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Musa A Keilani: Power struggle continues
July 18, 2012
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) of Egypt and the country’s most powerful political movement, the Freedom and Justice Party of the Muslim Brotherhood, seem to be set for a continued struggle for power. Neither side wants an open conflict and seems to be testing each other’s waters as they seek to consolidate their influence.

This was evident last week when the country’s new president, Mohammed Mursi of the Brotherhood, recalled the legislature, which was disbanded by the military junta last month, and Parliament Speaker Saad Katatni, who is also a Muslim Brother, summoned the assembly to meet on Tuesday.

The ruling generals, who took power when long-time strongman Hosni Mubarak was forced to resign in February last year, countered the move.

The Supreme Constitutional Court, which is made up of Mubarak-era judges, froze Mursi’s presidential decree reinstating the Islamist-led parliament, hours after the People’s Assembly   convened for five minutes.

The court ruling clearly said that all the decisions it has taken since the revolt have to be implemented. That was definitely a political move aimed at serving the interests of the military.

In the latest round of the struggle with the military, Mursi has also decreed that fresh parliamentary elections will be held within 60 days of the ratification of a new constitution. But that decree has also been annulled in view of the court ruling.

On the one hand, the president’s decision could be seen as raising the stakes in the power struggle between the Islamists, who are seeking to consolidate their newly found political domination, and the ruling generals who want to keep their privileged status as a state within a state without government oversight.

On the other hand, it could also be seen as a pre-determined move and part of what could be a secret agreement between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military establishment.

At any rate, the two sides seem to have worked out a modus vivendi. The Brotherhood needs the military to maintain law and order as the group advances its agenda against opposition by seculars, and liberals. The ruling generals, who include seven Brotherhood sympathisers, would not mind having the Brotherhood in power as long as the group does not challenge the military’s supremacy and special status.

Under the first scenario, Mursi could be seen as seeking to exert his authority as president and directly challenge the military council, which is in control of the country’s security forces and has retained the bulk of the Mubarak regime, including the judiciary and state media. But that need not be the case. Posing a direct challenge to the military will not serve the Brotherhood’s political interests and hence the group has opted for a step-by-step approach as it feels the way ahead.

The military is also watching closely, moving swiftly to close any new door that the Brotherhood attempts to open. The game will continue for some time with new twists and turns but with little effective changes on the ground.

Caught in the middle are the country’s pro-democracy activists, seculars and liberals.

The only way out for them is through a “third front.” In late June, an announcement was made of the birth of such a front that included around 16 liberal and national political parties, representatives of 10 political movements and a number of public figures, including followers of former presidential candidates Amr Musa, Hamdeen Sabahi and Khaled Ali.

Al Ahram reported that the main aim of the “third front” is to pre-empt the creation of either an Islamist or a military state in Egypt.

According to Al Ahram, the group has pledged that “all forces and figures in the third current will go on working for the continuation of the revolution’s aims and the building of a modern democratic state based on the principles of equality and the rule of law.”

Members of the third current who signed the statement pledged that they would play the role of an objective and democratic opposition that defended rights and freedoms and maintained Egypt’s identity as a civil state, Al Ahram said.

The “third front” would also follow up the process of drafting a new constitution, and it would stand firmly against attempts to lend Egypt a religious character.

Clearly the group represents those who have seen their hopes of real change in Egypt being shattered. The military government is nothing but a continuation of the toppled Mubarak regime. The Brotherhood nurtures an Islamist agenda even as it declares otherwise. The group has shown that it is well versed in manipulating the game of domestic politics, and many Egyptians see it as seeking to monopolise power at the expense of the revolutionaries who led the movement that brought down the Mubarak regime.

Given the facts on the ground in Egypt today, the “third front” represents the hopes of those young Egyptians who braved bullets at Cairo’s Tahrir Square last year for a democratic country led by a government that is committed to find a solution to their economic problems.

Realisation of that hope is not easy. Both the military and the Brotherhood will fight them and it is not unimaginable that the generals and Brotherhood leaders might even work out an implicit deal to thwart the emergence of a new political force in the country.

The “third front,” which includes many differing political ideologies, faces the challenge of staying together and imposing itself as an influential force on the political scene. If its leaders fail to make compromises, then hopes are lost for a real Egyptian revolution.

The author, a former Jordanian ambassador, is the
chief editor of  Al Urdun weekly in Amman

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