Egyptian court ruling raises stakes in presidential race (CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR) By Kristen Chick CAIRO, EGYPT 04/11/12)
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The court suspended the assembly chosen to write Egypt´s new
constitution, delaying the process until after elections. That means
the new president will initially have near-dictatorial powers.
An Egyptian court yesterday suspended the body chosen to write
Egypt’s new constitution, upending the country´s timetable for
political transition – and perhaps much more.
It is now clear that Egypt´s new constitution will not be finished
before a new president is elected by June. That means the old
constitution, which gives the president near-dictatorial powers, will
still prevail when the military council that has ruled Egypt for the
past year is replaced. That elevates the stakes of the presidential
contest considerably, and comes as a warning to Islamists that they
could still be sidelined.
The court’s decision is a setback for the Muslim Brotherhood, which
ambitiously set out to dominate the constitution-writing process and
vie for the presidency after winning nearly 50 percent of
parliamentary seats in recent elections.
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The Brotherhood and its Islamist allies had been poised to write the
constitution without liberal, leftist, and other members, who
resigned in protest that the constitution-writing body was not
representative of Egypt. Together, those who resigned had comprised
nearly a third of the 100-seat body, known as the constituent
The court ruled that the Islamist-dominated parliament had acted
improperly in naming parliamentarians to fill half the 100 seats of
the constituent assembly. The Muslim Brotherhood´s Freedom and
Justice Party (FJP), the largest parliamentary bloc, complained
that "politics" had a hand in the judges´ decision.
Omar Ashour, an expert on Islamist movements who is a visiting fellow
at the Brookings Doha Center, said the court’s decision could signal
a move by the ruling military council to intervene in the democratic
transition. Removing the military from a political role is one of the
major challenges Egypt faces in the years ahead.
“That the administrative court would enter into such a political and
ideological battle is not a good sign,” he said. He noted that there
are two court cases pending to dissolve the parliament, a move that
could throw the transition into chaos.
Brotherhood defends its dominance: ´This is the will of the people´
Now some new body – its composition and selection process as yet
unclear – will be tasked with writing the constitution. Some liberals
rejoiced in the court’s decision, hoping it would result in a
constituent assembly that was more inclusive.
Secular parties had wanted fewer of the members to come from the
elected parliament, which is dominated by Islamist parties. In the
three-stage election that spanned the end of last year and the
beginning of 2012, the FJP and the ultraconservative Nour Party came
in first and second, and then worked together to appoint the
Liberals objected not only to the fact that about 60 percent of the
assembly came from an Islamist background but also to the apparent
lack of criteria for selecting members, which meant a young spokesman
for the Nour Party was included but notable constitutional experts
were left off the panel. Few Christians or women were included, and
Egypt´s Bedouin and Nubian minorities were also underrepresented.
“This is the wish of the Egyptian people, who chose the Islamists by
a large percentage,” said the Brotherhood’s secretary general,
Mahmoud Hussein, in an interview at the group´s headquarters on
The Brotherhood has thrown its weight around since it won
parliamentary elections, insisting that its victory gave it a popular
mandate for the constituent assembly and breaking a year-long pledge
not to field a presidential candidate. Over the weekend, the group
announced it would register a second presidential candidate as a
backup, in case their first choice, deputy leader Khairat El Shater,
(Mr. Shater, like many Brotherhood members, spent time in jail during
Hosni Mubarak´s rule. Though the Brotherhood says he´s since received
a full pardon, they fear he could still be disqualified.)
Dr. Hussein refuted criticisms of Islamist dominance and suggested
that the military may have been behind the walkout of nearly a third
of the constituent assembly´s members. Because the constituent
assembly would gather suggestions for the constitution from all
Egyptians, he said, it didn’t matter if the body was representative
of Egypt’s population.
“We want everyone to be represented, but this is not the issue,” said
Hussein, speaking before the court ruling. He said those who withdrew
from the committee were under outside pressure to derail the
constituent assembly and thwart the democratic transition. “If it´s
the military council [behind the resignations], then they want to
make sure there are enough people that are on their side in the
constituent assembly that will enable them to have the constitution
in their favor.”
At stake if rift persists: military intervention
In negotiations between the FJP and those who resigned from the
committee, the secularists had requested a 60 percent to 75 percent
support threshold for constitutional articles. Hussein said that was
an attempt to ensure the military’s interests would be represented in
the document. The other side claimed that the FJP’s insistence on
having a majority was evidence that they intended to ram an Islamist
constitution through the committee.
Some secular figures have indeed run to the military for political
help against the Islamists. Others who resigned from the committee
have refused military intervention.
But the Brotherhood, which was banned for decades before last year´s
revolution, is “still stuck in the victimhood mentality,” says
Ashour. “Their perception is that, ‘It´s a conspiracy and they´re out
to get us.´ " Ashour says the group needs to put aside that
mentality, and both sides need to reconcile to avoid military
intervention. “The rifts are real and you cannot deny the mistrust
and the ideological animosity, but I think we have to move beyond
this if we want this democratic transition to succeed,” he says.
The court decision could provide the impetus to end the standoff.
Shater said in a statement yesterday that he respects the court´s
ruling, and called on "all national forces to sit together and reach
better solutions to overcome this crisis." (© The Christian Science
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