Sunday,22 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1182, (30 January - 5 February 2014)
Sunday,22 October, 2017
Issue 1182, (30 January - 5 February 2014)

Ahram Weekly

A new realism

Egypt prepares to enter the next stage in its volatile transition from the autocratic Mubarak and Morsi eras to a still uncertain future, Gamal Essam El-Din reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

After voting “yes” for a rewritten constitution on 14 January, Egyptians will soon be heading back to the polls. On 26 January interim President Adli Mansour ended weeks of speculation by announcing presidential elections would precede the parliamentary poll.

According to Mansour’s decree, presidential polls must be held within a period of no less than 30 days and no more than 90 days from the date the new constitution was promulgated — ie 18 January.

Mohamed Al-Shennawi, a member of the Presidential Election Commission (PEC), said that this means presidential polls will most probably be held sometime between the last week of March and the first week of April. “It also means Egypt must have an elected president before 19 April — the date Mansour’s 90-day limit expires.”

Once a new president is elected parliamentary polls must be held within six months, as stated in Article 230 of the newly-approved constitution.

The election of a new president and parliament would signal the end of the post-30 June political roadmap adopted after the ousting of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi on 3 July.

A day after Mansour’s 26 January decision army chief and Minister of Defence Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi was promoted from first lieutenant-general to field marshal. On the same day Al-Sisi received official sanction from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to run in presidential polls.

“If Field-Marshal Al-Sisi wants to submit a presidential bid he will have to do so before 18 February,” says Al-Shennawi. “He must first resign from the offices he currently holds and then inset his name on voter lists before 18 February in order to be eligible to stand.”

In the wake of Al-Sisi’s all but certain candidacy the Muslim Brotherhood and its jihadist allies are likely to step up their campaign of violent protest.  

On 24 January Cairo Security Directorate was devastated by a bomb for which Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis claimed responsibility. A day later the same group downed a military helicopter in Sinai killing five army officers. Security and political analysts believe Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis to be allied with the Muslim Brotherhood.

On 28 January — the opening day of Mohamed Morsi’s trial on charges of collaborating with Hamas and Hizbullah to escape from prison in January 2011 — two assailants riding a motorcycle shot dead General Mohamed Said, head of the interior minister’s technical office, as he was leaving his home in Giza.

This week’s surge in violence has left many wondering whether Egypt will move towards a civilian democracy as envisaged in the post-30 June roadmap or revert to a Mubarak-style police state.  

Al-Ahram political analyst Salah Salem believes “the eruption of the Brotherhood’s bloody violence this week was predictable following the overwhelming yes vote for the new constitution”.

“The more the post-30 June political roadmap progresses the more the Brotherhood and its allies get nervous. Their response is to resort to ever greater violence,” says Salem. “This violence is now heading in two directions: they are stepping up violent street protests and bombing selected targets and assassinating army and police personnel.”

“This is happening as the Western media is doing its best to portray this week’s bloody confrontations and terrorist acts as the prelude to a return of the Mubarak-era police state.” But, says Salem, “Egyptians are aware, just as they were in the first half of the 1990s, that they must pay a dear price to get rid of Islamist terrorism.”

Mohamed Salmawy, official spokesman of the constitution drafting committee, says Al-Sisi’s nomination will be met by the Muslim Brotherhood and American media with the charge he overthrew “Egypt’s first freely elected president Mohamed Morsi” in a military coup.

“This kind of arrogant analysis shows how far the American media has gone in distorting facts on the ground in Egypt, first by portraying Brotherhood sit-ins and protests as peaceful, then describing the new constitution as bringing the country back to a police state and now branding Al-Sisi’s nomination as a return to a military rule,” said Salmawy.

Al-Ahram commentator Amr Al-Chobaki recommends ignoring “the arrogant and lopsided American media”.

His warning was seconded from an unlikely quarter. A female member of the Congress delegation that visited Egypt last week told a group of Egyptian reporters during a press conference “not to give much concern to American media outlets like the CNN and others because the American people themselves do not place much trust in the accuracy and honesty of this media”.

Salmawy and Al-Chobaki insist the new constitution offers guarantees that no future elected president will be able to turn the country into a Mubarak-style police state.

“This constitution divides power between an elected president, an elected prime minister and an elected parliament,” says Al-Chobaki. “It will be impossible for Al-Sisi or anyone else to monopolise power like Mubarak did. “And besides, Al-Sisi knows what the risks for him will be if he ignores the new constitution and turns himself into a pharaoh.”

Salmawy and Al-Chobaki also agree the coming presidential ballot must not be allowed to turn into the farcical pre-2005 referendums on a single presidential candidate.

“Al-Sisi’s popularity should not discourage others from submitting presidential bids so that the country can have a competitive poll,” says Al-Chobaki. “Other high-profile public figures like leftist leader Hamdeen Sabahi or former diplomat Amr Moussa, even the so-called moderate Islamist Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, should compete and draw up credible election programmes.”

Al-Sisi’s nomination will force a government reshuffle. Speculation is rife that he will be replaced as first deputy premier and minister of defence by Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant-General Sobhi Sedki.

Informed sources said on Tuesday that between five and eight cabinet ministers are likely to be replaced, the ministers of international cooperation, military production, irrigation, electricity and sports among them.

Mansour’s 26 January announcement on presidential elections means that the PEC must begin preparing procedures of the election. Changes must now be made to two key political laws: Law 174/2005 on presidential elections and the 1956 law on the exercise of political rights.

As many as nine articles of Law 174 may be amended to fit the newly-approved constitution, says Al-Shennawi. “Article 2 of the law must be amended to comply with Article 142 of the new constitution which requires presidential hopefuls to gain the endorsement of 20 elected parliamentary deputies or a minimum of 25,000 citizens in at least 15 governorates, with a minimum 1,000 from each.” Article 2 of Law 174 — amended in 2012 after the Islamist-drafted constitution was passed — required hopefuls to secure the signatures of 20 elected parliamentary deputies or a minimum of 20,000 citizens from at least 10 governorates with a minimum 1,000 from each. Article 3 of the 2005 presidential ballot law will be completely annulled after being eliminated by the new constitution. It allowed political parties with one seat in either the People’s Assembly or Shura Council to field a candidate in presidential elections. Article 5 of the 2005 law, which states that a 10-member — five judges plus five public figures — committee supervise presidential polls will also have to be changed. Article 228 of the new constitution stipulates that a five-member judicial commission take charge of supervising the first post-2014 constitution presidential polls. Under the existing presidential poll law, Al-Shennawi explains, candidates cannot appeal decisions issued by the PEC. “Mansour has the option of either keeping this stipulation in place or changing it to make it possible for candidates to appeal the orders of the supervising commission before the Supreme Administrative Court.”


Caption: Swathed in flags of the republic at the 25 January celebrations is the poster showing Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s face alongside that of the late leader Gamal Abdel-Nasser (with Anwar Al-Sadat in between). It is a telling reminder of why those who are keen on Al-Sisi in power are quite so keen, why those who are not not. Like Nasser, the founder of the republic, Al-Sisi is seen as its safeguard and guarantor: the leader who challenges foreign powers and garners the love of the masses. Like Nasser, he is an army officer wielding a huge amount of power and, some feel, heading what looks like a police state. As the new national hero readies himself for the presidency, the country hangs in the balance

 

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