Friday, June 22, 2012

The Fall (?) of the Egyptian Revolution


The Fall (?) of the Egyptian Revolution

The night of February 11th 2011, the world celebrated the triumph of the Egyptian people over the dictator Hosni Mubarak. Tahrir Square was filled with Egyptians singing and chanting, overwhelmed by the knowledge that the man who had ruled Egypt for 30 years was finally gone because they demanded it. However, any keen observer would notice that the military was an always present force and that their “new” reign did not seem to differ much from the past 3 presidents, all of whom came from military backgrounds.  More than a year after the revolution, Egyptian activists are still protesting; but this time they are turning against the
military on account of their corruption, rampant human rights abuses and blocking the transition to true democracy.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has controlled the country since that February night.  Made up of the highest ranking members of the military, SCAF is not representative of the average Egyptian or the activists that have been calling for democracy for years. Yet the world held onto the optimistic idea that the military would facilitate a peaceful transition to democracy, help Egypt’s economy recover, and ensure safety in Cairo and other major cities.  SCAF was quite shrewd in their actions immediately following the revolution. The hatred for Mubarak amongst the majority of Egyptians, no matter their ideology, was immense. There was a sense that as long as he personally left power, everything would be right. He represented corruption in every way, even down to his ludicrously expensive suits. So they put him on trial for the world to see how much they supported the revolution, let him be the scapegoat for all the problems Egypt has amassed in the past couple of decades. Yet soon the trial was revealed for the sham it really was. Sure, Mubarak was given a life sentence for the deaths of protesters but how he and his sons could ever been cleared of corruption charges is beyond most Egyptians. Furthermore, the trial highlighted the fact that the old system was still in place, virtually unchanged. Prosecutors constantly comlpained that the Ministry of the Interior would not allow them access to information needed to properly make the case against the former president.
The protests and the violence continued. Gruesome images poured out of Cairo, illustrating the brutality of the military; most famous of which was the woman being beaten by the troops after a peaceful protest in Tahrir, her body exposed to the world because she dared to question the military's policies.
Image courtesy of: telegraph.co.uk
SCAF was slowly being revealed for what it really was: a new form of dictatorship just as cruel as the last. Yet, for a few moments during the parlimentary elections, it looked like Egypt might just get a bit of democracy. People came out and voted in a generally fair and free manner. Yet on June 14th 2012, the Supreme Consitutional Court invalidated the elections, Parliment was dissolved and Ahmed Shafik was allowed to run for President, despite being one of Mubarak's closest friends and former prime minister, which came on top of disqualification of 10 out of the 23 presidental candidates in April. This help set up a false choice between the old regime (represented by Ahmed Shafik) and the Muslim Brotherhood (represented by Mohammed Morsi), which was only exacerbated by the lack of organization and unification on the part of activists. Mohammed Baradei, a respected pro-democracy activist, reacted by removing himself from the race, citing the lack of a "democratic framework." On June 17th the New York Times reported that the military's new charter "grants them the power to control the prime minister, lawmaking, the national budget, and declarations of war, without any supervision or oversight." Democracy in Egypt looks less and less likely as each month passes and SCAF establishes new ways to dominate the state. 

These past few days in June have lain bare what so many Egyptians and observers of Egypt already knew. SCAF has now made open, public moves to take power. Some in the media are calling this a coup. It isn’t really that as much as a continuation of SACF’s original coup in taking power after the fall of Mubarak. The Egyptian Revolution never recovered from this action. The chaos of June 19th proves this all the more.


Protesters in Tahrir on June 19th
Image courtesy of aljazeera.com


One thing outside observers might not fully appreciate is the insignificance of Hosni Mubarak’s health problems.  The protesters out in Tahrir could not care less whether or not Mubarak is dead (which he is not). Egyptians have known about Mubarak’s health problems for years now and the idea of an 84 year old man having a stroke isn’t exactly mind blowing. Egyptians also recognize that the former president does not matter anymore. They understand that SCAF is what really stands between them and democracy.  Whether Mubarak dies in the next 5 minutes or 5 years is irrelevant.
What the protesters that gathered in Tahrir the night of June 19th care about is the fall of SCAF. They need to develop a new strategy to take back the revolution, and to reinvigorate the people of Egypt to fight once again for their rights. Activists need to fight the exhaustion of the Egyptian people, who have experienced 16 months of political turbulence. Herein lies an opportunity for the opposition to unite against SCAF once and for all, and to become an organized movement.
This should also be a moment at which the United States seriously reconsiders the necessity of aid to the Egyptian military (at the price tag of $1.3 billion). Yes, the Egyptian military is a historical ally of the US but now they are directly defying the calls for democratic change by the Egyptian people. If the US continues to blindly support this insitution it will end up on the wrong side of history and will make even more enemies in the region. Indeed, the actions of SCAF represent the U.S.'s need to think long term in the Middle East, to improve their image overall in the Arab world, instead of holding on to one or two paid allies for dear life.
We might not necessarily be witnessing the end of the revolution, but its rebirth. Egypt is facing a real dilemma in that the disillusionment of the average Egyptian could allow an even worse situation than Mubarak's regime to develop via SCAF's control. However, it is definitely too soon to declare the revolution dead. After all, the people of Egypt have brought down one dictator: they certainly can do it again.

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