Egypt Military Gov’t Gives in to Muslim Brotherhood

CAIRO—Egypt’s ruling military said it would appoint a new cabinet within 48 hours, awarding a major victory to Islamist politicians and cooling a political confrontation that threatened to gridlock Egypt’s emerging democratic institutions.

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi’s pledge to lawmakers on Sunday came hours after parliament speaker Saad Al Katatni (see photo), a senior member of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, which dominates the legislature, suspended sessions on Sunday until the military agreed to dissolve the cabinet.

The military’s decision to meet that demand could bring an end to a monthslong battle of wills between the popularly elected legislature and the ruling council of generals led by Field Marshal Tantawi, who have defied parliament’s demands that it yield executive powers to the country’s first post-revolutionary legislature.

But with the military — not the Islamist-dominated parliament — preparing to appoint some new cabinet members, it remained to be seen on Sunday whether the new appointments will mollify Brotherhood leaders by giving them supervisory roles over key ministries or extend an impasse that has unsettled the country’s shaky transition.

Amid the tensions, at least one person was killed on Saturday night after unidentified assailants attacked an anti-military march outside the Ministry of Defense, Egyptian state media reported.

The military’s climbdown Sunday comes at a crucial time for the Brotherhood as the powerful Islamist organization stakes out a place for itself in Egypt’s nascent

It was the military’s reluctance to dismiss its cabinet, or devolve more power to the elected parliament, that pushed the Brotherhood to reverse previous pledges not to field a presidential candidate, the organization’s leaders say.

The Brotherhood ended up fielding two candidates. Khairat Al Shater, a former deputy guide and the most prominent candidate, was disqualified this month because of a 2006 fraud conviction that kept him from participating in politics.

The group is now backing Mohamed Morsi, the head of its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). In Mr. Morsi, who is far less well-known and charismatic than Mr. Shater, the Brotherhood has less of a chance of winning the country’s first post-revolutionary presidency and its future claims to the cabinet, which will be crucial in defining the new Egyptian state’s foundation.

Mr. Morsi’s prospects were shaken further on Saturday when the hardline Islamist Nour Party, the second largest party in parliament after the Brotherhood’s FJP, threw its weight behind one of Mr. Morsi’s rivals.

Egypt’s cabinet controls the ministries that are responsible for the country’s day-to-day governance. Under the presidential system that governs Egypt, the military, which serves as the de facto president, is responsible for appointing cabinet ministers.

“Now is the time for them to actually start to control ministries as much as they can,” said Mazen Hassan, a political analyst at Cairo University.

The military leaders who act as Egypt’s head of state have repeatedly shot down the parliament’s successive votes of no confidence.

While such intransigence has enraged the legislature, the law is on the military’s side. A constitutional declaration passed by the military last March didn’t give the parliament a right that is commonly found in parliamentary systems—to reappoint the cabinet of ministers.

Sameh Saif Al Yazal, the former general who consults frequently with ruling council of generals, said the military had chosen to stick with the current cabinet for fear that reappointing new ministers only two months before the transfer of power to civilians after president elections in June could be destabilizing.

The tone of the conflict has sharpened in recent months. The Brotherhood has called out a series of protests over the past several weeks to demand that the government, which is led by Prime Minister Kamal Al Ganzouri, a holdover from the Mubarak era, step down.

The Islamist group’s leaders have even gambled their country’s economic future on the spat. FJP members of parliament have refused to agree to the terms of an International Monetary Fund loan under the current government, which they say is too incompetent to carry out the necessary economic reforms. The Brotherhood also has complained about the lack of detail in the government’s reform plans.
Last week, the parliament rejected a series of economic reforms proposed by the Ganzouri government—a blow to negotiations for a $3.2 billion loan offer that could help prevent an economic crisis. The IMF requires broad political support in order to agree to the loan’s terms.

Many members of parliament accused the military of deliberately hampering the legislature to diminish public support for the Brotherhood.
“The point that the [military-appointed] current government is trying to make is that the parliament is useless and that the government can do whatever it wants without even having the confidence of parliament,” said Amr Darrag, the secretary general for the FJP’s branch in Giza.

Indeed, public esteem for the Brotherhood has been in decline. Nearly half of FJP voters said they wouldn’t vote for the party again, according to recent polls by the government-funded Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

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