Egypt’s ruling military junta (SCAF) will meet with representatives of various political powers and parties on Sunday to discuss final arrangements for a proposed ‘advisory council’ mandated with advising SCAF until presidential elections can be held next year. SCAF head Field-Marshal Hussein Tantawi is expected to issue a decree formally establishing the council later the same day.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) announced on Thursday that it had withdrawn its representatives – FJP Chairman Mohamed Morsi and FJP Secretary-General Mohamed Yassin – from the council. A party spokesman declined to provide reasons for the abrupt decision.
The party’s move came several hours after SCAF’s Major General Mukhtar Mulla told journalists the ruling junta would have the final say on the constitution.
Mulla hinted that the advisory council would coordinate with the incoming parliament in order to make the provisional assembly, which will draft the constitutional, more representative and limit the impact of Islamist success at the polls.
In an interview with foreign media, Mulla said the upcoming parliament would not be truly representative:
"In the future, parliament may have the ability to do whatever it likes. However, at the moment, given the unstable situation, parliament is not representative of all the Egyptian people...This is not out of mistrust of the parliament. What we are seeing is free and fair elections ... but they certainly don't represent all sectors of society."
For Mulla, those appointed to write a fresh constitution would need to be approved by the interim cabinet and a newly-created advisory council comprised of intellectuals, civilian politicians and media personalities, both of which would be under SCAF’s control.
The proposed 35-member advisory council would supposedly include representatives of all post-revolutionary political powers and parties, including representatives of Egypt’s revolutionary youth, according to unnamed SCAF sources. The council’s chairman, undersecretary and secretaries, meanwhile, would all be elected by council members.
Official sources stress the council would not be chaired by a would-be presidential candidate so as to not appear like a presidential council. The same sources insisted the council would enjoy real powers “allowing it to advise SCAF on important issues before major decisions are taken.”
The same sources also said SCAF was thinking about turning the proposed council into a ‘council for national defence’, to also include representatives of Egypt’s armed forces, and would continue to function even after the election of a new president.
The advisory council idea was first tabled by SCAF following last month’s Tahrir Square clashes, with the aim of avoiding future violent escalations between it and the public and to assist Egypt’s ongoing democratic transition.
Among the proposed council’s responsibilities would be to advise SCAF on proposed legislation and to play a role – along with the incoming parliament – in the formation of a constitutional assembly mandated with drawing up a new constitution.
Names floated for inclusion in the council are potential presidential contenders Amr Moussa and Mohamed Salim El-Awa; former prime minister Abdel Aziz Hegazy; former minsters Mansour Hassan and Ahmed Kamal Abu El-Maged; Wasat Party Chairman Abu Ela Mady; Nour Party Chairman Emad Abdel Ghafour; Coptic billionaire Naguib Sawiris; and Actors’ Syndicate Chairman Ashraf Abdel Ghafour; along with a number of other political and academic personalities.
Several political figures, however, have criticised the idea, describing the proposed council as little more than a “facelift” for Egypt’s ruling junta.
"The proposed council will have no real authority whatsoever,” said Ahmed Maher, founder of the April 6 Youth Movement. “SCAF only resorted to the idea in order to absorb public anger and sidestep the people’s demand that it immediately hand over power to a presidential council or a civilian interim government.”
On 25 November, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians converged on Cairo’s Tahrir Square to demand the speedy transfer of executive power from SCAF to a civilian authority. The protest followed days of violent clashes between security forces and stone-throwing activists that left at least 40 of the latter dead and more than a thousand seriously injured.
According to Khaled Tellima of the Revolutionary Youth Coalition (RYC), the proposed council’s lack of authority is not the initiative’s only problem.
“SCAF wants to convince the public that young revolutionaries will be included on the council, but this isn’t true," Tellima told Ahram Online. “We don't know who these young revolutionaries are [who would be appointed to the council] or who they represent.”
Tellima went on to say that the RYC had not been approached by SCAF for inclusion on the council, adding that “even if it had, it would not have agreed to be part of it...Any politician or activist who agrees to sit on this council is only cheating the people and degrading himself."
Notably, a number of major political figures and groups have already declined invitations to join the proposed council.