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SCAF Power Grab Highlights Transitional Difficulties in Egypt

Protesters demonstrate at Tahrir Square in Cairo. Photo credit: Reuters, Asmaa Waguih.

One political earthquake after another is rumbling through Egypt. Things here seem to change on a daily basis, sometimes even on an hourly basis, as has been the case in the recent week. In fact as of late, Cairo feels a bit like the Twilight Zone, particularly in light of conflicting reports about whether or not Hosni Mubarak is dead or alive. Yet despite the oddity of it all , one thing has become clear. The SCAF has recently attempted a major power grab, effectively stalling Egypt’s so-called transitional process and leaving Egyptians with something that looks a lot like a military dictatorship for the time being.

As such, it is highly unlikely that the SCAF will hand over power to a civilian-led government by the end of the month. One of the big looming questions pertains to what the next phase of Egypt’s revolution will look like. The current view from Tahrir Square after five straight days of renewed protests indicates that protests are regaining momentum. However, the efforts are being led by the Muslim Brotherhood this time around. Egyptians opposed to a Muslim Brotherhood dominated government, and there are many, might actually prefer to see the military in charge for now.

Indeed, the changes in the last few weeks will certainly challenge the Muslim Brotherhood’s political power, and perhaps were meant to. In one short week, Egypt’s justice ministry granted the military police and intelligence officers the power to arrest civilians, restoring some aspects of the hated emergency law. The next day, the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) ruled that the electoral law was unconstitutional. This ruling addressed the law that governed how the Parliament was elected. Two-thirds of the seats were initially designated for political parties while the remaining third were to be reserved for independents.

However, the Muslim Brotherhood pressured the military to open those seats for political parties prior to the parliamentary election, presumably to ensure a maximum amount of political power for its own party. This is part of the reason why the Muslim Brotherhood won so many seats in the Parliamentary elections. Although the SCC ruling pertained only to one-third of the parliament, the SCAF seized the moment by ordering the entire parliament to be dissolved just hours later.

This move has set the stage for a certain conflict between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood, who after decades of political repression under Mubarak, are not likely to easily relinquish their newfound political power. In light of this, another looming question is whether or not the power struggle between the SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood will turn violent. The potential for the struggle to take this turn certainly exists.

The SCC also recently ruled against the Political Isolation Law. The law was initiated by the recently elected and Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Parliament to prevent anyone who served in a top position under Mubarak from running for public office for the next 10 years. If upheld, the law would have disqualified Mubarak-era foreign minister and military strongman Ahmed Shafiq from running for office. However, the court’s ruling instead legitimized Shafiq’s bid for the Egyptian presidency. The presidential elections, as we know, have gone ahead as scheduled with no new constitution in place. As of now, no official winner has been announced, although Morsy claimed an early victory the day after the polls closed, while the Shafiq campaign responded with allegations of voter fraud by the Muslim Brotherhood. A recent piece by Ahram Online says that the Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission will soon announce a Shafiq victory. If this is the case, tensions between the Muslim Brotherhood and the SCAF could escalate further.

Perhaps the most brazen display of the SCAF’s power grab came on the second day of the presidential election just before the polls closed. As early vote counts pointed toward a Morsy victory, the SCAF made some amendments to the Constitutional Declaration that would limit the powers of the new president as well as further strengthen and entrench its own executive and legislative powers for the time being.

The Constitutional Declaration was initially drafted in March of last year, and was vague in terms of defining the powers and responsibilities of the new president. The SCAF amendments will prevent the new president from appointing cabinet ministers, acting independently in shaping foreign policy, dealing with national security matters, and declaring war. Moreover, the SCAF will have complete control over the budget and the army, and will retain all legislative powers in light of the dissolved parliament. The SCAF will also have the ability to appoint a new Constituent Assembly, which will be tasked with writing the new constitution.

The SCAF power grab has caught many Egyptians off guard. Numerous people I’ve spoken to say they did not see it coming. However, many Egyptians also seem to be growing weary of the instability and the heavy toll the revolution has taken on Egypt’s economy. There seems to be a thirst by many for a sense of stability and a return to normalcy.  Yet, there is certainly no consensus about the best way forward and who should lead it. What is clear, however, is that the revolution has entered a new phase.

On June 22 as I entered Tahrir Square, I was thoroughly searched by Islamists guarding the square, and I soon found myself lost amid tens of thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters and Salafis. These are not the original revolutionaries, and this is not the usual cast of characters in Tahrir Square. The recent protests are demanding that the SCAF nullify the amendments to the Constitutional Declaration and hand over power to a civilian-led government immediately. They are also demanding that the SCAF reinstate the dissolved parliament. Those opposed to a Muslim Brotherhood dominated government, however, might not be so thrilled about reinstating the parliament. They might also not be so thrilled to have the Muslim Brotherhood taking over Tahrir. Whatever the case may be, there is no turning back for Egypt. The big question now is what will happen next.

 

Author

Britain Eakin
Britain Eakin

Britain Eakin received her BA in Peace and Conflict Education from the University of Hawaii Manoa. She is a dual MA student in Journalism and Middle Eastern and North African Studies at the University of Arizona, and a Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellow. During spring semester of 2012, Britain worked with Arizona Public Media as a radio intern, and produced stories about the Arab Spring, the Iranian nuclear issue, and Islam. Britain studied Arabic in Fes, Morocco in 2011 as part of the Critical Languages Scholarship Program. In 2009, she wrote for Palestinian NGO Miftah in the West Bank, and in 2008 she studied Middle East Studies at Galilee International Management Institute in Nahalal, Israel. She is currently based in Cairo, Egypt.

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