By Tim Sebastian
Nov 05 2011,
A cool breeze wafts along the streets of Cairo these days and the North African sun has become a tamer, gentler creature. But the city is sleepless, its unease fed by fear of the unknown — as new parties proliferate, filling the air with their deals, feuds and treachery. There’s a sense, also, that the time for playing in this heady environment is running out and that the door to the future — whatever it may be — will soon, once again, slam shut.
Next month brings the start of parliamentary elections, the first serious, democratic milestone since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. But most people are waiting to be convinced that the new politicians will be unified enough, or equipped with the intellectual capacity to exercise any meaningful power — even if the military rulers will let them.
I hear more talk of doom than hope. Eight months old, the revolution is bruised, bloodied, misunderstood — and widely unloved. No one is sure who owns it or controls it. There are doubts about whether it is even a revolution at all. It has many bizarre faces and some Egyptians are getting scared.
Last Friday night, three cars full of wedding revelers stopped beside each other on a major highway, shutting all of the lanes leading out of Cairo. “They blocked hundreds of vehicles and made everyone wait while they danced,” said one resident. “The police were nearby but did nothing. There are no rules anymore — and no one to enforce them.”
But there are, in fact, one or two new rules and a bunch of brand new enforcers. In the last eight months, some 12,000 civilians have been tried by the military with industrial efficiency, in a country that has often taken months, even years, to bring the simplest of cases to trial. The hearings have been labeled “unfair” by international human rights groups and there are persistent reports of torture in custody and forced virginity tests.
The generals, who last month widened and extended their emergency powers to include offences such as broadcasting rumours, have let it be known that they don’t like criticism.
More worrying, individual journalists appear to have been selected to receive special warnings. Earlier this month a well-known broadcaster was told by a senior editor to start concentrating on her children and hobbies and leave politics alone. Otherwise, went the signed message, “you risk losing everything.”
And whatever the case, the military’s approval ratings have soared to the 90s. “Who else is there?” asked one leading commentator. “You want the kids from Tahrir Square to run the country? They’ve never run anything. Egyptians know that. Even if you don’t like the army, there’s no one else who can do the job.”
So, after a revolution that was supposed to be about choices, there is now only one. It wears a uniform, carries a gun and on some days looks disturbingly familiar.
Not, of course, that the generals seem happy in their work. For months, the Armed Forces’ Supreme Council has been declaring to anyone who’ll listen that it has no appetite for power. And yet it has simultaneously shown zero enthusiasm for giving it up.
One veteran political figure told me the officers were afraid of being brought to trial by a future civilian government, afraid of losing their huge and opaque business interests — some say up to 40 per cent of Egypt’s economy. “They simply don’t know what to do,” he said. “Most political groups have agreed to draw a line under the past and give them immunity. But they still don’t trust them.”
Of course, as the army is well aware, Egyptians have become unpredictable. Last year they didn’t do revolutions, now they do. And it’s clear that whatever kind of system emerges, the people will not tolerate a full-scale return to the repression of old.
The writer is a TV Journalist
Source: New York Times