Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has rejected a compromise deal from the interim leadership that sets a fast track for amending the Islamist-drafted constitution and holding new parliamentary and presidential elections by early next year.
The quick issuing of the transition plan showed how Egypt’s new leadership is shrugging off Islamists’ vows to reverse the military’s overthrow of president Mohammed Morsi and wants to quickly entrench a post-Morsi political system.
Egypt’s military also aims to show Western nations that the country is moving quickly back to an elected civilian leadership. Washington has expressed concern over the removal of Egypt’s first freely elected president, and if the US government decides that the army’s move qualifies as a coup it would have to cut off more than a a billion dollars in aid to Egypt, mostly to the military.
Egypt’s political divide was further enflamed by one of the worst single incidents of bloodshed in two and a half years of turmoil: Security forces killed more than 50 pro-Morsi protesters in clashes at a sit-in by Islamists. The military accused armed Islamists of sparking the fighting, but Morsi supporters said troop opened fire on them without provocation after dawn prayers.
Since then, the military and allied media have depicted the campaign to restore Mr Morsi as increasingly violent and infused with armed extremists. Islamists, in turn, have talked of the military aiming to crush them after what they say was a coup to wreck democracy.
Essam el-Erian, a senior Brotherhood figure and deputy head of its Freedom and Justice Party, rejected the transition timetable, saying it takes the country “back to zero.”
“The cowards are not sleeping, but Egypt will not surrender. The people created their constitution with their votes,” he said, referring to the constitution that Islamists pushed to finalisation and then was passed in a national referendum during Mr Morsi’s year in office.
He said the military and its allies were targeting “not just the president but the nation’s identity, the rights and freedoms of the people and the democratic system enshrined in the constitution.”
The constitution passed unde rMr Morsi – and suspended since his fall – was written by an assembly created by the first post-Mubarak parliament, elected in 2011-2012. But the panel was deeply controversial.
Reflecting the parliament, the constituent assembly had a strong Islamist majority. Most non-Islamists eventually abandoned the assembly, complaining that the Brotherhood and its allies were imposing their will. Courts were considering whether to dissolve the panel but Mr Morsi unilaterally decreed that they could not while his allies rushed to finalise the draft.
The final version had a strong Islamist flavour, deepening requirements for laws to abide by Shariah. The document passed in a referendum with around 60% of the vote – but only around 30% of voters casting ballots.
Under the timetable issued by interim president Adly Mansour, two appointed panels would be created. One, made up of judges, would come up with amendments. The other, larger body consisting of representatives of society and political movements would debate the amendments and approve them.
The new constitution would be put to a referendum within four and a half months from now. Elections for a new parliament would be held within two months of that. Once the new parliament convenes, it would have a week to set a date for presidential elections.