Egyptian army takes on Islamists to retain power (REUTERS) By Marwa Awad CAIRO, EGYPT 03/28/12 1:46pm EDT)
Reuters News Service
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(Reuters) - Egypt´s Muslim Brotherhood is locked in a power struggle
with ruling generals over how much influence the army will have after
civilians take over in three months time, a dispute that could decide
whether democracy thrives after Hosni Mubarak´s ouster.
The tussle is over a new constitution, being drafted by an Islamist-
led assembly, and focuses on the powers of the next president, the
extent army privileges will be preserved and how much say the
military will have in national security policy in future, Brotherhood
members and an army official told Reuters.
Islamists are already embroiled in a more public argument with
liberals, who have withdrawn from the body drawing up the
constitution because they say it gives too much weight to Islamists
and does not represent Egypt´s diversity.
But the outcome of the army row, largely being played out behind
closed doors, is likely to have a far bigger impact.
It pits the two most influential players in the post-Mubarak era and
will determine how much power will be retained by the old military
guard who kept Mubarak in place once the formal handover to a newly
elected president takes place by July 1.
"The Muslim Brotherhood wants more powers. They already have half the
(constituent assembly), which basically gives them control over
drafting the constitution," said an army official, who asked not to
The Islamists, repressed by the former military officers who ruled
Egypt for decades, say elected institutions should decide.
"The demands of the military council are illogical. It wants to
interfere in the writing of the constitution. It wants to impose
conditions for itself and on the new government," said Medhat Hadad,
a senior member of the Brotherhood.
"But the party with the parliamentary majority must form the
government. Appointing, sacking or withdrawing confidence from the
government must be in the hands of parliament. These powers must not
be with the president," he said.
The Brotherhood, with the biggest bloc in parliament, is pushing for
legislators to withdraw confidence from the army-backed cabinet. Even
if they do, the ruling army council can ignore it as it holds
presidential powers to appoint ministers.
According to Brotherhood officials, the two sides locked horns at a
closed-door meeting on March 22 with both sides trading threats, just
two months before the presidential vote.
"We threatened to withdraw confidence from the government and the
response from someone high ranking was another threat that he ´has
the decree to dissolve parliament in his office drawer waiting to be
used´," said Hadad.
"It is not right. The state cannot be managed with such brinkmanship
at all," he said.
Army officials would not confirm the account.
While the Brotherhood is maneuvering for a stronger role for
parliament, the army wants to retain a key role for itself and ensure
executive powers are more evenly spread.
"There must be a decentralization of power. The constitution must
divide powers amongst the president, the government and parliament,"
said the army official, who has asked not to be identified as he was
not authorized to make public statements.
It wants the new constitution to set up a National Security Council
that would include the president, key foreign, defense and interior
ministers, and military personnel. It would be along the lines of the
National Defense Council in the old constitution, but with more
carefully delineated powers.
"The council´s new mandate would be set in a law in which the
president would not be able to pass a decision regarding national
security without the military´s consent and the consent of other
members in the council," the army official said.
The army, he added, is better at understanding national security
The army-chosen cabinet first raised the idea in November of giving
the army a broad remit over national security in the constitution.
Islamists and others fumed against it at the time.
The army frets it could lose control to Islamists of foreign affairs
and national security that it regards as vital to its interests. For
example, the army receives $1.3 billion a year in U.S. military aid
under a program set up after Egypt made peace with Israel in 1979. It
does not want that jeopardized.
The Brotherhood, however, says it respects Egypt´s treaties.
Army rulers also want to protect the military budget and its
businesses and factories - worth billions of dollars - from civilian
oversight. The army´s civilian businesses are now exempt from tax,
but they say they are now happy to pay it.
"The military has always contributed to the state. In the new state,
it will redirect part of its profit to it," the official said.
All these are new worries for the military, which has had its own man
in charge since the "Free Officers" of Gamal Abdel Nasser toppled the
king in 1952. Mubarak, a senior military officer like his
predecessors, was steeped in army thinking and could be relied on by
generals to secure their interests.
The new order threatens that, putting at risk the privileges such as
sinecure jobs for retired generals and the military´s broad business
interests, as well as raising the prospect of prosecution - like
Mubarak, now on trial over killings of protesters last year and for
graft during his 30 years in power.
"Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi said back in November that the role of
the military will remain as it has been in previous constitutions.
This still stands," the army official said.
The Brotherhood is closer to power than it has ever been in its 84-
year history. But memories of the repression under Mubarak and his
predecessors are far too fresh for complacency.
"The Brotherhood needs to maintain the gains it has made and they
feel the military is pulling the rug from underneath their feet,"
said a member of parliament for the Brotherhood´s Freedom and Justice
Party. "This is a struggle for power, not a struggle to save the
nation, unfortunately," he added. (Editing by Edmund Blair and Mark
Heinrich) (© Thomson Reuters 2012. 03/28/12)
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