The Nation



Egyptian constitution cements military's grip on power

International community must decide whether it wants to work with an authoritarian regime or impose sanctions

The world can't say they didn't see this coming. The Egyptian military, who ousted an Islamist president in July and soon after that mowed down thousands of unarmed protesters, while saying they would return sovereignty to the people never meant what they said.

And it has become crystal clear this past weekend when the new charter was passed, that it was meant to cement the military's grip on power.

More than that, it is looking to curb the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose leader President Mohamed Morsi was ousted in a coup.

The new constitution will be put up for a referendum next month, which means the opposition still has a chance to change its content. But given the way the military has been handling the situation on the ground, it is highly unlikely that a mechanism will be created so the people can have their say peacefully.

One of the most disturbing things in this draft constitution is that it ensures General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, the man behind the July coup, will continue to rule Egypt, in whatever capacity, indefinitely.

The constitution also made it clear that there will be no civilian supremacy as the military and its budget will not be subjected to civilian overview.

Moreover, the president, whoever that may be or how he gets the position, must consult with the generals on key issues.

And if the police, intelligence and security agencies personnel are caught breaking the law, they don't have to go to civilian court. They would be tried in a military court.

The military is trying to retake what it lost after Hosni Mubarak was ousted by street protests. The generals are using this opportunity to broaden their powers to an extent that it is likely to be unchecked.

Besides ensuring their place in the political system, the new constitution also banned political parties based on religion, which means the Muslim Brotherhood would be disqualified from taking part in politics.

At the last general election, the Muslim Brotherhood won more than two-thirds of the votes. Such a ban is like rubbing salt on the wounds given that the generals have placed just about every top leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in prison, as well as thousands of the movement's followers. Besides the Islamists, secular activists who spoke out against the military have also been put behind bars.

This so-called roadmap to democracy is a slap on the face of the Egyptian people. The international community can either work with an authoritarian Egypt or adopt tougher sanctions in the hope the move could force the generals to hand power back to the people.

Whatever decisions nations around the world take, they should keep in mind that the people of Egypt - the millions who rose up against the government and ended three decades of military grip on power - will be back on the streets sooner than they think.

They did it once and they can do it again. And if and when they succeed this time around, it is likely that the Muslim Brotherhood will return to the forefront in the political arena. Let's hope that this time around they learn from their previous mistakes - like ramming through a constitution that restricted others' freedom as it pursued its Islamist agenda.

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