Hundreds of thousands of activists returned to Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Monday night to protest supplementary constitutional amendments issued by the ruling military council in recent days. The amendments grant the military sweeping legislative and budgetary powers while limiting the powers of the country’s next president. Critics argue that the surprise amendments — announced as votes in the presidential run off were being counted — are a last-ditch effort by the military to retain power beyond the handover to civilian rule on 1 July. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has denied the charge, insisting it will hand over to the newly elected president on the scheduled date as promised.
The newly introduced amendments include re-imposition of martial law allowing military police to arrest civilians “to enforce order”. Shielding the military from accountability, they also grant the SCAF the right to form a panel to draft the constitution should the constituent assembly recently elected by parliament fail to complete its work. The military council would also have control over the drafting of the new constitution with the right to object to any article.
The new decisions by the SCAF unleashed a new wave of anti-military criticism. Rights lawyer Hossam Bahgat called the amendments “a declaration of war” while sceptics described them on Twitter as being tantamount “to a complete military coup” and “an inevitable end to a messy transitional period.”
The announcement of the new amendments came as Egyptians were still reeling from shock after the High Constitutional Court issued a ruling to dissolve the Islamist-dominated parliament on Thursday . The court also decided to allow Ahmed Shafik, a former air force commander and the last prime minister under Mubarak, to stand in the run-off election. The latter ruling dashed hopes of the youth-revolutionaries that the former regime remnant would be forced out of the presidential race under a so-called “political exclusion law” passed by parliament. The law, which bars former regime members from standing for office, was rejected by the High Constitutional Court as unconstitutional.
As pro-reform activists chanted anti-military slogans in Tahrir Square on Monday night, supporters of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi celebrated his victory after his campaign organisers announced he had won the election by 51.2 per cent of the vote. Shafik ‘s camp has disputed the vote count , declaring its candidate the winner. The two camps have also traded accusations of election violations. The Supreme Electoral Commission has stated it may have to delay the announcement of the official election result beyond Thursday as it continues to look into complaints of voting irregularities filed by the two camps.
The presidential vote has brought to the surface the Islamist-secular divide that has existed in Egypt for decades. The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition group — who have long been marginalised and oppressed by successive military presidents in Egypt — fears a renewed crackdown if Shafik wins the election.
Members of the movement have in recent days tried to rally the secularist youth-activists behind them, urging them to unify ranks to counter “the military challenge”. But the truth is there no love lost between the mostly middle class, educated pro-reform activists who led the January 2011 mass uprising and the Islamists. Despite giving the MB candidate Mohamed Morsi their vote, many of the young revolutionaries argue that they voted for him simply because they considered him “the lesser of two evils”. Many of them believe the Muslim Brotherhood betrayed the revolution to further its own interests.
Film director Khaled Youssef, a liberal who invalidated his vote, accuses the Islamist movement of aligning with the military dictatorship and “selling out the revolutionaries.”
“Not only did the Muslim Brotherhood attempt to excercise monopoly over the drafting of the constitution but they also reneged on a previous promise not to field a presidential candidate,” he charges.
He adds that the Islamist parliament had allowed the blood of the pro-reform activists to be spilled during last year’s Mohamed Mahmoud violent protests when MPs had charged that “the protesters were not the real revolutionaries but were thugs and criminals instead.”
With tensions escalating and political forces calling for another “million people march” in Tahrir Square on Friday, analysts predict that the unrest in Egypt is likely to worsen in the coming weeks before showing signs of improvement. The activists meanwhile are bracing themselves for another showdown with the military.