By Hina Mahmood
Nov, 1, 2011
THE international community has hailed Tunisia’s recent elections as the triumph of the Arab Spring, but its real success is yet to be determined; Egypt, a larger and more globally important country, is facing a much rockier transition, with the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF) consolidating its power and dangerously reversing the revolution.
Several red flags are already up. Instead of repealing the emergency law, as promised, SCAF has extended it until June 2012, adding a new decree that broadens its powers. The law expands police jurisdiction, legalises censorship and suspends constitutional rights. To compound this, SCAF had established electoral laws designed to polarise civil society, encouraging fragmentation and diluting threats to its power.
Even more disturbing, has been the government’s reaction to the initially peaceful protests held on Oct 9. Coptic Christians marched to end hate attacks on Christians, comprising eight per cent of Egypt’s population, and were met with ruthless violence, reminiscent of Mubarak’s regime. To add fuel to fire, the state-owned media falsely reported that the US had sent in troops to protect Christians, igniting Islamist zealots, who joined security forces in their brutality.
These acts are not in the democratic spirit of the revolution that took place in Tahrir Square, but it is hardly surprising, given that strong democratic institutions work implicitly against the interests of the army. The generals, under Mubarak, shared many of his views and enjoyed control of large segments of the economy with unchallenged power.
Now, SCAF, the executive authority in Egypt, is doing all that it can to secure this power. As with many societies in transition, the interim period is messy, but in this case, it is being exploited to ensure that a future civilian government is weak and fragmented, posing no threat to military interests.
Delays in elections will give the military ample time to consolidate its hold on the future political arena. When the military came to power, it wanted to hold quick elections so that less established political parties would not have enough time to organise and participate. The parliamentary elections have since been delayed; scheduled for Nov 28 and taking place in three stages with the final vote occurring in January. The military has also delayed the presidential vote until 2013.
In an effort to retain power, SCAF unilaterally declared a controversial electoral law in September, allowing only two-thirds of seats to be on the party list with the rest reserved for independents. This ensured that the former National Democratic Party members and the Islamists would have a large advantage over their opponents.
In the previous regime, the law allowed candidates to run as independents if they didn’t make it on Mubarak’s party list, and then join the party afterwards. The military rulers amended the law to allow party members to run for the remaining one-third only after political parties mounted considerable pressure, threatening to boycott the election.
An even more alarming development is that SCAF will retain control over the budget, the cabinet, and will appoint the prime minister, even after the assembly is elected. Essentially, by holding the purse strings and installing people in positions of power, they will retain the power they had under the Mubarak regime, maybe even more.
It will be interesting to see how the elections unfold. The Muslim Brotherhood, is expected to win the plurality of votes in parliament with the rest divided among a variety of political groups. It is playing an interesting game. There are many who suspect that the Muslim Brotherhood had struck a deal with SCAF.
Although there is no concrete evidence backing this claim, there are events that have fuelled these suspicions. The Muslim Brotherhood was the only political force in a committee formed by SCAF to amend the constitution shortly after assuming power. Despite opposition from almost all other political forces, the party supported SCAF’s decision to draft a constitution after elections, rather than before. It even kept quiet over military trials for civilians, refusing to participate in the million-man march protesting this practice, further infuriating the public.
Recently, relations seem to have soured on the surface, beginning with SCAF’s intention of forming a constitutional declaration that would work against the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood. Only, after this happened, did the latter condemn military trials for civilians and deplore the emergency law.
For the military, the best-case scenario would be a government dominated by a Muslim Brotherhood that is compliant to its wishes. So far, there seems to be an understanding between the two, though lately rifts have formed in the relationship.
Alternatively, the Muslim Brotherhood may not be easily influenced. Parliament’s mandate will be to elect a 100-member constitutional committee that will have six months to draft a new constitution. Given, the recent disagreements over the proposed constitutional declaration, there may be more clashes to come.
Whatever government comes out of future elections, the key to its success will be extricating itself from the shadows of the military and protesting for basic rights, such as those infringed upon by the emergency law. SCAF’s control over the budget will enable it to retain its privileges and will greatly diminish the power of the future elected government. In the ensuing months, Egyptians will have to continue to push for the ideals they had demanded in Tahrir Square or they might find themselves back where they started, with ‘democratic’ figureheads, but with the same people pulling the strings.
The writer, a development economist, is currently working as a freelance journalist in New York.
Source: The Dawn, Karachi