Egypt: The Muslim Brotherhood and the Military: A New Deal?

Jul 05 2012 by Salma Shukrallah,

The Egyptian Republican Guard was responsible for president-elect Mohamed Mursi’s safety during his speech in Tahrir Square. Image originally posted to Flickr by Johnathan Rashad

Speculation is rife that the Muslim Brotherhood are again reaching a deal with the ruling military council after weeks of what seemed to be escalating tensions between the two. The long awaited government Morsi is expected to appoint soon may reveal what the two parties will finally agree upon.

While sources at the office of President Mohamed Morsi have revealed that Egypt’s newly-inaugurated head of state has not yet contacted anyone specific for the post of prime minister, analysts hint ongoing negotiations may be the source of this delay.

“There’s broad consensus between the Brotherhood and military leaders on the need to accommodate the military’s longstanding political and economic interests,” political analyst Hesham Sallam told Ahram Online.

“But the devil’s in the details; I don’t think the two sides have reached agreement on specifics,” Sallam added. “Control over cabinet appointments is probably one source of these disagreements.”

On 30 June, Morsi was sworn into office before Egypt’s High Constitutional Court (HCC), bringing an end to an ongoing conflict with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).

The Brotherhood had earlier rejected a constitutional addendum giving the SCAF legislative powers at the expense of Egypt’s dissolved parliament and keeping the Armed Forces independent of the president. Morsi’s oath before the HCC, however, appeared to signal a retreat from the Brotherhood’s stated position.

Since the addendum effectively replaced parliament with the HCC as the body before which the president should be sworn in, Morsi’s move was seen as an implicit recognition of the controversial document.

Only hours later, Judge Tahani El-Gebaly, member of the HCC’s general assembly, told reporters that the move was tantamount to acknowledgment of the addendum as the source of his constitutional legitimacy.

According to Sallam, however, the Brotherhood had already been prepared to accept the document; it was simply a matter of how to present its decision to the public – this was the issue still being debated with the SCAF.

“The Brotherhood’s concerns weren’t just substantive, they were also procedural,” he explained. “Agreeing to SCAF’s demands is one thing, but having these concessions presented to the public as a ‘SCAF-Brotherhood deal’ would be very humiliating from the perspective of the Brotherhood’s leadership.”

In fact, the HCC’s El-Gebaly had also told the media that Morsi had refused to take the oath before the HCC on television, but had been forced to do so after the court’s general assembly had insisted on this point.

Days before his swearing in, Morsi also sought to ally with other political forces that would endorse his presidency in return for concessions from his side. At a press conference, Morsi declared that his incoming PM would not be a Brotherhood member, nor would most members of his incoming government. He also promised that Egypt’s next constitution would be drafted with the consensus of all political factions.

“Some tough compromises with the SCAF are coming up –compromises that will be unpopular from the perspective of revolutionary movements – and the Brotherhood is trying to pre-emptively mitigate some of this opposition by reaching out to a diverse set of political groups and personalities and presenting its decisions as the product of a national consensus rather than an expression of the Brotherhood’s interests,” asserted Sallam.

On 29 June, one day before Morsi was sworn in before the HCC, he gave a speech to the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in Tahrir Square who had gathered to protest the constitutional addendum. In his speech, Morsi confirmed his intention to “reject any efforts to reduce the power of the people,” a statement interpreted by revolutionaries as a rejection of the SCAF document.

Several political groups that had joined the Brotherhood in the square to reject the addendum – including the April 6 Youth Movement (Democratic Front) and the Revolutionary Socialists (RS) – withdrew after Morsi took the oath the next day before the HCC.

“We were expecting Morsi to settle the issue. He was either to work on delegitimising the addendum and get into conflict with the military council or retreat,” stated April 6’s Tarek El-Khouly in a televised interview. “It’s no use now staying in the square after Morsi swore the oath at the HCC.”

The young revolutionaries weren’t the only ones who were unpleased with the Brotherhood’s compromises. Yasser Borhami, leading member of the ultra-conservative Salafist Calling, told independent daily Al-Shorouk that his movement would continue to insist on making Islamic legal principles the main source of legislation in the new constitution – a stand that the Brotherhood, which enjoys a majority in Egypt’s Constituent Assembly (tasked with drafting a new constitution), had earlier promised.

Borhami explained that leaving Sharia (Islamic jurisprudence) as the “main source” of legislation in Egypt – rather than the “principles of Sharia” – was not enough. He said that the Brotherhood had promised this constitutional change, a stand the group appears to have retreated from as well.

“Whether or not the Brotherhood will seek stronger language in the constitution – reinforcing the notion that Islamic values and principles guide legislation – remains to be seen,” said Sallam. He went on to explain that such changes to the constitution would represent an important victory, at least symbolically, for the Islamist political forces that had rallied around the Brotherhood.

Meanwhile, the Brotherhood-led Constituent Assembly remains under threat of dissolution by the SCAF. A court case challenging the constitutionality of the parliament-chosen assembly has been postponed to 10 July. If ruled unconstitutional, the Constituent Assembly could be dissolved and a new one drawn up by the military, according to the controversial constitutional addendum.

The addendum further grants the SCAF the authority to veto any constitutional principle deemed not in keeping with the “principles of the January 25 Revolution” or with earlier constitutions. What’s more, if for any reason the assembly’s work is “hindered,” the SCAF reserves the right to dissolve it and establish a new one.

Several other controversial cases have been postponed by the HCC to 26 June, including appeals against both the dissolution of the People Assembly (the lower house of Egypt’s parliament) and the constitutional addendum.

“It’s not out of the question that parliament is reinstated, at least in part, but it’s unlikely, because – according to the constitutional addendum – the SCAF derives much of its power from the assumption of legislative powers, which provides some balance between the presidency and the SCAF,” said Sallam. “The SCAF will not reinstate parliament unless it has some assurance that the authority of the legislature is greatly reduced vis-a-vis the military.”

Morsi asserted during his inaugural speech at Cairo University that “elected bodies would soon return and the Armed Forces would return to their barracks.”

His campaign manager, however, quickly stressed to the media that the new president had only meant that new parliamentary elections would take place if the court did not call for the reinstatement of the People’s Assembly. His statements strongly suggested that the Brotherhood was not likely to clash with the SCAF over parliament.

On the other hand, he added, the Brotherhood would continue to try to ensure its effective control over government institutions, while the SCAF would seek to ensure some form of control over key cabinet appointments – particularly those of “sovereign” ministries, such as the defence, interior, foreign affairs, finance and justice portfolios.

Formation of the incoming government and the looming court rulings are expected to reveal much about the deal that the two main players – the Brotherhood and the SCAF – will finally reach. Some observers, however, do not rule out future confrontations in the event the two sides fail to reach a mutually-acceptable agreement.

[Developed in partnership with Ahram Online.]

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