A Deal with the Devil


The Battle for the Constitution Continues

The army finally reveals their terms to accept a civilian government and free elections: a sovereign military institution and a veto right over the President and Parliament. If we don’t accept their terms, the alternative will be a military President and an extended transition period.

After successfully depressing the revolution and its supporters and fragmenting the different political powers, the next phase in the transition has just started: defining the parameters of the next regime. The leak of parts of the Selmi declaration, the parameters of the new arrangements are clear: a secular state, with a domesticated civilian rule and a sovereign military that has a veto power over President and Parliament.

The declaration also practically removes the task of appointing the constitutional committee from the Parliament (which is likely to be dominated by Islamists), and distributes it among different constituencies. This maybe a reaction to polls showing that the chances of Islamists winning a majority of the Parliament seats, and an attempts to create a more plural constitution. It is also an admission that the whole “elections first” idea was a big mistake (at least for the army, as well as liberal groups).

The biggest losers in this arrangement are the Islamists (Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis). For a moment, they had the feeling that they succeeded in creating a process that will get them straight to control the country. They struck a deal with the military to get rid of the “constitution first” option, and with a quick elections, they are the most organized party and are ready for a landslide election. Whether this is true or not, they believed it, and were getting ready to celebrate. This declaration puts a veto power from the military on top of their power, and maintains the military as an independent and sovereign institution, beyond the reach of the elected Parliament or President. The army clearly wants the Turkish model of the last century.

Liberals and leaders are split between the pragmatists and idealists. Pragmatists are accepting the declaration as it provides them with most of what they want, albeit under a military umbrella.Idealists are rejecting it because it builds the new Egypt on authoritarian principles, even though they are likely to benefit from it! However, they are weak today and can not oppose the Islamists, and the army is maintaining the secular state that they desire. For these reasons, it is unlikely that liberals will resist for too long, and either way, it won’t matter.

The question is how deep will the rift between the military and Islamists go? Would they have a real confrontation, or will the Islamists yield and accept the military’s will? Only the next days will show. Either way, I would not expect the military to budge. And if the Islamist’s resistance grows beyond a manageable level, the answer will be Plan B: a military President after an extended transition period.

Amin Elmasry. 3 November 2011.

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