A Year Removed…بعد سنة من

A little over a year ago liberal Egyptian activists celebrated National Police Day by organizing a series of protests against police brutality. Ultimately, these small protests in Cairo exploded into massive sit-ins and labor strikes across the country prompting the Egyptian military to defect from the Mubarak family and National Democratic Party in order to protect is substantial economic and political interests – specifically a 25-40% ownership of the Egyptian economy, American military aid, and its role as the supreme political power broker. Satisfied with the resignation of Mubarak, the masses left the squares entrusting the generals of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) with the transitional process.

In brief, the so-called ‘revolution’ was little more than a military coup. The generals have not only left the abusive Central Security Forces of the Interior Ministry and the censorship and propaganda apparatus of the state media intact but also used them to destroy civil society and consolidate their political power. Individual rights and liberties are trampled upon on a daily basis and young protestors are killed on a monthly basis. While (relatively) free and fair elections have elected a representative parliament, it wields no constitutionally defined political power outside of the right to select the members of the constitutional assembly drafting the new constitution. Meanwhile, society itself has fractured into a series of competing interests and identities, grown weary of the continued political instability and come to fear an imminent economic collapse.

Unsurprisingly, January 25, 2012 as hundreds of thousands of Egyptians marched to their local ‘Tahrir Squares’ there was considerable tension about whether the day ought to be one of celebration or protest.  Bearing an obelisk inscribed with the names of the martyrs, many returned to Tahrir Square demanding the resignation of SCAF chanting: يسقط، يسقط حكم العسكر (Down, down with military rule)، قول متخافيش العسكر لازم يمشي (Speak! Do not fear! The military needs to leave), while some elected to celebrate the revolution’s ‘anniversary’ with the SCAF and its military bands in Abbasiyya and the Muslim Brotherhood attempted to continue to keep one foot in both camps. As sun set and the Brotherhood and SCAF supporters returned to their homes, the obelisk was installed in the center of the square while activists planned another series of marches and sit-ins for January 27, 2012 dubbing it the “Friday of Dignity”.

Hundreds of Thousands of Protestors fill Tahrir Square and the Kasir El-Nil Bridge

Despite their creativity and energy, protestors once again lack the numbers to force political change. A year ago sensing a long-desired chance to end political repression, the Muslim Brotherhood elected to participate in the January 28, 2011 “Friday of Anger” mobilizing against the Mubarak regime and restoring momentum to the series of protests that prompted the aforementioned military coup. Now, however, the Brotherhood has pragmatically – yet cold heartedly – calculated that its interests lie in negotiating the transition process via political institutions (such as the newly elected parliament) and the drafting of the constitution. Moreover, given its history of violent repression and the experience of Algeria’s Islamic Salvation Front in the 1990s, the Brotherhood has refused to back the generals into a corner wherein their only remaining options are violent repression or the surrender of all political power.

Projecting forward, the coming months will determine whether the Brotherhood has calculated correctly, spring and whether future Egyptians will recall January 25, 2011 as a start of a revolution or the impetus of a military coup. The timetable is as follows:

  • In February and March, Egyptians will return to the polls to elect the Maglis al-Shura (upper house of their legislature).
  • Towards the end of March (the specific date has yet to be set), both houses of the Egyptian legislature will meet to select the members of the constitutional committee in charge of drafting the constitution.
  • In April (the specific date has yet to be set), Egyptians will return to the polls to referendum the newly drafted constitution.
  • Towards the end of June (the specific date has yet to be set) Egyptians will return to the polls to elect a president. SCAF will then surrender executive power to the president by June 30, 2012.

As the selection of the constitutional committee and its subsequent drafting of the constitution will dictate the future political role of the military (or the lack thereof), it appears that the end of March and beginning of April will be the days of reckoning for the so-called Egyptian revolution. In the interim, Tahrir Square will likely be sporadically filled with protestors demanding the end to military rule, individual rights and liberties will continue to be violated and more innocents will lose their lives in a sad prologue for the final act between SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood.

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