The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces moves to keep power despite election outcome.
The first round of elections in Egypt will happen on November 28, but the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is sending a clear message that it has no intention of giving up power. The military regime wants to decide the future of the country and is clamping down on its opponents, both Islamist and non-Islamist.
The military council has revealed that it wants to have veto power over the draft constitution that the interim government will write. The council says that the constitutional committee chosen by parliament should only have 20 parliamentarians with the military choosing the other 80. The committee is fired if it fails to come up with an acceptable draft constitution within 6 months. It also wants the military budget to remain secret and without oversight. The political parties are furious but according to the Associated Press, “The proposal only requires adoption by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to make it binding.” In other words, their opinions don’t matter.
The council previously said it would not allow “extremist factions” or “another Khomeini” to come to power. It is making good on its pledge ahead of the November 28 elections. Middle East expert Dr. Barry Rubin, in the wake of the Islamists’ strong performance in Tunisia’s elections, now predicts they will get nearly 50 percent of the vote. The latest poll has the Muslim Brotherhood with 39% of the country’s support, but the non-Islamists do not have a common front and will split the vote, handing victories to the Islamists in districts they otherwise could not win. Furthermore, Islamist turnout is very strong as they believe they are religiously obligated to participate.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces blocked al-Gamaa al-Islamiyya from forming a political party and banned the use of religious slogans in campaigns, spurring the ire of the Muslim Brotherhood, which had to change its slogan from “Islam is the solution” to “We bring good for Egypt.”
The military council is undermining the secularists, as well as the Islamists. It just ruled that Ayman Nour, a secularist who previously competed against President Mubarak, cannot run for president because of his prior convictions. In 2005, the Mubarak regime had him arrested and convicted on trumpeted-up corruption charges. He was accused of forging the signatures he required to form his political party. He was eventually released under U.S. pressure. State television is meanwhile promoting a positive image of the chairman of the SCAF, Mohamed Hussein Tantawi.
From the beginning, the council sent signals that it didn’t intend to go away for the sake of democracy. Since the spring, there have been intermittent protests against the military’s clampdown, sometimes drawing tens of thousands. It has kept the Mubarak-era emergency powers in place and has prosecuted over 12,000 people in military tribunals. Those arrested including bloggers who criticize the military, activists putting up posters about rallies and journalists breaking embarrassing stories about the council. Three journalists were released after they agreed not to publish anymore reports about the military without its clearance. There is now outrage over the arrest of Alaa Abdel-Fattah, a prominent blogger, for allegedly inciting violence.
On foreign policy, the military council is not nearly as bad for the West as the Muslim Brotherhood would be, but it isn’t as friendly as Mubarak was either. It has opened the border crossing with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and is reaching out to Iran. The military has also declined to protest the Coptic Christian minority and has even taken part in the persecution.
Tantawi has reacted to the people’s negative reaction to the military council’s power grabs by saying the measures are only short-term. He claims that “the armed forces have no interest in staying in power for a long time” but it “will not leave Egypt until we have fulfilled all we promised and do our duty towards the people.”
The military council has promised that it will not have a candidate run in the presidential race. Tantawi says it is sticking by that pledge and he will not run. Mysteriously, posters promoting Tantawi as a presidential candidate are appearing up in public places. Declared presidential candidates are demanding that the election take place as early as April, while the military council is scheduling it for late 2012 or early 2013.
The Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists will perform well in the elections for the lower house of parliament on November 28 and may even take a majority. But their victory will mean almost nothing if it doesn’t result in real legislative power. And if the military council has its way, that’s exactly what will happen. For Egypt, the Arab Spring has brought just more of the same.
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