CAIRO — Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group set to dominate the new parliament, accused the country's military rulers Thursday of trying to undercut the authority of elected legislators even before the house is seated.
The Brotherhood said it is boycotting a council appointed by the ruling generals to oversee the drafting of the new constitution and stayed away from a meeting to set up the panel on Thursday.
In theory, the new parliament will be entrusted with forming a 100-member assembly to write the constitution. But the ruling military council says election results showed the parliament will not be representative, so they are appointing a council to ensure the process of drafting a constitution is protected from extremist religious ideas.
Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan said his group will not be part of the new constitutional oversight council because it will deprive the parliament of its authority.
"The military council is determined to turn against the will of the people," he said. "To those who voice fear of Islamists, this is just blackmailing."
Islamist groups won about 68 percent of seats in the first round of parliamentary elections, according to Associated Press calculations based on official results. The Muslim Brotherhood dominated the vote, with about 47 percent, while the second-place Al-Nour – an even more conservative Islamist party – won about 21 percent. Only four women won among 150 of 498 seats determined.
The elections were the first since Hosni Mubarak's February ouster in a popular uprising, and are considered the freest and fairest vote in Egypt's modern history. There are still two more rounds over the coming month, but they are not expected to dramatically alter the outcome.
A collision between the powerful Brotherhood and the military was much anticipated. A secular institution that has traditionally controlled access of Islamists to its ranks, the military said it is the only authority that will have the right to form a new government and spoke about determination to oversee the writing of the constitution. Recently, the ruling generals have indicated the new parliament will be weakened.
After the first indications last week of its strong showing in the elections, the Brotherhood demanded that parliament form the government. But they softened their tone afterward, saying they would not insist.
The 83-year-old Brotherhood was banned under Mubarak and subjected to waves of arrests and oppression but still managed to build the country's strongest political organization, fielding independent candidates in previous elections. With Mubarak's fall, it was the group's chance to exert its power openly. They supported the military's push for relatively quick elections, despite opposition from liberal and youth groups who saw it as rushed.
With a strong showing, a clash over the role of the military appears inevitable.
The military has been the most powerful institution in Egypt since army officers toppled the monarchy in a 1952 coup, giving the country its four presidents since and wielding significant influence and economic power ever since.
Critics view the military's moves as an attempt to reassert its ultimate authority over the country, which is deeply threatened by the uprising.
The newly created oversight council of 30 members is considered another attempt by the military to interfere in the drafting of the constitution. A previous proposal sparked anger and led to street protests by the Brotherhood and youth groups behind the uprising. Those principles would have enshrined a future role for the military to intervene in politics.
Ghozlan said that he believes that the high turnout in elections gives their victory legitimacy.
"We thought the long lines has showed everybody, including political rivals, that they should submit to and respect the people's choice," he said. "Even the liberals who are talking about democracy day and night and about the rule of the people are blowing it up," he said in reference to secular and liberal parties who are participating in the new oversight panel and trying to rein in Islamist influence over drafting the constitution.
Emad Abdel Ghafour, head of the ultraconservative Islamist Al-Nour party and a member of the new constitutional council, said the group met Thursday and discussed guidelines for the constitutional principles, including some 20 articles to be copied from the old constitution. However, he said the council overlooked controversial articles such as secrecy of the military budget.
The military wants to shield its budget from civilian oversight, even after an elected president and parliament are in place.