Egypt’s ruling military has inserted a new element of confusion even as Egypt tries to sort out turmoil surrounding its upcoming presidential elections. The generals now insist a new constitution be written before a new president is seated, a rushed timeframe that some fear may prolong their hold on power. For weeks, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists sought to dominate the writing of the country’s first new constitution since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak more than a year ago. But after Islamist domination of the process sparked a backlash of criticism, the military has stepped back in to take a more direct role. The military’s new assertiveness has split the national debate. Some liberals have welcomed the military’s weight to counteract the increasing power of Islamists. Others, however, worry that the generals aim to continue their control over Egypt beyond their promised deadline for handing over power to a civilian president by the end of June.
In a meeting Sunday, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces urged heads of political parties, including the Brotherhood, to finish writing the country’s constitution before the election of a new president, now set for May 23-24. The generals did not directly say the election would be delayed if the constitution is not finished, according to Mustafa el-Naggar, who attended the meeting. But few believe the document can be written and approved by a referendum in that timeframe. “My feeling is something is just not right,” said Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan. “This is too foggy … Is there a desire to find a pretext to extend the transitional period?”