Under the catchphrase of “A constitution for all,” – i.e., not just for Muslims – Egypt’s secular and liberal factions are starting this weekend preparing to launch a wave of street protests in Cairo and other Egyptian cities that could kindle the first violent confrontation between the supreme military council, SCAF, which rules the country and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Aware that the generals have secretly thrown their support behind the demonstrators, the Muslim Brotherhood must decide in the coming hours whether to go for a showdown with the SCAF in the street, or back off and await a better opportunity.
Most of the Brotherhood leaders, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s in Cairo report, incline to a knock-down showdown now. Some of the moderate voices urge waiting until after the presidential election in June, which the MB is sure its candidate will win hand’s down. From the presidential palace, the MB will then lay down the law.
The friction between the army chiefs ruling the country in the transition to democracy and the Muslim movement which won the first post-Mubarak general election has built up over three main causes:
1. The body charged with writing Egypt’s post-revolution constitution began work Wednesday, March 28 without representatives of the pro-democracy, liberal, Coptic and secular streams. They resigned in a body a day earlier in protest against the path along which the majority MB was leading the country.
Civil rights activist and lawyer Amir Lotfy, who demonstrated outside the panel’s meeting-place, warned, “If the Muslim Brotherhood continues to lead the way, Egypt will become another Afghanistan or Pakistan.”
Another activist, Asmaa Salam said: “I am here today to say the constitution belongs to the Egyptian people, the Egyptian people including all its sects.”
Military Council curtails Muslim-dominated parliament’s prerogatives
2. SCAF made it clear to the Muslim Brotherhood that the source of Egyptian Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri’s authority is not parliament, where the MB holds a majority, but the military council.
This was the first step toward curbing the powers of the next elected president, in contrast to the all-powerful ousted Hosni Mubarak. The new office-holder is perceived by the military as a token figure who defers to the generals as the country’s real power-holders.
The generals took this step in reprisal for the MB’s decision to run a candidate of their own for the presidency in breach of their promise.
The Islamists have whittled their short list down to three, according to the well-informed Ahram Arabic-language portal: Mohamed Mursi, chairman of the Brotherhood's political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP); Saad El-Katatni, the parliamentary speaker; and Khairat El-Shater the group's Deputy Guide.
Their final choice will be announced before the end of the week.
A leading MB lawmaker, Mohamed Emadeddin denounced a statement by the prime minister that Parliament does not have authority to force the government out by voting no confidence.
Emadeddin declared that the FJP, the Wafd Party and the Salafist Nour were determined to vote the government down because the Ganzouri administration and Parliament “are on different pages.”
3. The Brotherhood hit back at what they see as the SCAF’s grab for power by withdrawing its pledge to absolve the generals, most of whom served under Mubarak, from prosecution after the new president takes office in June. They also reversed their promise to preserve the military’s vast business empire intact. Henceforth the army’s various enterprises will be subject to oversight by the relevant parliamentary committees.
Brotherhood sure of last word against generals, Americans, liberals
This empire is shrouded in secrecy. According to some estimates it accounts for anywhere between 15 and 40 percent of the Egypt’s GDP.
In the face of pressing demands for public scrutiny, the ruling military council announced Wednesday, March 28, that no civilians would be granted access to its business enterprises.
Maj. Gen. Mahmoud Nasr, Deputy Defense Minister for Financial Affairs and a SCAF member, maintained that the business establishment run by the military served the national interest, and had even loaned the government money to keep it afloat during the turmoil accompanying the popular uprising which toppled Mubarak last year.
Muslim Brotherhood leaders, convinced now that Washington has swung its support behind the SCAF, were heard making comments this week such as, “God has not decided that the annual US military aid package of $1.2 billion belongs exclusively to the Egyptian army.” The country has other pressing priories like providing the people with flour. American aid should therefore be diverted to civilian needs.
The MB is sure it will have the last word against the generals, the Americans and the liberals. The SCAF generals are mostly of advanced years. Chairman Field Marshall Mohamed Tantawi is due to retire in June or July with no successor in sight.
The only sure thing is that, before he goes, Tantawi will choose the general or colonel to succeed him as defense minister and supreme commander of Egypt’s military forces.
The Brotherhood is in the dark about the new man’s identity. They have no clue about the chances of his going back to the political alliance the SCAF struck with the MB at the start of the Egyptian revolution, or whether he will rule at the head of an all-powerful military dictatorship and persecute Islamist forces.