The anniversary of the Egyptian revolution

Almost a year on, the situation in Egypt is still chaotic and the end far from sight.

Mubarak laying down in court 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Mubarak laying down in court 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Nearly a year to the day since the start of the revolution in Egypt, the situation is still chaotic and the end is far from being in sight. The army, which played an important role in the toppling of Hosni Mubarak and was the only uniting force during the dramatic events of January and February 2011, failed dismally to launch the necessary dialogue with all political forces.
The drawn-out electoral calendar scheduled by the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces gave the impression that it would like to stay in power for as long as possible. As a result, the army is now under attack and is being called on by a popular movement to return to the barracks and hand over power to a civilian council.
Elections for the lower chamber, the Majlis e-Sha’ab, proceeded smoothly enough, though the result was not quite what was expected. The Islamist parties won the election with a huge majority and the new parliament will be painted the bright green of Islam, creating a most unpleasant surprise not only for foreign observers but also for the Egyptian elite, the middle class and even the young revolutionaries who started the process.
Yet the writing had been on the wall. This is the result of Islamic education – or indoctrination – from a tender age, recklessly encouraged by the Mubarak regime, as well as of the charitable activities – and the preaching – of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists throughout the country.
Will Mubarak’s secular dictatorship be superseded by an Islamic regime that is no less dictatorial, and perhaps even more so? The new head of government is likely to be a member of the Brotherhood who has the support of most of the parliament. Can we realistically expect him to be respectful of human rights – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, equal rights for women and minorities, including the nearly 10 million Egyptian Copts?
THE LAUNCH in November of the long-awaited electoral process did not put an end to the demonstrations or to the repression that has left thousands wounded and at least 60 dead, 26 of them Copts. Ongoing protests demand that the army relinquish power forthwith and attack Field Marshal Mohamed Hussain Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, who is accused of having had close links with the former regime.
In some of the more violent protests, foreigners and journalists have been targeted and public buildings have been set ablaze. The venerable French Institute, founded by Napoleon in the 18th century, was destroyed, and with it priceless documents. Many believe that this was the Salafists at work; some members of the movement declare openly that they intend to “cleanse” Egypt of all foreign influence and to obliterate all traces of the Pharaohs’ era, of which the country is so proud.
They plan to destroy the Cairo Museum and its historical treasures, to smash the gigantic statues at Luxor and Abu Simbel and then to attack the splendid Library of Alexandria, which was completed only a few years ago. Official representatives of the Brotherhood and of the Salafists are making vague reassuring statements that leave their true intentions clouded in doubt.
The Muslim Brothers, who feel confident of their power with an estimated 40 percent of the seats in the parliament, say they want to establish a civil state with Muslim characteristics – an interesting concept that baffles everyone – and to draft a constitution in this spirit. They also say they have no intention of fielding a candidate for the presidential election – but then again they say that the new constitution will severely curtail the prerogatives of the president, presumably reinforcing those of the head of government.
A head of government who will, as we have seen, come from the Muslim majority.
Three of the candidates for the highest office belong to the Islamic stream: Abdel Moneim al-Futuh, who calls himself an “independent,” is a former Brother who was expelled from the movement when he declared his candidacy; Muhammad Salim Abu Alawa and Hazzem Abu Ismail are close to the Salafists.
IN A renewed effort to appease, the head of the Freedom and Justice Party, which was founded by the Brotherhood, declared last week that in spite of their overwhelming majority, the Brothers would take all opinions into consideration when drafting the constitution, draw on all political currents and call on the most eminent jurists of the country.
This does not sit well with Muhammad Badie, the supreme guide of the Brotherhood, who declared to raised eyebrows last week that the movement was about to fulfill the lofty aspirations of its founder, Hassan al-Banna, to set up a truly just regime in Egypt and to establish the caliphate throughout the world.
The Brotherhood’s position regarding foreign policy is no less murky.
While some leaders are at pains to affirm that all foreign agreements will be respected, the Brotherhood’s spokesman was quick to deny that they would respect agreements with Israel when this was suggested by American officials earlier this week.
The Brotherhood’s second-in-command, Rashed el-Bayoumi, told a German news agency that since the Brothers had no part in the peace treaty with Israel, they would submit it to the people by referendum – and in any case they would never sit with Israelis or negotiate with them. However, it has been suggested that a government led by the Muslim Brothers could appoint someone from outside the movement as minister of foreign affairs to deal with Israel until the the time comes to freeze the peace treaty.
The position of the al-Nour Salafist party, which holds more than 20% of the seats, is more extreme but no clearer. Party chairman Emad Abdel Ghafour has said that he will honor the Camp David agreement but will insist on a wholly Islamic regime.
Sheikh Yasser Barhami, who heads the Salafist movement, makes it clear that there can be no coalition with liberal parties that want to set up a democratic government, as under Islam all laws come from Allah. The sheikh told his faithful not to send good wishes to the Copts and not to participate in their religious functions, because they belong to a corrupt religion. A religious police or “modesty patrol,” like the one in Saudi Arabia, is already at work and is frightening the very people who had given their vote to the Islamic parties.
Another representative of al-Nour said that the party would not cooperate with the Muslim Brotherhood in setting up a so-called civil state, since it insists on a wholly Islamic regime.
He added that there must be no possibility of the election of a Copt as president.
What is going to happen now? Secular parties, with their pitiful 15% of the seats, will have little or no influence.
Should the Muslim Brothers ask them to form a coalition against the Salafists – which is mathematically possible – would they set aside their principles and agree? According to the latest news, the Brothers may try to split the small liberal bloc and propose to be joined only by the secular Wafd (Delegation) Party, which received about 9% of the seats. This threat is real enough to spur al-Nour, in defiance of its own platform, to approach the Wafd Party in order to prevent it from joining the Muslim Brothers.
Another possibility is that Brothers and Salafists could unite – though both sides say this will not happen.
These are the questions being hotly debated in the Arab media today. It is feared that clashes between the Islamic parties in the new parliament may delay the drafting of a constitution, the formation of a government and the presidential election, delaying the measures so urgently needed to redress the economic situation.
As for the army, after having committed all possible errors, at times yielding to the protests, at times fighting the protests, it is still a formidable power because it commands the security forces as well as the police. Will the generals surrender their power to the newly elected parliament? Will they fight to retain some of their treasured prerogatives until the new constitution is adopted and a president is elected? The army perceives it to be vital that it preserve its power over the budget, its own military courts and the economic empire created under the old regime. How far is it prepared to go to preserve its special status? To prevent the looming crisis, some in the Muslim Brotherhood are hinting that a compromise could be worked out “for the good of the country” by preserving immunity for the army which would smooth its way back to the barracks.
The writer, a Fellow of The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden.