Legitimacy for Egypt’s Military Government - From an Islamist Source?

The Muslim Brotherhood is portraying Egypt's army and the secular constitution-drafting committee as traitors; But the Salafi Al-Nour party appears ready for compromise.

The announcement on Twitter was sharp and clear: It called for an intifada against the Egyptian army. The next tweets reported the use of tear gas against demonstrators in the streets of Alexandria, mass demonstrations in Cairo streets and that a Muslim Brotherhood activist was killed in a brawl with taxi drivers in Beni Suef. Pictures attached to the tweets showed mass protests in about 30 cities. The text said "Sisi and the interior minister are inciting the army and the police against the people."

The situation in Syria, the fighting in Sinai and other world events have all been eclipsed in the Egyptian media by the intense internal struggle in the country.

The political stopwatch set in motion by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi when he seized power at the beginning of July continues ticking as though there was no war in Sinai and no demonstrations in the streets. The 50-strong committee of academics, jurists, protest activists and clergy charged with writing the new constitution has two months to present the draft, which is to be put to a swift referendum, followed by elections.

The Muslim Brotherhood is not represented in the committee, which refuses to cooperate with the Brotherhood, regarding it as part of the military revolution.

In contrast, the Salafi Al-Nour party decided at the last minute to join the committee and its representatives are taking part in drafting clauses regarding the status of religion in the legislative and justice system.

Al-Nour said it had joined the committee "to preserve Egypt's religious character and bolster the revolution's achievements." The decision angered other Salafi movements, which accused Al-Nour's leader  Younis Makhyoun of "giving in to the secular movements and selling Egypt's religious identity to the army."

The Salafi movements can be divided into three main blocs. The political Salafis see taking part in the political frameworks as the lesser evil and even a necessity, to keep their strength; the purists refrain from any political involvement and devote themselves to studying and interpreting religious laws; and the Jihadists see the military struggle as the only effective way of ridding the Arab states of heretic rulers.

These nuances are significant because the Salafi movements see themselves as the political alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood. The political Salafis, many of whom are members of various parties, do not aspire to lead Egypt or to attain positions of power. But the Brotherhood's departure from the political arena puts the Salafis in a position to bestow religious legitimacy on the political group now leading Egypt. This group, despite its secular, liberal character, will find it difficult to persuade the Egyptian public that it represents it without a significant religious component.

Religious partnership has a price and Al-Nour is demanding it. The controversial issue regards the religious rules' status in clause 219 of the constitution accepted after the revolution and ratified in a referendum. This vague clause details the religious fundamentals on which the state's main legislation must be based. The main problem is that it grants the religious sages the authority to intervene in state acts by way of interpretation.

The secular drafters and most of the new draft committee members object to this want this clause revoked. But those who would like the Salafis to join the committee cannot ignore their position.

At this point Al-Nour appears ready to compromise. Its representatives have said the party would revoke the clause stipulating that legislation be based on religious principles.

This controversy and several others will have to be solved soon, if elections are to be held on schedule, as the army insists.

Meanwile, the Muslim Brotherhood is portraying the army and its leaders in government and the draft committee as traitors. In an approach that resembles that of ousted President Hosni Mubarak, the army is emphasizing the link between the Brotherhood and the terror in Sinai, in a bid to win public support for its struggle against the Brotherhood.

The question is what will happen when the public casts its vote. Will it regard these moves as a repeat performance of Mubarak's reign or, because of the participation of the Salafis, as a new democratic chapter in Egypt’s history?