(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
February 26, 2012
IN January last year, the Tahrir Square of Cairo had erupted with revolutionary fervour. Thousands of Egyptian workers, students and intellectuals joined hands to take on a pro-western authoritarian regime. Within weeks, Hosni Mubarak, in power since the late seventies, was forced to abdicate.
was inspired by the events in
More than 840 protestors had lost their lives in the struggle to restore democracy. Thousands of the young protestors were arrested in the sporadic protests that have continued against the continued domination of the Egyptian military in the political life of the country. About 3000 activists were released in late January by the ruling military council --- the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) led by the long time associate of Hosni Mubarak, General Hussein Tantawi. He was President Hosni Mubarak’s defence minister for two decades. The current prime minister, Kamal al-Ganzouri, chosen by the SCAF, had held the same post under Mubarak for a shorter term.
After the overthrow of Mubarak, the country has witnessed a spate of industrial action by workers demanding better conditions and wages.
In the last
January, protestors again started a sit-in at
SO FAR FREEST
But there is
that the majority of Egyptians are still willing to give the SCAF the
of the doubt. A recent opinion poll conducted by the Abu Dhabi Gallup
showed that around 80 per cent still trust the army’s motives. Under
backed caretaker government, successful elections to a constituent
have been held. The newly elected Egyptian lower house of parliament
the first time on January 23, a few days after the completion of the
elections. The elections were the freest so far in modern
that came out on
top was the Muslim Brotherhood led Freedom and Justice Party, which
took 47 per
cent of the vote. Another Islamist grouping, the more conservative
Party, came second polling 25 per cent of the vote. In the 498 seat
the Muslim Brothers will have 213 seats, followed by the Al Nour which
seats. Together, these two parties will have an overwhelming majority,
constituting two-thirds of the seats. However, the leadership of the
Brothers, like their counterparts in
ideological differences with Al Nour. The latter adheres to a
theology akin to the kind practiced in
AT THE MOMENT
leftists, who were instrumental in sparking the revolution, dismally
connect with the mass of voters, especially those in the rural areas.
Egyptian Bloc, founded by the telecom magnate, Naguib Sawiris, a
Copt, got round 9 per cent of the seats as did the liberal
The parliament has been tasked with writing a new constitution. Secular minded Egyptians are worried that a parliament dominated by the Islamist would now have the responsibility for drafting a new constitution. Others are also not happy about the new constitution being drafted at a time when the military continues to be at the helm of affairs in Egypt. Many politicians, including some from the Muslim Brothers, would prefer that the new constitution should be debated and approved after the presidential elections to be held later in the year. The Muslim Brothers have categorically stated that they are against the calls being given for a “second revolution” against the military’s continued dominance in the affairs of state. In fact, they now are not averse to working under the military appointed government till June this year, when presidential elections are due to be held. Till late last year, the leadership of the Muslim Brothers were openly saying that they would deny the military the right to name the prime minister and the cabinet once a new assembly was elected.
The Obama administration has established direct contacts with the Islamists as the writing on the wall was clear from the outset that they would end up getting the largest number of seats in the parliament. Till recently, American officials were prohibited from talking to the Muslim Brotherhood. During the Mubarak days, Washington had turned a blind eye to the suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists. Egypt under Mubarak was a lynchpin of US policy in the West Asia region. After the Egyptian government under Anwar Sadat signed the historic peace treaty with Israel in 1979, the US became the biggest provider of financial and military aid to the country. The leadership of the Muslim Brothers have indicated that they would continue to adhere to the peace treaty with Israel once they are in office. The Hamas, which is in power in Gaza, is an offshoot of the Brotherhood. The two parties have extremely close links. The Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, was recently given a warm welcome in Cairo. Israel fears that Egypt’s policy under a government led by the Muslim Brothers could undergo a change. They know that the Islamists will not give Israel a free hand on Palestine like Mubarak did.
TO RETAIN POWER
Anyway, as things stand today, the Egyptian armed forces, which have been intimately involved in the country’s affairs since the early fifties, seems determined to continue playing an important role. The army’s leadership, with the tacit support of Washington, wants to ensure that there is no dramatic shift in the country’s politics. Reports from Cairo indicate that the army leadership and the moderate Islamists have already reached an informal agreement that Egypt would retain its broad secular character under a mixed form of French style presidential/parliamentary form of government. Statements from military officials and leaders of the Muslim Brother indicate that the 1971 constitution will remain largely untouched. The 1971 constitution has a clause which states that the principles of Islamic law are the basis of Egyptian law.
The two sides are still talking about the powers the military will still retain under a popularly elected government. According to reports, discussions are ongoing about the degree of civilian oversight over the military and the issue of immunity from prosecution for top military leaders. The Muslim Brotherhood has given its approval to a declaration that has come from the Al Azhar theological centre, an institution that is held in high esteem in the Muslim world. Al Azhar wants the protection of religious observance, artistic expressions, scientific enquiry, theological dissent and civil society groups.
Meanwhile, liberal politicians like Ayman Nour and Mohammed ElBaradei have announced that they will not be contesting in the Presidential polls scheduled later in the year. They have said that the democratic reforms have been superficial in nature. Nour and El Baradei were the only two prominent politicians who openly dared to challenge Mubarak when he was still president. Both of them allege that the military is trying to preserve its traditional role. Nour spent many years in jail after running against Mubarak in an earlier election. He said that a “counter-revolution” is now running Egypt.