My latest is up at FPM where I examine the challenge by the Islamists in the Egyptian parliament to the military.
The Islamists are making a move to challenge the military because of two recent incidents that have angered the Egyptian people and made the government even more unpopular than it was previously.
The first incident occurred on February 1 when a huge riot broke out following a soccer game in Port Said. Authorities said that 79 people died and hundreds were injured when fans of the home team swarmed the field after a rare win, attacking opposing fans and players, and overwhelming the small number of riot police who were deployed for the game. The next day, riots broke out in Cairo and elsewhere that killed two and injured more than 900. The people blame the military for the pitifully inadequate security at the stadium. Most of the dead died of asphyxiation when people trying to exit the melee were blocked by a locked gate. There were also questions about how fans had been able to bring knives and other weapons into the stadium.
The second incident that has angered parliament and the Egyptian people was the lifting of the travel ban on the 16 Americans who are on trial for illegal funding of the NGOs they worked for. Parliament believes that the government caved in to American pressure and threats from Congress to deny Egypt the $1.3 billion in aid the US gives to Egypt every year. It was this incident that precipitated the confrontation in parliament with the military government and presages political turmoil.
The Brotherhood seems to be in tune with the people on these issues, and has apparently decided to press its advantage. The lifting of the travel ban especially seems to have outraged the citizens of Egypt due to interference in the judicial process by the military, as the original judge in the case has alleged. This initiated an intense questioning of ministers in parliament, as lawmaker after lawmaker called for a vote of no confidence. “I wish members of the U.S. Congress could listen to you now to realize that this is the parliament of the revolution, which does not allow a breach of the nation’s sovereignty or interference in its affairs,” said the parliament’s speaker, FJP member Saad el-Katatni.
The military says only it has the authority to dismiss the government. To make that point, ministers who were scheduled to answer questions from lawmakers on the NGO issue failed to show up for the afternoon session of parliament. “It seems that the government is pushing for a crisis with parliament,” el-Katatni said.
The no confidence vote is a process that should take about two weeks, as each minister in turn needs to be questioned by lawmakers. But it is unclear that, even if the parliament is successful, there will be any changes to the government. The military has sole authority to name the prime minister and his cabinet, which means that even if they are voted out, the military could appoint the same people.
One observer of Egyptian politics, Mazen Hassan, a political science professor at Cairo University, said, “It has the perfect bits and pieces by which [parliament] can gain popularity.” Indeed, the parliament voted two other measures that promised to be very popular among the nationalist-minded Egyptian populace.
Both measures are largely symbolic, but represent an ominous sign of things to come. First, the parliament, by a show of hands, accepted a report by the Arab Committee that called for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador, the recall of the Egyptian ambassador from Israel, and a halt to the sales of natural gas to the Jewish state. The Islamists also introduced a measure that would cut the $1.3 billion in aid from the US to Egypt. Both issues are a challenge to the military government, which has reserved the power to make such decisions. But the popular sentiment expressed in both resolutions will strengthen the hand of the Brotherhood going into the presidential elections. It may also get the military to compromise on the make-up of the government, putting some Islamist ministers in power if the no confidence vote is successful.