Friday, June 15, 2012

EGYPT: The military versus the Islamists

By Elizabeth Kendal

Updating Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 163


In April 2012, the Islamist-dominated parliament passed the Political Isolation Law which disqualified senior officials of Mubarak's regime from holding political posts. The law would have prevented Ahmed Shafiq (former air-force chief and Mubarak's last Prime Minister) from contesting the presidency had he not won an appeal against the law. At that point the Political Isolation Law was deferred to Egypt's Mubarak-appointed Supreme Constitutional Court.

On Wednesday 13 June, the day before the Constitutional Court was due to hand down its decision, Egypt's Justice Ministry issued a decree giving military police and intelligence officers permission to arrest civilians suspected of "crimes" such as activities deemed "harmful to the government", destruction of property, "obstructing traffic" and "resisting orders". The decree restores some of the powers of the decades-old emergency law which expired just two weeks ago. Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh, reporting from Cairo, "said Egyptian activists see the current order as 'much worse than the [previous] emergency law', in that it is seen as expanding the military's power".

Then, on Thursday 14 June, the Constitutional Court -- an institution in which the military maintains significant leverage -- unsurprisingly deemed the Political Isolation Law unconstitutional, thereby freeing Ahmed Shafiq to contest the presidential run-off this weekend.

In what activists and academics have described as a "soft military coup", the Constitutional Court also ruled the country's parliament illegitimate, paving the way for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) -- the military body that ruled after the first military coup ousted Mubarak -- to resume legislative powers.

According to Bloomberg Businessweek, the court found "that part of the law under which the parliament was elected was illegal, as it allowed parties to field nominees for [the one third of] seats earmarked for independent candidates. That ruling is irreversible and means the entire legislature is illegitimate, court spokesman Maher Sami said. . . . The court said parliament has no 'standing under law'."

Former presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, an independent Islamist, decried the two court rulings, saying they amount to "a complete coup". Writing on his Facebook page, Fotouh raged, "Keeping the military candidate [in the race] and overturning the elected parliament after granting the military police the right to arrest is a complete coup and whoever thinks that millions of youth will let it pass is deluding themselves,"

See: Egypt Court Dissolves Parliament in 'Soft Coup'
By Tarek El-Tablawy, Abdel Latif Wahba and Mariam Fam
Bloomberg News, 14 June 2012

Egypt supreme court calls for parliament to be dissolved
BBC, 14 June 2012

At this point in time, the Islamists are refusing to dissolve the parliament and have vowed to win the presidency. And despite the threat posed by the Justice Ministry's repressive decree, protests have begun and are expected to intensify after Friday prayers and across the weekend.

See: Egyptians protest as court dissolves parliament, confirms Shafiq candidacy
Mohammed Morsi: Millions over the weekend will say 'no' to tyrants
14 June 2012

Stratfor sees strategy

In a report entitled "Egypt's Military Delivers Ultimatum to Muslim Brotherhood" (14 June 2012), Stratfor Global Intelligence surmises that the legal manoeuvres are part of a military strategy to intimidate and contain the Muslim Brotherhood.

"Egypt's military has the least amount of control when the country goes to the polls. Through parliamentary elections the MB, together with Egypt's Salafist faction, the al-Nour Party, came to dominate parliament. And MB candidate Mohammed Morsi had a strong chance of beating Shafiq at the presidential election polls.

"The military's authority instead comes from its institutional leverage. The MB may have had nominal control over the parliament, but the military's influence over the judiciary effectively has nullified any parliamentary move the MB attempted. Similarly, the military is using its institutional strength to keep the drafting of the country's constitution out of the MB's control.

"The SCAF [Supreme Council of the Armed Forces] could not be confident that its preferred candidate, Shafiq, would beat Morsi in the presidential runoff. The SCAF may be contemplating that the best way to protect its authority in the system is to back the MB [Muslim brotherhood] against a wall, first by pushing ahead Shafiq as a legitimate candidate, then by threatening to dissolve the MB-controlled parliament and finally by establishing itself as the final arbiter in the constitution-drafting process.

"The main question moving forward is whether the MB is ready for the grand bargain that the SCAF is trying to impose on the Islamist party. The SCAF appears willing to risk an MB presidency, so long as the MB cedes primary authority to the military in drafting the constitution, which will ultimately decide the balance of power among the military, parliament and presidency. The dissolution of parliament is a threat directed at the MB: If the MB accepts the military's demands on the constitution, then the SCAF could allow the parliament to remain as is; if not, it could dissolve parliament and schedule another round of parliamentary elections. In another round of elections, the MB would likely come out with another strong win. Only this time, the elections would theoretically take place within a constitutional framework shaped by the SCAF."


The first military coup -- in which military power was leveraged to oust Mubarak -- rode on the back of youth-driven pro-democracy protests in Tahrir Square. In this second military coup, military-controlled legal instruments are being leveraged against the parliament while military power will be leveraged against the street with the aim of asserting military control over the Islamists as they stand on the threshold of controlling both the parliament and the presidency.

The battle between the military and the Islamists has begun in earnest, leaving Egyptians who had dreamed of progress and liberty lamenting what might have been and questioning why it was not achieved.