish unregistered groups.   

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) released a press statement accusing Mubarak loyalists of using revenge tactics against watchdog organizations. The resubmission of the draft law apparently occurred after a meeting last week between Kamal al-Ganzouri, SCAF-appointed Prime Minister, Faiza Abul Naga, Minister of International Cooperation, and Ali al-Moselhy. Although Mohammed al-Demardesh assured the public in an interview with al-Shurouq newspaper that the “law was not finalized and open to amendments,” he made it clear that all groups, “whether religious or development based, would be subject to oversight.” The Ministry of Social Affairs has offered a 15 day time period during which it would accept comments on the draft law.

This latest development seems only to reaffirm the belief that the old Mubarak regime remains alive and well during the transitional period. Nasser Amin, executive director of The Arab Center for Independence of the Judiciary ‎and the Legal Profession among the NGOs raided in December, believes that NGOs will continue to struggle so long as organizations have to fight a government that undermines democracy and human rights groups in the country.

With the newly elected People’s Assembly-- granted a powerful political mandate by the 60 percent of Egyptians who voted in the elections --  set to convene its first session on January 23, 2012, it will fall to these representatives to change the tone on the discourse surrounding NGOs operating in Egypt and bring it in line with international standards. The incoming parliament has a public duty duty to challenge legislative attacks on free expression and free association. It must also work with civil society groups if Egypt hopes to see any advancement toward implementing an institutional and legal framework that protects internationally guaranteed basic rights, a fundamental goal of the revolution. 

Click here for full text of draft NGO law (PDF)

Tarek Radwan is an Egyptian human rights activist specializing in international law and conflict resolution. He has worked for Human Rights Watch's MENA division and the United Nations mission (UNAMID) in Darfur as a Human Rights Officer. He currently provides consulting services on civilian protection and Middle East issues.

Photo Credit: Palestinian Pundit

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Egyptian peace tag

The Popular Campaign to Support Mohamed ElBaradei issued a statement rejecting "fake celebrations" being planned for the anniversary of the outbreak of the 25 January revolution, in the group’s first official statement since ElBaradei’s decision to withdraw from the presidential race.

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Egypt Supreme Court

Egypt's route to political transition over the past year has been bumpy, confusing, and thus far guided by the roadmap laid out by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) in the interim constitution it unilaterally declared on March 30 of last year. But on January 18, the generals leading the country seem to have hit a full roadblock ironically anchored in the temporary legal framework they designed themselves: In a surprising preliminary ruling – expected to be finalized by the end of the week -- the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) struck down parts of the presidential election law the SCAF was about to issue by decree.

What was the SCC really doing in ruling against a law that had not been promulgated yet? And how much of an obstacle is yesterday's ruling to the military’s agenda?

The SCC was undertaking an unusual role in several respects but not an uninvited one. And it a subtle way, it may actually have clarified some lingering ambiguities about Egypt’s interim legal framework that were not resolved by the Constitutional Declaration last year. To understand why, we have to probe a little into the ruling and the legal context in which it was issued.

In reviewing the constitutionality of the SCAF’s draft law regulating procedures and candidate eligibility requirements for the presidential election, the court’s objections were largely technical rather than substantive. The SCAF's proposed law amends 15 articles from Law 174/2005, governing presidential elections. That law was rightly criticized for consolidating Hosni Mubarak’s power and his prospects for re-election by forming a Presidential Election Commission (PEC) packed with government loyalists and shielded from oversight by the legislative or judiciary branches. According to extensive press reports, in its January 18 ruling, the SCC took issue with the SCAF’s draft on several technical grounds:

  • The court rejected the draft law’s stipulation that the chairmanship of the Presidential Election Commission, initially headed by the Chief Justice of the SCC, should pass to the President of the Cairo Court of Appeals if the chief justice must be replaced. In its ruling, the SCC argued that this provision violates articles of the March 30 Constitutional Declaration which implied that chairmanship of the committee should devolve to the oldest vice-presidents of the SCC.

  • The Court found the SCAF’s draft impinged on the prerogatives of the PEC or ventured beyond the text of the interim constitution in several areas: elaborating on the candidate eligibility requirements already defined by the March 30 Declaration; mandating notarization of the 30,000 signatures required to meet the eligibility threshold; instituting a more restrictive definition of Egyptian citizenship; and authorizing a two-day voting period (a matter that should have been left to the PEC).

What prompted the SCC to review a law that had not yet been placed on the books?  Almost never has the Court exercised prior review; its constitutional work has largely been restricted to reviewing laws after they have been passed. But this was not a power grab by the Court; just the opposite. The SCC was specifically tasked by the country's constitutional declaration with reviewing the draft law before the SCAF issues it.  It was given a similar role back in 2007, when it was required to review the draft law on the same subject.  Why would Egypt's ousted president and its currently ruling generals have signed over such an important job to a Court not under their complete control?

Although it may look like a concession to the judiciary, granting the SCC the authority to preemptively veto the draft law would actually prevent an even more damaging attack on the legitimacy of the executive branch in the future: Mubarak and now the SCAF wanted at all costs to avoid having the SCC strike down such a law after the president was elected. Such a ruling after the fact would immediately create confusion and a leadership vacuum. There was reason to think the SCC was capable of undertaking such a step, since it has previously struck down the laws by which sitting parliaments were elected, forcing new laws to be written immediately and new parliaments to be elected.

So what may look like a preemptive power play by the judiciary was actually the result of a premeditated maneuver by the SCAF to prevent a more serious legal challenge down the road.

Despite the fact that the SCC’s ruling was foreshadowed and in fact mandated by the SCAF’s own interim constitution, the decision was undoubtedly still awkward for both parties.  Over the past year, members of the Court have actually been consulted extensively on the legal and constitutional issues associated with the transition.  Evidence of the judiciary’s consultation with the SCAF is extensive: Some of the SCC's own personnel have been involved in helping the SCAF draft its constitutional proclamations; SCAF generals have sometimes cited advice they have received from SCC judges to legitimize their actions; and some judges have taken public positions backing the military’s handling of the transition.  With some judges--though not the full Court itself--partly a player, it becomes a bit odd for the SCC to be adjudicating issues that some of its personnel have been involved in.

Whatever position individual justices took, and however many complications the SCC may have caused the SCAF in forcing it to revise the law, the January 18 ruling may have been a very real blessing for the generals.  To date, their constitutional conduct has been so confusing that it has risked leaving Egypt in a kind of a vacuum. When the generals asserted control in February, they first suspended the constitution, leaving the country in a constitutional no man’s land. Then they asked a committee to develop a limited number of amendments for the 1971 constitution; the members were told not to try to rewrite the entire document.  The proposed amendments were then submitted to a referendum in March. After voters overwhelmingly approved the package of amendments, instead of reinstating the 1971 constitution as amended, the SCAF did what it had barred the committee from doing: it developed a comprehensive (if interim) “Constitutional Declaration” to govern the country.  It declined to submit that document to the people.   

A couple supplementary constitutional declarations have since been issued to tinker with the text.  All along, legal experts have been confused about the validity of a temporary constitution that deviates from the original text approved by voters and seems to be in a constant state of flux, subject to the political needs of the moment as determined by the SCAF. For example, the amendments drafted by the SCAF-appointed committee last March were clearly predicated on the assumption that a president could be elected before the constitution was written. But the SCAF already seemed to back away from that position almost immediately, because the Constitutional Declaration of March 30 wrote the SCAF’s position into Egypt’s governing framework, explicitly allowing it to exercise presidential authority even as the constitution was being drafted—and perhaps until it was completed.  Up to this point, the precise sequence of constitution drafting and presidential elections remains unclear and contested. 

In exercising judicial review over the SCAF’s new draft law, the SCC was faced with a very strange dilemma: The court was supposed to measure the draft law against the constitution--but which constitution?  The 1971 constitution had been extra-constitutionally pushed aside and nobody is asking to revive it.  On the other hand, the package of nine amendments approved by the people—who are, all acknowledge, the ultimate source of sovereignty--might be seen as fully legitimate, except that they were approved as amendments to the 1971 document that has since been discarded. The "Constitutional Declaration" – which problematically layered an additional round of unilateral revisions on top of the original text approved by voters -- owes its legitimacy only to the SCAF's say-so.

In presenting its ruling yesterday, the SCC did not really go into these issues in any explicit way. But that is just the point: by declining to do so and by accepting the Constitutional Declaration as the yardstick by which to measure the law, the SCC was implicitly blessing a document whose birth – in an ambiguous legal environment of military rule and emergency law -- could easily be portrayed as illegitimate.  In a time of constitutional interregnum, the Court charged with protecting the constitution chose the SCAF's Constitutional Declaration as the document to treat as authoritative.  In forcing the generals to tidy up the text of the specific law regulating the presidential election, the Court implicitly endorsed the Declaration’s legal status as the law of the land, now clearly superseding both the 1971 document and the package of nine amendments approved by referendum.

So what is the next chapter in this constitutional drama? Now that the SCC has demanded revisions to the presidential election law, the SCAF is facing pressure to produce an amended law very quickly, and if possible, before the newly elected People’s Assembly convenes for its first session on January 23.  The ruling generals have good reason to finalize the law before the new parliament is seated, because many of that body’s members – particularly the representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) – are likely to challenge the SCAF’s legislative authority. In preparation for the first parliamentary session, the FJP is already set to propose new laws regulating judicial authority, wages, pensions and restricting monopolies, and the party will likely resist any effort by the SCAF to interfere with or override its ambitious legislative agenda. 

For the SCAF, the SCC decision may be the writing on the wall, signaling that the days of rule by decree may be coming to an end.  But while the military’s power to arbitrarily issue future ad hoc legislation may be curbed by the new parliament, the SCC decision will likely serve to protect the SCAF’s interests by legitimizing its existing constitutional declaration as the authoritative legal framework for the duration of the transitional period.

Nathan J. Brown is a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University and nonresident senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Among his writings are The Rule of Law in the Arab World (1997); Constitutions in a Nonconstitutional World: Arab Basic Laws and the Prospects for Accountable Government (2001); and When Victory is Not an Option: Islamist Movements in Arab Politics (2012). He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Mara Revkin is the assistant director of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and editor of EgyptSource. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 Photo Credit: Alaeddin Faruki

Al-Azhar Tayyeb

Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb will deliver a statement from Tahrir Square on January 25 to demand a swift transfer of power to civilians. Major political forces agreed after a meeting on January 18 that al-Azhar should be involved in drafting Egypt’s new constitution.

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Mohammed ElBaradei drops out

Mohamed ElBaradei dropped out of the presidential race on December 14, citing the military’s mishandling of the transitional period, which would make it impossible to conduct a free and fair election.

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Jimmy Carter and Fotouh

Former US President Jimmy Carter told reporters during his visit to Cairo that “all of the parties involved (in the election) have expressed eagerness to continue with the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.”

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Tahrir Square celebration 2011

As the first anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution on January 25 creeps ever closer, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the revolutionary groups have locked horns over control for the public perception of the popular uprising that led to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak and began the great Egyptian experiment in democracy. Whereas the SCAF, steward of the transitional period and self-perceived partner in the revolution, prefers to see the day as cause for national celebration of the unity forged between all Egyptians, the revolutionaries hope to issue a rallying cry to recapture the spirit of the revolution and reinvigorate calls for accountability and an immediate transfer to a civilian government.

Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi issued a decree on Wednesday declaring January 25 an official national holiday. Major General Ismail Etman, director of the Department of Morale Affairs, likened the holiday to October 6 (in commemoration of the Yom Kippur War) and July 23 (the day of the Egyptian Revolution of 1952). He announced three separate celebrations: one for the revolutionary youth in Tahrir square to be allowed without interference from the military or security forces, a formal ceremonial procession, and “a musical concert to honor the revolution and its martyrs.” Although not explicitly stated, activists noted the stage constructed in Tahrir Square for this event.

Many activists have expressed disdain for the planned celebrations. Al Ahram Online quoted rights campaigner Nazly Hussein, saying, “The SCAF leads the counterrevolution… There’s no reason to celebrate the 25 January anniversary because there have been no improvements this year, especially in terms of social justice and freedoms.” Muhammad Radwan, activist for the revolution and blogger told the Atlantic Council, “The SCAF is trying to turn January 25 into a party and distract from the true goals of the revolution. They’re just trying to put people to sleep.” Youth groups have called for a separate march, dubbed “Friday of the Martyr's Dreams,” in honor of those who gave their lives for the revolution on the Friday before January 25. They also plan to hold talks to educate the public of the reason why protests continue and to raise awareness of the coordinated smear campaign launched against them by the SCAF.

The ongoing information war between the revolutionaries and the SCAF over the January 25 anniversary presents yet another chapter in the fight for the hearts and minds of the Egyptian people. The SCAF previously utilized the crackdown on NGOs to suggest covert foreign manipulation, the arrest and military trials of prominent activists to sully their reputation, and the use of state media to label protesters as “thugs” in an attempt to assert its political autonomy and escape accountability. And these tactics have worked. The smear campaign has won over ordinary Egyptians, many of whom experience “revolution fatigue.” Activists, however, have not remained silent. Most recently, the Kazeboon (or “Liars”) campaign directly challenges the claims of SCAF officials in relation to crackdowns and violence against protesters.

The online-to-offline Kazeboon campaign, comprised of many different revolutionary groups such as the April 6th Movement and Mosireen (“We Insist”) to name a few, held rallies in different parts of Cairo and across the country since the beginning of this year. Campaigners pass out anti-SCAF informational flyers and screen independent documentation of military and security forces’ abuses against protesters that state media would not show and flies in the face of the SCAF’s public stance. (The name derives from the cover story published in Tahrir newspaper showing the picture of military officers beating the “blue bra girl” that shocked the world after Prime Minister Ganzouri promised violence would not be used against protesters.)

Revolutionary groups view the SCAF’s attempt to claim the iconic Tahrir Square as part of its celebration as disingenuous, at best, and blatantly antagonistic, at worst. With both groups competing over the message that the anniversary should deliver to the Egyptian people, the move will undoubtedly increase the potential for violence.

Tarek Radwan is an Egyptian human rights activist specializing in international law and conflict resolution. He has worked for Human Rights Watch's MENA division and the United Nations mission (UNAMID) in Darfur as a Human Rights Officer. He currently provides consulting services on civilian protection and Middle East issues.

Photo Credit: Reuters

Tahrir Square celebration 2011

 As the first anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution on January 25 creeps ever closer, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the revolutionary groups have locked horns over control for the public perception of the popular uprising that led to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak and began the great Egyptian experiment in democracy. Whereas the SCAF, steward of the transitional period and self-perceived partner in the revolution, prefers to see the day as cause for national celebration of the unity forged between all Egyptians, the revolutionaries hope to issue a rallying cry to recapture the spirit of the revolution and reinvigorate calls for accountability and an immediate transfer to a civilian government.

Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi issued a decree on Wednesday declaring January 25 an official national holiday. Major General Ismail Etman, director of the Department of Morale Affairs, likened the holiday to October 6 (in commemoration of the Yom Kippur War) and July 23 (the day of the Egyptian Revolution of 1952). He announced three separate celebrations: one for the revolutionary youth in Tahrir square to be allowed without interference from the military or security forces, a formal ceremonial procession, and “a musical concert to honor the revolution and its martyrs.” Although not explicitly stated, activists noted the stage constructed in Tahrir Square for this event.
Many activists have expressed disdain for the planned celebrations. Al Ahram Online quoted rights campaigner Nazly Hussein, saying, “The SCAF leads the counterrevolution… There’s no reason to celebrate the 25 January anniversary because there have been no improvements this year, especially in terms of social justice and freedoms.” Muhammad Radwan, activist for the revolution and blogger told the Atlantic Council, “The SCAF is trying to turn January 25 into a party and distract from the true goals of the revolution. They’re just trying to put people to sleep.” Youth groups have called for a separate march, dubbed “Friday of the Martyr's Dreams,” in honor of those who gave their lives for the revolution on the Friday before January 25. They also plan to hold talks to educate the public of the reason why protests continue and to raise awareness of the coordinated smear campaign launched against them by the SCAF.
The ongoing information war between the revolutionaries and the SCAF over the January 25 anniversary presents yet another chapter in the fight for the hearts and minds of the Egyptian people. The SCAF previously utilized the crackdown on NGOs to suggest covert foreign manipulation, the arrest and military trials of prominent activists to sully their reputation, and the use of state media to label protesters as “thugs” in an attempt to assert its political autonomy and escape accountability. And these tactics have worked. The smear campaign has won over ordinary Egyptians, many of whom experience “revolution fatigue.” Activists, however, have not remained silent. Most recently, the Kazeboon (or “Liars”) campaign directly challenges the claims of SCAF officials in relation to crackdowns and violence against protesters.
The online-to-offline Kazeboon campaign, comprised of many different revolutionary groups such as the April 6th Movement and Mosireen (“We Insist”) to name a few, held rallies in different parts of Cairo and across the country since the beginning of this year. Campaigners pass out anti-SCAF informational flyers and screen independent documentation of military and security forces’ abuses against protesters that state media would not show and flies in the face of the SCAF’s public stance. (The name derives from the cover story published in Tahrir newspaper showing the picture of military officers beating the “blue bra girl” that shocked the world after Prime Minister Ganzouri promised violence would not be used against protesters.)
Revolutionary groups view the SCAF’s attempt to claim the iconic Tahrir Square as part of its celebration as disingenuous, at best, and blatantly antagonistic, at worst. With both groups competing over the message that the anniversary should deliver to the Egyptian people, the move will undoubtedly increase the potential for violence.
 
Egypt

The Muslim Brotherhood and the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) will never see eye-to-eye on core issue such as the emergency law and human rights, but as long as they remain the two unrivaled power-brokers in the post-Mubarak system, these strange bedfellows have a strategic interest in cooperating to design the blueprint for a new political system that each of them hopes to dominate. 

At the moment, neither party seems interested in provoking an Islamist-military confrontation that would further destabilize an already fragile political environment.  As the two dominant players in the new Egypt, the SCAF and the Brotherhood have a lot to gain from the post-authoritarian political order, and stand to lose the most if it crumbles.

But while the Brotherhood has repeatedly affirmed support for the transitional roadmap proposed by the SCAF – through which the military would surrender its executive powers to an elected civilian president in June 2012 – the one flashpoint that could unravel this alliance is the process of drafting Egypt’s new constitution.  The 100-member parliament-appointed assembly that will be tasked with drafting the new charter will need to confront competing visions for a reconfigured balance of power in the new political system. 

While the Islamist majority in parliament has an interest in curbing the powers of the military establishment and executive branch to enhance the relative weight of the legislature, the SCAF has repeatedly signaled that it expects Egypt’s new constitution to protect the military’s privileged political status. In late December, the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party issued a statement insisting that the new constitution cannot be legitimate unless it reflects consensus among all social and political forces represented in parliament. For the FJP, the constitution is the bottom line of its vision for the new Egypt and the juncture at which its strategic interests diverge sharply from the SCAF’s.  The Brotherhood has clearly defined the constitution as a SCAF-free zone, and any attempt by the military to trespass on this minefield could detonate a major confrontation over the future of Egypt’s legal framework.  

For the time being, the on-again off-again alliance between the Brotherhood and SCAF is on solid ground, as evidenced by the former’s recent string of conciliatory gestures toward the military:

  • Suggestions – later denied – that the Brotherhood might grant the SCAF immunity from legal and criminal accountability for its actions during and after the revolution
     
  • Agreeing to the SCAF’s timeline for a presidential election by June 2012 and rejecting calls from liberal and revolutionary political forces for a radically expedited power transfer with an election as early as January 25
     
  • Backing down from earlier statements asserting the right of the People’s Assembly to appoint a new cabinet representative of the political forces in parliament, and agreeing to support the current interim technocratic cabinet led by Kamal Ganzouri for another six months until July, by which time a new president will be in office.
     
  • Scaling back its previously stated aspirations for replacing Egypt’s presidential system – traditionally dominated by the executive branch – with a pure parliamentary system in which the president would functions largely as a symbolic figurehead.  Dropping earlier calls for a parliament-heavy system, the Brotherhood now claims that a “mixed presidential-parliamentary system is best for Egypt,” a watered-down proposal that will be far less worrisome to a military leadership that would like to retain its political privileges for as long as possible.

These concessions signal the FJP’s desire to promote dialogue and compromise between competing political forces in the lead-up to the first session of the People’s Assembly on January 23, as well as reassure US and European leaders of the party’s moderate and democratic credentials. In the highest level meeting on record between the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and visiting US Assistant Secretary of State William Burns, FJP leader Mohamed Morsy said the party would work to cooperate with other political forces in the new parliament and restore security and political stability, essential to reviving Egypt’s ailing economy and creating a climate attractive to foreign investment.  With a near or possibly outright majority in the new parliament, the Brotherhood will bear the burden of reversing Egypt’s economic tailspin and seems to recognize that its ambitious political agenda will be impossible to implement without a steady stream of international support.  The Brotherhood is perfectly willing to play by the rules of the political game defined by the SCAF, as long as its winning streak continues.

But the one flashpoint on the horizon that seems capable of igniting a confrontation between the SCAF and Brotherhood over the future of Egypt’s political system is the debate over the new constitution, which has been overshadowed in recent months by the frenzy over parliamentary elections and persistent anti-military demonstrations. Initially, the SCAF and Brotherhood had both insisted that the constitution be written before the presidential election, purportedly to prevent Egypt’s next leader from wielding unchecked executive powers. But on December 10, the Brotherhood abruptly shifted its stance on the sequence of the constitutional process, urging the SCAF to conduct presidential elections as the 100-member constituent assembly is formed, implying that the new charter will not be drafted until after the inauguration of Egypt’s next leader. The SCAF, however, continues to lobby for the “constitution first” sequence, perhaps concerned that a civilian president would thwart the military’s efforts to legally codify a privileged political role for the military in the text of the charter. 

Despite dropping a controversial proposal for supra-constitutional principles in November that was slammed by the Brotherhood and other political forces as an effort to legally hardwire the military’s political and economic privileges in the new political system, the military still sees the constitution as the key to control of the political playing field and will likely seek new mechanisms to influence its content. For the Brotherhood, the SCAF’s interference in the constitutional process was the red line that brought its members back to Tahrir Square for mass demonstrations in November.  The Brotherhood has since been willing to scale back its ambitions in other areas, such as backing down from an earlier threat to dissolve the interim cabinet after parliamentary elections, but the constitution is one area where it will not easily yield any ground. 

For the Brotherhood, the constitution represents the legal blueprint for the post-Mubarak Egypt and the key to transforming its political project into an institutional reality. In a January 10 interview, senior FJP member Essam al-Erian identified the constitution as the single greatest challenge facing Egypt’s new government. “To have a democracy in the Arab world, to make compatibility between our Arab Islamic culture and democratic values, democratic principles … this is our huge burden,” he said. And the Brotherhood has made it perfectly clear that it intends to carry that burden without unwanted assistance from the SCAF. During his meeting with US Assistant Secretary of State William Burns, FJP leader Mohamed Morsy claimed that there is a consensus among political forces on the first four articles of Egypt’s constitution concerning political freedoms and the rights of citizens, but not on the fifth, dealing with the powers of the president, the structure of the political system and the role of the military establishment.

The military’s role is the new political system will become an increasingly volatile fault line as debates over the new constitution begin in earnest. On January 10, al-Azhar issued a draft bill of rights intended to form the framework for Egypt’s new charter. In affirming basic freedoms of belief, equal opportunity and preventing sectarian strife, the document is clearly aimed at promoting a moderate interpretation of Islam over more conservative movements such as the Salafis, who advocate a strict literalist reading of the Koran and Islamic jurisprudence. Although the draft, which reflects a consensus among a broad ideological spectrum of liberal, secular and Islamist political forces, deals extensively with basic rights and liberties, the document steers clear of a far more controversial issue: If and how the constitution should reconfigure the balance of power between the military establishment, the president and the legislature in the future political system.

During a visit to Cairo on January 11, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter identified the military’s future powers and privileges – as defined by an amended legal framework – as “the basic question that has not yet been resolved.” In meetings with Carter, SCAF members were confident that the next constitution will reflect a “harmonious agreement” between the military and elected civilians.

But will the Islamists and the powerful al-Azhar religious establishment accept a legal framework that gives the military any formalized role in the political process?  Based on al-Azhar’s official statement on January 11 demanding a transfer of power to civilian leadership “on schedule and without delay,” any efforts by the SCAF to codify its privileges will likely be met with stiff opposition.  The Muslim Brotherhood and al-Azhar aren’t alone in their efforts to keep the military out of Egypt’s constitution. Al-Azhar is working to build consensus on its constitution vision among a broad spectrum of religious and political forces by hosting a major dialogue conference attended by Christian leaders, presidential candidates, as well as liberal and Islamist political parties, who endorsed a joint statement urging the military “to return to its natural role of defending the country’s borders.”

While the FJP has indicated its willingness to cooperate with the SCAF to maintain stability for the remainder of the transitional period, if the military tries to perpetuate its political powers by codifying them in the constitution, Egypt’s two major power-brokers are headed for a fiery fallout. The FJP may be willing to compromise on other political demands, at least in the short-term, but the party has clearly staked out the constitutional process as a SCAF-free domain. Any attempt to trespass on the Brotherhood’s territorial claim over the country’s future legal framework could turn the constitution into Egypt’s next battleground.    

Mara Revkin is the assistant director of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and editor of EgyptSource. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Photo Credit: MPR