Egypt's new president and the military: Who's in command?

Gamal Essam El-Din , Sunday 17 Jun 2012

The dissolution of the Islamist-dominated People’s Assembly has opened the door for Egypt’s ruling military to have the upper hand in shaping Egypt's extended "transition" - even after the election of the president

Tantawi and Anan
File photo: Egypt's military ruler field marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, left, and Sami Anan Egyptian chief of staff of the armed forces, are surrounded by military policemen and cameramen (Photo: AP)

An emergency meeting of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) is expected very soon to issue an appendix to last year’s Constitutional Declaration, with the objective of establishing political arrangements for the coming period.

Informed sources said SCAF leaders have held a series of intensive meetings with groups of constitutional law professors in recent days to tackle two urgent issues: detailing the powers and duties of the new president; and forming a new Constituent Assembly tasked with writing the country’s new constitution.

Concerning the first issue, legal experts agree that the existing Constitutional Declaration, issued 30 March 2011, fell short of any detailed chapters on the powers and responsibilities of the country’s first freely and democratically elected president.

“When the declaration was issued last year, everyone thought that this would be temporary, for just a short period of time and until a new constitution is written,” said Sameh Ashour, chairman of the Lawyers' Syndicate and SCAF’s Advisory Council.

As a result, Ashour added, the declaration included just one article — Article 56 — that gives the head of SCAF absolute powers, such as appointing governments and cabinet ministers, issuing laws, ratifying international agreements, and declaring a state of emergency.

“As these are not enough and as the new president is about to be elected without having a constitution in place, it has become pressing to issue an appendix,” said Ashour, adding that, “This appendix is expected to deal with issues such as whether the newly-elected president would be empowered to dissolve parliament, appoint governments, issue legislation, and so on.”

At the same time, Ashour added, the appendix would also establish how the relationship between the president, on the one side, and the legislative and judicial authorities, on the other, would be regulated.

Several legal experts believe that the appendix is not expected to give the president a free hand in the coming period and until a new constitution is written. This may be especially true if the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi is elected.

According to political analyst Wahid Abdel-Meguid, the new president will not have a free hand in strategic matters of national security, war and foreign policy and will not be even allowed to appoint cabinet ministers for the interior, foreign, defence, justice, finance, and information ministries. “He will be forced to consult with the defence minister (SCAF head Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi) and SCAF’s leadership on strategic matters to ensure that he will not use powers to serve his political interests or the interests of his own party,” said Abdel-Meguid.

Agreeing with Abdel-Meguid, the chairman of the leftist Tagammu Party Refaat El-Said believes that “If Morsi is elected, he could use powers to serve the Muslim Brotherhood, helping it penetrate the army and police forces.” “We all see how the Muslim Brotherhood exploited its majority in the recently dissolved parliament to dominate the interior ministry and impose its hand on the police forces,” said the veteran anti-Islamist politician.

On the contrary, many believe that if Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister of ousted President Hosni Mubarak, is elected a president, there would not be any tension between him and SCAF. “Shafiq is a former army officer and has strong ties with SCAF, and in this respect an appendix could give him great powers to impose stability and restore order,” said El-Said.

Muslim Brotherhood leaders allege that the People’s Assembly was dissolved to serve the interests of SCAF and help Shafiq gain absolute powers without facing supervision by parliament.

Morsi said this was clear after the minister of justice gave the military police and intelligence officers sweeping arrest powers last week. “This was intended to militarise the state apparatus again and bring back emergency law in a different form,” said Morsi.   

Military rulers to appoint constitution drafters

The constitutional appendix is also expected to state that the new president will be sworn in before the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) instead of the People’s Assembly, which was dissolved.

Another major objective of the appendix is set the parameters for the formation of the 100-member Constituent Assembly tasked with writing the country’s new constitution.

Sameh Ashour indicated that Article 60 of the existing Constitutional Declaration could be amended to give SCAF — instead of the People’s Assembly — the power of forming this assembly.

“We all saw how the Muslim Brotherhood exploited its majority in parliament twice to ensure that this assembly includes a majority of Islamist figures,” argued El-Said, adding that “As long as the People’s Assembly was dissolved, and as a lot of appeals were filed against the Constituent Assembly — which was formed 12 June — the necessity has become pressing that a new balanced assembly be formed to be tasked with writing the constitution.”

Some press reports said the appendix would give SCAF the right of composing the Constituent Assembly, with constitutional law professors forming the majority.

On top of these prominent constitutional law professors are Ahmed Kamal Abul-Magd, Yehia El-Gammal and Ibrahim Darwish. Respected economists and former finance ministers Hazem El-Biblawi and Samir Radwan are also expected to join the assembly.

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