Egypt’s Military Council and the Muslim Brotherhood: A Political Honeymoon or Catholic Marriage

It has been more than a year now since egyptians forced long-standing president Hosni Mubarak to step down from power. Egypt’s first freely elected parliament in over 60 years however, is being faced with disillusionment by revolutionary activists in tandem with a power struggle against the country’s ruling military council, who are not prepared to risk losing their historical privileges before transferring power to civilian rule.

The primary task of the new parliament is forming a 100-member constituent assembly that will be responsible for drafting Egypt’s new constitution within six months, a process that has been the source of deep controversy for the past few months.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), who dominate the majority of seats in Egypt’s lower house (the People’s Assembly) and the mainly advisory upper house (Shura Council) is determined to have the largest share in forming the committee. The Islamist dominated parliament decided recently that half the panel would be lawmakers and the other 50 public figures – the majority of these figures also known to be Islamist leaning.

Secular politicians and constitutional experts have been complaining of an Islamist attempt to monopolize the constitutional writing process, leading an Egyptian court this month to suspend the panel, pending a rule on its legality.

Meanwhile, as political parties and civil societies continue to engage in heated debates on the legality and representation in the assembly, suspicions have reemerged of a possible powersharing deal outside of parliament between the influential Muslim Brotherhood and the military rulers.

The New York Times reported last January on signs of a possible “behind the scenes” deal between Egypt’s two powerful players – the military council and the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood -adding that both sides have “apparently settled on the broad outlines of Egypt’s next charter”.

Recent evidence of a possible agreement, has reversed expectations voiced earlier by analysts of a possible clash between the brotherhood and military council, after a honeymoon period between the two key political forces.

Ibrahim Awad, a professor of public policy at the American University of Cairo, said in an interview last November that one cannot be sure of such a deal, whether it was explicit or possibly implicit. “But for sure both powers share certain objectives. This correlation has prompted the Brotherhood to staunchly defend the military back in the spring,” said Awad.

“It was an issue of timing,” he said. “Last March, the (ruling) military council imposed a referendum about amendments to the 1971 Constitution without prior consultations. This served their purposes who seemed to want a quick reestablishment of a system not greatly changed compared to the one that existed before January 25.”

At that time, many viewed the referendum –which the Muslim Brotherhood strongly campaigned for- as disadvantaging new political parties created after the revolution that needed more time to organize and campaign for popular support.

“Towards the end of the summer, the military seemed to extract themselves from their alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood. They were not comfortable with the idea of the Brotherhoods growing political weight,” said AUC Professor Awad.

Significantly, the Brotherhood had recently made strong statements against the military council for supporting its appointed cabinet and even attempted to sack the cabinet by passing a no-confidence vote in parliament. The move angered Egypt’s military rulers, who warned the group to learn from history lessons, alluding to the group´s clash and subsequent ban and repression under populist leader Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Despite harsh statements from both forces, today most analysts are suggesting that a crisis remains unlikely since the Brotherhood and military council are fully aware of their stakes in forming a new Egypt.

For its part, the Brotherhood is interested in having strong parliament where its political party would have control of domestic issues and can avoid losing popular support when it comes to sensitive foreign affairs issues – in particular Egypt’s relationship with Israel. The group is apparently discussing with the military a compromise of limiting the number of elected officials that can oversee the defense budget, the New York Times quoted one general close to the military council as saying. There are many issues as such, that continue to threaten a genuine democratic transition in Egypt -the delicate question concerning the extent of power the military will maintain when rule is transferred to a civilian authority. And second, whether the previous regime is being replaced by another corrupt political order – only this time by Islamists who are portraying themselves as moderates to gain international approval and are in the midst of forming a power-sharing arrangement with the Egypt’s military rulers.

Egyptians therefore, are not only being denied a direct vote in deciding who will write the country’s new constitution – which will govern Egypt for years – but the drafting and ratifying the constitution will take place while the military still rules the country.

Initially, the military council was supposed to rule for six months or until elections. Now, it is promising to transfer power to a civilian administration by June after presidential elections are held and the constitution is written -a timetable in which the Muslim Brotherhood supports.

As for Egypt’s ruling junta, while it may not be interested in continuing its direct rule of the country, it is eager to preserve political and economic privileges from the former regime and even more, be granted immunity from prosecution in the new constitution.

The New York Times had also quoted a member of the Brotherhood who spoke on condition of anonymity, as saying that his group was “studying certain immunity used in other political transitions to help induce military rulers to exit.”

Opposition activists meanwhile, blame the military for the death of around 90 protesters since it took power in February 2011 and want to see members from the military brought to justice and an immediate end to military rule.

“The revolution has not been realized in Egypt until we transition to a civil state, said one antimilitary protester Sayed Saeed, 23 in central Cairo’s epicenter Tahrir (Freedom) Square. “The reason we faced injustice for 60 years is because the military was always ruling,” he added.

On January 25, tens of thousands of protesters in gathered in Tahrir Square to commemorate Egypt’s one-year anniversary of the revolution. Protesters shouted “Down with the Field Marshal,” referring to the chief of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi.

Interestingly, the influential Muslim Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party, have stopped short in participating in anti-military demonstrations, feeding even greater suspicions of a backdoor deal that’s effects will may be longterm.

As for critics such as Ahmad Ali, he believes the Muslim Brotherhood will not have real power in governing the country. “W