Egypt's Military Rulers Face New Criticism Over Constitutional Proposal

   on November 04 2011 10:44 AM

Egypt's military rulers have provoked renewed criticisms that they are trying to perpetuate their power with a proposal that would give them broad powers to shape the country's forthcoming constitution.

The proposal requires the adoption of the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces to be binding. It would allow the military to unilaterally determine its own budget, influence in the appointment of representatives who will write the constitution and effectively call for a rewrite of a proposed constitution. It also designates the armed forces as a guardian of constitutional legitimacy, a vague phrase that some have interpreted as a sanctioning the military exercising final say over the political process.

Islamists are expected to score significant gains in upcoming parliamentary elections, and the proposal is designed in part to dilute their role in shaping the constitution. Under the proposal 80 of the 100 people tasked with composing the document would be drawn from outside of the legislative body, prompting a spokesperson for the Muslim Brotherhood, the most prominent Islamic party, to tell the Associated Press that the proposal contravenes the people's will.

All political groups are upset with this but the Muslim Brotherhood is livid, because they understood their role as faithful servants to a process that may not have been fair but they've essentially done what the Supreme Council of Armed Forces wanted them to do, and so they see as a way they're having their power checked, said Joshua Stacher, an expert on Middle Eastern Politics at Kent State University. He said that the proposal was effectively an attempt to sharpen divisions between the Islamists and secularists, a tactic of dividing the opposition that he called Mubarak 101.

Assembly Formation

The constitutional assembly would draw a set amount of members from different segments of society, including from trade unions, courts and universities; 30 to 40 of those slots would likely go to people who were appointed or strongly influenced by the military, according to Ellis Golberg, a professor of political science and Egypt expert at the University of Washington.

I think it basically an end-run around the parliament and an attempt to give the military not absolute power but decisive weight both in the makeup of this assembly and in it coming to some sort of outcome that's desirable for the armed force, said Goldberg.

The proposal would essentially allow the military to dissolve the constitutional assembly and create a new one if it does not reach a consensus swiftly enough. The military would also be able to reject a constitution produced by the assembly and call on the country's high court to rule on the document's legitimacy, a scenario under which the court would likely side with the military because it would have no working constitution on which to base a ruling, Goldberg said.

I think what they're basically telling the Muslim Brotherhood is if you write a constitution the liberals don't like, then we're going to send it to the constitutional court and they're going to tell you what's wrong with it, Goldberg said.

The Supreme Council of Armed forces would also have sole authority to determine the military budget and would have no need to obligation to disclose how much it was spending, a measure that drew angry denunciations and some walkouts at a meeting between political party leaders and the military rulers. In addition, the Supreme Counciol of Armed Forces would have to approve any decision to go to war.

It essentially builds SCAF into the political process as a sort of fourth pillar and one that is utterly and completely unaccountable to the people, Stacher said. You have your judicial branch, your legislative, your executive branch and SCAF.

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