Egypt's Brotherhood, SCAF locked in delicate dance over constitutional legitimacy

News article, posted 07.16.2012, from Egypt, in:
Egypt's Brotherhood, SCAF locked in delicate dance over constitutional legitimacy (Photo: Reuters)

Only 48 hours before a scheduled court verdict on the legality of the Constituent Assembly – tasked with drafting a new constitution – Egypt's quasi-ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) denied media reports that it planned to unilaterally dissolve the body.

"We ask the media to be more cautious when quoting members of the military council," a military source told Egypt's official news agency MENA. He went on to deny recent reports quoting council member General Mamdouh Shahin as saying that the SCAF would dissolve the assembly if the courts deemed it illegal.

"The Constituent Assembly is resuming its work; in fact, it is making successful efforts towards drafting a new constitution," the military source added.

But the future of the controversy-dogged assembly does not seem as bright as this statement implies. With Egypt's Administrative Court expected to issue a verdict on the legality of the mechanisms used to form the assembly, political parties – especially those of the Islamist variety – are reportedly considering a Plan B.

Essam El-Erian, vice chairman of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), stressed that the SCAF's alleged threats to dissolve the assembly had only one possible explanation, namely, "that there is already a new constitution sitting on the SCAF's desk" drafted by Mubarak-regime loyalists, El-Erian declared via Twitter.

"Egyptians should elect members of the new Constituent Assembly; they should not have it imposed on them against their will by the military council," he added.

According to the constitutional addendum issued by the military council last month (only one day after the dissolution of parliament's Islamist-led lower house), the SCAF has the power to dissolve the assembly if it "encounters obstacles that prevent it from completing its work" (Article 60B). According to these terms, the SCAF could draw up a new assembly, since parliament – legally mandated with forming the assembly – was dissolved by a 17 June court ruling.

If the court declares the Constituent Assembly unconstitutional, it will be the second assembly to be annulled by court order. The first assembly, members of which were chosen by Egypt's elected Islamist-led parliament, was dissolved after Egypt's High Constitutional Court (HCC) declared it unconstitutional in April.

Fears of a last-minute move by the SCAF to take over the constitution-drafting process – after its seizure last month of legislative authority – are not confined to the likes of El-Erian.

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