Egypt elections 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Last week, a ranking Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) official held a
highly unusual press conference exclusively with foreign
correspondents. In what was widely perceived to be a message to the West,
the official called Egypt’s recent election results into question and stated
that the SCAF would retain oversight over the drafting of a future
While less than one month ago the same issue sparked mass
demonstrations, Islamist groups including the Muslim Brotherhood have remained
largely silent in the face of these provocative statements. The SCAF now has a
window of opportunity to press ahead with efforts to secure its influence in a
future constitution, leaving Islamists with the choice of disrupting the
election process or allowing the promise of an Islamist Egypt to slip from their
Ever since the March 2011 constitutional referendum, the SCAF’s
insistence on influencing the makeup of the future constitution has fueled
tensions in the country, most recently with Egypt’s powerful Islamist factions.
This tension reached a boiling point in November, when the SCAF-backed Sharaf
government refused to budge on the implementation of “Supra- Constitutional
Principles.” That, in turn, sparked mass protests by the Muslim Brotherhood,
which eventually evolved into the nationwide unrest that nearly compromised
These principles, which would have effectively
implanted boundaries on the power of any future Islamist-led parliament, have
until now remained the SCAF’s tool to ensure Egypt as a secular state, as well
as autonomy in deciding the military budget.
The results of the first
round of parliamentary elections has, however, reignited fears both within Egypt
and around the world of the possibility of an Islamist takeover, with both
moderate and Salafist parties garnering 60 percent of the vote. As the second
and third rounds of elections are scheduled to take place in rural areas of
Egypt, there is a high likelihood that these parties will only secure more and
more seats in the future parliament.
Liberal parties who once opposed the
SCAF’s encroachment on Egypt’s future governance now find themselves
marginalized with the realization that the military is now the best chance they
have at securing a secular and democratic future for Egypt. In addition, the
prospect of an Islamist victory may also have swayed the West, which just three
weeks ago joined protesters in Tahrir Square in calls for a transition of power
to a civilian government.
With more than one month to go before the
official end of parliamentary elections, the SCAF has a considerable time frame
to secure its influence on the constitution before an Islamist-dominated
parliament can take power. The recent establishment of the “Advisory Council” is
one such option.
This SCAF-appointed civilian body may be given oversight
over choosing a 100-member constituent assembly which will draft a constitution
before an Islamist-led parliament comes to power. The chatter over the
advisory council has already sparked controversy, most notably when the Muslim
Brotherhood rescinded its participation in protest over the body’s influence
over the future constitution.
The Brotherhood has since limited its
actions in opposing the SCAF to boycotting the advisory council, even issuing a
statement that it does not seek a conflict with the military. This subtle form
of protest suggests that the Brotherhood has much to lose from creating
political turmoil at a time when the country has just breathed a sigh of relief
over the peaceful polling period. Even when the last wave of unrest
turned violent, the Brotherhood refused to continue participating, fearing that
the instability could compromise the first round of elections.
can therefore capitalize on the new-found fears of Egyptian liberals over an
Islamist takeover, using its remaining political tools to implement a future
constitution before a Brotherhood- led parliament can enter into
The Brotherhood’s non-threatening behavior during the current
elections suggests that is still views parliamentary elections as the most
favorable way to rise to power. Indeed, resorting to unrest and risking a civil
war goes against their sought-after image as a compromising and patient Islamist
Despite their conflicting statements and mutual fears of
renewed unrest, it remains clear that both the SCAF and the Islamists remain
unwilling to compromise their influence over Egypt’s future constitution. With
Egypt’s future as a liberal or Islamist state hanging in the balance – who will
blink first? The writer is an Argov Fellow for Leadership and Diplomacy at the
IDC Herzliya. He works for Max- Security Solutions, a security consulting firm
based in Tel Aviv.