EgyptFeatures/Interviews

Ahead of runoff, questions arise over Brotherhood’s potential concessions

As the Muslim Brotherhood strives to convince different political forces to rally behind its candidate in the upcoming presidential runoff, the debate intensifies over what the Brothers could give in return.

Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsy is expected to face Hosni Mubarak’s last Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq in the much-anticipated second round of the presidential poll set for 16 and 17 June. Both had outrun 11 contenders by garnering, respectively, 24.77 and 23.66 percent of more than 23 million valid votes.

With their close scores, Morsy and Shafiq are set to have a fierce race. To attenuate the ferocity, the Brothers have been calling on different political groups and defeated candidates to back Morsy against Mubarak’s man, hoping to attract the nearly 40 percent of votes that went to two revolutionary figures: Nasserist Hamdeen Sabbahi and moderate Islamist Abdel Moneim Abouel Fotouh.

So far, only the Salafi Nour Party has announced its unconditional endorsement of Morsy in the race. But relying on Islamists might not be enough, given that the election results revealed a growing anti-Islamist sentiment, even in some of the Brothers’ historical strongholds. The Brotherhood witnessed a significant drop in support, from taking more than 40 percent of votes in the parliamentary polls to a little less than 25 percent in the presidential one.

After the Presidential Elections Commission officially announced the results, protests erupted across the nation against both Morsy and the potential implementation of Sharia law. While Shafiq was dismissed for being part of the Mubarak regime, demonstrators chanted against Morsy, “No to the rule of the supreme guide,” referring to the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood.

“Morsy’s chances in the runoff are weak, unless he could reach agreement with political forces and reposition himself out of the Muslim Brotherhood’s box,” said Khalil al-Anani, a political scientist at Durham University. “Mobilization will not be enough for Morsy without a real and genuine change in discourse and actions.”

In their bid to persuade other forces, the Brothers have to rectify the reputation of an organization that seeks to tighten its grip over all state institutions, marginalize its contenders, and Islamize the state and society. In the meantime, the group needs to reverse its unfriendly tone toward revolutionary forces, whom it has long accused of spreading chaos and threatening the state.

So far, the Brothers pledged to form a national coalition government that would not necessarily be headed by a Muslim Brother.

But such a promise may not be enough.

“What government are they talking about? After they take the presidency, do they just want to give us a couple of ministerial portfolios?” said Hossam Issa, a secular law professor at Cairo University and a prominent commentator. “Do ministers have any weight vis-a-vis the president?

“Where is the constitution in all that?” Issa asked rhetorically, referring to the ongoing debate about the writing of the constitution. The Brothers are accused of employing their parliamentary weight to monopolize the drafting of the post-Mubarak constitution to pave the way to a religious state.

“What happened [recently] proves that they want to write the constitution on their own,” added Issa, referring to a recent bill laying out the criteria of the assembly tasked with writing the constitution, drafted by the Brotherhood-dominated Parliament.

The new bill has been widely dismissed for remaining silent on the minimum percentage of votes required to approve the constitution — one of the main bones of contention between Islamists and secularists. The Brothers have been constantly resistant to secularists’ demand that the assembly’s decision be made by a two-thirds rather than a 50 percent-plus-one majority. Secularists hold that a large majority is needed to ensure a wide consensus over the constitution.

This week’s outrage over that bill comes as the second episode in the Islamist-secular standoff over the Constituent Assembly. In March, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, along with the Nour Party, relied on its parliamentary majority to elect a predominantly Islamist assembly. This move prompted secular parties to mobilize a lawsuit contesting the legality of the assembly. Eventually, the court ruled in favor of disbanding this body. Since then, the Brothers have been immersed in drafting a new set of criteria for the Constituent Assembly.

Since the Brothers called upon political forces to back Morsy, several propositions on what they could concede in return have been put on the table. Some of them were far-fetched, including a suggestion by Amr Hamzawy, a secular MP and prominent political analyst. Hamzawy said Morsy should pull out of the race in favor of Sabbahi, who came third in the race by garnering almost 21 percent of the vote.

However, Farouk Sultan, head of the Presidential Elections Commission, affirmed Monday that such a move was not legally possible.

Others have suggested that Morsy appoint Sabbahi and Abouel Fotouh as his vice presidents. But the Brothers have not yet announced a clear stance on the matter. At a press conference on Saturday, Morsy said it was too early to discuss potential vice presidents.

“But I promise that they will be from different political currents and not necessarily from the FJP,” Morsy added.

By the same token, not all secular parties would see the appointment of outrun candidates as a concession.

“I am not for that idea,” said Samer Soliman, a leader of the secular Egyptian Social Democratic Party. “The president may appoint a vice [president] now, and then later the constitution gives this president the right to sack that vice [president] or turns that vice [president] into a puppet.”

The party might back Morsy if the Brothers make immediate concessions on the Constituent Assembly and reach an agreement with secular parties over contentious clauses in the upcoming constitution, namely the relationship between religion and politics, and public and individual freedoms, according to Soliman.

Some observers add more demands to the list.

On the fringes of a meeting between several representatives of political groups and the Brothers on Saturday evening, Ghad al-Thawra Party leader Ayman Nour told journalists that he asked Morsy to officially resign from the Brotherhood if he is to gain their support.

The overlap between the Brotherhood’s political and proselytizing entities have drawn attention to the democratization of the group. Morsy’s prospects to become president have raised the question of whether he should remain loyal and obedient to the group’s supreme guide — to whom he is tied by spiritual bonds — even after he assumes Egypt’s top executive post.

“There should be clear separation between the Muslim Brotherhood and the FJP,” said Anani.

To ensure their adherence to any agreement struck before the runoff, Anani said: “Any arrangements between the Muslim Brotherhood and other political forces should take the shape of a written and a clear political agreement.”

The Brothers’ official discourse has revealed resistance to many of the propositions put forward.

In his column, Mohamed Mostafa, managing editor of the FJP’s daily newspaper, dismissed many of these demands made of the Brothers in return for backing Morsy as “blackmailing” attempts.

“The proposition that Morsy withdraws for Sabbahi is not the most stupid. Others have demanded that Morsy resign from the chairmanship of the FJP and from the Muslim Brotherhood now without waiting for the results of the runoff as a precondition for backing him against Shafiq,” he wrote in Freedom and Justice newspaper on Monday.

“Supporting the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, who stands as the only representative of the revolution, is a national duty that nobody should be thanked for,” he added.

In the meantime, several secular parties are quite reluctant to invest in any agreements with the Brothers to back Morsy, even if certain guarantees are provided.

“It is not a matter of giving guarantees,” said Essam Shiha, a leader of the Wafd Party.

He said the problem was that there is no trust between the Brothers and national forces.

“As usual, the Brothers only resort to national forces when they have a problem, but once their objective is achieved, they relinquish them,” he added.

“The Wafd Party has to choose between two evils,” said Shiha, adding that the party’s leaders would meet Tuesday to determine its stance in the runoff.

“However, the majority at the party believes that the runoff is a revenge battle between the Brothers and the old regime, and Egyptians are not part in that,” he said, explaining that most party leaders are inclined to boycott the runoff.

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