Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood-led government is asserting its dominance in ways that raise the specter of an autocracy similar to the regime Egyptians toppled almost two years ago, an Egyptian opposition leader warned foreign-policy specialists in Washington.
Amr Hamzawy, founder of the Free Egypt Party, is worried about what he sees as a "clear trend toward establishing a one-party autocracy" in Egypt.
The Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, have been "invading" state institutions, Mr. Hamzawy said at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington on Thursday.
"It is a situation which is alarming and undermines the potential for sustained democratic transition in Egypt," he said. "We are seeing a party, a movement, taking over the state apparatus, and, in doing so, the potential viable emergence of an opposition is being undermined."
The Muslim Brotherhood had been banned in Egypt since 1954. The Islamists shot to prominence after Arab Spring protests ended 29 years of former President Hosni Mubarak’s rule on Feb. 11, 2011.
Islamist parties dominated parliamentary elections held over a six-week period in December and January. In June, Mohamed Morsi, a U.S.-educated engineer and the Muslim Brotherhood’s presidential candidate, was elected the first Islamist head of state of the Arab world’s most-populous nation.
Fears of Islamist dominance have been compounded by a draft constitution that gives unchecked powers to the president, Mr. Hamzawy said. It weakens the parliament, ignores Egypt’s commitments to international human rights conventions and relies on fundamentalist interpretations of Islamic law that trample on the rights of women, Christians and other minorities, he added.
The draft constitution was made public Oct. 24. It will eventually be put to a public referendum.
The liberal opposition is locked in a struggle with Islamists to shape Egypt’s constitution.
"The process is in a crisis," Mr. Hamzawy said.
Liberal politicians this week intend to introduce an alternative draft constitution, which they think addresses the shortcomings of the existing text.
"We do believe that the parallel draft constitution that we will put forward does reflect a wider national consensus in Egypt; and it does not, in any way, threaten or challenge the Islamic identity of Egypt," Mr. Hamzawy said.
Liberals say the future of the Constituent Assembly is clouded by questions about its legality and constitutionality. The Muslim Brotherhood and allied Salafis dominate the 100-member constitution-drafting committee. Some liberal members have boycotted the assembly.
On Saturday, representatives of Egypt’s three Christian sects — the Coptic Orthodox, Coptic Catholic and the Anglican churches — withdrew from the Constituent Assembly saying their concerns were not being heard.
The Supreme Constitutional Court is expected to make a decision on the fate of the Constituent Assembly on Dec. 2. The assembly is likely to be disbanded unless Mr. Morsi intervenes. An earlier Constituent Assembly was dissolved in April when a court rendered it unconstitutional.
Liberals say Mr. Morsi must form another assembly that truly reflects the makeup of the country.
The Muslim Brotherhood favors language that bases Egypt’s constitution on Shariah, or Islamic law. Salafis, who believe in a Muslim theocracy, say the Egyptian government must interpret Shariah and enforce it upon the nation.
"The question is whether the president can act against the will of the movement. I do not see any single sign [of that happening] up until now," Mr. Hamzawy said.
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