Home » MIDDLE EAST » Where did the Egyptian Revolution take us?

Where did the Egyptian Revolution take us?

Over the last year, deep turmoil has hit the Arab world. Since Tunisian fruit vendor Mohammed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in December 2010, the regional landscape has undergone seismic shifts. Tunisia held free and fair elections and is doing relatively well. Libya is emerging from a civil war that invited NATO military intervention to topple the regime of Muammar Gadhafi. Syria and Yemen are both mired in domestic violence. And, since the resignation of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt has proved a mixed picture.

Despite recent elections, which signified an important step toward Egypt’s democratic transition, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) has refused to transfer power to an elected civilian body, representing one of the greatest impediments to democratic consolidation. The SCAF has been undemocratic, and the military has garnered criticism for human rights abuses reminiscent of the Mubarak-era. Since February 2011 human rights organizations have noted the arrest and conviction in military tribunals of hundreds of peaceful protesters for alleged “thuggery,” continuing to use a decades-old and unpopular emergency law. In October 2011, 20 Coptic Christians, a religious minority in Egypt,  were killed and hundreds more were tortured. In addition, censorship and the curtailing of press freedoms have reached alarming rates. The generals’ political maneuverings to preserve the subordination of civilian leadership, namely through the protection of their budget from any form of oversight or scrutiny, has revealed the SCAF’s political ambitions evocative of the Turkish model. The military’s refusal to cede authority and return to their barracks is deeply worrisome.

Results for the parliamentary elections to the People’s Assembly of Egypt held from November 28 to January 11 signals another unsettling picture. Islamist parties swept approximately 70 percent of the 508 seats in parliament. The debate has now shifted from one between Islamists vs. seculars/liberals, to one between the Muslim Brotherhood (37.5 percent of the vote) and Al Nour’s Salafi party (27.8 per cent of the vote). A populist Islamist government, which will be strongly influenced by the Salafis’ ultraconservative interpretation of political Islam similar to in Saudi Arabia, could taint the nascent Egyptian democracy with illiberal tinges, since their intentions are still unclear.

The economic situation in Egypt is also parlous. The Egyptian tourism industry has taken a serious hit since January 2011. The Egyptian pound has lost ten percent of its value. Foreign currency reserves are dwindling. Foreign investments have deterred  manufacturing and industry. And Egypt’s stock exchange lost billions just this last month. Only when political stability is achieved will the costs of revolution prove their worth.

 

The conflict between Egypt’s generals, who refuse to cede power and subordinate themselves to a civilian authority, and Islamists, whose liberal democratic credentials are dubious, is the grimmest facet of the last year since Egypt’s uprising began. Despite the specter of instability and chaos, Egyptians should view favorably the gains of the first freely elected parliament in decades and Hosni Mubarak’s trial, which is characteristic of the application of the rule of law. Moreover, deep divisions have emerged between and within the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Nour Party, suggesting that moderates in Parliament might be able to keep them in check. Al-Nour has recently expressed its commitment to the Egyptian-Israeli 1979 peace treaty, while the Muslim Brotherhood’s moderation has been remarkably astute.

Despite the political tensions and uncertainty, the generals must step down. They are undermining Egyptian democracy, having exhibited a reactionary commitment to continuity rather than honour the aspirations of millions of Egyptians who defied Mubarak’s regime one year ago. Egyptians might be envious of Tunisia’s remarkably smooth transition to democratic civilian rule. How exactly will their constitution be written, and what guarantees and provisions will be awarded to the military? The answer is ambiguous at best, subversive to democracy at worst. While Tunisia’s prospects look promising, and Libya – despite militias’ commitment to armament – seems poised to remain united due to a sense of national purpose, onlookers must watch Egypt more closely. The fate of Egypt’s Coptic minority under an Islamist-dominated parliament will set a precedent in the region for the treatment of ethnic minorities in other countries. Egypt is the “swing” country that will greatly impact the trajectory of other Arab states mired in violence and uncertainty, such as Yemen and Syria. The millions of protesters in Tahrir Square this January 25, 2012, however, has demonstrated that the Egyptian populace’s resolve is unfettered, and that it is ready to stand up to the military to keep up revolutionary momentum. Historically a regional leader  in both times of war and peace, Egypt’s democratic trajectory is arguably the most important watch.

–  Jaïs Mehaji

About Guest Writer

Check Also

Putin and the Syrian Deadlock

During the UN General Assembly held last week on September twenty-eight, Putin declared that Russia intends to support ...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *