Where is Egypt going?

Is the situation in Egypt about to escalate to a level which cannot be contained?

By
November 29, 2011 13:46
Protesters during a march in Tahrir Square, Cair

Protesters during a march in Tahrir Square in Cairo 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah)

 
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Just a few days before elections, Egypt plunged even deeper into political crisis last Sunday as security forces attacked protesters and torched their tents. In a display of unrest that appears to be headed toward a second uprising, this time the protesters’ fury was directed at Egypt's military rulers.

For three consecutive days, thousands of young Egyptians battled security forces on the streets of Cairo surrounding Tahrir Square - the symbol of the revolt that brought down former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and left the military in charge of the country.

At the time of writing, more than 30 people have been reported dead while hundreds more were wounded as fires burned in the square and even in some buildings. Many Egyptians are worried that the violence could delay the parliamentary elections while others are considering not  even showing up to vote in the elections, for fear of more violence. This will only benefit Islamist groups as their members have a religious motivation to vote for Islamic parties, thereby dominating the parliament and instituting Sharia law on the country.

Several factors contributed to creating a feeling of vast public anger all over the country. These include:

1. Loss of trust in Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi because of his failure to judge Mubarak in military courts or to put him in prison. This made many Egyptians feel that Tantawi is more loyal to Mubarak than to the people. Placing political activists on trial in military courts while refusing to do the same for Mubarak has only served to aggravate this mistrust.

2. Failure of the government to set maximum wages for its federal employees. Currently the wages of many government employees is more than a thousand times the minimum. The delay in setting a reasonable ratio between maximum and minimum wages has caused many people to feel that the Mubarak system still controls the country and that the hope for a better future is lost.

3. Lack of effective communication and dialogue between Tantawi the population of Egypt. While the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has started using Facebook in its attempts to communicate with the public, this does not fulfill the expectations of most of the population. Egyptians are used to seeing their head of state (in this case, Tantawi) address them personally on the television. The personal touch of the leader, in this case via direct communication, has often had a huge impact on the country’s stability. The lack of personal communication from Tantawi was perceived by many as if he were ignoring them. 

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The final point of contention was the government’s failure to punish police officers responsible for killing demonstrators in the January 25 revolution. Adding fuel to the fire was the recent humiliating treatment of the dead body of one of the demonstrators. Security forces were filmed dragging the corpse of a young boy through the streets. The video depicting this diabolical scene has generated unprecedented levels of public anger that only escalated revolts across the country. In response, some demonstrators even attempted to storm the building which houses the department of Internal Affairs, close to Tahrir square.

Despite its intention to calm the crisis, Tantawi's statement to the public only led to more anger among the crowds because it did not include an apology for the killing of demonstrators. [During the writing of this op-ed the Egyptian TV announced an apology from General Mohamed El-Assar - a senior member for the killing of the demonstrators]. Interestingly, many of the angry demonstrators are now turning against the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood had initially joined other groups (including the Salafi) in demonstrating, but a week ago they ceased to do so and withdrew from Tahrir Square.

Curbing this level of public anger using simple measures is simply not viable A coup organized by dissenters in the military looking to replace Tantawi as their head is therefore not an unlikely scenario. But it is important to note that the demonstrators only represent a fraction of the society as a whole. Many ordinary Egyptians still support the military itself and feel secure with its leadership, and Several polls have shown that the vast majority of Egyptians trust the military more than the political parties.

Thus another possible outcome could be holding a referendum to evaluate the percentage of Egyptians who want the military to lead the country during this transitional stage. Since many Egyptians value the security of having the military involved in the political leadership of the country, the results could be in its favor. 

The third scenario resulting from the uprisings could be the use of excessive force by the military to suppress the public. However, the unfolding history of other revolting Arab countries has proven that this approach does not succeed in combating such wide-spread anger among the population.


Whichever scenario ultimately plays out, the current situation is only serving to increase criminal activities, and as such may lead to the implementation of martial law to prevent further collapse of the country.

In the meantime, Tantawi and the SCAF need to take immediate and affirmative action in order to stop the violence. First, they must issue an official (and televised) apology for the killing of demonstrators by the hands of the security forces. Second, they must enact immediate punishment for the perpetrators of inhumane crimes against protesters.

Failure to take appropriate action at this time will have dire consequences for Egypt’s future.

The writer is an Islamic thinker and reformer, and a one-time Islamic extremist from Egypt. He was a member of the terrorist organization JI with Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, who later became the second-in-command of al-Qaeda. He is currently a senior fellow and chairman of the study of Islamic radicalism at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies. www.tawfikhamid.com.

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