Egypt´s Brotherhood faces double backlash (AP) Associated Press) By HAMZA HENDAWI CAIRO, EGYPT 03/26/12 4:26 pm ET)
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CAIRO – Egypt´s powerful Islamists on Monday faced a backlash on two
fronts as they try to solidify their hold on the country´s politics,
as liberal politicians quit a panel tasked with drafting a new
constitution to protest its domination by Islamists.
More ominously, the ruling military issued a veiled threat of a
crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood if the group persisted in demands
to form a new government.
The warning pointed to a growing possibility of confrontation between
the Brotherhood and the military, which emerged as Egypt´s two most
powerful institutions since the fall of longtime authoritarian ruler
Hosni Mubarak a year ago. For months, they have moved between
cooperating and jostling for position.
But the Brotherhood appears to be growing in confidence over its
position. The group holds nearly half the seats in parliament, making
it the largest bloc — and its strength grows even more on some issues
in which it is backed by the second-largest bloc, the
ultraconservative Islamic Salafis.
Together they have been demanding the ouster of the military-
appointed prime minister so they can form their own government. The
military has staunchly refused. They have also used their strength in
parliament to create a constitutional panel with an Islamist
majority, giving them the strongest hand in writing the new charter.
In response to the tensions with the military, the Brotherhood´s
leader, Mohammed Badie, said in comments posted on the group´s
website Monday that it was "quite possible" for the Brotherhood to
reverse an earlier decision not to field its own candidate in
presidential elections due in May.
If the military-Brotherhood quarrel escalates, the transfer of power
from the military to a civilian president — scheduled for before July
1 — could be in jeopardy. Their dispute could also hand the liberal
and secular groups that engineered the 18-day uprising that toppled
Mubarak an opportunity to move back to center stage after months on
The independent Al-Shorouq daily said on Monday that several members
of the ruling military council have expressed their disapproval of
the makeup of the panel in a meeting with Brotherhood leaders.
Brotherhood officials could not be reached for comment, but the
report was the latest in a series published in the independent media
suggesting that relations between the two sides have become so
strained that a rapprochement may not be possible any time soon.
Two prominent liberal Egyptian politicians — independent lawmaker Amr
Hamzawy and Christian activist Mona Makram Obeid — were the first to
announce they were pulling out of the 100-member constitutional panel
Lawmaker Emad Gad said 11 other liberal politicians have also decided
to pull out and were due to formally announce their decision on
Tuesday, a day before the body is scheduled to hold its inaugural
session. The group include eight members of the panel and
three "reserve" members, who would serve if a member bows out for any
reason. Gad is one of the three reserve members pulling out.
"The entire process is a show to conceal the intention to draft a
constitution for a religious state," said Gad, a Christian. "It´s a
disgrace to the constitution," Sherif Samir, a spokesman for the
secular Free Egyptians Party, said of the religious slant of the
The controversy surrounding the panel´s makeup drew a guarded
reaction from the United States, which has over 30 years regarded
Egypt as a key partner in the fight against Muslim militancy.
"We want to see a new constitution for Egypt that upholds democratic
values and universal human rights in all of their aspects and
provides protections and assurances for the participation and the
rights of all Egyptians," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria
Nuland told reporters in Washington on Monday.
She said the panel has an "obligation to uphold and defend and
protect the democratic rights that brought them to power in the first
place, including the universal rights of all groups."
Selected over the weekend, the panel includes nearly 60 Islamists and
only six women and six Christians. The members were chosen by
parliament´s two chambers, where Islamists have a comfortable
majority of more than 70 percent.
"I polled those who elected me and the majority of them said they
preferred for me to stay on the constituent assembly," Hamzawy
wrote. "I gave the matter a great deal of thought and studied the
makeup of the assembly. My conscience told me to pull out."
Obeid, a former lawmaker and a prominent women´s rights activist,
said, "the religious nature and the absence of women are behind my
withdrawal from the constituent assembly."
The new constitution will determine whether Egypt, a mainly Muslim
nation of some 85 million people, will become further Islamized. 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.
The Brotherhood´s spat with the military has its roots in the
Islamists´ resolve to fire the military-backed government of Prime
Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri, a Mubarak-era politician who is nearly
"The (ruling) military council bears full responsibility for attempts
to hinder the process of democratic transition and ... exporting
crises to future governments," said a statement by the Freedom and
Justice Party, the Brotherhood´s political wing. The party also
charged that the military might try to rig the presidential election
to install a favorable candidate.
The military hit back with a strongly worded statement on Sunday
saying it was unacceptable to question its commitment to turning over
power to a civilian government and to a fair presidential election.
It also made a thinly veiled threat of a crackdown against the group
by alluding to the mid-1950s, when the Brotherhood was outlawed and
its members detained after the group challenged the rule of the
"We ask everyone to learn from the lessons of history so we avoid the
mistakes of a past we don´t wish to return to," the military
But the Brotherhood appeared to dismiss the warnings. One senior
Brotherhood figure, Essam Yassin, suggested times had changed and
that the group had no fear of the military.
"The hands of the clock never go back," he wrote on his Facebook
page. "Believers are never stung twice from the same snake pit." ___
AP correspondent Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this
report. (© 2012 The Associated Press 03/26/12)
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