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Egypt's January 25 Revolution haunted by 'military coup,' warn analysts

Egypt's ruling military council has disbanded parliament, and issued a Constitutional Declaration that maximises its powers at the expense of the soon-to-be elected president, moves some analysts are labeling a 'coup'

Ekram Ibrahim , Monday 18 Jun 2012
Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi (4th L), the head of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), and chief of staff of the Egyptian armed forces Sami Anan sit with assistants (Photo: Reuters)

Sixteen months ago, after former president Hosni Mubarak handed over power to the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), the military council promised Egyptians the transitional period would lead to democracy, granting the people an elected parliament, an elected president, a popularly-written constitution and above all, rule of law.

Today, almost none of the above has been delivered.

On Sunday night, the SCAF issued an addendum to the interim Constitutional Declaration of 30 March,2011, strengthening the powers of the military and minimising the powers of the elected president, who will be announced on 21 June.

Two days before the addendum was issued, the leader of the SCAF disbanded parliament after the High Constitutional Court deemed a third of its seats unconstitutionally elected.

Egyptians who should be celebrating their first-ever elected president are keeping their hopes grounded. Analysts see the SCAF tightening its grip on power as a coup against the January 25 Revolution.

"These [constitution amendments] are the continuation of a series of moves, taken by the SCAF on its way to a military coup, using both the law and judicial bodies," Khaled Fahmy, chair of the history department in the American University in Cairo (AUC) told Ahram Online.

The amended constitutional declaration, announced two hours after the doors of polling stations closed, gives the SCAF considerable authority. The generals now have the power to issue a law giving themselves legal immunity.

"This is an excessive use of power and an unprecedented action in the course of Egypt's modern history," Fahmy told Ahram Online.

The expansion of military council powers gives the SCAF the authorihty to make laws and decide who writes the new constitution. The SCAF will act as the parliament until the new parliament is formed.  The SCAF will also approve an austerity-driven state budget for the second consecutive year.

The military junta also gave itself the right to select the constitution-drafting Constituent Assembly, a right first given to the elected People's Assembly members.

Moreover, the SCAF reserved for itself the right to interfere with the writing of the constitution. If the SCAF and the Constituent Assembly fail to agree, the High Constitutional Court (HCC) will have the final say. But how could the HCC rule between the two parties, if it has no constitution to rule on? Such law is absent from all other constitutions around the world. "This is a form of abuse of power," Fahmy explained.

Analysing the amended Constitutional Declaration, analysts suggest that Article 53/2 and Article 56B are the most controversial elements.

Article 53/2 states that if the country experiences internal unrest which requires the intervention of the armed forces, the president can issue a decision to commission the armed forces – with the approval of the SCAF - to maintain security and defend public properties. The powers of the armed forces in this capacity will be governed by laws which have yet to be issued, and under this legal scheme, will in fact by issued by the SCAF.

Article 56/B states that the SCAF will assume the legislative authorities set out in sub-article 1 of Article 56, as written in the March 2011 Constitutional Declaration, until a new parliament is elected. 

Accordingly, there is no law stipulating the powers of the armed forces; the SCAF is to issue this law itself as it will act as the legislative body until a new parliament is elected.

"The SCAF will issue the law that will organise its actions," Fahmy told Ahram Online.  Moreover, Article 53/2 may be read in light of the decree issued by Egypt’s justice ministry last week authorising military officers to arrest civilians, a right previously reserved for police officers alone, Fahmy explains.

With unofficial reports saying that the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, Mohamed Morsi, has won the election and will become Egypt's president, all eyes are on the Muslim Brotherhood's reaction to the recent amendments. Some are worried there might be violence. Thousands of citizens got used to taking to the street for protesting, something that raises the threat of a confrontation between the protesters and the army "where the army opens fire on civilians."

"This is the most dangerous phase in the modern history of Egypt," Fahmy said.

However, political analyst Mohamed El-Agati does not foresee any violence; he expects the Muslim Brotherhood to negotiate with the military council to gain as much as possible with the fewest losses.

"The Brotherhood will use their classical practices and avoid clashes," El-Agati, head of the Arab Form for Alternatives Research Centre told Ahram Online.

Describing the scene as a military coup is not a recent innovation, and didn’t only stem from the announcement of the amended Constitution Declaration. In fact, Israeli news website Haaretz described the military taking power in February 2011 as a "quiet military coup," referring to the military sources' statement that if Mubarak had not stepped down voluntarily, they would have forced him to do so.

In addition, some political analysts described the Constitutional Declaration issued in March 2011 as a method for the SCAF to legalise its authority. More recently, the recent Ministry of Justice decree authorising the arrest of civilians by military officers was also described by some as another alarming coup d'état.

In response to the HCC court ruling dissolving the entire parliament, Hussein Ibrahim of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party (FJP), stressed on Sunday that: “The People’s Assembly has not been dissolved, and the invitation for our Tuesday meeting is still on."

Also, the FJP have stressed in several statements that the SCAF has no authority to dissolve the parliament, which represents the will of the people. Parliamentary speaker and FJP MP Saad El-Katatni called upon the SCAF to maintain the democratic accomplishments of the revolution, out of respect for the popular will.

The upper house of Egypt's parliament, the Shura Council, was not affected by the recent judgement dissolving the People's Assembly (the lower house) although its legal fate is not certain. In that light, head of the Council and FJP member Ahmed Fahmy has invited the members of the now-defunct Constituent Assembly to meet at the Council on Monday evening.

The amended Constitutional Declaration leaves Egypt's first president after the January 25 Revolution with incomplete authorities. He will have no authority over the military council, the military institution, no power to form the Constituent Assembly, no power to go to war without the approval of the SCAF and no power to issue any laws until a new parliament is formed.

 "The president is only granted the right to select the prime minister," Fahmy told Ahram Online.

The only way for Egyptians to stop the application of the amended Constitutional Declaration is through taking to the streets and protesting, El-Agati explains to Ahram Online. Yet, he thinks that it is advisable that revolutionary forces avoid being caught in the battle between the SCAF and the Brotherhood, taking the third road of working at grassroots level and creating a strong civil movement that will shape the new Egypt.

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