The End Of Egypt's Revolution?


Nearly a year and a half after the fall of the dictator, two critical political battles are taking place in Egypt.

One is the presidential contest which will likely see a Ahmed Shafik, a long term minister (and short term prime minister) under Mubarak face off against the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohamed Morsy, in a second round of voting to be held on 16 and 17 June.

The other is the more profound battle between the amorphous street politics of the revolutionary youth and the realm of formal politics, which has delivered Egypt into what some have called the "worst possible outcome".

New Matilda spoke with Sharif Abdel Kouddous, a highly respected Egyptian-American reporter and commentator, about the intersection between these two trends.

The revolutionaries who had so forcefully set the agenda in the protests following January 25 last year, have so far garnered "no representation in the formal political process", Kouddous told NM.

Instead this contest is taking place between the entrenched political elite which is "fighting for its life, tooth and nail" and its "mirror establishment" in the Brotherhood.

These organisations, he argues, are disciplined and are backed by big money and patronage networks. Looking at the history of elections as the "graveyard of revolutions", this is unsurprising.

The moderate Islamist candidate, Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, and secular leftist Hamdeen Sabahi, corralled approximately 40 per cent of the first round vote between them. This demonstrated a surprising — and tragically split — revolutionary strength at the ballot box, Kouddous thinks.

These close results, he adds, have given a greater urgency to complaints about alleged irregularities that have been raised about the vote. The Special Presidential Electoral Commission (both a subject of the complaints and the final authority) dismissed complaints within 24 hours without presenting any credible investigation.

The race may yet be up-ended, as the Supreme Court is due to come to a decision about whether a new law to exclude former regime candidates, passed by the Brotherhood-led parliament in the lead up to the race, disqualifies Shafik’s candidacy. The decision is due on 14 June, just two days before the final round of voting.

The presidential elections however, are just one element of what seems to be a transition process in deep crisis. Court battles are also underway which question the legitimacy of the parliament, based on problems with the hybrid system of voting which combined both party lists and individual candidates.

There is also a seemingly intractable stalemate over the creation of a constituent assembly to write the new constitution. Two dozen secular and leftist members walked out on the Islamists and launched a successful court challenge, claiming the latter had attempted to hijack the process, stacking the committee with their members and others sympathetic to their worldview.

The US-backed military leadership has taken advantage of this stalemate, setting deadlines, now passed, for the process to be completed, saying they will take charge instead should the politicians fail.

This prospect scares some revolutionaries even more than the idea of a Shafik presidency, as the military has given many indications that it would like to see its privileges entrenched in the new document before a new president assumes executive power. This would involve military control of the defence ministry and an absence of civilian oversight of the military budget.

Then there is the Mubarak trial. Mubarak and former security cheif Habib el-Adly were sentenced to life with the possibility of parole after 25 years for "failing to stop" protesters from being killed, but the six police officers tried with them, as well as Mubarak’s two sons, were acquitted.

Incredibly, the court failed to identify who had actually committed the murders, going with the narrative of the mysterious "third party" which has been blamed for all of Egypt’s ills in the revolutionary period. During the case a member of the defence even mentioned the arrest of my colleagues and I as evidence that this foreign plot was still active.

The ongoing trial of US-backed NGO workers is another example of cooperation between the security services and the state media in generating this narrative, where anyone seen as challenging the military (who receive $1.3 billion a year in aid from the US) are accused of being foreign stooges.

The Mubarak verdict, announced last week, more than a month after the last session, seemed timed, along with the lifting of the 30-year-old emergency law and the presidential elections, to mark the end of the revolutionary period.

The court’s failures, in particular its failure to condemn the police defendants, have been seen by many as a "green light" to the Interior Ministry to continue with the repressive tactics it has been deploying in the post Mubarak period.

Many revolutionaries were outraged by the verdict, flooding into Tahrir Square in large numbers following the announcement, giving some hope that the street politics which started the revolution could reclaim the initiative.

Both Sabahi and Abol Fotouh attended the square, condemning the verdict along with the election results and inviting Morsy (along with former IAEA chief Mohammed el Baradei, who boycotted the race) to form a "Presidential Council" and take over the mangled transition.

By appearing at Tahrir, Morsy and his Brotherhood supporters gave many hope that this might be a real possibility. The less dramatic possibility of Morsy offering Vice-Presidential or Prime Ministerial positions to his former opponents would at least indicate he feels the need for the revolutionary vote.

However, the Friday "millionaire" (an Egyptian word used for million-plus protests) failed to materialise, and it seems that by now the Brotherhood has decided it can go it alone, betting on the fact that the revolutionaries will be more scared of Shafik than they are of Morsy.

The Egyptian transitional period may be over. One can only hope that the deeper transformation is about to begin.

Today marks four months since Austin was arrested for "inciting riots" in Egypt — a charge that carries a potential gaol sentence of seven years. The Australian Government has remained silent on the charges. Offer your support to Austin, his translator and colleagues here.

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