Civilian president, military power: what does SCAF want?

Ahmed Eleiba , Thursday 21 Jun 2012

The constitutional annex issued by Egypt's ruling military council raises questions about the role of the next president and the army in post-transition arrangements

Tahrir Square
Protesters chant slogans against the military council at Tahrir Square in Cairo (Photo: Reuters)

The ruling military council’s recent addendum to the March 2011 Constitutional Declaration sparked uproar across Egypt’s political spectrum, not just from the Brotherhood who is claiming presidential victory for their candidate Mohamed Morsi. Many claim that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), successfully curbed the presidential authorities, but is it true?

In the press conference held Tuesday, SCAF member Major General Mamdouh Shahin strove to assure the public that the president still enjoys full powers. However some of his remarks appeared to contradict the text of the “complementary declaration,” as the military called its recent addition to the country’s political landscape.

Sobhi Saleh, a Brotherhood figure who was one of those who authored the main body of the Constitutional Declaration, lashed out at what he saw as an attempt by the SCAF to appropriate power:

“The addendum is neither a declaration nor constitutional but an undisguised attempt by the military to grab power.”

Saleh, who criticised every amended clause without exception, said that the SCAF is not only undermining the presidency but skewing the country’s political process. The Brotherhood, he said, is consulting with other political groups to formulate an appropriate response.

Military analyst Saftat El-Zayyat concurred with Saleh’s assessment, saying that the addendum robs the president of all power. Shahin’s claim that the president has extensive powers is simply untrue.

“We cannot have a modern civilian state if the military keeps acting as it does. In a civilian state the civilians rule over the military, not the other way around,” El-Zayaat explained. “The addendum will have the president seeking permission before making a decision."

“Across the world, the president has the power to declare war and decide on matters of national security but these powers have now been curtailed in Egypt’s case,” he remarked.

According to El-Zayyat, the SCAF has gone back on its earlier promises that the army will not keep more powers than those mentioned in the 1971 constitution, as the powers now exceed the now-defunct constitution. Accordingly, a power struggle between the SCAF and civilian politicians is inevitable.

The elected president is in a stronger position than the SCAF, because he has more legitimacy, El-Zayyat added.

The 1971 constitution grants the president 35 specific powers, constituting nearly 63 per cent of all governmental powers. The same constitution grants the parliament 14 powers, or 25 per cent of the government’s powers. Now that the SCAF is assuming the role of the parliament and carving off part of the president’s powers, it is in an unprecedented position of political dominance.

The SCAF has stripped the president of most of his powers and has also deprived the him of the power to call parliamentary elections.

Brotherhood officials see the recent SCAF move as a coup, saying that the SCAF is clearly refusing to hand over power to civilians, despite earlier pledges to do so by the end of June.

The SCAF, Brotherhood officials maintain, is acting in a manner that may trigger another revolution.

Political analyst Salah Eissa disagrees with this assessment, saying that the addendum is short-term and that within three months, a new parliament will be in place. The powers of the president, Eissa argues, are adequate for running the civilian administration.

Speaking off the record, a source close to the SCAF said the addendum was not directed at curbing the powers of the Brotherhood specifically, but was going to pass regardless of who won the presidency.

The source admitted, however, that the SCAF was shielding the army from presidential powers in fear that the Brotherhood would try to manipulate the army in unpredictable ways.

This situation, he said, is new to the country and will not last for long. Eventually, a new constitution will come into place and will define the relation between government branches in a more orderly fashion.

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