Shifting the goalposts
Gamal Essam El-Din
reports on the continuing battle of wills between the Brotherhood and SCAF
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Against all odds, the constituent assembly will meet on Saturday to start drafting the constitution
Following the success of its candidate, Mohamed Mursi, in the presidential election run-off, the Muslim Brotherhood has scored a number of other victories. On Tuesday Cairo's Administrative Justice Court (AJC) abrogated a 13 June decree by the Minister of Justice Adel Abdel-Hamed which allowed military police and intelligence officers to arrest civilians.
The Justice Ministry had claimed the move was necessary to combat terrorist activity during a period of instability. The crimes covered by the decree, however, were vague. They included "criminal activity and misdemeanours harmful to the government", "obstructing traffic" -- a charge commonly used against demonstrators -- and any action against "institutions that serve the public interest" or compromise "the right to work". The latter was seen as a direct attack on the right to strike.
Brotherhood officials argued that the powers granted to the military police came at the expense of their president-elect. "The minister of justice's decree was issued days before the decisive run-off round of the presidential election. It aimed to constrain the new president's powers," said Freedom and Justice Party official Mohamed El-Beltagui. "The decree was also issued while parliament, which enjoys all legislative power, was still in session."
The Brotherhood's response was to amass large numbers of demonstrators in Tahrir Square. The sit in, they said, would continue until the legislation was repealed by the courts.
Earlier on Tuesday the same court delayed rulings on four controversial cases: hearings on moves to scrap the 14 June Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) order dissolving the People's Assembly were put off till 9 July and appeals against the invalidation of the constitution drafting assembly were delayed to 4 September. Court hearings that will decide the fate of the Shura council were delayed to 10 July, and challenges to the 17 June appendix to last year's Constitutional Declaration will begin to be heard on 10 July.
Despite an ongoing boycott by some liberal and secular forces and the postponed court ruling, the constituent assembly held its last preparatory session on Tuesday at the headquarters of Egypt's upper house of parliament, the Shura Council. The assembly's first session will be on Saturday.
Ghad Al-Thawra Party head Ayman Nour and Wasat Party head Abul-Ela Madi were elected deputies.
The Muslim Brotherhood's Amr Darrag was elected secretary-general of the assembly while independent MP Wahid Abdel-Meguid was elected its spokesperson.
The assembly has held two meetings, on 23 June and 26 June, and negotiations are underway to convince those who boycotted to rejoin.
The Brotherhood is now focussing its attention on saving its Shura Council majority. The SCC's 14 June ruling that the regulations governing last year's parliamentary elections were unconstitutional applies equally to the People's Assembly and the consultative Shura Council. The latter, however, has yet to be dissolved.
But the Shura Council is little more than a talking shop. It has few real powers. The main prize in questioning the SCC ruling on the election law is that it undermines the dissolution of the People's Assembly. Brotherhood lawyers are arguing, in an odd example of circular illogic, that while they do not object to the SCC ruling per se, it should first have been discussed by the People's Assembly -- which the ruling effectively dissolves -- and then placed before the public in a referendum. Constitutional law experts reject such arguments as nonsense.
The Muslim Brotherhood has said publicly that it will never accept SCAF's 13 June appendix to last year's Constitutional Declaration giving the generals the power to dissolve the constituent assembly should it "encounter obstacles that prevent it from completing its work", and it will fight as bitterly to retain the People's Assembly.
Yet there are signs of disagreement among the group's leadership. Some leading Brotherhood members have briefed that Mursi will refuse to take the oath of office before the SCC -- as is stipulated in the constitutional appendix -- since to do so would amount to a public acceptance of the appendix and the SCC's order that led to the People's Assembly being dissolved. Other Brotherhood members, however, say they will abide by the court's verdicts.
On 24 June, the Freedom and Justice Party's El-Beltagui told the media, as well as protesters in Tahrir Square, that Mursi will take the oath in front of the People's Assembly.
Sobhi Saleh, another leading member of the Brotherhood, insists Mursi will be sworn in in front of the SCC.
The Brotherhood's contradictory public statements suggest that negotiations are ongoing with SCAF over the future of parliament. The fate of the People's Assembly -- elected last year -- the Shura Council and, ultimately, the powers enjoyed by the president under a new constitution, are still being kicked around by SCAF and the Brotherhood. Court rulings may occasionally move the goalposts, but the final shape of Egypt's post-revolution dispensation will be determined by who wins the ongoing game of brinksmanship.