Arab World: A joyless celebration

As Egypt marks a year to the revolution, the future envisioned by the Tahrir Square protesters is a long way off.

First anniversary of Egypt’s uprising in Tahrir Square 390 (photo credit: REUTERS)
First anniversary of Egypt’s uprising in Tahrir Square 390
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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 way.
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 goals.
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 Prophet.
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 silently.
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 Tantawi.
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.
Few believe them.
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.
The 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 war.
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.
Leading businessmen have fled or are awaiting trial. Strikes have paralyzed production and exports.
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.
Gradually the 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.