Thursday, 17 March 2011

Divisions in the country have put the army in a quandary

When the army first announced that it was appointing a distinguished jurist Tariq Al Bishri to oversee a committee to supervise the proposed amendments to the constitution, the move was broadly welcomed. The committee recommended limiting the number of terms a president serves, allowing for opposition candidates to stand, ensuring judicial supervision of elections and restricting the imposition of emergency powers.

Another proposed change stipulates more stringent nationality criteria for presidential candidates, banning those with dual citizenship or a foreign parent or wife.

Egypt is used to having referenda — and traditionally, the full force of the state has been deployed to ensure that nothing less than a thumping majority in favour of the government is achieved.

This time is different. There is no regime to call the shots. The groundswell of opposition to the changes has been growing. Some jurists have objected on procedural grounds.

They say there was insufficient time and consultation over the changes.

Increasingly, opposition has been voiced by those calling for more radical changes to the constitution, not tinkering. The issue has polarised opinion even among the reformers.

There are those who feel that voting “Yes” would be the least bad option and help the army return to barracks more quickly.

The divisions put the army in a quandary. It had set a sixmonth timetable for handing over power to a new civilian authority. It now finds that the myriad of organisations within the protest movement which called for the immediate departure of President Mubarak are now calling for more time before elections are held and more time to draw up a new constitution.

What will happen if the people vote against the amendments? The army will, in effect, have to come up with a Plan B. They are being asked by the people — or at least those who led the protests — to stay out of their barracks a little longer to give the new political forces time to prepare.

For more news and expert analysis about Egypt, please see Egypt Politics & Security.

© 2011 Menas Associates

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