It is a well-known fact that the Constituent Assembly must finalise the constitution prior to 12 December. Despite this, it appears that the different parties now insist on their respective positions more than ever before. The disagreements are primarily between three parties: The Salafis, behind whom the Jihadists and Takfiris have aligned, the Muslim Brotherhood who attract the support some Salafis, and democratic forces whose ranks are composed of liberals, Nasserists, leftists and social democrats.
These disagreements generally lie on three points of contention: 1) The system of governance. 2) Socio-economic rights. 3) The identity of the state.
On the first point of contention, the disagreements primarily revolve around the respective powers of the Armed Forces and the president as well as the independence of the judiciary. As for economic and social rights, the relevant texts are unbalanced and unclear as some of these rights are clearly stipulated while others are crafted in a vague manner. Finally, the third point of contention relates to the right for a body composed of senior Al-Azhar religious scholars to interpret Shari’a.
There are also other disagreements surrounding an updated interpretation of the second article of the constitution, which argues that the principles of Islamic Shari’a are found in the provisions of the four Sunni schools of law. There are further disagreements regarding woman’s rights and civil liberties as the Salafis believe that equality between men and women should not be stipulated unless it is followed by an additional, clear text emphasising that this equality should not violate God’s law.
Those supporting a strong, hegemonic state, insist on giving considerable powers to the army, perhaps because they hope that the army will check the Muslim Brotherhood for the foreseeable future. The Muslim Brotherhood, in turn, as all the evidence indicates, clings to these articles as part and parcel to the deal that deposed Field Marshal Tantawi and returned the military to the background of the political landscape.
Regarding the powers of the president – specifically his or her right to appoint the prime minister without a majority in Parliament or in the event of a dissolved parliament – there is evidence that the Muslim Brotherhood is ready to back down while they hold the presidency but this will be beneficial to whatever party holds the post in the future. Remarkably, the Salafis are not interested in any of these issues and thus do not discuss any of the provisions on the system of governance. Instead they consider the whole affair to be matter of little importance that does not concern them.
In my estimation, socio-economic rights will not be a source of significant disagreement. The Salafis are not interested in this matter either while the Muslim Brotherhood is willing to accept any wording of these rights – no matter how radical – to please the social-democratic and leftist forces.
Ultimately, the wordings that arise from the framework of general constitutional principles will not entail specific social commitments from the state to its citizens. Thus, I believe that the different political forces will reach an agreement on the provisions relating to socio-economic rights.
In my estimation, the provisions regarding liberties and the identity of the state are the principle obstacles to reaching an agreement. I believe that as the deadline for the Constituent Assembly nears, the parties will face two basic choices.
1. The different parties reach an agreement and enter a period of balanced stability in which a constitution codifies and manages political conflict.
2. The principle powers will split over the constitution, inevitably leading to the birth of constitution acknowledged by some citizens and rejected by others. The danger here is that all those who reject the constitution will unite to form a single movement rather than remaining isolated, individual parts of different movements. Practically, this means that society could reach a level of polarisation that, if continued, may lead to even more divisions.
All the principle parties, the Islamists, the feloul, and the democratic forces, have exerted every effort to push for the best constitution from their respective perspectives. However, all rational members of these three groups are aware that all negotiation must come to an end and that the end of this negotiation is imminent not only because the time allotted to the Constituent Assembly is nearing its end but also because the public has begun to lose its patience.
There is considerable pressure from the masses demanding that the elites end their bickering and reach an agreement that guarantees the country a modicum of stability.
Some critics of the Muslim Brotherhood think that the group is uninterested in drafting a constitution or holding new parliamentary elections based on the premise that it does not believe in democracy or the transfer of power. I refrain from reading the intentions of the Muslim Brotherhood and delving into whether or not the Muslim Brotherhood believes in democracy. I can say that the Muslim Brotherhood is forced to finish a draft constitution and hold parliamentary elections because the IMF has stipulated that an elected Egyptian Parliament must agree to the loan to be issued to Egypt.
Likewise, a number of international agencies and foreign governments also await the existence of a stable democratic regime before any economic assistance is offered to Egypt. As the Muslim Brotherhood bears the responsibility of running the country, it recognises this assistance is needed, not to achieve prosperity or improve economic performance but rather to forestall increased impoverishment and economic decadence.
Once again, therefore, we face two choices: agreement or division. All the parties have presented their power, announced their demands, and negotiated all ways and means. Those who are rational and cognisant of the political game will now attempt to take the negotiations to their inevitable, painful ending: offering mutual concessions and reaching what is minimally acceptable to the different parties.
However, it is worth remembering here that those who are rational in the political arena are few, due to the lack of experienced political leaders – especially within the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis. And so, we ought to impress here that the Brotherhood, who in the final analysis are more reliable than the Salafis, face two choices: Either align with the democratic forces to build the framework of an agreement able to attract some Salafis and repel the others, or attempt to align with the Salafis and exclude all of the democratic forces from the framework of the agreement.
Nobody can accurately predict the position or performance of the Muslim Brotherhood. However, perhaps we will be able to return to the discussion of this subject in another conversation after some days have passed and offer an answer to question to the title of this column: With whom does the Muslim Brotherhood align: the Salafis or the democratic forces?