“Thousands of Egyptians poured into Cairo’s Tahrir Square” today (above), Reuters reports, “to reclaim a revolt they say has been hijacked after Hosni Mubarak was jailed for life and his top security officials freed in a sign they say his old guard is still in charge.”
Mubarak’s interior minister Habib El Adly also received a life sentence for ordering troops to kill protesters, but the high court acquitted six former Interior Ministry officials of the same charge, citing lack of evidence, and also cleared Mubarak’s two sons of corruption charges.
The verdicts could affect voter turnout in the upcoming runoff presidential election, said Hala Mostafa, an analyst at the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.
“A large segment of society was outraged by the unjust verdict,” she said. “Many voters will probably boycott the elections in a large-scale expression of anger.”
The current turmoil highlights the fragility of the country’s political transition and the resilience of authoritarian power structures, say observers.
The “chilling” aspect of the weekend’s verdicts was the acquittal of four senior police officers accused of giving shoot-to-kill orders, writes William J. Dobson:
The judge indicated that these acquittals stemmed from the prosecution’s failure to present sufficient evidence. Disturbingly, this fits a wider emerging pattern. According to Human Rights Watch, since March 2011, Egyptian prosecutors have filed at least 26 cases that charge more than 150 high- and low-ranking police officers with killing or injuring protesters during the 2011 uprising. Most of these cases are either still pending or have resulted in acquittals. According to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a respected NGO, witnesses have come under pressure to alter their testimony, while victims and their families have been pushed to withdraw their claims. Only two police officers have been given prison sentences for the deaths of 19 people.
“All of which suggests the shallowness of the changes to the Egyptian security state that Mubarak left behind. The appearance remains of a regime circling its wagons to protect its own,” notes Dobson, the author of The Dictator’s Learning Curve: Inside the Global Battle for Democracy.
Many liberal and secular voters are planning to abstain in the runoff on the grounds that the two options – the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi and former Mubarak premier Ahmed Shafiq – equally unpalatable.
The leftist Hamdeen Sabahi and reformist Islamist Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh, the third- and fourth-place finishers from the presidential poll’s first round, are calling for the establishment of a “presidential council” that would force Morsi to share power and demanding the implementation of a political disenfranchisement law which would prohibit former regime officials like Shafiq from contesting elections.
Sabahi and Abolfotoh made a joint appearance before thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square (above) on Monday night, “their first together in an attempt to form a united front challenging both Morsi and Shafiq,” but the proposals “would likely force the election process to begin again from scratch,” reports suggest.
A leading liberal politician criticized the call for a presidential council as a negation of democracy.
“They should have protested against the election and boycotted it from the onset rather than after losing,” said liberal MP Amr Hamzawy (right). “It is too late now for the presidential council idea, and it replaces the election process with an appointment process, which is incompatible with democracy.”
Sabahi and Abolfotoh should form a presidential team to assist Morsi, he said, on condition that they receive specific powers, including “the formation of a presidential team with unambiguous powers, the formation of a coalition government headed by someone from outside the Freedom and Justice Party, and for the key ministries such as the defense, interior, foreign affairs, justice, finance, and education ministries [to be headed by people] from outside the FJP as well, in the presence of a program for national action.”
Hamzawy said he will probably abstain in the run-off since he would “definitely not support Shafiq regardless of what promises he makes” and “will not vote for the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate either without a clear agreement on guarantees.”
Such boycotts will benefit Morsi who many seculars consider to be the “lesser of two evils,” said Mostafa, but if protests escalate or turn violent, “Shafiq will win the vote of those hoping to see a restoration of order and security.”
Political groups are engaged in vigorous horse-trading, demanding written guarantees from the presidential candidates in exchange for their backing.
The election result will hinge on the Brotherhood’s response to overtures from the secular groups, said Rabab El-Mahdi, a political science professor at the American University in Cairo.
“If they work on building a national consensus among different political forces, their support base will increase,” she said. “But if they give up on Tahrir Square and fail to answer protesters’ demands, this will hinder their chances of winning.”
The poll will come down to a battle of political machines, pitting the Islamists’ well-entrenched organization against the former ruling party’s patronage-based networks.
“The Brotherhood’s disciplined infrastructure has put Morsi one election away from Egypt’s presidency and – barring massive fraud – he stands an excellent chance” against Shafiq, writes analyst Eric Trager.
‘While Shafiq can count on support from Egyptian Christians and many of the rural clans that previously backed Mubarak’s ruling party, Morsi is already drawing support from many non-Islamists who fear a return to the old regime more than a Brotherhood-dominated Egypt,” he notes. “Moreover, early reports indicate that, faced with the choice between the autocratic Shafiq and theocratic Morsi, many voters will stay home – a decision that will bolster Morsi, since low turnouts benefit well-organised parties.”
The current wave of protests and calls to bar Shafiq from running are “reactionary” in nature, said Hassan Abu-Taleb, an analyst and editor-in-chief of Ahram’s Al-Taqreer Al-Strategy, hinting that revolutionary factions are simply trying to avoid a painful choice.
“Once public outrage subsides – after a couple days at most –revolutionary forces will have to ask themselves whether they want a civil or religious state,” he said.
“Will Egyptians side with the anti-revolutionary military old guard or the counter-revolutionary Islamist vanguard when choosing their next president?” asks Egyptian journalist Khaled Diab
“The counter-revolution is gathering pace,” he suggests, but Egyptian politics does not fit into easy polarities:
Many Egyptians also believe that the Islamist-secularist fault line is exaggerated and even a distraction. While it certainly does exist, it is not a black-and-white division, with a significant proportion of secularists supporting traditional values and religious intolerance, while many Islamists, particularly younger ones, believing in democracy, religious freedom and individual rights.
“It’s much more comfortable for the two sides to engage in a culture war,” notes Hossam Bahgat, the director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. “But the real issue is building a democratic system, and striving for social justice and economic justice. The battle over identity is just polemics.”
Some secular democrats, while critical of the Brotherhood, do not believe that a Morsi victory will usher in an Islamic state.
“Don’t panic,” says veteran journalist and activist Hisham Kassem. “I don’t think the Islamists are powerful enough to change the identity of the state.”
If Morsi does win the presidential election, the Islamists’ political hegemony should not come as a surprise, observers suggest.
“Did the Islamists really hijack the revolution? Was it a liberal revolution to begin with?” asks analyst Rahim Elkishky.
Egypt’s liberals have demonstrated a disabling blend of disorganization, optimism and naivety about political Islam, repeating the mistakes of their Iranian counterparts in 1978-9, he suggests.
“The first misstep of the Iranian secular movement came as early as 1978, when they blindly embraced a union with the religious opposition,” Roya Hakakian wrote in Time magazine’s “Egypt through the Lens of Iran’s 1979 Revolution.”
The liberals’ “pre-revolutionary entente” with the Brotherhood was evident well before the Tahrir Square revolt, says Elkishky
According to WikiLeaks documents published in January 2011….the major anti-regime groupings shared a vision for the post-regime era. It stated that “several opposition forces — including the Wafd, Nasserist, Karama and Tagammu parties, and the Muslim Brotherhood, Kifaya, and Revolutionary Socialist movements — have agreed to support an unwritten plan for a transition to a parliamentary democracy, involving a weakened presidency and an empowered prime minister and parliament, before the scheduled 2011 presidential elections”
While Egypt’s liberals remain divided and disorganized, the Brotherhood’s political machine is poised to deliver victory in the presidential poll. “The importance of strong organisations in securing political victories is hardly unique to Egypt. writes Trager, the Next Generation Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
“But when only one group can organise effectively in a newly competitive political environment, single-party domination becomes inevitable – with hidden consequences,” he warns. “After all, the dominant party can nominate just about anyone, and win. And if it uses its power to prevent potential competitors from emerging, it can also get away with just about anything.”
The Project for Middle East Democracy, a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, adds:
Million Man March for Revolutionary Trial
Several entities, including the Muslim Brotherhood and defeated presidential candidates, have called for mass demonstrations to protest the results of Mubarak’s trial and to push for the disqualification of Ahmed Shafiq. On Saturday, Mubarak and his former interior minister were given life sentences for their role in the deaths of protesters last year, and six high ranking officers were acquitted of similar charges. Protesters in Alexandria voiced their demands that they be retried and that those responsible for destroying evidence in the case be brought to justice. Revolutionary groups met earlier this week to determine their demands, including the dismissal of the public prosecutor, a trial for members of the former regime, disqualification of Shafiq under the political disenfranchisement law, and the formation of a presidential council made up of Mohamed Morsi, Hamdeen Sabahi, and Abdel Moneim Abuel Fotouh.
Sources “Tuesday mass protests aim at Shafiq’s disqualification from Egypt presidency race Ahram Online”, (English), 6/5/2012. “Millions Today and Friday to Demand Removal of the Remnants of the Regime”, Al Ahram (Arabic), 6/5/2012. “Activists prepare for massive Tahrir Square demonstration”, Tuesday Egypt Independent 6/5/2012. “Four Demands of Today, Brotherhood Participates”, Al Ahram (Arabic) 6/5/2012. “Tuesday’s papers: Million-man marches demand ‘Revolutionary Trial’”, Egypt Independent (English) 6/5/2012.
Candidates Announce Support for Presidential Council in Tahrir
Former presidential candidates Hamdeen Sabahi, Abdul Moneim Aboel Fotouh, and Khaled Ali announced their support for an interim presidential council in lieu of allowing the run-off between Ahmed Shafiq and Mohamed Morsi to continue. The candidates told thousands of demonstrators at Tahrir that they would form a council to prevent the return of the Mubarak regime. They also joined in demanding the implementation of the political isolation law, which would ban Ahmed Shafiq from participating in the run-off and could bring third place finisher Sabahi back into contention, as well as the formation of a revolutionary court to try Mubarak and former members of his regime. Mohamed El Baradei is expected to announce in a press conference Tuesday whether he will join the proposed council.
“Sabbahi, Abul-Fotouh, Ali announce support for ‘presidential council’ in Tahrir”, Ahram Online (English) 6/5/2012. “ElBaradei to take stance on presidential council in press conference”, Egypt Independent (English) 6/5/2012.
Major General Being Held for Destruction of Documents
Major General Hassan Abdel Rahman, the former head of the state security service, is being held on charges of destroying documents related to state security. The judge also questioned former interior minister Mahmoud Wagdy and decided that the interior minister did not have the authority to order Abdel Rahman to destroy state security documents. Abdel Rahman was among the officers in court two days ago that pled not guilty to charges of killing demonstrators.
Sources “Imprisonment of Major General Hassan Abdel Rahman for 15 days in Case of Destruction of State Security Documents El Shorouk (Arabic) 6/4/2012. “Despite acquittal, former state security chief to stay in prison” Egypt Independent (English) 6/3/2012.
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