Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 15, 2012 10:07 am 
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Mural shows Tantawi and Mubarak as the same man

Mid-February 2011: junta quietly takes over

In English it's called the SCAF, but SCAM might be more descriptive. The Supreme Council of the Allied Forces effectively took control of the Egyptian government in February 2011 after Mubarak stepped down as a result of the popular uprising known at home as "the revolution of 25 January." It was a moment in the Arab Spring that was -- despite the baltagiyya (right wing thugs) "Battle of the Camel" in Cairo and many deaths of demonstrators -- a relatively fresh and peaceful event that heartened everyone who values freedom. But then came the moment of the SCAF declaring itself in charge. And today, in mid-June 2012, the people have all realized what that meant. The SCAF's mask is off, and it has become clearly the enemy of the revolution.

Wishful thinking has led many Egyptians to believe SCAF control of the government was purely a temporary stopgap to maintain stability until a civilian government could be established -- under a new constitution. But while the voice of the people was heard in the streets as never before in 2011, and politics became open and various, lots of things didn't change at all under the SCAF, whose generals anyway had been around under Mubarak. Its head was Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who had served as Mubarak's Minister of Defense. Under the SCAF military junta, beatings and arrests continued. Some demonstrations were brutally repressed and occasionally baltagiyya reappeared to attack and beat demonstrators. Military detentions continued.

After Mubarak's fall, the SCAF had immediately dissolved the existing constitution. The many political factions did not come together to write a new constitution, though that should have been the first order of the day. Instead, SCAF has been left to make new rules randomly by edict. The newer, more liberal political factions needed time to organize before either writing a constitution or fielding candidates in an election. They didn't get much time. Instead, parliamentary elections were held from 28 November 2011 to 11 January 2012. Speedy action was favored by the Muslim Brotherhood, because they were the best organized. (Elections were delayed, but only slightly). The elections were chaotic, but there was a big turnout. Predictably, the Brothers won a majority of the seats, with the party of the religious extremist Salafis winning a surprising number of seats as well. Then presidential elections were held, still without a constitution, Though the Carter Center didn't condemn this election, the circumstances were suspicious, not fully open. Despite a multiplicity of candidates in a political scene celebrating new freedoms, or so people assumed, the runoff was to be between a representative of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist opposition, and Ahmed Shafik, a man from Mubarak's regime. This, immediately followed by trials letting off many of Mubarak's officers responsible for the brutality in the demonstrations, led to many demonstrations and widespread anger. The people wanted stronger punishments for the repressions. They wanted a better choice for president. They wanted a new law prohibiting former members of the regime to hold office for the next ten years to be enforced, so Ahmed Shafik would not be one of the two runoff candidates.

But that was not at all what the Supreme Court has just done. They belatedly decided some aspects of the parliamentary elections were improper, and they have taken the extreme measure of declaring the the entire new parliament dissolved. And they decided Ahmed Shafik's candidacy for president was legitimate. Maybe it was obvious all along. But now the scales are off all eyes: the dictatorship is deeply embedded in the Egyptian body politic. SCAF is the agent of the old regime, and it is holding onto power with an iron hand. The justices of the Supreme Court were chosen by Mubarak. These actions have been described as a "judicial coup." Nathan J. Brown, an American scholar of Palestinian and Egyptian law at George Washington University, commented that "what was beginning to look like a coup in slow motion is no longer moving in slow motion. "

The role played by the Egyptian Supreme Court might disturb an American observer, because the US Supreme Court, with a conservative near-majority now, has been eroding our democracy. The Citizens United decision has in effect, wholeheartedly turned over control of American politics to the super-rich, a process that was a long time coming. And we may remember the Couirt's decision that made George W. Bush president instead of Al Gore, turning over control of the American government to the right for eight years, essentially by fiat. Not so different, really. When a court is not balanced or on the side of the majority of the people, it can wield a dangerous power.

The Egyptian Supreme Court's ruling dissolving the parliament has hit the Muslim Brothers hardest. Had the leading MB candidate Mohamed Morsi been elected president with a parliament, he would have been strong. At the same time the court ruled that the Political Exclusion Law was invalid, thus allowing former members of the Mubarak regime to run for office and re-legitimizing Morsi's opponent in the runoff, Ahmed Shafik. Now there is a widespread movement to boycott the runoff.

Shouting anti-SCAF slogans in Tahrir Square in January 2012

Mid-June 2012: solid disillusionment sets in

The crowds are still in the streets, filling Tahrir Square in Cairo, the center ring of Egyptian street politics, but the situation is totally demoralizing. Egypt's revolution is back to square one. The battle, it seems, has hardly begun. Mubarak is gone, pampered in prison, but what else is changed? It seems, not so much: except for those masses in the streets and public squares. They show something is still alive.

The revolutionaries' planning has lacked follow-up. Many on the street only dreamed of Mubarak's downfall. The people who bring about a revolution in the streets are not quite the same as those who will and can lead a new government. The dictator's resignation was such a dream come true, the man on the street may not have imagined beyond that step. After thirty years of dictatorship it's understandable the rank and file would lack a keen eye for the details of democratic government, or quickly perceive their absence.

The regime's remnants however have timed things well. The light show trials were a useful distraction from the issue of the rigged election. The dissolving of the parliament means that, if the runoff election goes ahead, the people will be choosing another dictator, because there will be no checks on his power.

Though keener analysts knew that the roots of the old regime went deep and still remained, now is a time of rude awakening for many in Egypt who didn't know that or tried not to see it. News articles are reporting on this. For example, David D. Kirkpatrick of the New York Times, whose June 14, 2012 article begins by saying "the small circle of liberals, leftists and Islamists who orchestrated Egypt’s revolution say they realize they failed to uproot the networks of power that Hosni Mubarak nurtured for nearly three decades." Kirkpatrick quotes Ahmed Maher of the April 6 Youth group as saying they are developing a five-year plan to build a movement capable of taking the reins of change. Meanwhile it's obvious the Muslim Brothers haven't been interested in cooperating since Mubarak's ouster, only in securing power over the country. All see the SCAF as duping them, stringing them along. And SCAF seems to have worked with the Supreme Court to dismantle or neuter much of what the revolution has done.

It all seems very ironic. The whole country went out to vote for a parliament that was then dissolved. Later they voted for a president who would not be the one many want and whoever he is, assuming the runoff is held, will as things now stand have no power -- though if he's Ahmed Shafik, he will be able to work directly with SCAF: both represent the old regime.

But those leaders of the revolution still exist, and the streets are still alive with demonstrators. Things are a lot better than before, even if they're a lot worse than people wanted to think. But the question remains that was there from February 2011: how do you get rid of SCAF? Did anyone really think they'd go away on their own? The first Egyptian revolution, in 1952, was a military coup, with a government of army officers headed first by Muhammad Naguib, then by Gamal Abdel Nasser. It later crushed the Muslim Brothers, feeling they were a threat to the country. The SCAF might want to do that again, but it seems less possible now. Whatever happens, this face-off of two warring powers and the deep entrenchment of dictatorship stand in the way of a constitutional democracy.

(See "Egypt's Heightening Electoral Crisis," Sharif Abdel Kouddous, The Nation.)

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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