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November 21, 2011
As suggested last week, the first Egyptian parliamentary elections since the ouster of Mubarak always held the possibility of volatility and violence. Almost a year since protests brought down Mubarak’s regime, fresh demonstrations have broken out in the main squares against what many consider the hijacking of the Egyptian revolution. Now into their fourth day of clashes with the military regime, protestors are demanding their hard-earned victories back, and most commentators seem sympathetic.
The military, it seems, may not be willing to relinquish its supremacy in Egyptian affairs. In the pages of Egyptian daily Al Masry Al Youm, Issandr El Amrani writes: “Last week, over the Eid break, the celebration and over-eating were marred by the news that Ali al-Selmi, the Deputy Prime Minister for Political Affairs, had proposed a new version of the ‘super-constitutional’ principles that would place the military above all other government authorities — including the next parliament and president…. In the end, the SCAF did as many feared. As a result, it's making Egypt's transition — from these principles to the coming parliamentary elections to, ultimately, the shape of the next constitution — increasingly about a choice: What do you fear least, Islamists or the military? ... Polls of Egyptian public opinion suggest that while this country is deeply pious and wants to retain some aspects of religion in public life, the majority want a secular state that does not differentiate between citizens according to their religion.”
Some pessimism over whether the military would be willing to bow to civilian authority was also expressed early on in the month by Philipe Droz-Vincent, who, in an op-ed for the Lebanese Daily Star, noted: “Faced with a possible surrender of its influence held under decades of authoritarian rule, the military is trying to strike a delicate balance. While not eager to impose indefinite military rule, the army seeks preservation of its political and economic privileges in the emerging system. The military was able to project a cohesive façade in the first months of the revolution, but as pressures mount from the civilian front in the lead-up to Nov. 28’s legislative elections, the Egyptian military is slowly discovering it is no longer the agent of its own desires…. The ability of civilian leaders to limit the military’s influence is limited but not impossible.”
The restive atmosphere may also be fueled by electoral uncertainty and worsening economic conditions. Al Ahram’s Gihan Shahine, for example, cites recent polling data: “The countdown to the upcoming parliamentary elections [taking place] amid a mood of public uncertainty and a lowering sense of optimism: such are the results of many recent polls testing the public mood before the parliamentary elections scheduled for later this month. The polls have also come up with contradictory and sometimes surprising results, though these may just be a reflection of the uncertainty that is gripping Egypt's political scene…. Although the poll showed that an overwhelming 75 per cent of the Egyptian public are in favor of a civil government, with less than a quarter of respondents favoring Islamic rule and only one per cent approving of military rule, the result may not provide a fully accurate answer.”
However, for the Turkish commentator Hala Elkholy there is reason to be optimistic. As she puts it in a recent op-ed for Hurriyet Daily News: “There are less than two weeks to go, but don’t hold your breath, much else is happening and even more will, far beyond the upcoming first real parliamentary elections. If one would only observe the change in energy, the awakening of the mind, heart and soul of Egypt, many would be reassured. The shy return of the values of goodness, care for others, unity and solidarity, respect for self and other, critical thinking and the quest for information that have surfaced will gain momentum. Amid the dark comes the ray of light that ignites the hope of a better future for Egypt.”
Pivoting the argument back to the recent violence in Tahrir square, Al Ahram’s Elias Harfoush argues: “The ongoing competition in Tahrir Square over the inheritance of Hosni Mubarak’s regime has its justifications….Mubarak’s absence has left a great vacuum in the prime seat of power in the largest (most populated) Arab country. Filling such a seat will have a major impact not just on Egypt alone, but also on the future of the revolutions of the Arab Spring, still raging in many places…. It would not be easy for an institution like the Egyptian army, which has led the Land of the Nile since the July 23 Revolution (1952), to hand over Egypt to the quarreling civilian and Islamist forces. And it seems that the threats facing the right of the people to manage its own affairs and to choose its representatives, whatever their inclination, will need more that January 25.”
Al Masry Al Youm’s Heba Afify has put together a highly recommended summary of the Egyptian media coverage of the current protests: “In Tahrir Square, it’s January again…. Placing the blame either on the ruling military council, police or the protesters themselves, Monday's papers try to dissect the confusing situation unfolding in Tahrir Square and other squares throughout Egypt, and to foresee its effect on the path of the Egyptian revolution and the elections that are supposed to take place within a week…. Independent newspaper Al-Tahrir focuses on the resemblance between the current clashes in the square and the clashes that took place in the early days of the January revolution in the presence of former President Hosni Mubarak and his notorious interior minister, Habib al-Adly, who are now both on trial for killing protesters…. As indolent as ever, Al-Ahram state newspaper publishes a spread with pictures of the violence in Tahrir Square compared to the sophistication of the elections, titled ‘Violence hijacks politics.’ The pictures are supplemented by a poetic paragraph calling on the people to avoid violent confrontations and resort to political negotiations.”
Turning to voices outside of Egypt, the UAE daily The National cautions in its editorial, “The message out of Cairo's Tahrir Square at the weekend was clear: Parliamentary elections, set for November 28, will be meaningless unless Egypt's Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) begins to relinquish power. Unfortunately for Egyptians, this appears to suit the military just fine…. what is beyond debate is that the generals now in charge need to hand over the reins, removing themselves from the constitutional drafting process, and make way for a democratic transition of power. Stability is a must, but so too is political progress. The Muslim Brotherhood do not speak for everyone in Egypt, but their message on Friday has resonance. Circumventing a meaningful transition in the political process, as the military is doing, can only end badly.”
A similar cautionary note is sound by the Dubai-based Khaleej Times editorial: “The military junta that is running the country is in the woods, as it seems to have lost the trust of the common man from Cairo to Alexandria that had reposed faith in them for ensuring an evolution after a quick-fix 17-day revolution that overthrew president Hosni Mubarak…. If eavesdropping is to be believed, there are fears that the army could influence the events by holding the presidency in its writ. Such an arrangement will churn out a docile and rubber-stamp parliament, and virtually negate the goodwill that was generated on the Tahrir Square…. The next week or so before the Egyptians go to poll is the timeframe in which the junta and the political stakeholders should strike an equation. Cairo’s spirit shouldn’t be lost in bizarreness.”
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