Egypt's new draft constitution is likely to deepen the current division and confrontation in Egypt.

Currently, there are three key centers of power in Egypt: the Brotherhood, the military and the judiciary (the judiciary dissolved the legislative branch in June). Each operates under considerable constraints that shape the balance of power among them. A resolution to the constitutional crisis will take time, and while the outcome is unknown, one of the consequences could be the advancement of the Brotherhood's ultimate goal of an Islamist-dominated Egypt.

Behind the scenes, negotiations between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military have been taking place over the power balance between the armed forces and the civilian government. The military has to an extent exploited the opposition protests to apply additional pressure on the Muslim Brotherhood. A closer, however, look reveals that the two sides are working out an arrangement.

The Constitution draft, after all, already ensures many of the military’s interests. The Morsi government has also, for now, stayed clear of a redline in keeping the bulk of the state’s economic assets in the hands of the military. The military will continue making moves through the judiciary, the police and other institutions to keep the Muslim Brotherhood in check, but it so far does not appear interested in obstructing the referendum. The military needs a civilian partner and at this stage, the Brotherhood is really the only viable option.

There have been doubts as to whether the military will be able to maintain its independence in an Islamist-run Egypt. So far, the military’s status appears to be intact and everyone can now see that the Muslim Brotherhood cannot control the street without the military. Over time, however, it will be important to watch how much success Egypt’s Islamist forces have in trying to subordinate the military to a civilian government.

In stark contrast to the secularist days of the Nasserite era, Egypt has become much more overtly religious in the past couple of decades. Given Egypt’s universal conscription, the armed forces also came to reflect this increased level of religiosity. The question is whether a more observant army will eventually translate into a strong ally for an Islamist-led government.

To date, promotions to senior ranks in the Egyptian military have been made after heavy screening for political, including Islamist, leanings. This was essential to the military’s ability to maintain its independence from the political sphere. During the Mubarak era, the regime built up loyalty from the military under Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi by giving the military control over public sector assets to help keep them economically satisfied.

Much of the military elite -- around 70 army officers -- were forced into retirement when Morsi came into power. With that top, corrupt layer removed, the government is making room for advancement from the mid and lower ranks. The current defense minister and army chief appointed by Morsi are both believed to be religious military men and appear to have a strong working relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood. That's not a coincidence.

This does not translate necessarily into the military losing its independence to an Islamist political ideology. As this crisis has revealed, the military has been very calculating in its moves to both contain the Muslim Brotherhood and work with the unavoidable reality of an Islamist government.  The evolution of this relationship bears close watching in the years ahead.

Today tens of thousands of protesters have rallied in central Cairo, continuing more than a week of demonstrations against new powers assumed by the president and the drafting of a constitution seen by many as undermining basic freedoms.

President Mohamed Morsi issued a decree last week that gave the panel an additional two months to finish its work. It also granted him wide-ranging power to issue decrees which would not be subject to judicial review.

But the assembly unexpectedly decided to vote on a draft constitution this week, with critics of the government accusing the panel of rushing its work.

Tomorrow President Morsi and his coalition also plans to bring in Islamists that will protest in their defense.

The next few weeks will be decisive. A number of events over the coming days will show just how far the Brotherhood could go to neutralize the judiciary. Morsi could ratify the newly approved constitution as early as Dec. 1, setting the stage for a national referendum, which must be held within two weeks. But on Dec. 2, the Supreme Court will hold a hearing on the legality of the Constituent Assembly. (It is unclear whether the court will issue a ruling that day.) Two days later, a Cairo administrative court will hold a hearing on the legality of Morsi's Nov. 22 declaration and could reverse it.

Nearly two dozen members of the assembly, including liberals and representatives from the Coptic Church, have withdrawn from the assembly in recent weeks.

Activists have criticized the document for failing to protect the rights of women and religious minorities.

The document also includes provisions that allow civilians to be prosecuted by military tribunals, and shield the army's budget from parliamentary oversight.

"Rushing through a draft while serious concerns about key rights protections remain unaddressed will create huge problems down the road that won't be easy to fix," said Joe Stork, the director of US-based Human Rights Watch, which has been critical of the document for months.

In the session's final hours, several new articles were hastily written to resolve lingering issues.

One significant change would reduce the size of the Supreme Constitutional Court by nearly a third, to 11 judges, removing several younger judges who have been critical of the Brotherhood.

But despite the public opposition, the Brotherhood - by far the best-organized political movement in Egypt - is confident that the constitution will ultimately be approved.

Important however is that although the Brotherhood previously rejected such concessions, the new draft charter represents the group's realization that it needs the military to advance its agenda in the current environment. An article published by the Washington Institute on 3 December in fact spells out 'the Brotherhoods deal with the Military'.

Meaning: First, the new constitution grants the military relative autonomy over its own affairs. Article 195 holds that the defense minister must be a member of the armed forces "appointed from among its officers," thereby sparing the military from civilian oversight. Article 197 similarly establishes a National Defense Council to oversee the military's budgets; at least eight of the council's fifteen seats must be held by high-ranking military officials, avoiding the parliamentary oversight that the generals feared. Meanwhile, Article 198 maintains the military judiciary as "an independent judiciary" and allows civilians to be tried before military courts for "crimes that harm the armed forces.”

Second, the constitution grants the military substantial influence -- and perhaps even veto power -- over the conduct of war. Article 146 states that the president cannot "declare war, or send the armed forces outside state territory, except after consultation with the National Defense Council and the approval of the House of Representatives with a majority of its members." The text also seemingly equalizes the defense minister and the president during wartime: Article 146 calls the president the "supreme commander of the armed forces," while Article 195 declares the defense minister the "commander-in-chief of the armed forces."

There will be plenty of noise and confusion in the lead-up to the Dec. 15 referendum as the secular, anti-Muslim Brotherhood civilian opposition continues its protests against Morsi. But filter through that noise, and one can see that the military and the Muslim Brotherhood appear to be adjusting slowly to a new order of Nasserite-Islamist rule.

Islamists showed support for the president and his constitution on Saturday

 

 

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