To many Egyptians who voted in the first round of the presidential elections, their actions mean an eventual transfer of power from Egypt’s interim military rulers to an elected civil body. However, the political role that the military and its Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) will have after the elections still remains unclear.
The constituent assembly, charged with drafting Egypt's new constitution, is in crisis. Days after the formation of the assembly, a mass walkout led to the complete dismantling of the constitution-drafting body.
Members from liberal and leftist parties, prominent independent figures and representatives of professional and trade unions, as well as representatives of the Coptic Orthodox Church and Egypt's main Islamic authority, Al-Azhar, all pulled out, citing disproportionate representation. The future roles of Egypt's president, parliament and military were all left unstated.
"It is delusional to think that the presidential elections mean an end to military rule," human rights lawyer Amir Salem told Ahram Online.
According to Salem, the military has always had a presence in all echelons of the government, even before the SCAF took power in February 2011. For example, explains Salem, governors are usually military personnel, especially those appointed in the coastal areas of Egypt.
After Mubarak's ouster, argues Salem, the military assumed further control of the state institutions through which public opinion is shaped and laws issued, further enabling it to consolidate its position.
The armed forces, he explains, inherited from the collapsed State Security apparatus all state-controlled media venues, as well as the General Authority for Investment, the only body that can issue licenses to private satellite channels.
"If the chosen president is not to the SCAF's liking, it can easily use these institutions to taint his reputation and turn public opinion against him," stated Salem.
As the country's sole legislative authority, the SCAF also issued the March 2011 constitutional declaration. The declaration included Article 28, which made the Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission (SPEC) the only body mandated with supervising the presidential elections, the decisions of which cannot be appealed.
"The SPEC can declare any results it wants and no one can appeal its conclusions," remarked Salem.
To political analyst Hesham Sallam, co-editor of online magazine Jadaliyya, the SCAF has a very clear vision as to what the coming political system will look like, outlined previously in the controversial Selmi document.
The so-called 'Selmi document' was a set of 'supra-constitutional' principles submitted by then-deputy prime minister Ali El-Selmi in November 2011 to several political parties and groups for approval. The document was condemned by most political powers, however, and prompted angry demonstrations in Cairo's Tahrir Square.
"As one of the drafts [of the Selmi document] indicated, the SCAF wants zero power for civilian political institutions. The military seeks something similar to the Turkish model, where the armed forces are unaccountable and military bureaucracies are able to interfere whenever their interests are threatened," explained Sallam.
Sallam believes that recent events have proven that the SCAF is able to reverse the political roadmap if it wishes, as there has been no legal integrity by which the transitional period has been managed thus far.
"For example, in March, we voted for certain constitutional amendments to be given a constitutional declaration imposed from above by the SCAF," he said. "We voted for parliamentary representatives, only to be surprised later that they in fact have no authority.”
There may be some genuine political competition in the coming presidential race, Sallam noted, stressing his belief that the elections would not necessarily be rigged since they are taking place within a system dictated by the SCAF.
"It's an exciting game of monopoly where the money and stakes are unreal," he said.
While the next president may be unknown prior to elections, the type of presidency can be expected already, Sallam argues. In other words, whoever the president will be, he will have to abide by the SCAF's rules in all decisions.
Sallam outlined several tools the SCAF can use to influence whoever is elected president. The SCAF, he explained, is the only body with the authority to dissolve parliament if it wishes based on a judicial court order deeming parliamentary elections unconstitutional. Although at a cost, the SCAF may resort to such a ruling if its interests are threatened by the new president.
The SCAF further has the ability to issue an addendum to the constitutional declaration, assigning any powers it chooses to the coming president – and to itself. Depending on who the new president will be, the SCAF may decide which presidential powers to assign him, argues Sallam.
In fact, the SCAF recently warned that, unless parliament forms a constituent assembly on time, an 'interim constitution' will be issued, as an annex to last year's constitutional declaration.
Reports suggest that this interim constitutional declaration will provide the military with sweeping powers, stressing the role of Egypt's military in safeguarding national security, maintaining national unity and protecting the constitution and the revolution's legitimacy.
It will grant the SCAF absolute powers to discuss and review the military's internal affairs, including its budget, armaments and military law. Parliament's defence and national security committee, meanwhile, will have the ability to discuss the budget, but only in secret closed-door meetings. The president will be authorised to declare war, but only with the approval of the SCAF and the People's Assembly.
Despite all this, political analyst and editor-in-chief of Al-Ahram’s El-Taqreer El-Strategy Hassan Abu-Taleb, has brushed off claims that the military seeks to maintain its political power after the new president takes over. Abu-Taleb insists that the privileges the SCAF seeks to protect in the new constitution will only be aimed at serving national security.
"The position of the army in the new constitution will be the same as that in the 1971 [pre-revolution] constitution," asserted Abu-Taleb.
"The military should be able to defend the country against foreign aggression and thus should not be susceptible to internal party conflicts," he explained. "The armed forces will not have any exceptional authorities, but, like any sovereign security institution, it will be immune to any internal political influences, changes or tensions."
According to Abu-Taleb, the armed forces will be the only body to declare war and peace, while the military budget will be completely independent and will only be discussed in secret so that national security can be maintained.
Having an independent budget, explains Abu-Taleb, will also serve to ease the burden on civilians, as the military can then fund its own needs through its production lines while providing the market with the surplus.
"This does not make it a 'state within a state' – such claims only aim to tarnish the army's image," said Abu-Taleb.
While analysts differ on the extent to which the military seeks to maintain a political role in the new Egypt, the reality will only become clear once a new national charter is drafted.