About a year after the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime, the crisis in Egypt has brought the country to the edge of abyss.
The political crisis escalated shortly after the Muslim Brotherhood decided to appoint its own candidate for presidency. This decision came after the Brotherhood, together with the Salafists, obtained an overwhelming majority in the Egyptian parliament.
Shortly after this decision it became clear that the Brotherhood and the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has governed Egypt since Mubarak’s fall, are not on the same page any more. Their differences involve key issues such as the drafting of a new constitution and the power of the Egyptian parliament.
In addition, negotiations regarding a much needed IMF loan ended without a deal because of lack of political support for acceptance of the IMF conditions.
Another complicating factor is the lack of progress in drafting the new constitution.
Tensions further increased after several presidential candidates, including Khairat al-Shater, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, and Salafist leader Abu Ishmail, were disqualified as presidential candidates.
The disqualified candidates appealed against the decision of the supervisory body of Egypt’s election committee, but their appeals were dismissed. The Muslim Brotherhood then simply appointed a new candidate: Mohammed Mursi, the leader of the Freedom and Justice Party.
Last Wednesday unknown assailants shot dead 11 Salafist protesters in Cairo’s Abbaseya neighborhood. The Salafist protesters demonstrated against the disqualification of Abu Ishmail.
On Friday new clashes broke out in the same neighborhood prompting the army to impose a curfew. Most Egyptian media accused the SCAF of being behind the bloodbath in Abbaseya.
Several political parties, among them the Muslim Brotherhood Freedom and Justice Party, announced new demonstrations in Tahrir Square and decided to boycott meetings with the SCAF.
As a result of the increasing violence it seems all but sure that the presidential election, which starts May 24-25, will take place as scheduled.
To complicate matters, Islamists and liberals are demanding that there should first be an agreement on the new constitution before the presidential elections can take place.
The Islamists, who have a large majority in parliament, want to use the new constitution to minimize the power of the new president, and to increase of the power of the Egyptian parliament.
The SCAF recently decided to dissolve the parliamentary committee that was in charge of drafting a new constitution. This decision was made after a disagreement over the composition of the council, which consisted mainly of Islamists, whereas liberals, Copts and women were under-represented.
The SCAF in turn had its own reasons for dissolving the Constitutional Council. In this way it is trying to influence the drafting of the new constitution and the scope of presidential power.
Transfer of power
Both liberals and Islamists fear that the Army will not really transfer all its power to the democratically elected parliament and president.
This distrust is also evident from the recent demonstrations that call for the resignation of the SCAF. During these demonstrations the protesters also demanded that Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi resigns and even called for his execution.
On April 13 for example, Islamists held a mass demonstration in Tahrir Square against members of the Mubarak era, meaning SCAF officials and the now disqualified presidential hopeful Omar Suleiman.
The protesters shouted that the people “will force the Field Marshal (Tantawi) to resign” and that “the remnants of the old regime should be removed.”
Omar Suleiman is the former vice president and director of Egypt’s intelligence service (Muchabarat), who recently signed up as a candidate for the presidency.
Suleiman is considered to be a henchman of Mubarak, and was accused of being an ‘Israeli agent’. He and Mubarak were pictured on placards together with a Star of David.
In turn, in an interview with the Egyptian newspaper Al-Youm Al-Saba’a Suleiman accused Israel of trying to look for reasons to reconquer the Sinai desert.
The April 14th decision by the Election Committee of the Supreme Court to disqualify a large number of presidential candidates has significantly aggravated tensions.
Omar Suleiman was disqualified because he did not have enough signatures from supporters (according to Egyptian law, a presidential candidate must have at least 30,000 signatures).
The Salafist Abu Ismail (al-Nour party) was rejected because his mother was a U.S. citizen (according to Egyptian law, the presidential candidate, his parents and his spouse should all hold Egyptian nationality).
The Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Al-Shater, was disqualified because he supposedly had a criminal past.
The disqualifications came at a time when Egypt was already struggling with severe tensions between the various political and religious groups.
The Salafist leader Abu Ishmail even predicted an Islamic revolution if the decision to disqualify him was not reversed.
Besides the political crisis, there is Egypt’s economic mayhem which has brought the country to the brink of disaster.