Anger and frustration marked the first anniversary of the Egyptian uprising. A
year ago, people were chanting “down with the regime,” “down with Mubarak,”
“freedom and democracy;” Egypt, as one, dreamed that the downfall of a corrupt
clique would usher in a new era. It did not quite happen that
Mubarak is on trial, but his regime goes on. The Supreme Council of
the Armed Forces, which now rules, is no markedly different from the previous
government and is in no hurry to give up its powers to the newly elected
civilian institutions. A deteriorating economy means that the people are even
worse off than they were.
January 25, 2012 saw demonstrations and
processions in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and many other cities, big and small,
with one central demand: that the revolution achieve its
Protesters wanted all members of the old regime removed from
public institutions; they wanted economic and social reforms; they also wanted
an end to the SCAF.
The mood was somber; there was no unity, no
happiness. A year ago the masses were chanting that the people and the army were
one; today they want the army gone.
A year ago, revolutionary youngsters
and Islamists were praying together in Tahrir Square, talking of cooperation and
a brighter future. Today, those youngsters and the famed “Sixth of April
bloggers” who lit the revolutionary fire find themselves very much alone facing
the massive Islamic wave threatening to turn the country back to the time of the
A year ago, Islamists and Coptic Christians walked hand in hand
under banners showing the cross and the crescent entwined; today the Copts are
demanding equal rights after dozens of them have been killed by Islamists and by
security forces, churches have been torched while police and the army looked on
In Tahrir square, division and mistrust were clearly visible:
there were no less than seven so-called festive stages, each with supporters and
slogans. There were brawls between Sixth of April bloggers and Brotherhood
militants as well as between revolutionary youth and supporters of the SCAF.
Friends and families of the 850 victims of the revolution were demanding the
death penalty for Mubarak; friends and families of the victims of the brutal
repression by the army and the police after the fall of Mubarak demanded the
immediate removal of the SCAF as well as the execution of its leader, Marshal
The Egyptians are still coming to terms with the results of the
first free elections in decades. With 72 percent of the seats – 47% for the
Brotherhood, 25 % for the Salafists – Islamist parties have a clear monopoly on
the conduct of affairs; it is doubtful that this was what the people wanted.
Will a corrupt dictatorship be replaced by an even more absolute Islamist
dictatorship? There is no doubt that democratic values are not yet widely
accepted in Egypt; at the start of the revolution there were no centrist liberal
movements ready to take over and steer the country toward democracy and
progress. The new parties set up by revolutionary youths did not have time to
make themselves known to the masses, who took refuge in the familiar slogans of
Islam. For years the Muslim Brothers had repeated “Islam is the solution” while
developing their benevolence network and helping the needy.
Now that they
have won, the Brotherhood and the Salafists are pledging to act with pragmatism,
not dogmatism, and not to impose Islam on the country.
The Brothers have campaigned under their true colors that of an
Islamist party with a radical platform; for the past 80 years they had been
working towards their goal. Why should they suddenly change course? They will no
doubt move slowly at first, devoting most of their their energy to the urgent
state of the economy – without losing sight of the Islamist agenda.
Brotherhood supreme leader said it in so many words: we are close to achieving
our objective, “a just and right government” in Egypt prior to restoring the
Caliphate the world over.
Still, it won’t be easy. The Brothers intend to
demand that the SCAF stop ruling through decrees, as it has thus far, and that
it transfer its legislative powers to the parliament.
However the SCAF
has already announced that it will not renounce any of its prerogatives until a
new constitution has been drafted and approved by referendum and a president
elected. It is not yet clear how fast the constitution can be ready. The 100
members who will be in charge of drafting the document have to be elected
jointly by both the recently elected lower house and the soon to be elected
upper house, which has only consultative powers.
The Brothers will do all
they can to ensure that the new constitution favors Islamist legislation while
substantially reducing presidential powers to the benefit of the parliament,
turning the country from a presidential regime to a parliamentary one – albeit
dominated by the Brotherhood.
Will the army return meekly to its
barracks? Here lies the crux of the problem. Its chiefs are very much aware that
they, too, can be accused of corruption, since they were part and parcel of the
Mubarak regime; after the revolution they repressed demonstrations with violence
equal to that of the old regime. Therefore they will do all they can to be
granted immunity before they agree to relinquish their powers. It is rumored that some form of a deal has been struck with the
Muslim Brothers. What is beyond doubt is that should they try to stay in power,
it would trigger a new wave of popular violence and perhaps even civil
Unfortunately, while political infighting goes, on the economy is
going from bad to worse.
There has been no growth in 2011; a massive
flight of capital has depleted the country’s resources.
businessmen have fled or are awaiting trial. Strikes have paralyzed production
Tourism is down 50%. Repeated acts of sabotage have cut the
flow of gas to Israel and to Jordan, causing Egypt losses amounting to hundreds
of million dollars.
Negotiations with oil-rich Arab countries, with the
US and with the IMF to receive much needed help are stalled because Egypt is not
ready to accept their conditions. Yet help is desperately needed to continue
importing basic supplies and to subsidize staple goods to feed the lower
classes, which make up 40% of the population. If the new government cannot
address these issues, it may have to face a new type of revolution – a
revolution of the hungry.
There have been contradictory statements from
the Muslim Brothers concerning relations with Israel.
It can be assumed
that they will not hasten to cancel the peace treaty, in order not to jeopardize
the massive amounts of help they are getting from the United States and to
maintain a positive façade vis-a vis-world public opinion. However they will
undoubtedly try to whittle it down.
Dialogue between the two countries
will be kept to a minimum; trade exchanges will slow down.
treaty will become nothing but an empty shell. At the same time, the Muslim
Brothers will increase cooperation with the Hamas movement, perhaps letting
armaments and equipment flow freely.
A bleak outlook indeed – though the
Middle East has taught us that unexpected developments can change the picture.
Facing the challenge of governing and feeding a country that will pass the
hundred million inhabitants mark in the not-to-distant future, the Muslim
Brothers might adopt a more pragmatic attitude… One can always dream.