Egypt Presidential Elections Likely to Be Delayed by Months

Supreme Council meets demands of Islamists, liberals to draft new constitution before elections, a move that may cause a months-long delay.

The decision of Egypts Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that presidential elections will only take place after the drafting of the constitution is likely to delay the elections by months, if not more.

With this decision, the SCAF was responding to demands of the liberal and religious currents in Egypt, both of which feared that presidential elections under Egypts current constitution would grant the president broad powers, similar to those of former president Hosni Mubarak, which will enable the him to disband parliament or assemble a government that is not representative of Egypts political landscape. The army is also interested in advancing the drafting of the new constitution so that it can influence the extent of the powers granted to Egypts next president.

Thousands of Islamists demonstrate in Tahrir Square, April 13, 2012.

With the presidential elections, the army will pass on its executive powers, and place itself become subject to the decisions of the new president. As long as the army can navigate and decide at least some of the principles of the new constitution, it will attempt to do this before a new president is elected to office.

Although the significance of this decision will be that presidential elections will need to be delayed their original scheduling at the end of May, it is estimated that the drafting of the constitution, along with the referendum that must be carried out after it is drafted, will lead to the presidential elections being delayed by at least two months.

The SCAF also decided on Sunday to cancel the panel that made up the committee for drafting the new constitution, which had caused deep division between the Muslim Brotherhood and liberal movements. The Egyptian parliament, which is controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood, had decided that half of the members of the committee would come from parliament, and that the other half would come from outside parliament. In this way, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic movements guaranteed their control over the constituion drafting committee, and caused some nonreligious committee members to leave.

According to the SCAFs decision, when it is accepted with the agreement of the political movements, the full committee will be comprised of public figures who represent all sectors of the public, and are not members of parliament. In this way, the SCAF responded to the demands of liberal movements. In the coming days, discussion will take place over the criterion for appointing members of the committee, and only after that will the process of drafting the constitution begin.

The two basic divisions that are likely to arise during the process are related to the way in which the religion of the state is defined in the constitution, and to the extent of powers of Egypts president.

According to Egypts current constitution, Islamic law - Sharia - is the principal source upon which the countries law is based, but the consitution does not state in what way this should be carried out in practical terms.

Five years ago, the Muslim Brotherhood proposed to set up an insitution run by religious experts to advise the ruling regime on how to apply Sharia law. The platform of the Muslim Brotherhoods Freedom and Justice Party contains whole sections on the ways and means that will be used for advancing religion in the country, but the Muslim Brotherhood does not stress where responsibility lies for consulting or guidance on Islamic law between the Egypts government and Sharia scholars.

Regarding the powers of the president, the current parliament will want a president whose powers are weakened, and both the Muslim Brotherhood and the liberal movements basically agree on this, but the difficulty will be in the defining these powers accuratley.