Brotherhood in the frame
Is the Muslim Brotherhood's strategy about to unravel? Amani Maged examines the possibilities
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Going back to Tahrir Square might be the Muslim Brotherhood's only option if the Supreme Constitutional Court decides to disband parliament
The Muslim Brotherhood, through its political wing the Freedom and Justice Party, already dominates the two houses of parliament, and is within a whisker of having a clear shot at the presidency. However, some observers believe that the dream of power that once seemed so remote and now appears so close is about to burst. Today the Supreme Constitutional Court is considering two cases, one a complaint contesting the constitutionality of the parliamentary election law and the other the constitutionality of the disenfranchisement law passed by the Islamist-dominated parliament which bans members and allies of the former regime from participating in politics for the next five years.
One scenario is that the court judges the parliamentary election law constitutional and the disenfranchisement law not. In this case the People's Assembly will remain in its current composition and the second round of the presidential election will proceed on schedule.
Should the court rule that the Parliamentary Election Law issued by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) is unconstitutional and the disenfranchisement law constitutional, any legal foundation for the People's Assembly's current composition would be lost. Mohamed Mahsoub, a member of the moderate Islamist Wasat Party's central board, warns that overturning the parliamentary election law will lead to immediate wrangles over what comes next. It does not mean parliament will be automatically dissolved, though any legislation parliament passes after ruling has no legitimacy. To resolve the dilemma an annex to the Constitutional Declaration may be promulgated, conferring upon SCAF the authority to dissolve the People's Assembly. Alternatively, the exercise of this authority could be deferred until a new president takes office.
The FJP's legal advisor Ahmed Abu Baraka is arguing that a court ruling against the constitutionality of the parliamentary election law should lead to fresh elections only in the one third of seats that were supposedly reserved for independents but which were actually contested by many party members. Thus, says Abu Baraka, it will not threaten the Muslim Brotherhood's parliamentary majority. Other legal experts argue that elections may have to be held in all constituencies.
A third scenario is for the SCC to uphold the constitutionality of both the parliamentary election law and the disenfranchisement law or, alternatively, to issue a ruling that the Presidential Elections Commission is not legally entitled to refer the disenfranchisement law to the Supreme Constitutional Court and thus refuse to hear the case. In this event the People's Assembly will remain seated with its Muslim Brotherhood majority and the disenfranchisement law remain valid, leading to the disqualification of Ahmed Shafik and a repeat of the first round of elections between the remaining 13 candidates who participated.
Some observers predict that the Supreme Constitutional Court will declare the parliamentary election law unconstitutional and defer a ruling on the disenfranchisement law. This is more worrisome since it could lead to the dissolution of the People's Assembly and a run-off presidential election shrouded in uncertainty since one of the candidates could eventually be barred from the race.
Within the Muslim Brotherhood the situation has elicited a variety of responses. Some believe that Mursi will be the next president. Other, who might have considered the notion of a presidential council, now say the proposal was only suited to the phase preceding presidential elections. A third group, while less certain of the outcome of the presidential polls, insists that as long as it has been decided the ballot box rules its results must be accepted whatever they may be.
The public, though, may have reservations that the opinion of the third group will prevail in the event of a Shafik victory. Many worry that having demanded people respect the results of the polls that brought it a majority in the People's Assembly, the Muslim Brotherhood will change tack should Shafik win and Mursi be kept out of the president's office. Such an outcome is quite possible. Once regarded as an outsider, Shafik finished a close second to Mursi in the first round of the polls. It is not difficult to predict what the reaction to a Shafik victory will be in Tahrir Square, but what will the Muslim Brothers do?
Analysts foresee several possibilities. The Brotherhood may allege vote rigging and reject the results. In this case group members would take to Tahrir, reinvigorating the square as a source of legitimacy, and use their numbers to reignite the revolution. It may concede defeat and cooperate with Shafik via the parliament. Given the authorities are still vested in the president and in view of Shafik's pledge to create a mixed presidential administration, the Muslim Brotherhood is likely to feel justified to insisting it heads the next cabinet.
The third -- most likely -- alternative is for the Muslim Brothers to register their complaints against the legitimacy of the elections but not to withdraw from the political process entirely. The group's "heart" will be with the demonstrators in the square while its "head" will be with the new authority, working within the system and using its parliamentary majority to push for legislative change. The Brotherhood is certain to encourage revolutionary forces to criticise Shafik, since ultimately this serves its own interests.
It is a policy the Brotherhood followed under the Mubarak regime, with which they cooperated when it was at the height of its power. The strategy enabled the Brotherhood to make one inroad after another. First it focussed on asserting control over the professional syndicates, allowing it to promote its members' interests and opening up venues for further recruitment.
Then there is the possibility a scenario will arise that no one has foreseen. In the year and a half since the revolution the public has grown accustomed to surprising turns of events. It is unlikely that out collective sense of astonishment has been exhausted.