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Egyptian court ruling raises stakes in presidential race

The court suspended the assembly chosen to write Egypt's new constitution, delaying the process until after elections. That means the new president will initially have near-dictatorial powers.

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“This is the wish of the Egyptian people, who chose the Islamists by a large percentage,” said the Brotherhood’s secretary general, Mahmoud Hussein, in an interview at the group's headquarters on Sunday.

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The Brotherhood has thrown its weight around since it won parliamentary elections, insisting that its victory gave it a popular mandate for the constituent assembly and breaking a year-long pledge not to field a presidential candidate. Over the weekend, the group announced it would register a second presidential candidate as a backup, in case their first choice, deputy leader Khairat El Shater, was disqualified.

(Mr. Shater, like many Brotherhood members, spent time in jail during Hosni Mubarak's rule. Though the Brotherhood says he's since received a full pardon, they fear he could still be disqualified.)

Dr. Hussein refuted criticisms of Islamist dominance and suggested that the military may have been behind the walkout of nearly a third of the constituent assembly's members. Because the constituent assembly would gather suggestions for the constitution from all Egyptians, he said, it didn’t matter if the body was representative of Egypt’s population.

“We want everyone to be represented, but this is not the issue,” said Hussein, speaking before the court ruling. He said those who withdrew from the committee were under outside pressure to derail the constituent assembly and thwart the democratic transition. “If it's the military council [behind the resignations], then they want to make sure there are enough people that are on their side in the constituent assembly that will enable them to have the constitution in their favor.”

At stake if rift persists: military intervention

In negotiations between the FJP and those who resigned from the committee, the secularists had requested a 60 percent to 75 percent support threshold for constitutional articles. Hussein said that was an attempt to ensure the military’s interests would be represented in the document. The other side claimed that the FJP’s insistence on having a majority was evidence that they intended to ram an Islamist constitution through the committee.

Some secular figures have indeed run to the military for political help against the Islamists. Others who resigned from the committee have refused military intervention.

But the Brotherhood, which was banned for decades before last year's revolution, is “still stuck in the victimhood mentality,” says Ashour. “Their perception is that, ‘It's a conspiracy and they're out to get us.' "  Ashour says the group needs to put aside that mentality, and both sides need to reconcile to avoid military intervention. “The rifts are real and you cannot deny the mistrust and the ideological animosity, but I think we have to move beyond this if we want this democratic transition to succeed,” he says.

The court decision could provide the impetus to end the standoff. Shater said in a statement yesterday that he respects the court's ruling, and called on "all national forces to sit together and reach better solutions to overcome this crisis."

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