CAIRO - Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood says its activists, along with other Egyptians, are taking to the streets to protest a series of recent rulings by the country’s Supreme Constitutional Court and subsequent decrees by the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).
After emerging from years of political banishment Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood had finally managed to not only freely compete in recent parliamentary election, but secured for itself an impressive 47 percent of seats. Then, it was handed another defeat when Egypt’s Supreme Court last week dissolved the legislature on a procedural issue.
Subsequently, as the vote count in last weekend’s presidential runoff was beginning to point to a victory by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, the SCAF issued a constitutional declaration granting itself legislative powers, control of the economy and the right to form the commission which will be tasked with drafting the country’s next constitution. The charter will largely define how powerful – or powerless – Egypt’s next president will be.
By many accounts, the Brotherhood worked an effective strategy to bring about its official debut in the Egyptian political landscape. To garner broad support, it looked beyond its traditional base of lower-income Egyptians and even took its campaign online with a social media outreach which included the English language twitter feed @Ikhwanweb
. The effort has been viewed as part of the Brotherhood’s “charm offensive” that included meet-and-greet trips to the United States and appearances on American television.
But within less than a week’s time many of the Brotherhood’s gains seem to have been lost. In addition, a Cairo administrative court is said to be considering whether the Muslim Brotherhood should be deemed illegal altogether.
Coup within a legal framework
“This was more or less a coup within a legal frame work,” says Dr. Omar Ashour, lecturer of Arab and Islamic Studies at Exeter University and a specialist in Islamic movements.
Egypt's Interim Constitution Declaration
Published by ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces on June 17
Amends the council's Constitutional Declaration of March 2011
Requires next president to take oath of office before the Supreme Constitutional Court because parliament is dissolved
Gives Supreme Council of the Armed Forces authority over all affairs of the military
Makes council chairman, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, armed forces commander, defense minister
Gives military leaders power to appoint panel to draft new constitution
Postpones new parliamentary elections until new constitution is approved
Grants military leaders powers to initiate legislation until new parliament elected
Ashour also says the recent moves by the SCAF have essentially pushed the Brotherhood from an agenda of limiting military power to fighting for their own existence. “When they sit at the table, their demands will be survival, rather than putting the military back in the box.”
Hamdy Mohamed Ismail, a member of the Brotherhood’s Supreme Committee in Ismailia, says the group will exert all types of political pressure and will pursue legal avenues as well as talks with SCAF.
“We intend to file court cases and try to foster dialogue with [the] SCAF in order to resolve this situation,” says Ismail.
For many Egyptians, protesting has become the modus operandi for the pursuit of demands and political change. Ismail points out that while the recent rulings and decrees are a blow to the Brotherhood’s newfound power, they affect all Egyptians.
“It's not just our problem, its Egypt's problem, we intend to gather all the political forces and pressure [the] SCAF through peaceful protests,” says Ismail.
'Seeking change one more time
But seeking change yet one more time in Egypt might not be easy. Observers believe this would require the mobilization of a coalition of Brotherhood activists and liberal protesters. However, while both camps are united in their opposition to the SCAF, they differ on both a way forward and on the concept of what a new Egypt should look like.
Karim Radwan, a Supreme Committee member for the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo, says his organization’s activists are taking to the streets with other groups to protests the recent actions by the SCAF, but stresses that they will give the military the chance to retreat.
“We made a list of demands and are taking part today in the million-man march to protest the dissolving of parliament and the issuing of the constitutional declaration,” says Radwan. “We decided to give [the] SCAF a chance to withdraw these decisions.”
Some criticize the Brotherhood for giving the SCAF too many chances, and not taking to the streets often enough over the last 16 months of the SCAF rule. But Radwan says it was not necessarily the wrong approach.
“I wouldn't say it was a tactical error, but we chose to give [the] SCAF a chance and were proven wrong,” says Radwan.
Radwan also believes the effect of what is widely being called the SCAF’s power grab will be short-lived, and that people power will eventually triumph.
“It will affect us in the short term,” says he. “But what [the] SCAF does not realize is that the people will not stay silent and we derive our power from the people and the situation will change.”