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10 Battles that will shape the future of Egypt

Ahead of June's election, these battles will determine if Egypt will be an Islamic state.

Women walk beside Muslim Brotherhood poster
Photo by: REUTERS
The future of Egypt, which will affect the future of the entire region, will be determined by several political battles which have already begun. .

Below are 10 political battles that are likely to shape Egypt’s future:

1. Sharia law

The first battle relates to the second item of the Egyptian constitution, or sharia law. The use of sharia law as part of the Egyptian constitution has been a topic of debate for several decades.

Following the 1952 revolution, the constitution added sharia law as “a source (among other sources) of legislation.” Soon after, former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat altered the text to be “The principles of sharia law are the main source of legislation”. Sadat’s decision is believed to have been a gesture of appeasement towards the country’s Islamists and to counter accusations that the government was “Kafer” (Infidelesque).

There is now a new battle over the language used in the Sadat’s amendment. While the Muslim Brotherhood seems to be content with the word “principles" (mabadii), the Salafi groups insist on replacing it with the word “laws” (ahkam). For instance, theft is currently a sharia “principle” and punishment for such an act is  implemented in several ways, including imprisonment. Changing the terminology from “mabadii” to “akham” would mean that amputation of the thief’s hand – in accordance with sharia - would be deemed as law. Should the Salafi groups win this battle, Egypt could well be on its way to becoming another Iran, or Afghanistan.
 
2. The right to appeal election results
 
The second battle in Egypt concerns the right to appeal the election results of the incoming president (item 28 of the current constitution). This clause prevents any person or group from appealing the ruling of the supreme constitutional committee which reviews election results. This means that if all Egyptians elect ‘X’ and the committee decides that the winning candidate is ‘Y’, no one has the right to object the results or demand an appeal from the court. Islamists and liberals alike are extermely anxious about this clause since it will not allow them to reject the results of the presidential elections in June if they are triumphed by the military. Only a national referendum will be able to change this clause.
 
3. Selecting 100 people to draft the new Egyptian constitution
 
According to the referendum held after the January 25 revolution, the parliament is supposed to select 100 people to draft a new constitution. Since the Islamists control over 70 percent of the parliament seats, this battle has become a major concern. The Islamists will certainly discriminate against liberals, Christians, women or anyone else who opposes their views.

Several intellectuals are currently raising the issue that the vernacular used in the referendum gives the parliament the right to “elect” the 100 from a pool of people, rather than the right to “appoint” the 100 people directly. This means that the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) or any other legal institution can suggest a selection of people for the parliament to choose from. Should the SCAF suggests a pool of secular people to choose from, it would end the Islamists’ dream of creating a new constitution according to their desires.
 
4. Special privileges for the military
 
This battle relates to the special privileges the military seeks in the new constitution. These include the army’s immunity from civilian auditing and SCAF personnel’s immunity from punishment of past acts . Other privileges include keeping the military’s finances out of parliamentary control. This particular battle will be a fierce one, since the military will fight hard to maintain its power and money. The Islamists fear is that these special privileges could mean that the military can turn against the parliament at any given time.
 
5. Control over Al-Azhar
 
The fifth battle is between the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Ahmed Al-Taiib, who is seen by many as a moderate Islamic scholar, and the Islamists – in particular, the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi groups. The SCAF, which currently has presidential power, issued a ruling that Sheik Ahmed Al-Taiib can remain in his position as the highest religious authority of the country until the age of 80. But the Islamists who dominate the parliament threatened to review all the decisions that have been issued by the SCAF, and especially this one, because they are seeking to end his control over Al-Azhar.

The Islamists want to see a more radical leader emerge who will agree with their suppressive agenda for the country.. In an effort to show their strength, the Muslim Brotherhood leaders recently invited Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh to address a crowd of thousands in Al-Azhar mosque.
 
6. Unemployment rates

The sixth battle is to prevent a sharp rise in unemployment after March. Following the tourist industry’s collapse in the wake of the revolution, major hotels and tour companies paid their employees’  salaries for an additional year, i.e. until March 2012, with the expectation that the industry would recover. . In light of this, there is a high chance that come next month, hundreds of thousands of jobs in the tourism sector will be terminated.  The sudden rise in unemployment will no doubt result in more social unrest and increase the crime rate of crimes, causing a further decline in tourism and dragging the country to even greater economic turmoil.
 
7. The constitutionality of the recently elected parliament
 
The seventh battle is between the SCAF and the Islamists concerning the constitutionality of the recently elected parliament. The supreme court of appeals considered the parliamentary elections to be unconstitutional and that the matter should  be determined  by the supreme constitutional court. This card will be played by the SCAF in the case that the Muslim Brotherhood denies the SCAF extra privileges in the new constitution and to delegitimize the Islamist led parliament.
 
8. Changing the current government
 
The eighth battle, also between the SCAF and Muslim Brotherhood, concerns the appointment of the government. Currently, the government is appointed by the SCAF. The Muslim Brotherhood has been trying to get rid of the relatively secular SCAF-appointed government in order to make way for an Islamist-dominated government. The Muslim Brotherhood is looking to gain as much power as possible prior to the upcoming presidential elections in order to weaken the chance that the military will veto an Islamist candidate.  Despite their mutual mistrust, it is quite likely that both the SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood will lend their support to Mansour Hasan, the head of the SCAF’s advisory council who is not a strong opponent to the Islamists.  

9.  Mubarak’s sentence
 
 The ninth battle is likely to unfold in early June when the judge announces the sentence for deposed president Hosni Mubarak. This decision, irrespective of what it will be, is likely to fuel several clashes. If the judge indicts Mubarak as guilty of killing the demonstrators and consequently sentences him with capital punishment, Mubarak’s supporters are likely to cause a firestorm. If, on the other hand, he is acquitted,  Mubarak’s condemners may accuse the military of being biased and may spark massive demonstrations against it.
 
10.  Preventing further disintegration of the foreign reserves
 
The tenth battle, an economic one, revolves around the country’s foreign reserves. Following the revolution, a collapse in both the tourism industry and foreign investment funds led to a disintegration of the country’s foreign reserves, so that currently the government is only able to fund a few months’ worth of imports.  If this problem is not resolved, the country will plummet into crisis-mode which will include a massive food shortage.

To conclude, until the presidential elections are held in June, careful monitoring of these variables in the next few months is fundamental to Egypt’s future. The outcomes may result in the creation of a radical Islamic state or contrarily, they may contribute to creating a stable society.

The writer is an Islamic thinker and reformer, and a one-time Islamic extremist from Egypt. He was a member of the terrorist organization JI with Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, who later became the second-in-command of al-Qaida. He is currently a senior fellow and chairman of the study of Islamic radicalism at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies. www.tawfikhamid.com


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