Not even the MB really thinks the new constitution that great

One of the controversies about Egypt's new constitution is the way it has an ambiguous reference to al-Azhar having an advisory role as part of the expanded role of religion in state affairs. In January, we had the spectacle of the FJP's much-ballyhooed new Islamic finance law being twice rejected by al-Azhar, to the dismay of the Brothers, because it allows for (Islamically-correct) financial instruments to be used to raise investment in public infrastructure projects. Al-Azhar did not like the idea of foreigners owning such public infrastructure, and thus rejected the draft law — what seems like a secular rather than religious objection, although perhaps they had a religious reasoning too.

This was a great illustration of my fundamental problem with the constitution — the lack of forethought that went into it, and the unintended consequences of it. I think it's just the beginning, as this example unearthed by Nour the intern shows. She writes in first about the ongoing debate about the police (the Brothers' new best friends) but the second item speaks to my point:

Fast forward to minute 4, where Al-Qahira Al-Youm reporter, Mohamed Saad Eldeen, explains the Shura Council's session where MOI representative specifically stated that it is the police's job to "protect the legitimacy of the President" and they intend to do so. An outraged Wafd party member objected to their shamelessly political stance arguing that it's the exact same, wrong, stance they took for Mubarak. Instead of the MOI representatives defending themselves, Freedom and Justice party members did it for them, saying that it's the MOI's job to protect the regime and that the police should be using more force with the protesters. Eldeen added that the Minister of Interior didn't attend the session and sent a deputy instead, like every other minister who has been asked to attend for the past two weeks. The council later moved on to the European agreement with Egypt in the works. The agreement is worth €60 million, and includes loans and interest, which irked Salafi members who demanded the agreement be referred to Al-Azhar first, before they formally reject it. That's when Essam el-Erian intervened to stress the government's need for the money and that, with all due respect to Al-Azhar, "this is a legislative council." At that point, Salafi Nour party members reminded him of the continued existence of the constitution.

So many sessions are going to sounds like this one — one of the many factors that will add to the politicization of al-Azhar, because it has the potential to become a veto power (especially over Islamists, who can't very well just ignore the advisory opinions of the country's leading Islamic scholars the way secularists might) and that, therefore, controlling al-Azhar will become part of getting your ducks in a row when you want to pass legislation.

This is why I think the recent controversy over the election of the new Mufti is just the beginning of a long fight, as do Nathan Brown and Hisham Hellyer

In Translation: The SCC's verdicts

We've had the linguistic gnomes at Industry Arabic working overtime this weekend to translate the verdicts dissolving parliament and declaring the Political Exclusion Law unconstitutional issued by Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court this weekend. They plowed through the legalese and given us this  —a full translation of the verdicts, available in PDF [334kb, original Arabic version here.]. They even highlighted in yellow some of more significant passages.

Below I am excerpting the reasoning of disbanding parliament because members of political parties were allowed to run for the individual candidacy (aka simple majority of first-past-the-post) seats:

There is no doubt that establishing this competition had a definite impact and reciprocal effect on the two-thirds allocated for closed party lists, since if political parties were not competing with independents over that other portion, then a rearrangement would have taken place within the party lists, taking into account the priorites within each party. Furthermore, political party members had the choice between two ways to run for the People's Assembly, the closed party-list system and the individual candidacy system. Independents were deprived of one of these ways, and their rights were limited to the portion allotted for the individual candidacy system, in which political party members also competed.

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Who's unhappy about the coup against parliament?

The ruling by the Supreme Constitutional Court on Thursday has been described by many, including myself, as a coup by proxy. The only democratically elected institution in Egypt is now gone, the SCAF has regained full legislative powers  — i.e. the power to rule by decree — and it's not clear whether the president who will be elected in the next two days will be able to assume his position in any case. Furthermore, we know that SCAF intends to ammend the constitutional declaration now in place or perhaps issue a new one altogether. If it looks like a coup and smells like a coup and is based on absurd legal reasoning, it probably is a soft coup.

The strange thing is that I don't see much outrage about it outside of Twitter.

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The Salafi who called the azan in parliament

The above footage is from a surreal moment in yesterday's session of the Egyptian parliament (where you can be guaranteed a surreal moment at least twice a day) during which Salafi MP Mamdouh Ismail suddenly decided to call the azan, the call to prayer. Never mind that it actually did not seem to be prayer time, or that parliament was in the middle of discussion (of the Interior Ministry clashes I believe). Ismail is a very nasty type of Salafi, the litigious kind. He has brought countless morality lawsuits against prominent people, the latest of which is the ongoing one against Naguib Sawiris for putting a cartoon of Salafi Mickey and Minnie Mouse on Twitter.

A wonderfully forceful reaction by Speaker Saad al-Katatny, who told him that if he wanted to pray he could go to the nearby mosque and that he was not any more Muslim than anyone else. Good to hear that from a Muslim Brothers, who have been known to act like they're more Muslim than some. A lot of people among the Twittorevolutionaries are making disparaging sounds about Katatni but I think he's generally been a very effective, stern speaker – whatever his biases are.

Meet Egypt's next speaker of parliament

From Profile of Dr. Mohamed Katatni, FJP's Nominee for Parliament Chairman - Ikhwanweb:

After the announcement of his win in the parliamentary seat in Minia, Katatni recalled the ironic twist after former NDP member Ahmed Ezz sarcastically prayed during the last parliamentary session that they (the NDP) succeed to take over the Muslim Brotherhood's places. Ezz's prayer could not have been more precise; the MB members were released from jails and the NDP and former regime affiliates responsible for oppressing a nation for over 30 years, are in fact sitting in their places, however, in jail.

How sweet that must feel. Me, I remember when Katatni – a decent man I have long thought respectfully of, aside from his defense of FGM in parliament – told me in 2008 that if is able to form a political party, he will quit the Muslim Brotherhood. This is the chief problem with the FJP's win for me: it's not clear whether party leaders make decisions, or the unelected leaders of the secret society (with no legal existence or accountability) that is the Muslim Brotherhood.  

Katatni will be the Speaker of the People's Assembly, and that could make him third in line for the presidency if similar provisions as the previous constitution are maintained. 

Submit to Mubarak

Once a military man, always a military man.
At a meeting of parliament's national security committee on Wednesday, committee head Mohamed Abdel Fattah Omar urged the Egyptian public to "entirely submit" to the will of President Hosni Mubarak.
"Even if Mubarak chooses dictatorship, we still must obey, since he would act as a benevolent dictator," said Omar.
Omar's comments came as the committee was discussing a draft law on the extension of Law 49 of 1997, which grants the president the right to take unilateral decisions in military issues pertaining to armaments without having to seek parliamentary approval.
Omar's remark came in response to objections to the law raised by Muslim Brotherhood MPs Sabri Amer and Essam Mokhtar. The two MPs also objected to the law on the basis that the president's term was slated to end next year.
Defense Ministry adviser Mamdouh Shahin, for his part, defended the move, noting that "current international and regional threats warrant the extension of the law."
The committee ultimately endorsed the bill, which it will submit to the People's Assembly next week for approval.
There have been some pretty sycophantic paeans to Hosni Mubarak in the past, but never has anything like this been said so explicitly. And this from the man who a few weeks ago was suggesting that Minister of Finance Youssef Boutros-Ghali would be assassinated. We're in Saddam Hussein territory here. I also wonder if M. Omar (or I should say, police general Omar) is inspired by certain Sunni theologians, notably those of the Malekite school, who believe the umma should always submit to the sultan.
In any case, this story does shed light on a little-discussed provision of Egyptian law that has important electoral ramifications and partly explains the regime's panic during the parliamentary elections of 2005. Throughout his reign, Mubarak has been granted by parliament the right to conclude military armaments deals (import and export) without consultation — essentially a fast-track process to carry out these deals. Normally, the deals would have to be reviewed and approved by parliament. But, as long as there was a two-thirds majority in favor, parliament could always give the president the fast track — and it always has.
When the Muslim Brothers looked like they would get up to 120 seats in parliament in 2005, that two-thirds majority was threatened (two-thirds of parliament amounts to about 150 seats). So after the first round the security services began to crackdown and made the sure the Brothers would not get anywhere near that number.
This bill, if I understand it correctly, is either another iteration of the fast track or an actual amendment to the law to permanently enshrine the president's fast track privilege over arms deals — one that provides zero transparency over arms purchases, who gets commissions, and other fascinating aspects of the Egyptian military-industrial complex, its clients, and its major arms suppliers. It is as if Mubarak wanted to make he sure he left that legacy to his successor...

Links January 15th and January 19th

Automatically posted links for January 15th through January 19th:

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