The Fight for Democracy in Egypt’s Liberation Square

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Written February 7th, 2011 by M. Cherif Bassiouni, as a background paper (PDF here) for Chicago Council on Global Affairs panel.

UPDATED: February 10, 11 a.m. (C.S.T.)
UPATED: February 15th, text at end of post (very informative)

Mr. Bassiouni is a Distinguished Research Professor of Law Emeritus
at DePaul University and the President of the Egyptian American Society of Illinois.

As this update is circulated, events in Egypt are moving fast. It is expected that sometime today President Mubarak will announce his resignation and departure from Egypt. A Military Command Council has been established under the leadership of General Tantawi, Minister of Defense. It does not include Mubarak or Suleiman. The mission of the Military Command Council is to ensure order and stability. It is also expected that the President of Parliament, Dr. Ahmed Fathi Sorour will announce today that, pursuant to the constitution, he will assume the interim presidency for 60 days, after which time new elections will be held. It is uncertain as to whether General Suleiman will be a candidate of the NDP. It will more likely be a civilian. Constitutional amendments proposed by Mubarak will proceed.

Tomorrow, Friday the 11th, there will be massive demonstrations throughout the country. Millions of people are likely to be in the streets of most Egyptian cities. The Military Command Council will then ask everybody to go home so that Egypt can resume normalcy.

So far, the revolutionary movement is uncertain as to whether the Army will play a genuine transitional role and then fade away, or whether it intends to support a new regime which will basically be composed of a new guard of the old regime. This will determine whether the demonstrators leave Tahrir Square or not. Their presence there would be a symbol of steadfastedness until new presidential elections take place, to be followed by new legislative elections and a complete overhaul of the system to ensure democracy, justice and human rights.

The events that took place since January 25 have been nothing short of extraordinary: a spontaneous popular and peaceful revolution springing out of civil society without a charismatic leadership to shepherd it, and apparently without centralized direction. If it were not for the violent provocations by the pro-Regime hired thugs, it would have been one of the most significant, peaceful manifestations of a people’s desire for change that has ever occurred in modern history. The first few days in Tahrir Square and the million person gathering were reminiscent of the Indian Non-violent Independence Movement led by Gandhi, the American Civil Rights movement led by Martin Luther King, and the Anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, led by Nelson Mandela.

The fact that Egyptian civil society, cutting across generational, religious, gender and economic lines without a charismatic leader, has been able to organize itself at the grassroots level that well and act that steadfastly in the face of a strong Regime, evidences people-power. To many in Egypt and in the Arab world, seeing so many women (with and without hijab) stand side-by-side with younger and older men, intellectuals and blue-collar workers, rich and poor, all standing up for the same values and principles, reflects the social and political transformation that is occurring in that part of the world. The pro-government provocations of Tahrir Square, as well as the attacks on the foreign media, appear to have been organized by the ruling party (NDP). The violence, however, occurred elsewhere, evidencing the deep frustration of the disaffected people throughout the country. In Cairo, police stations were attacked, looted, and some were even partially burned. In Alexandria, Suez, Port Said, and Bani Suweif (in the south), there were scenes of violent confrontations with the police, and destruction of property, including some fires and looting.

The Presidential Guard was dispatched to Tahrir Square by President Mubarak to prevent bloodshed. For all practical purposes, they positioned themselves in a way that protected the anti-government demonstrators. Other units from the infantry and armor were also sent in. This, in no small part, is due to American and other European leaders putting pressure on Mubarak and the military leaders.

For the People, this is about regime-change and not about regime-succession. For the Regime, it is about transition from the old guard to new cadres of the military and civilians who are a continuation of a Regime that started in 1952. Since January 25, the test of wills has been ongoing. The Regime is trying to pull the rug from underneath those who seek real change by making offers of reforms, but is seems that it is too little too late. The revolutionary movement is pressing forward.

1. Historic Characteristics

Egyptians are temperamentally nonviolent and patient, as evidenced by a 5,000-year history going back to the pharaohs. They are also tolerant, even though as Muslims they are religious, but not necessarily ideological. Egypt is essentially secular, though Muslim. Egyptians enjoy freedom of religion; 80 to 90% are Muslim, and the other 10 to 20% are Christians. The latter have historically enjoyed freedom of religion, though they have not always been treated with full equality. Indeed, Coptic Christians feel embattled and discriminated against.

Egyptians consider themselves Arab, Muslim (for those who are), and Egyptians all at once. Each person ranks his or her identity differently, but most will say Egyptian first. In fact, this is a people with deep nationalistic feelings. Temperamentally, they are fun-loving, easygoing and not ideologically driven. This is why ideological religious extremism is not likely to take over in the foreseeable future.

On occasion, Egyptians explode. The first Egyptian revolt was in 742 C.E. when the Coptic Christians, who were the followers of St. Marc, established the first Christian church in Egypt in 40 C.E., rebelled against the Byzantine Empire and called the Arab Muslims to help them in a revolt that led to the ouster of the Byzantines from Egypt. The next major revolt occurred in 1798, when Egyptians rebelled against Napoleon’s occupation. This was followed by Britain’s occupation of Egypt in 1882. In 1919, there was a popular uprising in which Muslims and Christians joined forces to start the independence movement, resulting in Egypt’s nominal independence in 1922 and its first post-independence constitution in 1923. It was the beginning of a new era founded on democratic institutions with a parliament consisting of a Lower and Upper House, and a government reflecting the parliamentary political forces. Abuses by the monarchy and a corrupt ruling elite led to the 1952 revolution (a military coup), of which the Mubarak Regime is the successor. Since 1952, Egypt has been ruled by a military dictatorship whose first leader was (Lt. Col.) Nasser, followed by (Col.) Sadat, and now (Maj.-Gen.) Mubarak – all three came out of the military. This military Regime favored the establishment of a corrupt class of profiteers who turned into an oligarchy. In the last 20 years, the corruption has reached extraordinary levels. Ninety percent of Egypt’s wealth became concentrated in the hands of 200 families, who were enabled and protected by the government.

Egypt’s first political party, “The Nation” was founded in 1907 and other parties were formed thereafter. For half a century, Egyptians fought for their independence and for democracy, until the 1952 Army coup occurred that called itself the Revolution. Recent events are an extension of this historic process. For many, Egyptians are in a post-colonial revolution against a military regime that was initially intended to be liberating the people of monarchial abuses, but which transformed itself to be as abusive and exploitative as the monarchy Regime colonizers were at their worst.

Democracy is not new to Egypt, though never fulfilled, and at present it will be messy for a while.

2. The Police

Since 1971, the Sadat and then Mubarak eras of the same Regime, that started in 1952, have used police powers to preserve and enhance their grasp of the country and to support a corrupt oligarchy. The police became, de facto, the private security apparatus of the oligarchy, as well as the visible oppressor of the people.

In the past 20 years, the abuses by the police in terms of arbitrary arrests and detentions as well as torture, have been rampant and increasingly unabashed, as reported by internal and international human rights organizations as well as by foreign governments and United Nations’ bodies. The U.S. and other governments were very much aware of this situation and did little to press for reform other than denunciatory statements. The Regime understood that to be amber light or a pass, and it went on with its human rights abuses.

It is estimated that the political prisoner population in Egypt has been a constant 15,000 persons during the last 20 years. The police use a rotation system to terrorize any opposition. The torture affects political prisoners as well as ordinary citizens due to the deterioration of police professional standards and the absence of legal accountability. Abuses and excesses are such that there is absolutely no trust in the police which most Egyptians consider their enemy as opposed to their protectors.

Public safety has been consistently failing during the past two decades with an increase in crime rate and other forms of abuses of power by individuals as well as thugs and small criminal bands, which the police have left somewhat unchecked.

It is estimated that the police killed between 140 and 400 persons in the past two weeks, not including an unknown number of prisoners killed seeking escape. Some 4,000 to 5,000 prisoners are believed to have escaped from prisons from which no escape has ever occurred. Curiously, no one in government could explain how this came about.

Recent reports reveal that there have been as many as 5,000 persons who have been detained in prison without being charged with a crime, and without knowledge of the judiciary, for between 5 to 10 years. Mishandling of many situations by the then-Minister of the Interior, General Habib el-Adly, whose brutality and abuses were unprecedented, resulted in Mubarak sacking el-Adly. The new Prime Minister replaced him with a retired police general, Mahmoud Wagdi, who is known for his integrity and having sensitivity for human rights.

In the Nasser Regime during the years 1954-67, the estimated political prisoner population fluctuated between 15,000 and 25,000. During these years, it was the General Intelligence Agency that engaged in the worst abuses and not the police, This was not the case, since the Sadat Regime in the early 1980s modeled the Agency after the CIA. It then became primarily involved in foreign security threats and certain aspects of domestic security.

Subjecting the police to the Rule of Law is indespensible.

3. Demographics

Egypt’s population of 84 million has an estimated 40 million living at or below the poverty level. The daily individual earnings of those in this group range between $2 and $5. (The cost of a cocktail at one of the many tourist hotels in the country is twice the daily earnings of those in the upper bracket of the 40 million people in question.) Sixty percent of the population is under 30, and of that 50% is under 21 (the unemployment estimates within that group are necessarily higher because it includes a high percentage of children). An estimated half of those between 24 and 30 are university graduates, but in the 18 to 30 group, the estimate of illiteracy ranges between 20 to 30 percent. The U.N. ranks Egypt 174 out of 179 states for its educational system.

For the last 20 years, it is estimated that the city of Cairo has gone from 12 to 17 million inhabitants, most of whom live in shanty towns, including an estimated one million people who live in The City of the Dead (the main cemetery in Cairo). The other major cities are Alexandria (pop. 4 million), Giza (an extension of Cairo, at pop. 2 million), Tanta (pop. 1 million) and Assiut (pop. 750,000). While the cities mentioned above are urban, Assiut and Tanta reflect a rural population. The estimated rural population is one-third of the total population.

Demographics, as they relate to economics, are a significant factor in Egyptian future economic and social stability.

4. Economics and Corruption

During the last two years, inflation has increased consistently making the price of food almost beyond the reach of an estimated half of the population. The corrupt oligarchy of the Regime has not only increased its acquisition of wealth, but has also taken a substantial portion of it out of the country. The economic crisis will soon reach a new height when it will be discovered that the oligarchy has played an extraordinarily intelligent game, with the connivance of government officials, in taking their assets out of Egypt, while at the same time retaining ownership of various industries and businesses. They have done so by means of borrowing from banks controlled or directed by government appointees, thus substituting public funds and the assets of ordinary depositors, for their own assets. With their departure, these banks will be left holding the bag for industries, businesses and projects which are in a failing or marginal condition. This could amount to 100 billion dollars. The Mubarak Regime covered up this scheme by making the Central Bank the guarantors of private banks’ investment loans. This is estimated to be in the billions of dollars. The exposure of European banks alone is 40 billion euros. When these facts become publically known, the economy of the country will be shaken by untold economic, social and political consequences. To what extent the U.S. and other major European governments supporting the Regime are knowledgeable of this is unknown. The assumption is that these governments, particularly the U.S., were too focused on issues like terrorism and too influenced by Israel’s priorities that they did not pay too much attention to the economic and financial situation.

The General Prosecutor is said to have frozen the assets of the outgoing Minister of the Interior, General Habib el-Adly, who was known for his oppressive policies and practices, and who has accumulated a fortune estimated at several billions of Egyptian pounds. The Treasurer of the NDP, Ahmad Ezz, a symbol of corruption who monopolized the steel market and whose gains are also estimated in the billions has been prevented from leaving the country. Others are being added to the list. Whether these corrupt oligarchs (including Mubarak and his two sons, Ala’a and Gamal, who are currently in London) as well as the NDP and government officials who helped them will be prosecuted, and their assets seized by the transition team, is yet to be seen. In the meantime, the outflow of the oligarchs is ongoing. It is more likely that a small few will be prosecuted so that the majority can be spared. This is classic in all similar situations where some are used to placate popular demand for accountability in order for others to benefit from impunity.

5. The Military

The army is held in high esteem by the people because in the last 30 years it has never acted against the people. Questions, however, arise as to why the army allowed the pro-government thugs and secret police to attack the peaceful anti-government demonstrators in Tahrir Square. But the increased presence of the military in the streets and their blocking demonstrators’ access to the streets is eroding some popular confidence.

The present military command junta consists of Vice President Major-General Omar Suleiman, former head of general intelligence and prior to that, head of military intelligence; Lieutenant-General Ahmad Shafik, former Chief of Staff of the Air Force and now Prime Minister; and Field-Marshall Hussein Tantawi, Minister of Defense. Two other senior officers play an important role: Lieutenant-General Sami Hafez Enan is the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, and the likely successor to Field-Marshall Tantawi; and Lieutenant-General Mohammed Moafi, who succeeded Suleiman as head of General Intelligence (formerly head of military intelligence. It was he who ordered the arrest of several young leaders of the Tahrir Square January 25 movement last week after they visited with Mohammed el-Baradei at his home, including, Wael Ghoniem, the Mid-East Google representative).

All five generals seem to have the support of the United States. Tantawi, who is the senior among them, is certain to have negotiated with Mubarak a drawing of the lines between himself and the others who are his juniors. Tantawi decides in connection with the military, Shafik handles government matters, and Suleiman deals with foreign affairs and security. Suleiman is presumed to be the successor to Mubarak.

Let there be no question about it, these generals are in the military sense, honorable, patriotic, and honest. But their ways are military and their priorities are order and security, not democracy and justice. Reform is acceptable within their framework, but regime change is not.

Military tradition is likely to prevail in preserving the seniority system among these officers until the next presidential elections are held in November 2011 unless something happens between now and then. This is also a factor in the generals preserving what they consider the honor of Mubarak as their military senior. From a military perspective, this is why the resignation of Mubarak as well as his departure from Egypt is not something any of them supports. Moreover, Mubarak is known for his obstinacy, and he is not likely to resign or leave the country before his term of office expires, unless his medical condition requires it. (He has recently had surgery in Germany and received treatment for what is believed to be cancer of the bladder.) However, pressures may be such that a face-saving formula may be found, namely, that he takes a medical leave of absence. This is unlikely unless demonstrations continue and pressures mount on him beyond those that occurred to date. With the anti-Regime movement organizing increasing numbers of mass demonstrations a week, the military junta may relent or it may respond with military might. Such an escalation would have devastating effects in Egypt and elsewhere in the Region, rippling throughout the world.

The Army will move in to fill any political vacuum to insure a transition to a democratic state.

6. Succession

The Constitution (Art. 84) provides that a vacancy in the Presidency is filled by the Speaker of the Parliament for 60 days, and in his absence, the President of the Constitutional Court, until a new presidential election takes place. Dr. Ahmed Fathi Sorour, who has held the position of Speaker for nearly 30 years, is viewed by the public as one of the symbols of the Regime, as is the President of the Senate, Safwat el-Sherif. El-Sherif was also Secretary-General of the NDP and was replaced very recently by Hassan Badrawi, a young but active member of the party and a friend of Gamal Mubarak. Most U.S. commentators appear to believe that, as in the U.S., the vice president would automatically succeed the president for the balance of the presidential term. For the reasons stated above, this is not the case.

Instead, it is more likely that a transition will follow the roadmap of Article 84 and that is: Speaker of the Parliament or President of the Constitutional Court.

7. The Political Scene

The present constitution was tailor-made to the Regime’s need to stay in power. It does not have limited presidential terms, and limits the right of those seeking to run for public office. The conditions to run for President and for Parliament are so difficult to fulfill that at present only the ruling political party, and three small opposition parties with limited following, could field candidates.

The National Democratic Party (from whose leadership Mubarak resigned on Saturday, February 5 to signal change) is likely to field V.P. Suleiman for the next presidential elections. He has the support of the U.S., Israel, and the major European powers, and he will have the support of the Arab leaders who supported Mubarak. How much popular support he receives is unpredictable, but he is, as of the present, the sure candidate of the NDP. He has conducted a consultative meeting on reforms, with some 50 chosen members of the opposition. As to democracy and human rights, the Regime does not see them as a priority. The Regime’s priorities are: order, stability and continuity. Many in Egypt and abroad support that.

Article 189 of the Constitution requires that any proposed change to the Constitution come from the President or one-third of the members of the Parliament. Once the proposal is submitted, it needs one-third of the Parliament to be considered. After 60 days, it can be submitted to a vote which requires two-thirds for passage. At present, over 90% of the Parliament is from the NDP.

President Mubarak lost no time to move the process forward and assert his continued leadership. On February 7 he issued a Presidential Decree appointing a committee to propose constitutional changes. The Committee is presided by Judge Serri Siam, President of the Court of Cassation (Egypt’s Supreme Court), and composed of the first two vice-presidents, six judges from the Constitutional Court and the Council of State, and four professors of constitutional law, among whom two are known to be in the opposition and supportive of the January 25 movement.

It is ironic that President Siam was the chief architect of the previous Constitutional reforms of two years ago which provided for those undemocratic changes that are now being revisited. The new constitutional changes are adopted by two-thirds of the Parliament, they will have to be submitted to a public referendum. Elections for the presidency will have to be set in November 2011 unless Mubarak resigns first. In this case, elections have to be held in 60 days.

The 2010 legislative elections were notoriously fraudulent. The Regime supported by the police was so arrogant in the exercise of power that they did nothing to hide the massive and wholesale fraud. Less than 25% of the population participated in the elections, with the government party-fielded candidates winning 90% of the seats in Parliament. Many challenges are pending before the Court of Cassation presided by Justice Siam.

Possible civilian candidates for the Presidency whose names are presently advanced are Mohamed El-Baradei and Amr Moussa (Secretary-General of the Arab League and a former foreign minister). El-Baradei’s following is among intellectuals and upper middle class Egyptians, as well as a portion of the Tahrir youth. He is not really well-known to Egyptian masses since he has spent most of his life outside Egypt and has not served in the military. During this crisis he has acted with honor and dignity. He is viewed by the U.S. media as a likely democratically-elected President. Amr Moussa is popular with the Egyptian people, but not liked by the U.S. or Israel, which makes for a popular candidate to the masses.

8. The Muslim Brotherhood

There is a great misconception in the U.S. and other western countries about the Muslim Brotherhood. Some in these governments’ circles fear that Egypt could become another Iran, but that speculation has no basis in fact as it is politically-motivated. There is a tendency to confuse the fact that Egyptians are pious and religious with their support for the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood has an estimated 20% following in the population at large. Moreover, the Brotherhood has been decimated by decades of repression, imprisonment, torture and other forms of abuses. More importantly, its leadership is divided into three groups along generational lines. The oldest of these three groups consists of those in their late 60s and 70s, who are usually more ideological and less willing to become an active political party. Those in their 50s and early 60s, the second generational group, are also strongly ideological, but more willing to engage in public life. The third group, which is in their 40s and early 50s are less ideological and more willing to share power with the secularists. This has been demonstrated in an amendment to the Constitution that was adopted two years ago when the 88 members of parliament who represent the Brotherhood, agreed that the Egyptian political system should be based on the concept of Egyptianhood, which by implication is secular. The latter group may assume leadership during this phase if the Brotherhood decides to engage in this transitional phase. The older guard, however, wants to sit out this phase. A split between the old guard and the new is a possibility. If that occurs, secularism would be irreversible.

Egyptians are religious but not fanatics or ideologues. The proposition that this could change is speculative. This is not the case at present. If one assumes different scenarios of an economic collapse of the country and its total breakdown into chaos, the likelihood of a pro-Islamic wave is possible, but not likely or probable, because in such a situation the army would intervene and a military group would be placed in charge. One can speculate further, as in another worst-case scenario that if this happens the army group that takes over could support religious zealots, but that too is far-fetched.

Nobody who knows Egypt and examines the facts objectively can see any plausible scenario in the present situation or in the next few years that would produce a takeover by Muslims ideologues and which repeats the Iran scenario. This is a fabrication by extreme pro-Israel supporters who do not want peace and stability in the region, because the lack of peace and stability benefits the extremists in Israel who can then go to on to annex more territory in the West Bank. It also seems that raising the boogieman of the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt feeds into the Islamophobic campaign of the extreme right in the U.S. and their allies among those who are pushing for an extremist pro-Israel agenda. Islamophobia is alive and well in the U.S. and this has been one argument which they have been able to advance because the general public has so little knowledge of Islam, Egypt and the Brotherhood. Lastly, it should be noted that al-Qaeda does not exist or operate in Egypt, even though there are Muslim extremists in the country. The repression that the extremists have been subjected to since the 1980s has decimated them, and they do not represent a domestic threat at this time.

9. Regional Implications

A regime-change in Egypt will have a domino effect in the Arab world. The new leadership will not easily forget that Israel, Saudi Arabia, the EAU and Kuwait have strongly supported Mubarak during this crisis.

Much has been discussed in the U.S. media and presumably within the Administration of the implication of changes in Egypt on relations with Israel and stability in the region. If anything else, this shows how much those making such an assessment are out of touch with the situation in Egypt. Peace with Israel is not at issue, nor is it something that is of particular interest to the Egyptians at this point in time. No one among opposition forces or the masses in the street is even talking about Israel, and the 1979 peace treaty is not even a matter of discussion, let alone challenged. Claims to the contrary are politically-motivated falsehoods. There is, however, a great deal of anti-Israel sentiment among Egyptians because of the abuses committed by Israel against the Palestinians – particularly after the events in Gaza December 2008/January 2009 (Operation Cast Lead), but also in light of the historic policies of Israel of gradual territorial expansion, occupation of Palestinian territory, and pressure brought upon the Palestinians to turn them into what the former Apartheid regime of South Africa called “Bantustan.” Many in Israel and some in the West interpret this as being anti-Semitic, and part of it may be true. What is driving these sentiments, however, are the abuses committed by Israel against the Palestinians, and the apparent resistance of Israel to making peace with the Palestinians, establish a Palestinian state on the pre-‘67 boundaries (with minor modifications), and deal with that people on the basis of human equality and fairness. Failure to understand all of the above by the U.S., Israel, and the western world will lead to miscalculations that could have significant implications on the future relations of Arab and Muslim states with the West. Peace and stability in the region and in the world depends on a better understanding by the U.S., Israel, and the western world of these and other different national characteristics among Arab states.

10. U.S. Policy

President Obama has lost credibility since his speech in Cairo two years ago, when he expressed so much hope toward the Arab and Muslim worlds. The Egyptian people, as well as the Arab people and those in the Muslim world, have come to the conclusion that this was a speech without substance. The disappointment with the Obama Administration has been heightened by its failure to move the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. These negative feelings are enhanced by the continued policies of the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan, and by Islamophobia in the U.S. and Europe. In addition, the revelations about the torture policy of the Bush Administration against Muslims, and the failure of the Obama Administration to bring to justice those who established the policy and those who carried out the acts of torture have had a significant impact on the psyche of all of the peoples mentioned above.

The Administration needs to be unambiguous during this transitional period and support democracy. Thus, it has to be ready for the impending economic crisis that could further destabilize this country.

11. Popular Goals

Egypt’s revolution, as well as other uprisings or popular pro-democracy movements in other Arab countries, are part of the bigger picture that can be referred to as “the Arab Revolution.” It is for all practical purposes, the continuation of the post-colonial revolutionary change that the Arab people, irrespective of their countries and ideologies, believe is necessary in order to transform their societies from post-colonial dictatorial regimes (military and monarchial) into modern democracies with social justice for all. If Israel did not exist, the Arab people would still be in their revolutionary stage. What’s happening in Egypt is not about Israel.

The three main concerns and goals of the Egyptian people are democracy, justice (including economic justice), and the rule of law applicable equally to all citizens. The Egyptian people have been influenced by American and Western ideals and values reflected in the U.S. Constitution, but they are particularly affected by similar Islamic values and principles, which are reflected in this drive for change.

Egyptians, Arabs and Muslims (in 51 countries totaling 1.4 billion people) are, however, disaffected by the strong pro-Israel influence on U.S. policy. This is more a reflection of their sense of justice and fairness toward the Palestinians than it is an ideological or religious factor. While the U.S. is seen as the model and inspiration of democracy and justice, it is also seen as the mighty power that engages in double standards and which exempts itself of international and human rights obligations (whenever it suits U.S. interests) that it expects others to be bound by. There is great sympathy among Egyptians for Americans, but there is great distrust of the American government and its policies.

The Mubarak Regime understands that these popular goals must be met.

12. Concluding Assessment

* The present crisis is all about regime-change, democracy, justice and human rights.

* The Egyptian people have faced their oppressors, confronted their fears, and stood up for democracy and justice. They are unlikely to be turned away from their hopeful expectations. This is something that many have fought for over the past six decades of military dictatorship and exploitation of a corrupt oligarchy. Whether this latest popular revolutionary movement that cuts across all lines of Egyptian society can be accomplished is yet to be seen. But the people will not stand for a continuation of the past. Their slogan is “enough is enough”. It remains to be seen whether the new military rulers now in control will understand these needs and do whatever is necessary to transition Egypt towards democracy and justice, or if it will try to play the democracy game to stay in power with a “face lift.”

* The two sides have been sizing each other up since January 25, and the Regime is nimble enough to go along with the people in order to return the country to normalcy.

* The popular movement is getting more organized and is bracing itself for a longer haul.

* With internet and cell phone service restored, technology is helping opposition groups at the national and local levels to communicate. This is an important factor in keeping the anti-government groups going. The Regime does not know how to deal with this phenomenon.

* Some political forces in the U.S. are raising false alarms about threats to Israel and the rise of the Brotherhood. These politicians and the media that supports these speculative extreme ideas are against regime change. This will fuel the popular revolution and it may become a radicalizing factor.

* The country is at a standstill, as is the economy. Since January 25, there have been no functioning public offices, and schools, businesses, and factories are closed. The extraordinary resourcefulness of the Egyptian people and their historical survival instincts is what keeps them going.

* Foreign media and foreign public opinion are supportive of the people, which explains why the foreign media people have been harassed by pro-government elements.

* The next week will signal the future direction of the country with much depending on what the Army will do.

February 15th Update:

1. Ever since the terse Mubarak resignation message was read by V.P. General Omar Suleiman on Friday, February 11, the former president has been living in his house in Sharm El Sheikh (Sinai). It is believed that Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi convinced him to do so. Some insiders also believe that Tantawi is in telephone communication with Mubarak and his attending physician. Mubarak could be gravely ill.

2. Since February 11, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has taken over command of the country. The SCAF is the equivalent of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, with the exception that it has a larger number of commanders – fifteen instead of the five chairmen of the armed services of the United States. Tantawi is the Chairman of the SCAF They are acting as the custodians of Egypt in a transitional stage following a popular transformative “revolutionary” movement which they have co-opted, ostensibly for the next six months only, with the intent to return to a constitutional legal order.

3. Prime Minister Lt. General Ahmad Shafiq and the cabinet sworn in by Mubarak remain in place on an interim basis. Shafiq is believed to receive his instructions from Tantawi. (The cabinet consists of 15 holdovers from the prior one and 13 new ones. Some of the holdovers, like the Minister of Justice, must be changed.) General Omar Suleiman’s position of Vice President was eliminated, and he no longer plays a role in the new structure, notwithstanding the support given to him by U.S., Israel, and Saudi Arabia, or maybe because of it.

4. The SCAF has taken to issuing communiqués (bayan), and have issued five as of this date. This is the same technique that was used by the Revolutionary Command Council under Nasser (1952-58). For all practical purposes, the SCAF is running the country much as the Revolutionary Command Council did under Nasser. The SCAF, however, announced that this will be limited to a period of six months. Communiqué no. 4 laid out a plan of action.

5. So far, these communiqués have suspended the Constitution (to be distinguished from its abrogation), and they have also dissolved the two houses of parliament. The SCAF appointed a retired justice of the Court of Cassation (Supreme Court) to amend the 1971 Constitution in 10 days and to submit the Amendments to a public referendum in 60 days. Elections are to follow, but no time-table has been set.

6. The SCAF made it a point in one of its communiqués to affirm that Egypt’s international commitments remain in place. This is intended to reassure Israel and the U.S. that the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt will remain in effect.

7. As part of the transition, the SCAF will organize a council of 50 persons representing all political factions whose task will be to establish a set of goals and a timetable for Egypt’s new constitutional legal order. It is not known whether this new council will have the power to put in motion whatever program the council determines. It is also possible that the SCAF will establish another council of their own choice, and it is not know what that other council will be required or allowed to do.

8. For all practical purposes, the Muslim Brotherhood is not in the picture, although some of its members are likely to be in the Council of 50 mentioned above, but in their personal capacity. It is not known whether they will be fielding a candidate for president, but it is likely that they will support independent candidates for the parliament.

9. It is expected that a new law will be drafted for the organization of political parties, and also to develop procedures for the next legislative and presidential elections – all of which is presumed to take place in the next six months. We do not know whether parliamentary elections will precede presidential elections.

10.  It is believed that the SCAF will soon announce the abrogation of the Emergency Law of 1981, and they will also order the release of political prisoners (whose number is estimated between 5,000 and 15,000 persons). This will help to uplift the standing of the police.

11.  The Ministry of Interior is under reorganization by its present Minister – Mahmoud Wagdy, a former police general. The police will gradually replace the army on the streets.

12.  A priority of the SCAF is to clear the streets of demonstrators and to restore normalcy to the country. This is almost accomplished.

13.  The impending economic crisis due to the looting of the Nation’s resources by the Mubarak regime is addressed in the Background paper. Its full scale is yet to be assessed. This will be the next bombshell from Egypt.

14.  The Prosecutor General has frozen the assets of five major figures in the Mubarak regime, and banned them from travel (including the former Minister of the Interior, and the former Secretary General of the NDP). Switzerland has unilaterally frozen the assets of the Mubarak family and those associated with it, whose assets are located in that country. How long the freeze lasts will depend on whether the Prosecutor General will formally request Switzerland to maintain it. It is not known whether the Prosecutor General will expand the number of persons who are believed to have engaged in corruption to be subject to criminal investigation for corruption or freezing of their assets pending such investigations, but there is popular demand for it.

In conclusion, the SCAF is in control of the country. It is developing reform initiatives, and it is staying ahead of the game while at the same time co-opting the revolution into the new interim process which is under its control.

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One Response to The Fight for Democracy in Egypt’s Liberation Square

  1. Pingback: Update: The Fight for Democracy in Egypt’s Liberation Square | Reports From Egyptians

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