Egypt’s political transition was pitched into uncertainty on Sunday when a draft constitution was amended to allow a presidential election to be held before parliamentary polls, indicating a potential change in the army’s roadmap.
The roadmap unveiled when the military ousted former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi in July said a parliamentary election should take place before the presidential one.
The draft finalized on Sunday by the 50-member constituent assembly avoids saying which vote should happen first, leaving the decision up to acting Egyptian President Adly Mansour, who is seen as a front for army rule since he was installed to head the interim administration.
The draft also says the “election procedures” must start within six months of the constitution’s ratification, meaning Egypt may not have an elected president and parliament until the second half of next year.
A major milestone in Egypt’s political roadmap, the constitution must be approved in a referendum, which is expected this month or next month. Assembly Chairman Amr Moussa said the draft constitution would be handed to Mansour today.
Former Arab League secretary-general Moussa was a candidate in the presidential election won by Morsi last year.
The draft reflects how the balance of power has shifted in Egypt since the secular-minded generals ousted Morsi, the country’s first freely elected head of state, after mass protests against him and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The new constitution could lead to an outright ban on Islamist parties and strengthens the political grip of the already powerful military establishment, which has put itself squarely back at the heart of power since toppling Morsi.
The assembly finished voting on the draft after talks on the order of next year’s elections stretched late into Sunday night.
The changes follow debate fueled by concern that weak secular parties are not ready for parliamentary elections, sources familiar with the discussions have said.
Seeing Egyptian Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi as the front-runner for president, some assembly members wanted the presidential election held before legislative polls or even at the same time so that a strong presidential candidate could forge an electoral alliance for the parliamentary race.
Al-Sisi led the July 3 overthrow of Morsi and is widely seen as the lead candidate for the presidency.
While Brotherhood sympathizers hold him responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Morsi supporters killed in a crackdown on the movement, other Egyptians see him as the kind of strongman needed to restore stability after three years of turmoil.
Al-Sisi has been lionized by state media since toppling Morsi.
As they wait for al-Sisi to make his intentions clear, none of the candidates defeated by Morsi in last year’s presidential election, such as Moussa, have declared they will run. However, Hamdeen Sabahi, a leftist who came third last year, has strongly hinted he would like to run.
A spokeswoman for Sabahi’s Popular Current party, Heba Yassin, said holding the presidential election ahead of the parliamentary vote would meet the demands of people who took to the streets against Morsi on June 30 to demand an early presidential vote.
Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood won all the elections after former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s downfall in 2011, drawing on its position as Egypt’s best-organized party to defeat leftists and liberals in parliamentary and presidential polls.