A fragile compromise

Samer Soliman , Friday 7 Oct 2011

A statement of agreement with the military council signed by leaders of Egypt's political parties is intended to end the military-civilian conflict, but this is far from likely

After weeks of wrangling between the political parties and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), Lieutenant General Sami Anan met with leaders of the principal political parties on Saturday. The idea was to reach a compromise between the two sides, and the outcome was a statement the signing of which by the politicians has prompted angry responses both inside the relevant parties and out, among political activists in particular. Reactions included a rejection of the deal which offers little and accusations that the parties have betrayed the revolution and sold out to SCAF.

But what is the content of this deal?

The statement is made up of eight points, as well as an introduction and conclusion. The greatest concession by political parties comes at the end, in the words: “The party heads who signed this statement declare their absolute support of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF].” This – note the word “absolute” – in the light of the selfsame leaders having accused SCAF of lack of transparency, monopolising power and mismanagement of the country during the interim period.

The second concession is the promise “to cooperate with all honour and good faith in achieving security and resistance to any action that undermines it.” An enigmatic point, since the language is too obscure to make it clear what security measures will comprise.

And what did SCAF give up in return?

SCAF made some important compromises. First, amending Article 5 of the elections law which banned party members from contesting one third of parliamentary seats, leaving them to independent candidates. This is a landmark achievement for political parties since the ban had in effect reserved the seats for conservative elements who share common interests with the state, and are close to SCAF. It primarily serves the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood affiliate, the Freedom and Justice Party.

SCAF also decided on April, 2012 as the deadline for convening the upper and lower houses of parliament to choose members of the constituent assembly that will draw up a new constitution.

Thirdly, agreeing to immediately accept presidential nominations – expected at the end of 2012 – as soon as the constitution is approved by the people in a referendum. Naturally, these deadlines mean that the interim phase will continue until the beginning of 2013, some two years after the ousting of Mubarak’s regime. This of course far exceeds the six-month period declared by SCAF when it came to power in February. Yet having SCAF declare its commitment to deadlines is a feat in itself since in recent months SCAF had ignored all demands to announce exact dates for the interim phase and handing over power to elected civilians.

Parties that signed the statement committed themselves to drafting a charter of principles to regulate the constitution and criteria for choosing the constituent assembly. This is a significant achievement for “civil”, for which read secular, parties and a huge concession on the part of Freedom and Justice and the Salafi Al-Nour Party. The refusal of Islamist parties to sign such a document was a issue of concern for many political forces, minorities and women’s groups. Now, one of the main principles of the constitution will be a text stating the “civil” nature of the state, namely that it is based on the principle of equality among citizens irrespective of their religion and gender.

The statement also holds SCAF responsible for issuing legislation stiffening the penalties for electral violations such as buying votes and the deployment of thugs at the polls, which is something political forces had demanded for many years.

But this is as far as the parties gains will go; there are other demands on which the statement does not take a clear position. An article approving local and foreign monitors during the elections is mentioned in a sentence at the end that states that this would occur “according to a decision by the election’s supreme judicial committee.” Another article pertaining to suspending the Emergency Law will be reviewed, while the one on politically isolating members of the dissolved National Democratic Party will also be looked into. Another proposal stating that civilians should not be referred to military tribunals unless it is according to military law is meaningless, since military law already allows the prosecution of civilians in military tribunals for “maligning the military institution”.

The joint agreement between the parties and SCAF was not signed by any military representative which is very revealing of the Council’s view of itself as a party that is not on a par with the political parties it is negotiating with.

This deal is an important step on the path of negotiations between SCAF and civic political forces to hand over power to civilians. It may not be final since there is strong opposition to it within the parties themselves, and this will jeopardise the entire pact if party leaders are unable to garner enough support for it. The statement is opaque in several issues which it promises to “look into”; and this in itself is sufficient to indicate that wrangling between SCAF and political forces will continue.

The writer is associate professor of Political Economy at American University of Cairo

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