A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, October 3, 2011

Did SCAF Put One Over on Egypt's Parties on Saturday?

A broad range of Egypt's political parties, from liberal to Islamist, protst4ed the changes int thee country's electoral law announced last week.  On Saturday, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) met with heads of 13 of Egypt's politicvl parties (including the Muslim Brotherhood's Party). None of the youth or revolutionary groups were present: just th4e parties, since SCAF was concerned at several parties' (including the MB) threats to boycott if the law were not changed. The poor turnout in Tahrir on Friday may have persuaded the SCAF that the youth groups are losing their clout, but a boycott by the political parties would undercut the credibility of elections.

The result was an agreed statement of eight points. SCAF agreed to some changes: changing article five of the elections law so that the one-third of the seats elected directly can be conteste4d by the parties; agreering to "consider" an early suspension of the Emergency Law and a possinble ban on old ruling party figures from running; and to end military trials of civilians "unless covered by military law."

Some early reports were rather positive. Then more people read the agreement. (Arabic text and English summary here.) Zeinobia's take here. The conditional nature of some of the concessions and the clarified but still lengthy transition that could push election of a President into 2013 began to seem less generous than at first glance. By Sunday, criticism was rampant. One signatory tweeted that he was suspending his signature; another found its adherence denounced by its own Presidential candidate.

Suspicion of SCAF's intentions are high. Field Marshal Tantawi is now making more public appearances, 
not to mention the continuing buzz about tht business suit.. And now Presidential contender Amre Moussa is calling for SCAF to step aside by mid-2012.

Marc Lynch, who's just back from Egypt, has some balanced and well-stated thoughts about all this. I suspect that, as he notes,there are positive and negative elements in the agreement. But most of all, the controversy in the aftermath makes it look as if the parties led themselves be played by SCAF. That may be unfair (SCAF has generally seeemd rather bumbling,not Machiavellian, up to now), but clearly the final electoral system is not so final after all.

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