Skip to main content

Egypt back to square one?

By Isobel Coleman, Special to CNN
June 15, 2012 -- Updated 1659 GMT (0059 HKT)
Egyptians protest in Tahrir Square on Friday after Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that Parliament must be dissolved.
Egyptians protest in Tahrir Square on Friday after Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that Parliament must be dissolved.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Isobel Coleman: Old guard in Egypt has reasserted control with ruling dissolving parliament
  • She says Muslim Brotherhood held most seats, now military will oversee constitutional committee
  • She says military was never really going to hand over power; this showdown was inevitable
  • Coleman: Millions could return to streets; military must know it will fail to stop democracy

Editor's note: Isobel Coleman is the author of "Paradise Beneath Her Feet" and a senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

(CNN) -- Egypt's tumultuous political process took another dramatic turn Thursday when its Supreme Constitutional Court effectively dissolved parliament, ruling that the election of one-third of its members last year was unconstitutional. The court also ruled that former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq can remain a presidential candidate in this weekend's runoff election, despite his close association with the former regime.

These back-to-back rulings have immediately strengthened the hand of the "old guard" at the expense of the Islamists, who held more than 70% of the seats in parliament before it was dissolved.

While some Muslim Brotherhood leaders are referring to the court's decisions as a "full-fledged coup," it is more accurate to see recent events as an energetic "counter-revolution."

Egypt's presidential runoff to go ahead despite concerns

The remnants of the establishment, including the economically privileged military and the Mubarak-appointed judiciary, are flexing the powers they never gave up to make sure they remain in control. The now dissolved parliament was supposed to establish a 100-member Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution; instead, the military has announced that it will determine the composition of the committee.

The constitution will determine such critical issues as how much power the president will wield, the role of Islam in society, and what oversight a civilian government will have over the military. In a sign of the military's intentions, it proposed in November that its budget be outside civilian scrutiny, sparking outrage and denunciations from opposition leaders who vowed to reign in military power. Now, the transition from military to civilian rule is back to square one.

Isobel Coleman
Isobel Coleman

On Wednesday, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces also issued a decree giving the military police and intelligence service the right to detain civilians and send them to military tribunals. Essentially, the decree replicates the dreaded State of Emergency law that was in effect for most of the past 30 years under Mubarak until it was overturned on May 31. The security forces are clearly girding for another round of massive street protests by Egypt's revolutionaries when they rally to resist the counter-revolution.

Some Egyptians pin the blame for the current setback on the Muslim Brotherhood's political overreach. In the parliamentary elections last December, it ran candidates affiliated with its Freedom and Justice Party for seats reserved for independents, helping it win a larger share of seats. This was one of the explanations for the Supreme Constitutional Court's ruling invalidating those seats and dissolving parliament. Also, after insisting it would not run a presidential candidate, the Muslim Brotherhood did join the presidential race. Its candidate, Mohammed Morsi, led the field in the general election last month and will compete against Ahmed Shafiq in the runoff election, which starts tomorrow.

Tensions high before Egypt runoff vote
Is U.S. fiddling while Egypt burns?

However, while the Muslim Brotherhood's growing political influence certainly disquieted the establishment, the reality is that the powerful military, which has run Egypt for decades, was never going to simply hand over power to a civilian government and fade into the background. This showdown was inevitable.

Analysts: 'Soft coup' court ruling could reignite Egyptian revolution

For now, the Muslim Brotherhood has not called for protests, and Egypt's cities on Friday were relatively calm. The Brotherhood and various leaders of the youth movement have vowed to fight the counter-revolution, and they have the power to bring millions of people back into the streets to do so.

Undoubtedly, there are behind-the-scenes negotiations occurring as Brotherhood leaders meet with the SCAF to figure out what influence they can now expect. Egypt's stability now rests on whether they can come to some accommodation that will lead to a gradual transition acceptable to the major players. The military must recognize that its attempts to reverse the democratic transition will eventually fail.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Isobel Coleman.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 29, 2014 -- Updated 0430 GMT (1230 HKT)
Les Abend: Before we reach a conclusion on the outcome of AirAsia Flight QZ8501, it's important to understand that the details are far too limited to draw a parallel to Flight 370
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 0127 GMT (0927 HKT)
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT