Analysis: Egypt in tough final leg of transition (REUTERS) By Tom Perry CAIRO, EGYPT 04/12/12 3:03pm EDT)
Reuters News Service
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(Reuters) - The final leg of Egypt´s transition from military to
civilian rule has turned into a bitter power struggle that is feeding
a sense of crisis and confusion among Egyptians, who fear their
democratic dawn could be at risk.
Just weeks before a presidential election in May, divisions are
hardening in a nation polarized by the rise of Islamist groups that
were banned under Hosni Mubarak and attempts by members of his
administration to reassert influence.
The struggle for control of Egypt that began in the streets last year
has moved to the courts and the Islamist-controlled parliament. How
the next few weeks proceed will determine the course of political
change that will influence the whole region.
"There is some serious gamesmanship going on to gain the upper hand
over the future," said a foreign diplomat, working in Cairo. "I don´t
think anyone could say it is going smoothly ... We´ve had these kind
of crunch points before ... but each time they´ve managed to pull it
The web of rivalries between Islamists, secular-minded reformists and
Mubarak´s old guard has thrown up big challenges for a process that
has been far from easy and is being further muddied by a spate of
politically driven legal battles that have halted work on a new
constitution and thrown into doubt the candidacies of several
On Thursday the Muslim Brotherhood and other lawmakers flexed their
muscle in parliament, passing a law preventing top officials who
served under Mubarak from becoming president.
This would prevent former Vice President Omar Suleiman and Mubarak´s
last premier, Ahmed Shafiq, from running. However, the legislation is
unlikely to win the approval of the ruling military council, which is
necessary for it to come into force.
The political heat is set to rise further on Friday as the Muslim
Brotherhood heads back to Tahrir Square, the cradle of the revolt
against Mubarak, for a protest also aimed at stopping Suleiman from
contesting the vote that starts in May.
The last-minute candidacy of Suleiman, a former spy chief, has
unnerved secular-minded reformists as well as the Islamists. Both
worry that a Suleiman presidency would mark a major blow to hopes for
democracy in the Arab world´s most populous nation.
While his critics say Suleiman could only win through subterfuge, his
candidacy appears to have struck a chord with voters alarmed at the
rise of Islamist influence and who see the former army man as the
best hope for an end to a year of chaos.
Itself seeking the presidency, the Brotherhood is expected to draw
thousands to the square on Friday. But in a sign of the polarization
that has split the reform movement, at least one revolutionary youth
group has decided to boycott the Islamist demonstration and will
instead take part in one next week.
CASE AGAINST MUBARAK
Looming over Egypt´s fast-changing political landscape is the fate of
83-year-old Mubarak himself. The verdict in the case against him on
charges of ordering the killing of protesters against his rule and
corruption is due on June 2.
The trial´s outcome will be crucial to the public mood just weeks
before the top two candidates in the first round of the presidential
vote face off in a June run-off that is expected to follow the
"There is a sense of uncertainty about the future steps in the
transition," said Mustapha Kamel al-Sayyid, a political scientist who
described the current phase as the most difficult since Mubarak left
power. "This is an important political battle with every side trying
to use whatever means it has."
It has been more than a year since the Egyptian army took over power
from Mubarak, after the popular uprising put an end to his 30 years
A council of generals pledged to shepherd the country towards
democracy but then themselves became the focus of criticism from
reformists who still distrust them, seeing the army as an extension
of the former air force chief´s rule.
That mistrust has fed spasms of lethal violence pitting the
revolutionary youth against the security forces. It has been two
months since the last bloodshed in Cairo´s streets. The courts and
parliament have instead become theatres for conflict.
The weak state of the economy, hit by political and social
instability, has added to the sense of turmoil.
Talks over an International Monetary Fund loan needed to stave off a
financial crisis stumbled in large part due to a power struggle
between Islamists and the army-led government.
Drafting a new constitution - a key part of the transition plan - has
been another victim of the fierce fight for power that is defining
politics in post-Mubarak Egypt.
A legal challenge from Egyptians who argued the Islamists abused
their parliamentary majority to secure control has technically frozen
That has reduced the already slim chances of a constitution being
ready by the time a new president takes office. The court hearing the
case halted moves towards forming the 100-person body pending a
ruling on the legality of the Brotherhood-chaired body.
"A FEW OBSTACLES TO DEMOCRACY"
The Brotherhood has been under fire from critics for not taking a
more conciliatory stance to the groups that have boycotted the
assembly in protest at the poor representation given to women,
Christians, youth groups and others.
The Islamists offered concessions to draw others back into the
process but these did not convince critics who argued the
Brotherhood´s late decision to contest the presidency was yet another
sign of a its plan to dominate Egypt.
Based on events of the past year, some believe the odds still favor
the army handing over power as scheduled on July 1.
"If Egypt muddles through somehow to a presidential election that
produces a fair result and the constitutional process gets back on
track, then come July 1 we´ll all be saying these were serious
difficulties but Egypt proved us wrong," said the foreign diplomat,
who declined to be named.
Yet more confusion seems inevitable. Delays to the drafting of the
constitution mean the incoming president´s powers will be defined by
the temporary constitutional declaration that has governed the
interim period and which has been blamed for the legal chaos of the
Legal wrangling is also muddying the outlook for the presidential
election. There is doubt over the candidacies of some of the front-
runners due to legal challenges over whether they are eligible to run.
The Brotherhood´s candidate, Khairat al-Shater, is the focus of one
such case, brought by a socialist rival who says the Islamist should
not be able to run due to past criminal convictions said by his aides
to have been trumped up. The group has a back-up candidate ready just
"It is not clear whether we will have the most important candidates
in the elections and it is not clear whether we will have a
constitution in time," said Sayyid, the political science
professor. "In the long term I am optimistic. In the short term, we
are going to see a few obstacles to democracy," he said.
(Writing by Tom Perry, editing by Peter Millership and David Stamp)
(© Thomson Reuters 2012. 04/12/12)
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