Commentary

Tahrir Square 2.0?

Middle East In Focus

Middle East In Focus

Egypt’s supreme court rendered a decision on Thursday which effectively nullified the recent parliamentary elections, bringing the country to the brink of a reprise of the Tahrir Square protests that led to the ouster of the Mubarak regime. Despite being the most affected by the decision, the Muslim Brotherhood has sent mixed signals, with some calling it a coup by the country’s ruling military regime and others accepting the Court’s decision and avowing to move forward with the planned presidential elections.

The daily Al-Masry Al-Youm reported yesterday that in light of the Court’s decision, “The ruling military council is putting together a constitutional declaration to govern the formation of the Constituent Assembly....[A military] source said that the dissolution of Parliament has now become mandatory according to the SCC ruling. The same source told Al-Masry Al-Youm that ‘according to the SCC verdict, Parliament has become unconstitutional, and is dissolved automatically without a decision from the SCAF.’...Legislative powers would now be relegated to the SCAF, the interim executive leader of the country.”

It is exactly this apparent grab of legislative power by the SCAF that has many worried. As Egypt Independent’s Noha El-Hennawy notes, “Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) dealt a blow on Thursday to civilian forces by handing down rulings that effectively dissolved Parliament, returned legislative powers to the military and affirmed the legality of former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq’s bid for presidency....For some observers, today’s verdicts attest to a coup d’état whereby the SCAF seeks to retain the helm of the state almost two weeks before the deadline set for the transfer of power to civilians. ‘This is a hard coup d’état with a constitutional mask,’ said Saif Eddin Abdel Fattah, a political science professor with Cairo University. ‘This is a betrayal of the revolution on the SCAF’s part. Revolutionary forces will not stay silent.’”

The regional editorials also raised questions about the robustness of Egypt’s new transition. For example, the Lebanese The Daily Star suggests: “Twin rulings by Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court Thursday have the potential to send the country back in the direction of political uncertainty, underscoring the delicate balance of power between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military council that calls the shots in the land of the Nile....In the end, the two rulings will divert Egyptian politics from the realm of constitutional institutions, with all their faults, back to the street. This threatens to have dangerous repercussions for a country that is still reeling from its dramatic transition away from the one-party era of Mubarak.”

Asharq Alawsat’s Abdel Monem Said wonders whether democracy can take root at all in Egypt: “There are fears over Egypt’s democracy project, the traditions of thousands of years cannot be easily forgotten, and the presence of wise voices is rare. The only hope is that Egypt has been through this phase before, as legislative elections took place amidst the Mohammed Mahmoud street demonstrations, the Council of Ministers controversy and the ‘Maspero’ incident, yet despite all this parliament was elected and ran its course. This time will probably be no different, and perhaps this is the nature of politics in the Arab and Egyptian manner. Or perhaps democracy is always difficult at first, and afterwards the situation corrects itself and the balance is restored.”

Reporting on some of the views held by various Egyptian politicians and factions, the Saudi daily Arab News believes “Egypt’s transition [is] in turmoil.... Conservative politicians who had gained most from Mubarak's overthrow decried what they called a ‘coup’ by an army-led establishment still stuffed with Mubarak-era officials. They said the street movement would not let it pass....The Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that Mubarak's last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, could stay in the presidential race against the Brotherhood's Muhammad Mursi....The Muslim Brotherhood said it would continue in the presidential election ‘It’s a reality now, and we must deal with it as such,’ said Mahmoud Ghozlan, spokesman for the Brotherhood. Abdul Moneim Aboul Fotouh, who took part in the first round of the presidential vote in May, said that dissolving Parliament amounted to a ‘complete coup.’ The Salafist Al-Nur party, which has the second biggest representation in Parliament, said the ruling showed ‘a complete disregard for the free will of voters.’”

There are some that urge a cool-headed approach. The UAE based daily The National sees “More obstacles in Egypt's push to democracy,” but cautions: “Complaints by some of Egypt's younger revolutionaries have not always been watertight. Over 50 per cent of voters in last month's election opted for liberal candidates; but simply not liking the results does not mean the revolution has been hijacked. Now, however, there will once again be questions about whether democracy was passed over for cronyism. Seventeen months after the uprising began, it's one step forward in Egypt, and one back.”

Similarly, Khaled Diab makes the argument that “Democracy in Egypt is an imperfect, but vital, evolution....[P]aradoxically, the country's nascent democratic process has delivered an apparently anti-democratic outcome....This has left revolutionaries and their supporters in a double bind: participation means effectively voting against the revolution, but boycotting the ballot could undermine the democratic process....Remember that the revolution is not just political but also social, cultural and economic. This is recognised in the revolutionary slogan ‘bread, freedom and social justice,’ but has not been acted upon except sporadically at the local level, mainly by workers and trade unions. If ordinary Egyptians are to be won over to the cause, they need to see that there is something in it for them — social and economic justice.”

But perhaps it is Al Ahram’s Amira Howeidy who best sums up the uncertainty, the dynamics and the contradictions of the current developments in Egypt. Writing about the unfolding events in Egypt prior to the Supreme Court’s decision about the legality of the parliamentary elections, Howeidy points out: “Mubarak may be in Tora prison but his regime is alive and kicking. And Tahrir is roaring, again....If the court accepts the appeal parliament will be dissolved, new elections will take place and the military will remain in power. If it accepts the political isolation law Shafik will be disqualified and new elections will be in order. And because perceptions of the SCC's independence have been increasingly undermined, it is the political dynamics on the ground over the next few days that will shape Egypt's future.”


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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.