A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Furor Over Army Proposals Leads to Partial Backdown in Egypt

UPDATE: Here's a link to a summary of the original document and its revisions.

Outrage over constitutional proposals which would seem to have guaranteed virtual Armed Forces dominance of any new Egyptian government has led to at least a partial backdown on the part of the interim government and, presumably, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

There have been many calls for a declaration of "supra-constitutional principles" which would guant4ee certain key principles in any new Constitution; many of the advocates have in mind something along the lines of the US Bill of Rights, guaranteeing the rights of minorities, the nature of the civil state, etc. The Army seems to see protecting its own prerogatives as the first order of  business.

Deputy Prime Minister for Political Affairs Ali El-Selmy laid out a set of proposed articles that would have given the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) overall responsibiliry for overseeing the actions of Parliament, would have given it a major role in choosing the members who will draft a new Constitution, and most controversially, would  have guaranteed the secrecy of the military budget and deprived Parliament of any power to debate it.

These proposals led to walkouts by some parties and a broad rejection by parties ranging from the Muslim Brotherhood's new party to liberal democrats, and calls for Selmy's resignation.

Now, Selmy has announced that he will "amend" some of the proposals, to give the National Defense Council a role in the defense budget and otherwise to avoid some of the excessive claims of military prerogative implied in the original proposals.

Though the rollback may be sufficient to please some, the controversy erupted in the midst of the growing concerns about the Army's role in the Maspero killings, a growing crackdown on the independent media, the arrest of blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah, and a growing concern that Egypt is looking more like a country under military rule than a country in revolution. The role of SCAF will obviously be an issue in the election campaign, though some feel the (SCAF-designed) electoral system is deliberately designed to produce a weak Parliament.

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