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Army Powers Enshrined in Egypt’s New Islamist Constitution

The bad news is that Egypt’s constitutional assembly is rushing to finish a deeply flawed document. The good news is that it probably doesn’t mean much; most constitutions around the world tend to be paper documents which the powerful use when convenient and work around when they’re not. That’s long been the Egyptian tradition and there are few signs this will change.

The most important thing about the new constitution may be the extent to which it reveals how successfully the military has defended its core interests. The Muslim Brotherhood has clearly chosen the path of coexistence with the Army. “Egypt’s president will need to seek the opinion of the National Defence Council in addition to getting the approval of parliament to declare war,” according to an article in the new constitution, Reuters reports. The old Mubarak constitution only required the approval of parliament. Israelis will be reading that clause with interest; it means that hotheads in Parliament can’t start a war with Israel unless the military authorities — who’ve backed the cold peace for decades — agree.

We saw that last week when despite the ties between the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, Egypt stuck to its long term position and worked pragmatically for a cease fire with Israel. Now we see more evidence that the “deep state” is still running key parts of the government in the provisions in the new constitution that grant the military a lot of control over its own affairs.

The Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian military are not friends, but both sides seem to understand for now that they need each other. The military doesn’t want to run the government directly without popular legitimacy, and the Brotherhood for its part doesn’t want to risk a conflict with Egypt’s most powerful institution. That mix—with the Muslim Brotherhood representing the government on the streets and the military behind the scenes ensuring some foreign policy stability—is what other governments and investors mostly want also.

Enough Islamism to make millions of Egyptians feel better about the way the country is going, enough moderation so the international investors and tourists return, enough common sense to avoid a war with Israel. That looks to be where Egypt is going and whatever the fate of the new constitution, some kind of mix of military authoritarianism and Islamist social policy is what we can expect—if the wheels don’t fall off the economy and plunge the country into a new round of turmoil.

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