Muslim Brotherhood miscalculates in its political monopoly

Issandr El Amrani writes: Since a little over a week ago, when the Islamist majority in Egypt’s parliament rushed through the appointment of a constituent assembly without any serious attempt at building a broader consensus, the country’s already ailing transition began to appear that much more fraught. The Muslim Brotherhood’s decision on Saturday to nominate its strongman, Khairat Al Shater, as a presidential candidate delivered another shock wave that could end whatever chance Egypt had left at achieving a stable democratic transition.

It should first be noted that the Muslim Brothers are perfectly within their rights to have chosen this course of action. The constitutional declaration in place since the end of March 2011, accepted by most political forces despite some doubts about its legality, gives parliament the right to appoint the constitutional assembly.

In allying with the Salafist Nour Party, with which it controls over 70 per cent of parliament, the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) could very well control the process and outcome of the nomination process for the assembly. Likewise, even if it had repeatedly stated that it would not field a presidential candidate, and even expelled members who disagreed with this decision, it has the right to change its mind according to the changing political context.

Nonetheless, the decision to abandon any pretence of inclusiveness in the appointment of the constituent assembly is a mistake – one that might be explained by the distrust that reigns between the military junta now ruling Egypt and the Brotherhood, but a mistake nonetheless.

What it shows first and foremost, as the Brotherhood stands on the threshold of the political power it has sought for over eight decades, is a contempt for other political forces at a time when Egypt is sorely in need of a consensus that can support the momentous changes ahead. The question, for now, is not so much what the Brotherhood and other Islamists intend to do about the constitution – even if they can be expected to maximise the role that Sharia will play in the new Egypt.

In fact, unlike Salafists, the Brotherhood has provided few details of what its ideal constitution would look like, and not even a clear position on contentious issues such as the implementation of traditional Islamic punishments or the treatment of non-Muslims.

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