Muslim Brotherhood asserts its strength in Egypt with challenges to military (WASHINGTON POST) By Leila Fadel CAIRO, EGYPT 03/26/12)
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CAIRO — As Egypt’s ruling generals near the end of their formal
reign, the country’s main Islamist party is asserting increasing
authority over the political system and openly confronting the
The Muslim Brotherhood’s growing influence came into sharp focus
Sunday as its political wing and other Islamists established a
dominant role in the 100-member body chosen by the parliament to
write the country’s new, post-revolutionary constitution. Liberals
and leftists vowed to boycott the assembly, and at least eight
withdrew from it, accusing the Islamist parties of taking over the
The move came just days after the Brotherhood said it was considering
putting forth a presidential candidate from its ranks, something it
had promised not to do.
The rift between the once-underground group and the military burst
into the open this weekend, with the Brotherhood issuing a scathing
statement calling the military-appointed government a failure and
raising concern over the credibility of the upcoming presidential
election. The military council fired back Sunday, condemning the
Brotherhood for “doubting” the institution and making “fabricated”
The Brotherhood and its political wing, the Freedom and Justice
Party, were initially hesitant to challenge the military after the
revolt that ousted President Hosni Mubarak last year. But the
Islamist movement became emboldened after winning nearly half the
seats in parliament in elections that ended in February.
Now, its leaders are going so far as to oppose the generals’ private
requests for immunity from prosecution for accusations of killings
and mistakes committed during Egypt’s political transition, something
they were open to just two months ago. They are demanding the
dissolution of the military-appointed government of Prime Minister
Some in the Brotherhood leadership are even ready to go after the
military’s economic holdings. Brotherhood members are calling for
various military industries, estimated at 5 to 45 percent of the
nation’s economy, to be placed under parliamentary oversight and
added to the national treasury. The military has fiercely resisted
“There’s been a major shift in Egyptian politics,” said Shadi Hamid,
an expert on the Brotherhood at the Brookings Institution’s Doha
Center. “The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is entering its lame-
duck stage. At this point, no one can stop the Brotherhood.”
The aged and increasingly unpopular generals are still in control of
Egypt, a longtime U.S. ally considered a linchpin for Middle East
peace. But the Brotherhood has been able to leverage its influence
using the parliament, which is likely to become a key vehicle for
channeling popular concerns, analysts said. Already, the military
council has been forced to cave on several key issues amid public
Some analysts said the growing confrontation might endanger the
political transition, with presidential elections less than two
The Brotherhood, however, appears emboldened and ready to challenge
the military. As the group consolidates power, it is increasingly
willing to take up issues popular with its constituents but anathema
to the ruling generals, said Marc Lynch, director of the Institute of
Middle East Studies at George Washington University.
That includes questioning the continued acceptance of around $1.5
billion in U.S. aid, which mainly goes to the military. Although that
money has helped forge a strong bond between Washington and Cairo,
many Egyptians see it as a payoff for Egypt’s subservience.
Lynch said, however, that he expects the Brotherhood will stop short
of outright confrontation and will instead try to maneuver the
generals aside as quickly as possible without destabilizing Egypt.
Brotherhood leaders have portrayed themselves as pragmatists who will
maintain the country’s peace treaty with Israel and focus on the
country’s unemployment and poverty rather than social issues such as
The Brotherhood’s more assertive stance has come after months of
maneuvering through the murky military-led transition that followed
Mubarak’s fall. Critics of the Brotherhood have accused the Islamist
group of cutting backroom deals with military rulers to secure the
organization’s rise to power and remaining quiet about military
missteps and abuses when others protested.
“The Brotherhood is searching for power, and the military council is
looking for a safe ticket out,” said Ibrahim Mohyeldin, a member of
parliament from the liberal Free Egyptians party. “They have a deal.”
The Islamists have denied any such pact.
In the Brotherhood’s new headquarters in suburban Cairo, top
officials made it clear that they now agree on little with the
military council — the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF —
other than the plan to transition to an elected president by the end
of June. But they also remain cautious.
“We don’t have a honeymoon relationship with SCAF, as some people
think, and we don’t have a tough relationship with them, either,”
Mahmoud Hussein, the secretary general of the Brotherhood, said in a
recent interview. “We praise them when they do something good, and we
criticize them when they do something bad.”
But the criticisms are mounting. Mahmoud Ghozlan, the Brotherhood
spokesman who just two months ago advocated immunity for the
generals, said the group changed its position when it became clear
the Egyptian people had rejected the idea. Ghozlan and Hussein
signaled that the group intended to go after the generals’ previously
sacred military production budget.
“When there are [military-owned] companies for water bottling,
agricultural companies, petrol stations, food products, why should
all those stay a secret?” Ghozlan said.
Liberals and leftists worry that the Brotherhood and other Islamist
groups will leave them marginalized. They point to the Brotherhood’s
huge role in the constitutional assembly, which will draft a document
that will map out the role of religion, the executive and
parliamentary powers and minority rights in the new Egypt.
“We are going to boycott this committee, and we are going to withdraw
and let them make an Islamic constitution. We are going to continue
struggling for a secular Egypt in the streets,” said Mohammed Abou el-
Ghar, head of the Social Democratic Party, who was elected to the
assembly but has resigned his post.
He noted that Brotherhood officials had said initially the committee
would represent all Egyptians’ views. “But as you can see, there is
no representation of secular Egypt,” he said.
The Brotherhood’s political wing denied the accusations on Sunday,
calling the assembly diverse and representative.
At least 60 percent of the 100 assembly members are Islamists or have
Islamist backgrounds. That reflects the role played by the
parliament — where Islamists were elected to more than 70 percent of
the seats — in choosing the members.
Inside the parliament building, Sobhi Saleh, a leading member of the
Brotherhood’s political wing, walks with an unmistakable swagger. In
a recent interview, he said the liberals and secularists who worry
the Islamist ascendancy will cut them out should face the facts and
work with the Brotherhood.
“After the revolution, the Brotherhood became a reality that no one
can ignore,” he said. Special correspondent Ingy Hasseib contributed
to this report. (© 2010 The Washington Post Company 03/26/12)
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