Egypt: Military and Islamists Rumored to Strike President Deal

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Head of Egypt's ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi (C) lays a wreath during his visit to the tomb of the Unknown Soldier on the anniversary of Egypt's armed forces Martyr's day, in Cairo 8 March 2012. (Photo: REUTERS - Middle East News Agency)

By: Bisan Kassab

Published Friday, March 9, 2012

Former SCAF advisor and Sadat-era minister seen as “consensus candidate” for the presidency, though Muslim Brotherhood insists its still undecided.

Cairo – Speculation has long been rife that the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) have been seeking agreement on a joint candidate to become Egypt’s next president.

This week’s announcement that Mansour Hassan, chairman of the SCAF’s Advisory Council, would run in the presidential elections in May, was widely seen as confirmation that the two sides had finally struck a deal. Media and analysts alike identified Hassan as the long-awaited “consensus candidate,” despite carefully-worded denials from the MB.

Walid Shalabi, a senior aide to a MB leader, stressed in a statement to Al-Akhbar that the group has neither met nor contacted any prospective presidential candidates.

“We are committed to what we have previously announced: We will not declare our support for any candidate before the nomination period is over so that all options are clear to us and everyone else,” he affirmed. Candidacies for the presidency must be submitted by April 8.

Shalabi said any candidate eventually endorsed by the MB would have to “believe in Islamic terms of reference,” but need not necessarily belong to any Islamist group.

However, Hassan’s performance as the SCAF’s chief civilian advisor has reinforced expectations that the 75-year-old former minister (under ex-president Anwar Sadat) will obtain the MB’s support. In particular, he strongly upheld the SCAF’s plans to have the 100-member Constituent Assembly, which is to write Egypt’s new constitution, elected by parliament rather than by direct popular vote. This was also the position of the MB, whose political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), is the largest party in the Islamist-dominated parliament.

Informed parliamentary sources said Hassan’s refusal to allow the manner of the Constituent Assembly‘s election to be reconsidered by the Advisory Council was in deference to SCAF member and Army Chief of Staff Brigadier-General Sami Anan, who had told him “don’t upset the ‘Brothers.’”

Ironically, the creation of the Advisory Council in January was originally seen as a bid by the SCAF to curb the growing power of the MB. SCAF member Major-General Mukhtar al-Mulla publicly played down parliament’s role in the formation of the Constituent Assembly and suggested the task would be assigned to the Advisory Council. This prompted the two FJP representatives on the Council, party chairman Muhammad Mursi and MP Osama Yassin, to resign from it.

But the two sides quickly patched things up. The underlying reasons for their dispute were overcome when MB spokesman Mahmoud Ghazlan became the first to start calling for a “safe exit” for the SCAF when it eventually relinquishes power.

Hassan, who had gained some popularity after reports were leaked about his differences with ousted president Hosni Mubarak, went a step further in appeasing the SCAF. He took exception to the term “safe exit” on the grounds that it was offensive to the military as it implied it had been involved in wrongdoing. “The SCAF has not committed any crimes in order to escape punishment,” he remarked.

Hassan’s cosy relationship with the SCAF was further underlined by his announcement that he would appoint former army general Sameh Seif al-Yazal as his vice-president if he were to be elected.

Hassan has announced his resignation as chairman of the Advisory Council, as the post would be incompatible with running for high office. But before he quit, he apparently tried unsuccessfully to dissolve the body altogether.

A member of the Council, speaking to Al-Akhbar on condition of anonymity, said Hassan contacted other members of the Council and urged them to submit their resignations en mass, arguing that the SCAF no longer needed their advice. These included Sameh Ashour (president of the Lawyers’ Syndicate and deputy chairman of the Advisory Council), Salah Fadl, and Abd al-Aziz Hijazi (a former Egyptian prime minister).

The MB, meanwhile, seems set to flex its parliamentary muscles ahead of the presidential race. Both Ghazalan and FJP leader Essam el-Erian – who is also chairman of parliament’s foreign affairs committee – have indicated that parliament is likely to deny a vote of confidence to Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri’s government at a ballot next week.

Erian stated his party was “inclined to reject” the government’s policy statement, and went on to urge the SCAF to “assign a new government, one that is formed of parties that won the majority.”

Ghazlan in turn said: “This parliament represents the people. Neither the government nor the SCAF itself are elected, thus they ought to defer to the will of the people.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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