Egyptian secular democrats plan to counter an Islamist-dominated constitutional assembly by drafting their own document, a group of leading liberals and leftists announced today.
The seculars’ move is likely to aggravate tensions over the transition to civilian rule that has already produced a standoff between the powerful Muslim Brotherhood and the country’s military rulers.
Liberals who resigned from the 100-member constitutional panel to protest Islamist dominance pledged to adopt an inclusive approach to drafting an alternative constitution.
“We shall undertake this duty from outside the official assembly in collaboration with all the segments of society and experts that should have been included from the beginning,” said the statement.
According to Hafez Abou Saeda (right), head of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, the official assembly “poses great danger because it means two parties with Islamist orientations will divide amongst themselves the constitution, meaning they can restrict rights and freedoms.”
“They can seek to implement a system of government that gives more powers to the majority party, turning our system from a presidential one to a parliamentary one which leads to control of the upper and lower houses of parliament and the government,” he told Reuters.
The initiative confirms the growing political polarization prompted by the Brotherhood’s growing confidence and assertiveness, which has emboldened the decades-old Islamist movement to contest the military’s equally longstanding hold on power and ensure the marginalization of liberal democratic forces.
While many observers claim that Egypt will likely follow the Turkish model – in which the military curbed Islamist radicalism and established clear constitutional red lines – the Brotherhood is positioning itself to pre-empt the military’s attempts to constrain its power, said analyst Khalil Anani.
“They want to share power but they feel they have been tricked and [shunted] into a parliament with no real authority,” he said.
“I think the military want their own puppet as president and the Islamists too want their puppet there. They have failed to find a consensus president. Each has been trying to outsmart the other but now they have reached deadlock.”
But the Brotherhood’s commitment to power-sharing is being disputed – and not only by secular liberal critics. The group is being wracked by internal divisions over its backtracking on a commitment to refrain from contesting May’s presidential election.
The Islamists had “promised for more than a year that it would not enter the race, in an apparent effort to allay fears that the populist group wanted to take advantage of Hosni Mubarak’s ouster to seize control of the country,” the Washington Post’s Leila Fadel writes:
But Brotherhood officials suggested last week that they might field a candidate, prompting criticism from political opponents as well as some of the Brotherhood’s own members, who say that a reversal would deal a major blow to the group’s reputation and credibility.
“It’s an unprecedented crisis in the Brotherhood,” said a prominent member of the group, who asked to speak anonymously so he could speak candidly. “Going back on their word is wrong. Islamists have to have morals.”
The volte-face is confirmation that the Islamists are not a run-of-the-mill political party, insiders concede.
The Brotherhood is an ideological organization, not a political one, said Mohammed al-Hadidi, a Brotherhood member who is Shater’s son-in-law and a member of the dissenting group.
“All of the seats we got in the parliament are based on the reputation that we are honest,” Hadidi said in an interview. “We just want to keep our reputation. Dismissing people based on political ideology reflects bad behavior of the Muslim Brothers against their own people, so if they go to the government how will they perform? How will they deal with other Egyptians who might take different opinions?”
The Brotherhood’s long track record of political duplicity and opportunism has created an unbridgeable credibility gap that was only widened by the packing of the constitutional panel, enhancing suspicions and raising fears about the Islamists’ commitment to pluralism and other democratic norms.
“The political Islamic current has given itself the right to monopolize the writing of the constitution, excluding the other factions of Egyptian society,” said Ahmed Said, head of the liberal Free Egyptians Party.
It is a concern that is even shared by members of the ultraconservative Nour Party as well as Brotherhood insiders.
“I call on the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi Nour Party, to which I am honored to belong, to open the door to communication and dialogue,” said Islamist MP Yasser Salah El-Kadi.