An new coalition of pro-democracy groups has accused Egypt’s new Islamist president of reneging on campaign promises to form a national unity government, but a leading analyst claims it is the rise of “undemocratic liberals” that poses a threat to the country’s fragile transition.
“An alliance of pro-democracy advocates on Saturday criticized Egypt’s new Islamist president for unilaterally choosing a prime minister with no track record, while leading without transparency and alienating political groups with liberal leanings,” according to reports:
The National Front alliance — an umbrella group of democracy advocates, secularists and moderate Islamists behind the uprising that drove longtime authoritarian ruler Hosni Mubarak from power last year — said Mohammed Morsi has reneged on campaign promises to form a national unity government.
“It was surprising that the person named … didn’t meet the criteria and this is the first indicator of the path we are taking,” said Heba Raouf, a moderate Islamist political science professor and a member of the Front, claiming that talks about the new government’s composition were held “behind closed doors.”
Many secular and liberal groups advance conspiracy theories that the US is effectively supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that is openly hostile to US interests and values, Brookings analyst Shadi Hamid writes in Foreign Policy.
Yet “it wasn’t the Muslim Brotherhood but, rather, liberal standard-bearer Amr Hamzawy who refused to meet in February with Sen. John McCain due to his ‘biased positions in favor of Israel and his support for invading Iraq and attacking Iran,’” Hamid notes:
The irony is that the Obama administration, while willing to engage the Brotherhood, has itself been wary of the Islamists’ rise to power. For much of the transition, the United States stood by the SCAF, the ruling military junta and the Brotherhood’s archrival. The generals, the thinking went, would ensure that vital American interests were protected. When SCAF waged an unprecedented crackdown on civil society and threatened several American NGO workers with jail time, the United States sought a face-saving compromise and kept the $1.3 billion in annual military aid flowing.
“The hostility of Egypt’s secular establishment presents the United States with something of a dilemma,” Hamid argues.
“If it ever does get serious about pressuring the military and promoting democracy in Egypt, the more liberals — perhaps its most natural allies — will cry foul. This no-win situation will likely persuade U.S. policymakers that it’s better to stay away and do less rather than more.”
[Kassem] said people had quickly lost trust in the Brotherhood, which reneged on a promise not to run a candidate for president this year. They concluded it was willing to say anything to secure power. “They basically feel any lying is done for the love of God, so it gives them license,” Mr. Kassem said.
“Being a secular liberal, I was very critical of my fellow liberals when they spoke of the tyranny of the majority and so on,” he added. “I said, ‘Let’s work with the Brotherhood.’ ” That view changed when liberals saw how unwilling the group was to share power, and when it challenged court decisions, supported by the military, to dissolve Parliament.
Like many liberal critics, Mr. Kassem [a leading member of the World Movement for Democracy] said the reason the Brotherhood had not taken any action on social issues was that it was biding its time until it was powerful enough to do so.
“It’s too early to take real action to move in an Islamic direction,” he said. “But the nuances are pretty scary.”
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week expressed concern over the rising tide of religious intolerance in Egypt, as she presented the State Department’s annual International Religious Freedom report at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Highlighting a disturbing rise in anti-Semitism Clinton also observed that Egypt’s Christian groups were concerned over their prospects for representation in the new Islamist-led government.
The secretary underscored the U.S.’s impartiality in Egyptian politics, and promised that the U.S. will work with whoever is elected to ensure universal principles are upheld, notes the Project for Middle East Democracy.
Meanwhile, the “struggle over Egypt’s new constitution was temporarily suspended yesterday when a court deferred until late September the next step in a legal row that had threatened the dissolution of the body writing it,” reports suggest:
The adjournment of a battle that has overshadowed one of the main components of Egypt’s transition to democracy after the Arab Spring uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak could give the current constitutional assembly time to complete its work. That would give a boost to Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood, who have a big say in the body, and also may stave off any move by the influential military to form a new assembly.
Plaintiffs opposed to what they see as the Islamists’ overwhelming influence in the 100-person constitutional assembly had brought the case demanding the body be dissolved on the grounds it had been formed illegally. Held earlier this month, the last session in the case led to both a courtroom brawl and a new lawsuit filed by the Islamists to demand the removal of the judge on the grounds he was biased. It is that case which a court adjourned until September 24, postponing further any discussion of the original case.
“It will be considered a sort of victory for the Muslim Brotherhood. It allows the assembly time to complete its task of returning a draft constitution,” said Mustapha Kamel Al-Sayyid, a professor of political science at Cairo University.
Some observers believe the current constitutional arrangements maintain the disproportionate political power of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
“There is a route to writing a permanent constitution that will replace all the SCAF’s doings,” writes Nathan J. Brown, professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University:
But the body charged with drafting that document itself hangs by a slender legal reed. It could be disbanded by a court at any moment. Should that happen, the June 2012 document is clear: the SCAF appoints a new drafting body. The political obstacles to a document issued in such a manner obtaining legitimacy are formidable. But last week’s court ruling suggests that the legal obstacles have been removed.
The Project on Middle East Democracy is a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.