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Hesham Sallam: Military’s insistence on convening elections this year gives an edge to the Muslim Brotherhood in return for political acquiescence

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DANYA NADAR, TRNN: Egypt’s “Friday of Unity and the People’s Will” rally, intending to demonstrate a show of harmony among various Egyptian groups, instead showed the strength of Muslim political forces across the country, holding banners and chants in support of an Islamic state and of the Egyptian military. Leftists and liberal political groups have been negotiating with the Muslim Brotherhood for days prior to the mass rally, but it became obvious on the eve of the protests that their unified message had been abandoned.

HESHAM SALLAM, CO-EDITOR, JADALIYYA.COM: I think last Friday’s demonstration on July 29 featured a great deal of disagreements in the square. As you know, almost 30 political parties and groups of non-Islamist leaning or secular leaning have decided to withdraw their support from Tahrir Square demonstrations because–they argue that the participants or the supporters of the Islamist coalition or the coalition of Islamist forces, a broad Islamist coalitions–includes Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafi-Kal movement, as well as Gama’a Islamiyya or the Islamic group. Non-Islamist political forces argue that supporters of those groups have chanted, have carried signs that promoted messages that do not adhere to the principles on which Egypt’s political community have agreed, the demands that they all agreed on in advance before Friday’s demonstration. They argue that they already–they allege that many of those Islamist political activists have sent out messages about divisive questions that the political community does not agree on, such as the establishment of an Islamic state, such as expressions of support for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and they therefore withdrew their support from Friday’s demonstrations.

NADAR: Among the demands of the unified group was trying officers who are accused of shooting protesters during the January revolution, setting a minimum and maximum wage, putting a clear schedule for elections, and the immediate halt to trying civilians in military courts. A point of contention, however, was adopting a set of guidelines for drafting a new constitution after parliamentary elections are held later this year.

SALLAM: One of the major compromises that was struck between members of the Islamist coalition or the coalition of Islamist forces and non-Islamist members of the political community was that the latter groups had to agree to setting one of the main demand of the Friday demonstrations, to call on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to cease any efforts to try and draft any constitutional principles that would guide constitution-writing efforts after Parliament is elected this coming November. As you know, the next parliament that is expected to be elected this November will be tasked with writing Egypt’s new constitution. Islamist political groups expect large gains this upcoming election, and therefore it is in their interest to make sure that constitution writing process will not be constrained by any outside forces prior to the upcoming elections. Non-Islamist political groups feel that they will be excluded from that process. They are not as well organized as Islamist political groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. They do not have that long history of political organization that the brotherhood enjoyed under the previous order. And therefore they have had a keen interest in pushing forward some kind of a document that sets the broader principles for the new constitution that the next parliament will be drafting. I mean, it’s difficult to talk about actual concrete differences between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis, because when we’re talking about Salafis, we’re talking about such a diverse segment of Egyptian society. However, generally speaking, there has been this explicit alliance between many prominent Salafi figures and the Muslim Brotherhood. There has been a large conference that included many prominent Islamist political groups and leaders, Salafi as well as leaders from the Muslim Brotherhood, in which they announced an interest in collaborating in the upcoming elections and in ensuring that political groups with Islamist orientations would compete for seats in a united front through some kind of an electoral coalition. Some people speculate that the Muslim Brotherhood’s stances are much more moderate than Salafi political groups when it comes to granting Islam or Islamic values and principles a larger role in regulating social norms and policies. However, there’s also speculations that Muslim Brotherhood has been using the larger role that Salafis have been playing in politics as a way of playing a good cop, bad cop game with the rest of the political community, trying to encourage Egypt’s Coptic minorities to view the Brotherhood as a moderate alternative to other, more radical or what can be viewed as more extreme Salafi political groups and to try and get more acceptance from the rest of the political [snip] However, the political community says that by expediting–or the speed with which elections will be convened gives the Brotherhood a de facto advantage, because it is one of the few well-organized political groups in Egypt. In other words, the SCAF is tacitly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood by taking for granted the political playing field that we’ve inherited from the Mubarak era, which gives the advantage to the Muslim Brotherhood, and they view the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ insistence on convening election this year as a way of giving the edge to the Muslim Brotherhood in return for political acquiescence and supporting the military’s policies and its privileges in politics.

NADAR: On Sunday, July 31, on the eve of the holy month of Ramadan is scheduled to begin, a group of 26 political parties and movements announced they will temporarily suspend their Tahrir Square sit-in, but vowed to continue using “diverse methods to put pressure towards achieving the rest of the goals [of the revolution]”. This is Danya Nadar for The Real News Network.

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