REPORTING FROM CAIRO -- In another sign of the rift between Islamists and the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces over the drafting of Egypt's new constitution, the Muslim Brotherhood has decided to pull out of a civilian advisory council proposed by the military leadership.
In a brief statement Thursday, the Brotherhood’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, said it was withdrawing its two members from the council, which will include representatives from various political parties and groups.
Although the statement didn’t mention motives, the general secretary of the party told reporters that the decision was made after it discovered that the panel will have more power than initially anticipated, including the process leading to a new constitution.
"After participating in the initial negotiations, it became apparent that the advisory group will have a mandate beyond the transitional period headed by the military council," Mohamed Katatni said. "This would detract from the parliament and intervene in the formation of the founding assembly to draft constitution."
Freedom and Justice won more than 40% of the votes during the recent first round of parliamentary elections. The conservative Islamic Salafist party Al Nour won 21%, and the Brotherhood was hoping to capitalize on such gains by having the upper hand in appointing the constituent assembly, which according to a constitutional decree issued by the ruling council in March was to contain 100 lawmakers who will be chosen by the parliament.
On Wednesday, ruling council member Mukhtar Mulla told foreign reporters that the next parliament will not be representative of all Egyptian sectors, and that the military-appointed advisory panel and the Cabinet will have to approve the members of the constitutional assembly.
The ruling council "will not impose specific people; however, we should agree on the features of this constituent assembly before appointing names," Mulla said.
"Forming this panel is another flame in the row between Islamists and SCAF," said Nabil Abdel Fattah, an analyst at Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. "It represents the conflict between the military, which wants to consolidate its presence and powers in Egyptian life present since the 1952 revolution, and Islamists, who want to resort to people’s will and see the army get back to its barracks.
"It is also a struggle over the nature of the new constitution, whether it will maintain the civil nature of the country or will state that Egypt will be a country with Islamic reference."
The ruling council, which has run the country since President Hosni Mubarak stepped down Feb. 11, previously announced its commitment to handing power to a civilian elected president by the end of June 2012, at the latest.
-- Amro Hassan
Photo: A protester in Tahrir Square on Sunday demands an end to military rule of Egypt. Credit: Amr Nabil/Associated Press