The majority Islamist Egyptian parliament moved on several fronts in the past two days to flex its muscles and challenge the authority of the military-appointed government. The Muslim Brothers, represented by the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), and their Salfis allies, who make up 70% of the members in parliament, have decided to engineer a “no confidence” vote in the government of Prime Minister Kamal Al Ganzouri, force the withdrawal of the Israeli ambassador from Cairo, and will vote to refuse $1 billion in aid from the US government. These actions, which took place on the eve of the first day of candidate registration for the presidential elections, threaten to instigate a political crisis in the country — as well as with the United States and Israel.
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.
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