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Egypt Brotherhood and SCAF at odds once again as election nears

Tensions are rising between the ruling military and the country's most organised political force, but what's at the heart of the dispute?

Sarah El-Rashidi, Friday 13 Apr 2012
Mohamed Badie
Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie, center, is escorted by Egyptian soldiers inside a polling station in Beni Suef. (Photo: AP)
Views: 2597
Views: 2597
Rising tensions between Egypt's ruling military and the Muslim Brotherhood have shed doubts on the validity of a deal many political commentators believe the two powers once made to secure their interests.
"Are you ready to demonstrate and return to Tahrir if SCAF [the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces] takes over the political powers of the state?" the Brotherhood asked in a recent poll conducted by the group’s Facebook page.  
Political commentators believe the poll may have been an attempt by the Islamist group, Egypt's most organised political force, to warn SCAF of its unparalleled ability to mobilise large-scale protests.
Not long after, on Friday 13 April, the Brotherhood and the Salafist Front, a coalition of more hardline Islamists, held a mass demonstration in Cairo's Tahrir Square to oppose the participation of figures from Hosni Mubarak's toppled regime in upcoming presidential elections.
The previous day, a law passed in Egypt's parliament prohibited anyone who held select senior roles in the Mubarak regime over the last decade from attaining high-level political positions for the next five years. If enforced, this law would prevent former vice president Omar Suleiman and former prime minister Ahmed Shafik from running in May's presidential election. 
As the law does not cover former ministers, the presidential bid of Mubarak's one-time foreign affairs chief Amr Moussa would be unaffected.
Enforcement of this law needs the approval of the ruling military, something analysts say is unlikely given the growing divide between the Brotherhood and SCAF. A minister in the army-appointed interim cabinet further illustrated its unlikelihood by describing the new law as "a deviation" directed at a few individuals. 
The other major dispute between the Brotherhood and SCAF concerns the drafting of Egypt's constitution prior to next month's elections. A fierce debate between the two factions is raging regarding the respective power of religion and the army in a future Egypt.
Historically the Brotherhood rejects the idea of a division between religion and the state.  The group's founder Hassan El-Banna stated that "Islam is a religion and state", a view also shared by Sayed Qutb, a leading member of the Brotherhood in the 1950s and '60s.
Some political analysts, such as Tamir Moustafa, believe SCAF's main preoccupation is the preservation of its interests in the country's new constitution.
Such interests include the maintenance of at least some political and economic authority, as well as legal immunity for any alleged misconduct committed before or after the start of Egypt's January 2011 uprising.
Moustafa points to the ruling military's previous attempt to impose guidelines for the drafting of the constitution, what he calls "the infamous 'Selmi document'", before it bowed to popular pressure and withdrew them.
The writing of the constitution was tasked to a council of legal experts; rather it was assigned to a constituent committee of 100 members appointed by the Egypt's new parliament. 
Half of its members have been appointed from within the ranks of MPs, the other half are from numerous fields. Despite the committee's inclusion of two figures associated with SCAF, Mustafa Bakry and Major Shaheen, the fact that Islamists made up more than half the body has seemingly angered the ruling military.
While SCAF expresses concerns about the Islamist make-up of the group, the Brotherhood has hit back by criticising the performance of Kamal El-Ganzouri's interim government and making allegations about the military's supposed unwillingness to surrender power.
"Although the Ganzouri government had its chance unfortunately it has failed even more disastrously, more spectacularly than previous governments," the Brotherhood said at one point.
In another statement, the Brotherhood accused SCAF as using the current cabinet as a plot to obstruct the revolution and perhaps even rig the upcoming presidential elections. 
"Is clinging to failures a strategy to abort the revolution? Or is the objective to defraud or influence the forthcoming presidential election?" the group asked.
Speaking to Ahram Online, Khaled El-Qazzaz, foreign relations coordinator for the Muslim Brotherhood, explained the rationale behind such statements.
"Tensions exist -- we do not want anything to delay the complete transition to democracy. Yet we see indicators exhibited by SCAF that can delay this process," he said.
In a reflection of this distrust, the Brotherhood in early April announced it was fielding its top strategist and deputy leader, Khairat El-Shater as a presidential candidate. However El-Shater's elegibility is under legal dispute due to his criminal convictions under the former regime.
The Brotherhood had previously pledged not to put forward a presidential candidate but now claims it was forced to do so in response to the military’s refusal to dismiss Ganzouri’s interim government and appoint a new one incorporating the elected parliament.
"The transfer of power to a civilian elected government was meant to take six months but there has been an unfortunate and intentional procrastination on SCAF’s part," declared Yehiya Hamed, a foreign relations representative for the Brotherhood and its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).
The delay in the transfer of power has weaked the FJP's position and led to questions over its credibility, Hamed claims. Such problems led the party to hold a vote to decide whether to field a presidential candidate; more than 50 percent voted in the affirmative.
"We decided to withdraw our trust from SCAF and its failed government and replace it with a government matching the people’s demands," explained Dina Zakaria, co-founder of the Brotherhood's Committee for Foreign Relations.
SCAF launched an immediate counter-attack, rejecting claims that it seeks to remain in power as "groundless". Asserting its intention to hand over the reins in July following the election of a president, the council insisted on its prerogative to appoint governments in the meantime.
"Attempts to question SCAF’s intentions regarding the integrity of the coming presidential elections and the popular referendum on the constitution are mere baseless slander," the military council said in a statement.
SCAF went on to cite recent parliamentary elections, which they called transparent, as proof of its committment to democracy.
But the council's statement also carried the hint of a threat in its reference to past clashes between the Brotherhood and the military which resulted in the prolonged repression of the Islamists.
Reference was made to an infamous struggle in 1954 between the Brotherhood and the Free Officers, led by Gamal Abdel Nasser following the coup against King Farouk two years before. 
With the Brotherhood attempting to assume political influence, Nasser banned the group and sanctioned the arrest of many of its members.
According to SCAF, its harsh response was uncharacteristic. In the past, the army chose not "to comment on these lies, out of its belief that the great
Egyptian military's status is above verbal jousting with a faction or group."
The generals who have been in power since 11 February 2011 are evidently not willing to relinquish authority, at least before its self-declared deadline.
"Some falsely believe that they can pressure SCAF with the intention of making them abandon their national mission to rule the country during the transitional period," the council has previously said.
Now seemingly locked into a struggle with the Islamists, SCAF's position seems similarly unyielding.
According to political analysts Elizabeth Iskander and Mina Monir, the council has yet to play all its cards.
For now the main card held by SCAF is a court decision, announced on 21 February 2012, which declared the parliamentary elections invalid. 
If this order was officially acted upon, the Brotherhood would immediately lose its political clout, making it a powerful tool for the SCAF should the Islamists further infuriate them.
Yet Iskander and Monir believe this is not a move SCAF is likely to make. In contrast to the 1952 coup which was staged by a small military elite, they say, the 2011 uprising was lead by the Egyptian people themselves and crowds would likely return to the streets to demand a democratic transition.
"Egyptians are ready to stage their revolution again," the Brotherhood recently warned. True to form, the ruling military hit back.
"The Egyptian population knows well who protected its dignity and pride, and who always put the people's best interests before anything else," SCAF said in a statement.
As the debate between the two factions continues some analysts are questioning the very validity of the perceived struggle. 
Makeen F Makeen claims that, contrary to public perception, the Egyptian army was never an entirely secular institution. 
The Brotherhood and other Islamist groups are thought to have successfully infiltrated the military in the past. In 1981, Islamist army officers under the guidance of Khaled Islambouli assassinated President Anwar Sadat.
Makeen believes the apparent struggle between the two fronts is a stunt designed to dupe the public.
"During the 18 days of the Egyptian revolution the vast majority of people, at least publicly, called for transparency. Was their call not loud enough for all to hear?" he asks.
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