The latest violent crisis in Tahrir finally de-escalated through the courageous act of thousands of women marching to the square demanding an end to clashes. Meanwhile, political leverage is being sought as parties propose an idea to hurry the presidential elections. The military council succumbed to such pressure following the clashes of Mohamed Mahmoud Street off Tahrir, to guarantee these elections before the end of June 2012. Current ideas now call for elections to be as soon as January 25, the one year anniversary of the revolution.
Proponents of this idea argue that the military must be returned to its barracks as soon as possible, having mangled the democratic transition if not actively opposing it. This cry is heard from across the political spectrum, from liberals and Islamists alike.
The issue for Islamists, however, is that they have repeatedly based their decisions on the ‘will of the people’ as expressed in the March referendum. This mandate granted the army the right to oversee the transition, during which the lower house of parliament would be elected, then the upper house, then the constitution drafted, and finally presidential elections held. Should Islamists call for departure now they go against their own rhetoric.
It appears they have, and then shortly after, they haven’t.
The Ikhwanweb Twitter account represents itself as ‘The only official Muslim Brotherhood’s English website. Our Tweets represent the official opinions of the Muslim Brotherhood’. On December 19 the account tweeted:
Democratic Alliance demands #SCAF to handover both legislative and executive power to the elected parliament no later than February 2012.
The Democratic Alliance is the coalition led strongly by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. While it includes a variety of liberal and Islamist parties, the FJP is widely understood to control the direction of the group.
Here, the coalition demands not simply the early election of the president, but the transfer of executive power to the legislature, which, not coincidentally, is controlled by 40% FJP alongside 25% Salafi party members. By all appearances it is a power grab. It certainly represents a departure from the March referendum and the ‘will of the people’.
Perhaps in recognition of this fact, or in a desire to not confront the military directly, the website of the Muslim Brotherhood released a statement on December 21 to return to the mandate of the referendum. They state:
3 – The FJP believes that to end the violence, which erupts on the scene each time popular will requires full-throttle efforts to complete the legislative elections so the elected People’s Assembly participates in the peaceful transfer of power. Furthermore, the party deems premature all calls for immediate handover of power to the People’s Assembly Speaker-elect, and rejects them, because the idea is not compatible with the current Constitutional Declaration.
4 – The FJP asserts that demands put forward for holding presidential elections before January 25 will not solve the current crisis, because the issue is now about who is stirring strife, sedition and crises, who is acting with exemplary short-sightedness, and fails to appreciate the requirements approved by all parties in the Constitutional Declaration – which provides for elections of the People’s Assembly, then the Shura Council, drafting the new constitution, and finally the presidential elections.
Analysis elsewhere can determine the wisdom of either statement, the opportunism therein, or the best interests of the democratic transition. What is interesting is to wonder who in the Brotherhood authorized the Ikhwanweb Twitter account to demand transfer of power to the parliament? At what level did this reflect the consensus of the organization, and what transpired to result in this second announcement?
Though the Muslim Brotherhood is a pyramidal organization, its members consist of diverse trends and political pragmatism. These statements perhaps can be viewed through the lens of organizational groupthink, of internal deliberations which spilled out into the public.
Another possible insight is that these statements belie the idea the Brotherhood is the possessor of a grand conspiracy to move events along until power is consolidated in their hands. While this may or may not be an ultimate goal, the contradictory statements indicate the group is trying to figure things out as they go along, much like everyone else. In all likelihood they have a strategy, but they do not pull all the strings.
In the meanwhile, in the current relative calm of Tahrir, all political forces and the military council are regrouping, repositioning to come out on top. Even after Friday and the latest massive demonstration gathering, there is no clear indication who is winning.