SCAF Makes a Mistake يرتكب مجلس الأعلى للقوات المسلحة خطأ

It’s 2:30am at the moment and although I have not written in a while, I must confess I had not planned on writing until the end of the week. However, events this evening have demanded a blog post.

At some point after midnight this evening (or early this morning), Egyptian security forces attempted to disperse an unknown number of people who had gathered in front of the Ministry of the Interior to protest delays in the trials of those responsible for deaths of protestors during the revolution. Most of these peoples were family members of the deceased whom Egyptians call the “Martyrs of the Revolution”.

The central security forces elected to open fire upon the protesters with tear gas in a scene reminiscent to this end of this past January. The protestors, in turn, fought back with rocks and chunks of cement and the result was a running street battle during which the protesters were pushed back to Medan Tahrir. Protesters were joined by reinforcements including elements of the baltagiya (hoodlums, trouble-makers) until around two thousand people had gathered in Medan Tahrir. The security forces, however, were reinforced by both armored cars and riot police succeeded in clearing all but a few protestors from the square. However, as I right these words, elements from youth committees (including the Muslim Brotherhood) are moving to Tahrir to support the protestors and the mosque in Tahrir has begun broadcasting statements through its loud speakers demanding that the police stand down as eighty percent of those in Tahrir are revolutionaries .

At first glance these actions may seem to make little sense. Not only was the curfew was lifted a couple of weeks ago but the hour was already very late making it likely that the protests would have dispersed themselves within an hour or so especially since they lacked the numbers and supplies to wage a lengthy sit-in. When viewed in the context of both the current public discourse in Egypt and coming events of the next week or so, the rationale of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) is revealed.

There is a large segment of the Egyptian society that is unsatisfied with the rushed transition process ushered in by a rushed referendum on constitutional amendments this past March. This referendum set the schedule for the transition process: Parliamentary elections this September (under a mixed system of both proportional and district representation) and presidential elections in November/December. This new government will them appoint a constitutional committee to draft a new constitution. This schedule favors the political organizations with established networks like the Muslim Brotherhood (despite its newly revealed deep schisms), the former National Democratic Party (NDP), the former opposition parties (like Wafd) and the Salafists. Furthermore, the schedule enjoys the support of the army (especially SCAF) who hopes to flee the public eye as soon as possible and return to its historical role of governing the Egyptian state behind the scenes in relative obscurity.

Youth coalitions, liberal intellectuals, and leftist social workers (among many other groups), however, lack the networks necessary to succeed in these rushed elections and fear an Islamist “hijacking” of the revolution. As such they have gathered under the banner of Constitution First in order to pressure SCAF into appointing a constitutional committee to draft a constitution or at the very least adopt a bill of rights that ensures equal rights for all citizens. To further these ends, these factions have gathered more than 15 million signatures on a petition and called for a Day of Rage on July 8, 2011.

In my opinion, given that acceding to these demands means delay the transition process, the SCAF elected to send a message to the Constitution First bloc tonight. Those protesting in front of the Ministry of the Interior are of the same political leanings of the Constitution First bloc. Thus, by violently protesting this demonstration, SCAF gives the bloc a taste of what is in store for them if they follow through with the Day of Rage on July 8, 2011.

This represents a gross miscalculation on the part of the SCAF. First, the behavior is out the textbook of the former regime and thereby enhances the already growing association between SCAF and Mubarak’s repression in the minds of Egyptians. Second, the Egyptian populace is no longer characterized as afraid, apathetic and meek. The January 25 Revolution shattered these barriers and as such violent repression is no longer a deterrence but a provocation.

Therefore – if I dare to hazard a prediction – the July 8, 2011 protests will not only go forward as planned but also likely include a relatively larger segment of the Egyptian society. Furthermore, the object of protest will not be limited to the schedule of the transition process but rather extend to include sharp criticism of the SCAF itself.

For those wanting more information:
Twitter Tags: #Tahrir, #Jun28,
Arabist
http://bambuser.com/channel/tarekshalaby/broadcast/1778534
Youtube Video (in arabic)

Lastly, for those concerned I was not in Tahrir this evening. I watched the protests on al-Jazeera Arabic from the safety on my apartment.

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