After the Arab spring, is Egypt heading for a rigid winter?
by André Azzam
The country is the scene of daily demonstrations, economic uncertainty and political chaos. The massacre of Copts, Gaddafi’s demise and the rise of Muslim fundamentalists, who could get half the seats in the next parliament, are factors of instability and concern in a country on a path towards democracy.
Cairo (AsiaNews) – Recent events in Tunisia and Libya are shedding some new light on the situation in Egypt. It is true that the starting point of the Egyptian youth revolution was the murder of young Khaled Saïd six months before the immolation of Tunisian Mohammad Bouzidi. In the beginning of summer 2010, young Egyptians began demonstrating against the regime after it declared 25 January (Police Day) as a national holiday to celebrate the country’s security forces.
The Tunisian events of December and early January certainly gave a push to the Egyptian people who concretely felt the possibility of overthrowing the despised regime.
Then disillusion set in when elections were not held to amend the constitution at a time at a time when public opinion was eager to elaborate a completely new Constitution.
On Sunday, the Tunisian election for a Constitutional Assembly gave new hope for the Egyptian people, hope for free, fair and democratic elections. Still, public opinion is doubtful that old and deeply rooted habits forged in more than half a century of dictatorship can change suddenly, especially when everybody knows that the old regime is still alive and kicking.
People in the street prefer to repeat old popular sayings like “A dog’s tail never becomes straight” or and “Is it their nature or will they buy a new one?”
The recent past has been occupied mainly by the preparation for parliamentary elections, which should be held at the end of November. Yesterday was the last day for candidates to submit their names for the elections. The new parliament, which includes the People’s Assembly and the Consultative Council (equivalent to a Senate), is expected to set up a special body to elaborate a new constitution.
Fifty-three political parties have been registered. It is well known that members of the old National Democratic Party of former President Mubarak have split into ten different political parties and have infiltrated other parties. They are submitting 260 candidates.
A lot has been said about election system, divided between a party list (302 or two thirds of the seats) and first-past-the-post (one third).The fundamentalists known as Salafists have sponsored many individuals for the election. The Supreme Committee in charge of the elections has announced the results: 862 lists and 8,627 individual candidates have been duly registered: 6,591 individuals and 590 lists for the People’s Assembly, and, 2,036 candidates and 272 lists for the Consultative Council.
A ruling of the Administrative Court attached to the State Council issued yesterday now requires the Egyptian government to take the necessary measures to give Egyptians living abroad the right to participate in the next elections. According to well-informed sources, the number of Egyptians abroad is around 8 million, in the Arab countries, mainly Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates, as well as Europe, North America and Australia. By the end of this month, delegations from the Vital Records Office will travel to Europe, Canada and the United States to give Egyptian immigrants the opportunity to obtain a new Identity Card, which enables each Egyptian citizen to be registered automatically as a voter. Egypt recognises dual citizenship for all Egyptian immigrants.
It is well known that the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists are likely to win big. Well-informed experts give them 40 to 50 per cent of the vote. In addition, many commentators believe that the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) is backing this trend.
This is a source of concern among Copts, who represent more than ten per cent of the population, and are often victims of confessional harassment. The recent incident of 9 October, when 27 Christian demonstrators were savagely killed by bullets and crushed by armoured vehicles, had created a new iconic figure, Mina Daniel, a young blogger who actively involved in the January revolution and was killed by an armoured car on 9 October. According to his wish, his funeral went through Tahrir Square. A picture of his mother and the mother of Khaled Saïd has been posted on YouTube showing how Christians and Muslims are united in their destiny in Egypt.
In fact, alongside the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists, many Muslims have been demonstrating along with Copts. They too fear fundamentalism, concerned that they would be the first victims of a trend that considers any Muslim without allegiance to the movement as a traitor to his faith.
The Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists are making moderate announcements, like in Libya where the Transitional National Council has tried to allay fears about Islamisation.
It seems to all the observers that the wind of Islamisation is blowing from Tunisia and Libya and that by the end of November, it will definitely sweep over Egypt. Liberal movements calling for a civil society lack a strong structure to stand in front of the religious flow.
On one issue, everyone in Egypt agrees. The macabre exhibition of Gaddafi’s body was met by general disapproval. Both Muslim and Christian authorities expressed their revulsion at the gruesome spectacle. Part of public opinion in Egypt deplored the death of the Libyan dictator who escaped justice, but for another part, his death was the better situation because it ended a long and dark period in the history of Libya. Such a conclusion was preferable to a long trial, like in Egypt, that might come to a dead end. In Egypt, a group of lawyers has asked for the judge in charge of the Mubarak’s trial to be revoked, but the decision has been postponed to the end of December.
Demonstrations have never stopped in Egypt and include judges, teachers, lawyers, workers, civil servants, etc. For a couple of days, police officers have been demonstrating, shutting down the Ministry of Interior area. Some of their posters read, “Closed for cleaning”. They want to the dismissal of the current minister and the removal of all high rank officials from the old regime.
Yesterday, a new group named ‘Egypt above all’ was founded. It wants Marshal Hussein Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, to be “the first president of the new Egyptian state for one term to help institute real democracy”.
Posters of the marshal in military uniform were plastered on walls in Tahrir square and others parts of Cairo as well as other towns, calling for a million signatures to get Tantawi to run for president.
At present, he is on his way to attend the funeral of the Saudi crown prince. Egypt’s military rulers have denied that they have any ambition to hold on to power.
Given the general situation in Egypt, characterised by demonstrations, a stagnant tourist sector, a shaky economy and a general feeling of insecurity and deadlock, is the Arab spring on its way to become a rigid winter in Egypt?