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Egyptian Groups Plan Mass Anti-Military Protests

Nov 15, 2011
Originally published on November 16, 2011 10:09 am

Political parties, activists and Islamist groups in Egypt are threatening more mass protests in Cairo and other cities Friday against a document drafted by the interim government that would enshrine the powers of the Egyptian military.

It's the latest clash between Egypt's pro-democracy factions and the ruling military council, which is accused of clinging to power despite its pledge to cede control to an elected government.

The document was released more than two weeks ago by Egypt's interim civilian government, but analysts say there is no doubt it originated with the generals who have ruled Egypt since Hosni Mubarak resigned as president in February.

In a recent interview with Al Arabiya network, Deputy Prime Minister Ali al-Selmy defended the proposals that many complain would give the military unchecked power over Egypt. He said the measures were drafted in consultation with Egypt's political and popular forces, but critics say the only green light the government got to draft the measures came from the ruling military council.

"One of our biggest concerns with this document that the deputy prime minister and the government is presenting is that it's just a continuation of what we've seen of the military placing itself above the law," says Soha Abdelaty, deputy director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

She and others say the measures would give the military final say over the drafting of Egypt's new constitution.

The controversial proposals also call for the creation of a security council that would supersede any civilian government and prevent oversight of the armed forces budget, which receives more than $1 billion in U.S. aid each year. The proposals also leave intact the military's longtime hold on the Egyptian economy. The country's military manufactures a wide variety of goods and even sells gasoline to consumers.

"Some reports claim that the army controls 15 percent of the Egyptian economy; some reports claim that the army contains up to 45 percent of the Egyptian economy. We have no idea," says Amr Shalakany, an associate law professor at Cairo University. "The army is a black hole, and part of these proposals in this document are intended to sustain this, basically."

Amr Darrag heads the Giza branch of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political offshoot of Egypt's powerful Muslim Brotherhood. He believes that if the measures are adopted, the military will be as untouchable as it was during Mubarak's era.

"The previous president used to have the power — and they are also aiming for that — to have the sole authority on deciding where from to buy weapons or ... how large the weapons deals are and how much they are," Darrag says. "This is totally unacceptable."

Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan says his group plans to send its supporters into the streets Friday to demonstrate against the military until it backs down.

Many other groups and well-known figures like former Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa and Nobel laureate Mohammed ElBaradei are also calling for demonstrations.

A top government spokesman declined to comment to NPR about the proposals or the planned protest; nor has the military issued any comment.

But Egyptian historian Mahmoud Sabit says he doesn't believe the measures are part of a military plot to cling to power. He says the Egyptian army has crafted a role for itself as saviors over the past six decades — a role it wants to continue to fulfill.

"The idea of throwing it into the arms of — in their view — entities or personalities who don't have the political maturity to run a modern state along these lines is not a good idea," Sabit says.

Repeated attempts by the interim government to reach a compromise with opponents of the document have failed. They say nothing short of scrapping the documents is acceptable, and have given the interim government until Wednesday to repeal the document.

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And as Afghans consider their relationship with the U.S. military, people in Egypt want to restrain the power of their own military. Egyptian political parties' activists and Islamist groups are threatening to hold mass protests on Friday. They oppose a document drafted by the interim government. That document would enshrine the powers of Egypt's army, which has been running the country since President Hosni Mubarak was shoved out of power. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Cairo.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: The document was released more than two weeks ago by Egypt's interim civilian government, but analysts say there is no doubt it originated with the generals who have ruled Egypt since Hosni Mubarak resigned in February.

ALI AL-SELMY: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: In a recent interview with the Al Arabiya network, Deputy Prime Minister Ali al-Selmy defended the proposals that many here complain would give the military unchecked power over Egypt in the near future.

AL-SELMY: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: Selmy claims the measures were drafted in consultation with Egypt's political and popular forces, but critics say the only green light the government got to draft the measures came from the ruling military council. Soha Abdelaty is the deputy director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

SOHA ABDELATY: One of our biggest concerns with this document that the deputy prime minister and the government is presenting is that it's just a continuation of what we've seen of the military placing itself above the law.

NELSON: She and others say the measures would give the military final say over the drafting of Egypt's new constitution. The controversial proposals also call for the creation of a security council that would supersede any civilian government and prevent oversight of the armed forces budget, which receives well over $1 billion in American aid each year. The proposals also leave intact the military's longtime hold on the Egyptian economy. The military here manufactures a wide variety of goods and even sells gasoline to consumers. Amr Shalakany is an associate law professor at Cairo University.

AMR SHALAKANY: Some reports claim that the army controls 15 percent of the Egyptian economy. Some reports claim that the army contains up to 45 percent of the Egyptian economy. We have no idea. The army is a black hole, and part of these proposals in this document are intended to sustain this.

NELSON: Amr Darrag heads the Giza branch of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political offshoot of Egypt's powerful Muslim Brotherhood. He believes that if the measures are adopted, the military will be as untouchable as it was during Hosni Mubarak's era.

AMR DARRAG: The previous president used to have the power to - and they are also aiming for that - to have the sole authority on deciding where from to buy weapons or, you know, how large the weapons are, the weapons deals are, how much they are, you know. This is totally unacceptable.

MAHMOUD GHOZLAN: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan says his group is planning to send its supporters into the streets this Friday to demonstrate against the military until it backs down. Many other groups and well-known figures, like former Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa and Nobel laureate Mohammed ElBaradei, are also calling for demonstrations. A top government spokesman declined to comment to NPR about the proposals or the planned protests; nor has the military issued any comment. But Egyptian historian Mahmoud Sabit says he doesn't believe the measures are part of a military plot to cling to power. He says it has to do instead with the role the Egyptian army has crafted here over six decades.

MAHMOUD SABIT: This is a theme that evolved and was the background to the theme of the 1952 coup d'etat, was the army as savior when it was required. And they see that role within themselves at this time as well. So the idea of throwing it into the arms - in their view - entities or personalities who don't have the political maturity to run a modern state along these lines is not a good idea.

NELSON: Repeated attempts by the interim government to reach a compromise with opponents of the document have failed. They say nothing short of scrapping it is acceptable. The deadline these groups have given the interim government to repeal the document is today. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.