Army and Brotherhood – the last great battle?
Khairat el Shater, Omar Suleiman seek presidency, conflict between Brotherhood, SCAF turns into open warfare.
Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces Photo: Reuters
With Khairat el Shater and Omar Suleiman vying for the presidency, the long
simmering conflict between the Brotherhood and the SCAF has turned into open
Ever since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster conventional wisdom had it
that there was some form of understanding between the army and the Brothers. The
generals, accepting the fact that the Brotherhood was the main political force
that would rule Egypt in the coming years, were keen to make a deal.
army would keep its special status and its immunity under the new regime – and
in return would support the Brotherhood and let them draw up the new
Only thus, explained political pundits, could
the army retain its economic empire and escape having to answer for what it had
done during the Mubarak years. Many things appeared to confirm this theory.
Drafting the transition constitution was left to a committee consisting largely
of Islamists; when it was submitted to a referendum, the Brothers campaigned so
vigorously in its favor that 77 percent approved of it, thus giving the army an
important propaganda victory. The timetable for elections set down in that
constitution was thought to favor the Brothers, and they refrained from taking
part in many of the subsequent mass demonstrations in Tahrir
However, all that is in the past. Suddenly the Brothers have 47%
of the seats in the new parliament, and together with the Salafists can muster
nearly three quarters. Now they are flexing their muscles.
They want the
Ganzouri government to resign; they threaten to pass a no-confidence motion.
They have the votes for it.
The parliament has already blamed the
government for the sorry economic situation.
A communiqué issued by the
Brothers accuses the SCAF-appointed government of attempting, at its bidding, to
tamper with the results of the referendum on the constitution and of the
presidential election. These are very serious allegations which the army angrily
refuted with a communiqué of its own.
Hadn’t it made it possible to hold
the free and fair elections that gave the Brotherhood its majority in the
parliament? There was no cause to doubt the fairness and honesty of the army and
the SCAF and to question the loyalty of the government or the independence of
the supreme court which is in charge of supervising the elections.
fact is that according to the transition constitution – which the Brothers
supported and voted for – the army holds executive and legislative powers until
a president has been elected. The parliament has no real power. This is
especially galling for the Islamists who stand on their right to criticize
The “supreme guide” of the Brotherhood, Muhammad
Badi’e, proclaimed that the government had to be dismissed
“There is no honeymoon between us and the SCAF, since we never
got married” he said bluntly, hinting that no deal had been struck with the army
and that since he was the leader of the majority party in parliament he had
every right to confront the army.
While the issue is as yet unresolved,
another crisis is looming regarding the composition of the special council
tasked with drafting the constitution.
The parliament decided that half
of the 100 delegates would come from the lower and upper houses, and the other
half would be chosen among leading figures by that self-same parliament – where
the Brothers and the Salafists hold 73% of the seats in the lower house and 85%
in the upper house.
As a result, 75% of the delegates chosen were
Islamists; with only six women and a handful of Copts (though Copts make up 10%
to 12% of the population). This was clearly a blueprint for a thoroughly Islamic
It was apparently too much.
Twenty-five of the
chosen delegates – the representative of Al Azhar included – did not attend the
first session of the council; six resigned; a complaint was submitted to the
supreme court, demanding that the committee be disbanded.
postponed hearings to April 10, in the hope that a compromise might be found.
The army is doing its best to encourage such a compromise, but it does not seem
very likely at the moment. Secular and liberal forces are all too aware that
this is their very last opportunity to stop the wave of radical Islam
threatening to engulf the country and turn it into an Islamic
IF THAT was not enough, the Brotherhood, which had always
said it would not have a candidate of its own for the presidency so as as not to
unsettle local and international public opinion, suddenly backtracked. It had
previously stated it would only field parliamentary candidates in 30% of the
districts – but then changed its mind and carried a large majority.
that the prize seems within reach, it let itself be tempted and announced that
Kheirat el-Shater, founder of the Brotherhood’s economic empire, would run for
In other words, the Brotherhood wants all three key power
points: the parliament, the constitution and now the presidency. A formidable
threat for the army.
As to the army, accused of maneuvering to remain in
power, it tried an interesting ploy. General Mahmud Nasser, a highly respected
member of SCAF, gave an informal briefing to a select number of media
representatives and public figures. He had harsh words for the masses – why
aren’t they working instead of protesting? Have they forgotten how to earn food?
He also wondered how fair elections could be held when hungry people might start
a new revolution. Economic growth for 2011-2012 had been a dismal 0.6%; foreign
currency holdings had dropped from 35 to 15 billion dollars; a further 12b.
dollar of private money had fled the country. Traditional allies were reluctant
Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, fuming at the treatment meted to
their longtime ally Mubarak, were making their help conditional on political
demands. Though the International Monetary Fund was about to grant a $3.2b.
loan, this would not solve the problem as long as protests and strikes paralyzed
In contrast, the general extolled the tireless efforts of
the army to improve and develop the many companies it owns, which saw a profit
of more than a billion dollars over the past 10 years. Thanks to these revenues,
he said, the budget of the army was a mere 4.8% of the country’s budget, far
less that would be the case otherwise. Moreover the army tried to help by
lending nearly $2b. dollars to the government, and selling its food and clothing
surpluses at reduced prices to the population, thereby easing its
This was the first time the usually close-mouthed army had made
public the extent of its economic activities, and it made it clear that it would
fight to keep what it had so carefully built over the years.
lines have been drawn. At stake, the fate of Egypt.
The writer is a
former ambassador to Egypt and a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public