Fissures emerge among Egypt's protest leaders, jeopardizing victory
Just five days after toppling Mubarak, Egypt's protest leaders are split on how to proceed. Some say the military is pursuing a 'divide and conquer' strategy.
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Other activists say they’re worried the Muslim Brotherhood, a group outlawed under Mubarak but officially tolerated as a sort of fig-leaf opposition, will cut deals with the military regime behind the backs of other reformers. “They’ve done that sort of thing before,” charges one leftist activist who helped organize recent protests. “Before the 2005 elections, there were signs they were negotiating with the regime to take an ‘acceptable’ level of parliamentary seats.”Skip to next paragraph
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Yesterday, the military named Tariq al-Bishri – a judge respected for his independence, yet who is also close to the Muslim Brotherhood – to head the constitutional reform committee. Other members of the committee appear to be legal figures very close to the Mubarak regime and his ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).
“The appointment of Sobhi Saleh, a former Brotherhood MP in Alexandria, to the same committee has sent an even more worrying message: that the Army is drafting the [Muslim Brotherhood] to help calm down the national euphoria by giving the group a privileged position in amending the Constitution,” writes political analyst Issandr El Amrani for Al-Masry Al-Youm.
He argues the move “will revive longstanding perceptions of a symbiotic relationship between the regime and [the Brotherhood] at the expense of public interest.”
And today, a spokesman for the new constitutional committee said that a full overhaul of the Constitution, a key demand of Egypt’s democracy activists, is not in the works. Ismail Etman told Al-Hayat TV in a statement that a handful of articles will be simply amended, and urged public protests to cease.
Nawara, spokesman for the opposition Ghad party, says he sees signs that the process of constitutional reform is being dangerously separated from politics.
“Changing the Constitution doesn’t require a committee, it requires a a national dialogue – people need to talk about the nature of the state they want: A strong presidency? Is there going to be proportional representation in Parliament? The role of religion, and so on,” he says.
“This dialogue needs to take place in the press, in the parties, and down to the grass roots. Then after some months a consensus will emerge. This isn’t a matter for appointed committees to decide. It’s a matter for the people to decide.”
Dim prospects for Friday protest
Less than a day after Mubarak’s removal, with the raucous party in downtown Cairo starting to wind down and thousands of protesters volunteering to pick up trash, take down barricades, and repaint curbs before heading home, men were grabbing microphones and delivering political bromides.
The unity that brought together Christians and Muslims without acrimony, and men and women without the sexual harassment usually endemic in large mixed crowds, appeared to fray. Islamist activists who appeared to be from the Muslim Brotherhood were demanding that men be separated from women in the crowds gathered to hear celebratory concerts on the makeshift stages around the square.
And the rank-and-file protesters were starting to drift away.
Sameh Sabri, a burly bank worker who’d joined the protests, explained why he was helping with the cleanup. “We didn’t own this space – none of this was ours before,” he said, gesturing at the square. “It is now. But it’s time to head home and give the military a chance. We can always come back if we have to.”
The view of Mr. Sabri and many others like him dim the prospects of a mass demonstration called for this Friday at Tahrir to remind the military that political reform must move forward.
(This story was edited after posting to correct the name of the Ghad Party spokesman to Wael Nawara.)