A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, March 26, 2012

Egypt's Constituent Assembly: Islamists' Predominance Stirs Protests; Growing Quarrels Between MB and SCAF

Egypt has now announced the 100 members of the Constituent Assembly which will draw up the new Constitution. A mix of members of the People's Assembly, the Shura Council, and non-Parliamentarians of prominence, they will write the new Constitution.

Provoking comment and alarm is the fact that, depending on how you define an Islamist and how you count, somewhere between half and by one estimate up to 65 of the 100 may be defined as Islamists, with he Muslim Brotherhood predominating. That suggests that the Brotherhood and its allies, and the more extreme Salafi al-Nour Party, will be able to shape the new constitution on their own image.

Will they draft a constitution that entrenches their power and makes it difficult to ever reduce their strength? The Brotherhood has talked a good line so far, but secularists are alarmed. Many might be willing to let them govern for a term so long as, if they fail, it is possible to vote them out of office. But Egyptians are too familiar with constitutions deliberately written to maintain a ruling party in power forever, as they've had one for the past half century.

Not surprisingly, there are already protest movements urging a "Constitution for All Egypt." The Brotherthood has repeatedly said that it wants that too, but now that it dominates the constituent assembly, its opponents are not confident it means it.

The Brotherhood is also testing its strength in other ways. Though it backed off an initial effort to force the replacement of the existing Cabinet, it is increasingly critical of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). It recently questioned the fairness of the upcoming Presidential elections, leading Field Marshal Tantawi to strike back by criticizing the Brotherhood. This growing SCAF/Brotherhood feud has long been predicted; the initial "honeymoon" between the Army and the Islamists was always likely to break down when the Islamists found the Army was not prepared to hand over power completely to them.

Adding to this is growing talk that the Brotherhood, which has insisted since the early days of the revolution that it will not run a candidate in the Presidential election, is talking about choosing one, raising questions about other assurances it has made.

The credibility of the new Constitution may be riding on how non-Islamists perceive it: if it emerges as an obvious attempt to entrench Islamist power, tensions may rise rapidly.

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