SCAF’s Poor Transition Planning to Blame for Egypt’s Looming Crisis

SCAF’s Poor Transition Planning to Blame for Egypt’s Looming Crisis

The 13 months since Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down have been turbulent and chaotic for the country. But it is only now, with a presidential election scheduled to begin in eight weeks and a committee being put in place to write a new constitution, that full-on political crisis seems to be looming.

In recent days, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), which took power when Mubarak resigned and has been overseeing the transition process, has found itself in conflict with the Muslim Brotherhood over the powers and responsibilities of the recently elected parliament. At the same time, secular forces are challenging the Islamists’ domination of the constitution-writing process. And a presidential election set to begin in weeks further complicates these dynamics. But what is happening now is not simply a product of the Muslim Brotherhood’s overconfidence, the military’s desire to maintain control or the secularists’ indignation at being marginalized. The timetable set by the SCAF and the inconsistencies of the current military-authored constitution made a messy transition process inevitable.

Just weeks after assuming power in February 2011, the SCAF introduced a set of eight amendments to the previous constitution, in place since 1971, even though most liberal, leftist and other secular groups had advocated for beginning work on an entirely new constitution immediately. The amendments were approved in a referendum the next month, with 77 percent of voters backing them, in large part due to vocal support from the military and Islamist forces. But after the poll, the military junta decided that simply amending the 1971 constitution was not enough. In an early sign of what was to become the SCAF’s ad hoc style of governance, the generals decided instead to issue a 63-article constitutional declaration (.pdf) that preserved some elements of the old constitution, including the eight voter-approved amendments, while scrapping others. And in that decision lay the seeds of most of Egypt’s current crisis.

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