Egypt´s Islamists tighten their grip on power (AP) Associated Press) By HAMZA HENDAWI CAIRO, EGYPT 03/25/12 5:28 pm ET)
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CAIRO – Egypt´s newly empowered Islamists have tightened their grip,
giving themselves a majority on a 100-member panel tasked with
drafting a constitution that will define the shape of the government
in the post-Hosni Mubarak era.
Led by the Muslim Brotherhood to victory in parliamentary elections,
fundamentalists now have their eyes set on the next prize: the
The new constitution will decide whether Islam will gain even more
strength in Egypt, abandoning decades of secular traditions that made
the nation a top U.S. ally and a bulwark against extremism.
The charter also will determine whether the decades-old system of a
powerful president will be maintained, or instead, an empowered
parliament under Islamist domination will set the tone.
"We don´t want another pharaoh," said Yasser Burhami, a leader of the
ultraconservative Salafi movement whose followers have won 25 percent
of parliament´s seats. "We want a political system that is half
parliamentary and half presidential."
A list of names published Sunday by the country´s official news
agency showed that the panel will have nearly 60 Islamists, including
37 legislators selected the day before by parliament´s two chambers.
The second half of the panel comprises public figures, also selected
by members of parliament.
The strong Islamist showing follows their victory in parliamentary
elections — a seismic shift for groups that were heavily repressed
under Mubarak but have used the vast organizational skills gained
over years of working underground to rise to the upper political
It also reinforced fears by secular and liberal Egyptians that the
dominant parliamentary faction would pack the panel with supporters
and ignore concerns of other groups, including the youth activists
who spearheaded last year´s uprising against Mubarak´s authoritarian
"The Brotherhood´s monopoly on setting the criteria for selecting the
constitutional assembly leaves us skeptical of whatever promises they
make," prominent rights activist Hafez Abu Saedah wrote on his
Just a handful of Christians and women were selected for the panel,
reflecting the disproportionately low representation in parliament of
both groups. There also were only a few names from the revolutionary
movement that ousted the leader.
One significant exception, however, was Ahmed Hararah, a young
dentist who lost sight in one eye during the uprising and later lost
his second eye in clashes that broke out between security forces and
protesters calling for a faster transition to civilian rule in Cairo.
He has become a symbol of the revolutionaries.
With the parliament and the constitutional assembly firmly in hand,
Islamists are turning their attention to presidential elections,
which are to be held on May 23-24, with a runoff between the two
candidates with the most votes in early June if nobody wins an
outright majority. The winner is expected to be announced June 21.
Neither the Muslim Brotherhood nor the Salafis — which are sometimes
at odds over policy — have publicly backed a candidate, but both
groups say they will only support one with an Islamist background.
The importance of the presidency to Islamists became clear Sunday
with the eruption of a public dispute between the Brotherhood and the
generals who took power following Mubarak´s ouster.
The Brotherhood´s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party,
accused the military council of trying to "hinder" the transition to
democratic rule. In a statement posted on its website, it also raised
concern that presidential elections could be rigged to benefit
a "certain candidate" it did not identify.
The party, it added, is studying proposals to field its own
candidate, reversing an earlier decision not to do so.
The military and the Brotherhood have emerged as Egypt´s two most
powerful forces, and an enduring quarrel between the two could put in
serious jeopardy the transfer of power promised by the military for
before the end of June.
The Islamist party charges that the military-backed government has
failed to resolve any of the crises facing the nation, including an
acute fuel shortage, rampant crime and a worsening economy.
"The (ruling) military council bears full responsibility for attempts
to hinder the process of democratic transition and ... exporting
crises to future governments," said the party´s statement, suggesting
that the military and the Cabinet were manufacturing the problems to
discredit a future government likely to be led by the Brotherhood.
The generals responded quickly with a statement carried by the
official news agency. They called attempts to cast doubt on the
integrity of the forthcoming presidential elections "baseless" and
pointed out they were the ones who planned and carried out recent
parliamentary elections. The vote was widely viewed as the freest in
the nation´s modern history.
Liberal lawmakers, meanwhile, say a permanent constitution should not
be written only by those who won a majority in a single election, but
rather by representatives of Egyptians from all walks of life and
Some Islamists previously indicated that they would seek to write the
constitution by "consensus," but the parliament´s two chambers
jointly decided last week to allocate half of the panel´s seats to
its own members, three-quarters of whom are Islamists.
About half of those are from the Brotherhood, which until now has
been vague about what it wants the constitution to include. But they
also include ultraconservatives known as Salafis, many of whom have
called for the constitution to reflect hard-line interpretations of
Islamic Sharia law. Such a move could lead to the revocation of
relatively liberal family laws on divorce and other issues, and lower
the minimum age for marriage for both sexes.
The country´s most prominent democracy advocate, Mohamed ElBaradei,
was not included on the panel, though his public opposition to
Mubarak´s regime in the year leading up to its overthrow injected
energy into the youth groups that engineered last year´s uprising. (©
2012 The Associated Press 03/25/12)
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