Egypt's Islamists push to sack army-backed gov't

Members of Egypt's Parliament attend a session in Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, March 24, 2012. Egyptian parliamentarians on Saturday cast ballots to select a 100-member panel that will draft the country's new constitution, amid deep polarization between liberals and Islamists over the process.
AP Photo/Ahmed Gomaa

(AP) CAIRO - Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood-led parliament began drawing up a no-confidence motion against the military-appointed government Thursday, further escalating the Islamists' increasingly public power struggle with the country's ruling generals.

Ties between the military and the Brotherhood, Egypt's most powerful political force and the dominant force in parliament, have deteriorated in recent weeks as the fundamentalist group has pushed for the army to sack the Cabinet for alleged incompetence. The Brotherhood wants to form a new government, a task it claims is increasingly urgent because of Egypt's deteriorating security and economic situation.

During a heated session in parliament Thursday, lawmakers lambasted Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri's government for its performance, accusing it of wasting billions of dollars of public funds. Six government ministers attending the proceedings stormed out in protest.

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Lawmakers also started drafting a motion for a vote of no confidence in the government, said parliamentarian Hussein Ibrahim. He said that parliament, where the Brotherhood and other Islamists hold nearly 75 percent of the seats, will vote on the measure within two weeks.

Lawmaker Osama Yassin said all of parliament 19 subcommittees have rejected the government's program, and that the legislature is demanding "a parliamentary majority forms a new Cabinet."

"No one can give a kiss of life to a dead government," he said.

While Egypt's interim constitution does not give parliament the power to dismiss the government, a no-confidence vote against the military-appointed Cabinet would be a sharp blow to the ruling generals and make it difficult for them to continue backing el-Ganzouri's administration.

For months, the Brotherhood and the military, which emerged as the two most powerful institutions since the uprising that ousted longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak last year, have moved between cooperating and jostling for position.

But Thursday's move points to the Brotherhood's growing confidence. The group holds nearly half the seats in parliament, making it the largest bloc -- and its strength grows even more on some issues in which it is backed by the second-largest bloc, the ultraconservative Islamic Salafis.

Last week, a senior Brotherhood leader accused el-Ganzouri of threatening to dissolve parliament by court order. The military council rejected the allegations, and issued a veiled threat of a crackdown on the Brotherhood if it persisted in its demands to form a new government.

The showdown over the government is but one front in a deepening political struggle in Egypt ahead of presidential elections scheduled for late May. That vote is supposed to be the last chapter in Egypt's muddled transition from decades of authoritarian rule to democracy.

Once a president is elected, the current government will resign and be replaced by a government appointed by new president.

But Brotherhood officials have said they feel increasing urgency to oust the current government now and replace it with one selected by parliament because of fears that further delay would leave the next government with a gutted economy because of the current government's inaction.

The military council is anxious to protect its special privileges, and deny civilians any oversight powers over its budget. The military also objects to the Muslim Brotherhood's plans to change Egypt's political system from presidential to parliamentarian, which the army fears would open the door to Islamists to carry out sweeping changes to the country's institutions.

Saad Emara, a parliamentarian with the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, said that the military has initially agreed to allow the parliament to form a Cabinet, but on certain conditions: two deputy prime ministers and 10 ministers, including defense and security ministers would be appointed by the military. The Brotherhood refused.

Hussein Ibrahim, the head of the Brotherhood's caucus, told reporters that his party will not form a government "without full powers."

"The Cabinet showdown is a symptom, while the military's worries over its special interests are the heart of the issue," Emara said.