Is Egypt undergoing a counter-revolution by stealth or simply experiencing the messiness that characterizes every democratic transition?
Many of the country’s democracy advocates are convinced that the ruling military junta is planning a restoration of the old order by insisting on a rapid transition process that undermines emerging political groups, engineering constitutional amendments that inhibit new partiesand forging an unspoken alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood – and even with the more conservative Salafi Islamists – to suffocate liberal forces and trends.
“The military council and the Brotherhood are kidnapping the revolution, stealing it from under the noses of Egyptians,” says Ahmed Bahaa El-Din Shaaban, a leading activist.
Even former Mubarak associates are expressing concern over recent developments.
The military’s management of the transition process raises “question marks and exclamation points,” said Amr Moussa, the Arab League’s secretary general and likely presidential candidate.
Recent developments confirm that the democratic transition is being stalled, if not aborted, writes Yasmine Fathi in a must-read analysis for al-Ahram:
Mubarak has not been put on trial. The National Democratic Party (NDP) is still alive and kicking despite the revolutionaries insisting that it has to be dissolved. The local councils and governors appointed by the old regime have not been replaced; editors of all the national papers, associated and hired by the old regime, remain in their positions; members of the old regime still dominate most workers’ unions and public companies; the emergency law has not been lifted and most political detainees remain in captivity.
“There is a determined effort to stop the revolution in its tracks,” says Prof. Khaled Fahmy of the American University in Cairo.
But democratic forces are starting their own backlash against the counter-revolution, taking inspiration and guidance from Tunisian civil society which continued to mobilize following Ben Ali’s ouster to protect the integrity of the democratic revolution and counter efforts to maintain or restore the old order.
The Youth Revolution Coalition is adopting a three-pronged strategy empowering new parties to contest forth coming parliamentary elections; a returning to Tahrir Square to demand legitimate rights; and advocating changes in parliamentary legislation and regulations on political parties. The coalition comprises a diverse range of groups, including the 6 April Youth Movement, Youth for Freedom and Justice, and the youth sections of the El-Baradei Campaign, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Democratic Front and the National Association of Change.
Many of the groups behind the Tahrir Square demonstrations are mobilizing for a major Save the Revolution demonstration tomorrow and the April 6 movement is proposing alternative provisions to legalize political organizations.
As in Tunisia, a diverse range of civil society groups are organizing to defend fragile democratic gains and building broad-based alliances, reaching out to new constituencies through an agenda that integrates liberal demands for constitutional rights and civil liberties with an agenda that addresses the socio-economic grievances and material needs the country’s impoverished majority.
“People are now forming new political parties, independent syndicates, and preparing for the parliamentary and presidential elections,” says Amr El-Shoubaki, a senior analyst at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. “I believe that the next battle will be in the social and political arena rather than on the streets.”
Egypt’s emerging democratic movement is also starting to resemble its neighbor in the growing role and significance of newly assertive labor unions which have the potential to provide the robust organizational networks and social base that metropolitan liberal groups have traditionally lacked.
“No revolution continues in the same momentum; it usually ebbs and flows,” says Kamal Abbas, general coordinator for the Centre for Trade Union and Workers Services “It is important for workers and Egyptians in general to organize themselves, so that they can have the tools to fight the next war. And that doesn’t mean that the revolution is over but that it has morphed into something different, but with the same goals.”
The military’s proposed restrictions on freedom of association and collective action are also galvanizing democratic opposition groups and highlighting the social dimension of democratization.
“The revolution isn’t only about freedom; these protests are the continuation of the social part of the revolution,” says Kamal Khalil, a spokesman for the new Democratic Labor Party.