Egypt’s Generals Assert Control
Egypt’s military rulers said Wednesday they would control the process of writing a constitution and maintain authority over the interim government to check the power of Islamists who have taken a commanding lead in parliamentary elections.
In an unusual briefing evidently aimed at Washington, Gen. Mukhtar al-Mulla of the ruling council asserted that the initial results of elections for the People’s Assembly do not represent the full Egyptian public, in part because well-organized factions of Islamists were dominating the voting. The comments, to foreign reporters and not the Egyptian public, may have been intended to persuade Washington to back-off its call for civilian rule.
“So whatever the majority in the Peoples’ Assembly, they are very welcome, because they won’t have the ability to impose anything that the people don’t want,” General Mulla said, explaining that the makeup of the parliament will not matter because it will not have power over the constitution.
He appeared to say that the vote results could not be representative because the Egyptian public could not possibly support the Islamists, especially the faction of ultraconservative Salafis who have taken a quarter of the early voting.
“Do you think that the Egyptians elected someone to threaten his interest and economy and security and relations with international community?” General Mulla asked. “Of course not.”
The military’s insistence on controlling the constitutional process marked the latest twist in an ongoing struggle between the generals’ council and a chorus of liberal and Islamist critics who want the elected officials to preside over writing a new constitution.
Just three weeks ago, Cairo erupted in a week of bloody protests set off in part by the military’s attempts to claim permanent powers to intervene in civilian politics and to enshrine in the constitution protection from public scrutiny. Under intense pressure, the military appeared for a time to back down.
But the setting of the general’s remarks — an extraordinary question-and-answer sessions for an invited group of eight American journalists and one British one, without any Egyptian news organizations — indicated that he was also talking to the Washington. The Obama administration joined the calls of Egyptian activists for the generals to turnover power “immediately” to a civilian government, and the generals have expected that the threat of an Islamist takeover at the polls might now give Washington pause.