Egypt's Persisting Power Struggles May Stall the Dawning of a New Era

Egypt's parliament is no longer a rubber stamp, but a powerful body that can decide the country's foreign policy, while striving to subject the military to its supervision.

"Restoring Egypt's sewage system is a small matter compared to the danger that we will go to hell," claimed several Egyptian parliament members in a discussion over accepting a loan of $300 million from the World Bank. "We have no problem negotiating over loans from international bodies, but only for the most necessary matters," stated Ibrahim Abdel Rahman, head of the financial committee in the parliament. These two declarations do not refer to Egypt's financial hardships, but rather the way in which Islamic Law will participate in the country's management. The threat of "going to hell" is based on a religious edict which forbids the practice of loans with interest, while "necessary matters" is a religious principle that states that "the necessities annul the prohibitions." The question that stands before the financial committee is whether the loan for restoring the sewage system is one of the necessities that annul the interest or part of a prohibition on all forms of interest.

The disagreement between the parliament, which is delaying the approval of the loans which are necessary for the Egyptian economy, and the government which is pushing to accept the loans, presents the nature of the struggle between the parliament, which consists of mostly (nearly 70 percent) of members of religious movements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafi Al-Nour. The future president could be one of the Islamist representatives, such as Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Mursi, or Abd el-Munam Abu el-Fatua, the independent candidate who left the Brotherhood. Both have a good chance of being elected, although Amr Moussa or Ahmed Shafiq also stand a chance, which could lead to an opposition within parliament against a non-religious president.

However, religious matters are not the only thing that may bring the parliament and the president to blows. For instance, a parliamentary committee that visited Gaza in March recommended that Egypt open the Rafah crossing, and to cancel the closure on the Strip. Such a decision, should it be accepted, may cause a clash with the United States and Israel, and could generate a disagreement over authority between the military and the parliament (assuming the government will be made up of members of the Muslim Brotherhood). Until a new constitution is established, the military is responsible for state security and the opening of the Rafah crossing. Can the military face a parliamentary and governmental decision, or will it enforce its will upon them. And if so, by virtue of which powers?

The reports, which were denied by the spokesperson for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), according to which the council intends to pass amendments to the constitution that would grant it wider powers, express the political disagreement that the new reality in Egypt may create. The disagreements reflect the essential difference between the absolute rule of Mubarak and his predecessors, and that of a new regime. If in the past the president initiated policies and ruled (with the help of a political party) over every aspect of parliamentary legislation, now begins the struggle over division of powers. Today, the elected parliament is no longer a rubber stamp, but rather a body with power that can decide the country's foreign policy and budgetary priorities, while at the same time striving to subject the military to its supervision.

It should be assumed that power struggles will erupt not only between the military and the parliament, or between the president and the parliament, but also between factions. Ostensibly, the parliament is based on a unified Islamic bloc, however the "Democratic Coalition" which won more than 47% of the seats in the parliament, is divided between the Freedom and Justice Party of the Muslim Brotherhood (218 seats out of 508) and the rest of the bloc, including Ayman Nour's secular party, the socialist party, the Democratic Generation Party, and many others that don't necessarily see eye-to-eye with the Muslim Brotherhood. Alongside those parties there exist disagreements between the Brotherhood and the Al-Nour Party. The Salafists are interested in preventing "beach tourism," claiming that it is an injury to moral principles. The Brotherhood, however, does not oppose it.

A new president, whether Islamist or secular, does not yet know which powers will be in his hands. The aspiration is that a new constitution will be formulated and presented for a national referendum by the end of the second round (should there be an end) at the end of June. Even after the formulation, it is possible that political power struggles may stall the beginning of a new era in Egypt. This, of course, is the chronic disease of all democratic regimes.

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