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Goodspeed Analysis: Tension mounts in Egypt as Islamists tighten grip (NATIONAL POST COMMENT) Peter Goodspeed 03/28/12)Source: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/03/26/goodspeed-analysis-tension-mounts-in-egypt-as-islamists-tighten-grip/ NATIONAL POST NATIONAL POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Egypt lurched toward another political crisis Monday as Islamist parties that dominate parliament tightened their grip on the country and moved to seize control of the assembly that will write Egypt’s next constitution.

Liberals and leftist parties, who initiated the public protests that toppled former dictator Hosni Mubarak last year, reacted by vowing to boycott the constitution-writing process and are now calling for a renewal of street demonstrations.

In the meantime, former Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who was selected as Mr. Mubarak’s vice-president just days before the former dictator was forced from power, is now said to be actively considering running for president in elections scheduled for May.

News of Mr. Suleiman’s prospective candidacy broke just two days after Egypt’s ruling military council clashed publicly with the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood and accused Islamist leaders of trying to “pressure the armed forces and its Supreme Council with the intention of making them abandon their national mission to rule the country during the transitional period.”

The military and the Islamist movement are the two most powerful forces in Egypt’s post-revolution politics, but the two sides are increasingly coming into conflict.

Egypt’s Islamists have become increasingly assertive since the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), won 47% of the seats in recent parliamentary elections, while an alliance of ultra-conservative Islamists, the Salafi Nour party, won about 25% of the seats.

Lately, the FJP has been pressing the ruling military council to withdraw its support from the appointed government of Prime Minister Kamal Ganzuri and urging it to appoint a new, Muslim Brotherhood-led government.

On Saturday, the FJP launched a scathing attack on the military, accusing it of backing a failed interim government tainted by unrest, judicial interference, stalled reforms, fuel shortages and dwindling foreign currency reserves.

“Keeping this government as we approach presidential elections. . . which raises suspicions over the fairness of these elections, as well as the general decline of affairs, are things we cannot remain silent or patient over,” the FJP declared on its internet website.

“If anyone intends to recreate the former corrupt regime with new faces, the people are willing to move in order to revive their revolution and protect their ship from sinking at the hands of people with no sense of responsibility,” the Islamist party declared.

The ruling military council shot back with an official statement on Sunday that accused the Islamists of “baseless slander.”

“The Egyptian population knows well who protected its dignity and pride, and who always put the people’s best interest before anything else,” the military council’s statement said. “The armed forces and its council were keen to adhere to that code and not deviate from it as a result of attempts at provocation.

“We understand that the performance of the government might not satisfy the expectations of the people at this critical stage, but we emphasise that the nation’s interest is our foremost priority, and we shall spare no effort to pass through this tough stage.”

Then, in a veiled threat that hinted at past moves to ban the Muslim Brotherhood, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces added, “We ask everyone to be aware of the lessons of history to avoid mistakes from a past we do not want to return to, and to look towards the future.”

The confrontation may be a prelude to weeks of political struggle in Egypt, as the country prepares to draw up a new constitution and stage presidential elections on May 23-24.

If necessary, a run-off election will be held in early June and Egypt’s new president could take office by June 21.

Egypt’s military, which took over running the government after Mr. Mubarak stepped down in February 2011, has said it will hand over power to an elected civilian government, possibly next year, once Egyptians vote in a referendum to endorse a new constitution.

But the battle to decide who will draw up a draft constitution that will determine the balance of power between Egypt’s previously all- powerful president and the Islamist-controlled parliament, is now set to ignite a new round of public protest.

Last week, Egypt’s Islamist parties decided to allocate nearly 70% of the 100 seats in the constitutional assembly to their own members and supporters, insisting that simply reflects the results of last year’s parliamentary elections.

That has infuriated liberal, leftist and secular parties who insist the constitutional assembly should reflect a broad range of the Egyptian public, not just parliament’s current political majority.

Sunday, when Egypt’s parliament released the names of members appointed to the constitutional assembly, there were only six women and six members from Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority on the 100- member panel.

“It’s ridiculous: A constitution being written by one force and one force alone. We tried our best but there was no use,” said Naguib Sawiris, the founder of the liberal Free Egyptians Party.

Eight members of the constitutional assembly resigned in protest Monday, saying they fear the Islamist dominated body may now try to produce a constitution that entrenches Sharia law in Egypt at the expense of decades of secular tradition and respect for the rights of religious minorities and women.

“We are going to continue struggling for a secular Egypt in the streets,” Mohammed Abou el Ghar, head of the Social Democratic Party said Monday, as he resigned from the constitutional assembly.

A coalition of 15 movements and groups, calling themselves the “Constitution for All Egyptians Front” have called for street protests in Cairo Tuesday.

The Union of Revolutionary Youth is calling for a “million-man” march Friday to protest the Muslim Brotherhood’s “use of the same techniques employed by the National Democratic Party” (Mr. Mubarak’s former ruling party). (© 2012 National Post, a division of Postmedia Network Inc. 03/28/12)

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