Monday, June 18, 2012

EGYPT: echos of Algeria as SCAF trumps Islamists

Updating the previous post: Egypt: the military versus the Islamists (15 June 2012)

By Elizabeth Kendal

Dr Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood has claimed victory in Egypt's presidential elections. With around 95 percent of the vote counted, returns are showing Dr Morsi winning 52 percent of the vote (around12.7 million votes) with his opponent, the former air-force chief and Mubarak-era Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, winning 48 percent (around 11.84 million). The final official result is to be announced by Thursday.

However, on Sunday evening 17 June, before the polls had even closed, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) issued an Interim Constitutional Declaration with amendments that give the SCAF legislative power following the dissolution of the Islamists-led parliament. The interim constitution limits the president's powers, stripping him of any authority over the army. It also and gives the military the right to manage the budget and appoint the 100-member panel tasked with drafting a new and permanent constitution.

According to the SCAF's interim constitution, parliamentary elections will take place one month from the day the new constitution is approved by the national referendum.

See: Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Mursi wins Egypt's presidential election
Associated Press, 18 June 2012

English text of SCAF amended Egypt Constitutional Declaration
Ahram Online summarises the military-authored revised Constitutional Declaration - outlining the powers of the coming Egyptian president
Ahram Online, Monday 18 Jun 2012

Revised constitutional chart stirs up controversy
Political experts and public figures denounce the newly announced addendum to the interim Constitutional Declaration, saying it gives the military council unfettered authorities
Sadek Jalal al-Azm et al Ahram Online, Monday 18 Jun 2012


Jack Shenker writes from Cairo for the Guardian: "Pro-change activists and human rights campaigners said the junta's constitutional declaration – which comes just days after judges extended the army's ability to arrest civilians and following the dissolution of Egypt's Brotherhood-dominated parliament by the country's top court – rendered the scheduled 'handover' of power to a democratically-elected executive 'meaningless'. The Brotherhood were quick to label the declaration 'null and unconstitutional', raising the prospect of a dramatic showdown within the highest institutions of the state."

Indeed, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is insisting that the "SCAF has no authority to dissolve the freely and democratically elected parliament, not without a public referendum".

Dr Mohamed Saad el-Katatni, the secretary general of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and Speaker of the People's Assembly, flatly rejected SCAF's Interim Constitutional Declaration. Katatni also deemed SCAF's decision to dissolve the parliament null and void because it is not based on any constitutional legitimacy, principle or procedure, according to the existing Constitutional Declaration. A statement on the MB's website, IkhwanWeb reads: "Dr. Katatni reiterated to SCAF members his categorical rejection of complementary constitutional declaration, as it infringes on the legislature which has the inherent right to legislate, adding that the Constitutional Declaration approved by popular referendum on March 19, 2011 and released on March 30, 2011 did not give SCAF the right to assume the power of legislation in the presence of an elected parliament."

See also: SCAF cannot execute High Court verdict: Defunct Egypt parliament speaker
Saad El-Katatni, the speaker of the People's Assembly, says the ruling junta does not have the right to implement a court verdict to dismantle the parliament's lower house - only the people do
Ahram Online, Saturday 16 Jun 2012

Analysts are drawing parallels with Algeria, where in 1991 the military cancelled a second round of elections when it became obvious that Islamists were set to win power. The move triggered a decade-long civil war. 

Algerian Islamists are warning that Egypt could be following in Algeria's footsteps. El-Hachemi Sahnouni, a former leader and founder of Algeria's Islamic Salvation Front, told Al Arabiya that  what has happened in Egypt is "similar to what happened in Algeria in 1991". Sahnouni is "worried that the biggest Arab country might plunge into violence similar to what occurred in Algeria. If this happens, it will be a catastrophe not only for Egypt but for all of the Arab countries."

Others believe violence is unlikely. "I don't see an Algeria scenario," said Mustafa Kamel al-Sayyed, professor of political science at Cairo University, in reference to the Algerian civil war in 1991 after the military took power following an Islamist legislative win. "It was a different context. In Algeria, there was violence from both sides. But in Egypt, for the moment there has only been threats through statements."  Ibrahim al-Houdaiby, an expert on Islamist movements, also dismissed the prospect of widespread violence between the Brotherhood and the generals. "The Brotherhood will use a strategy of pressure to gain posts before finally adapting their politics," he said. (Egyptian Gazette 18 June)

But as Jon Alterman, head of the Middle East programme at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies think-tank comments: "This is an opening scene in what is certain to be a drama. It’s hard to imagine how this can pass quietly."