Saturday, January 14, 2012

Egypt: one year on, the young heroes of Tahrir Square feel a chill wind

The Observer's foreign affairs editor covered the birth of Egypt's revolution in Cairo. Now, as one leading candidate quits the presidential race in despair, he returns to meet protesters fearful of the army's power and a possible deal with Islamists


Peter Beaumont
The Observer, Saturday 14 January 2012

".....Such growing concerns over the military's continuing role were underscored yesterday when Egypt's reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei announced he was pulling out of the presidential race to protest at a lack of democratic progress.

The Nobel laureate, seen as a driving force behind the movement that forced former President Hosni Mubarak to step down, said the conditions for a fair election are not in place.

At a hastily arranged press conference, ElBaradei – a prominent political figure despite being regarded as unlikely to secure the presidency later this year – said the military rulers who took over from Mubarak have governed "as if no revolution took place and no regime has fallen".

Last week it was revealed that the military is planning its own emotional appeal to Egypt's people. On 25 January, Egypt's generals will attempt to cement their place in their country's history as "defenders" of the 18 days of revolution that began in Tahrir Square.....

In the months that have followed, for many at the forefront of the revolution the generals have come to be regarded with a deep suspicion and hostility. Critical bloggers and activists have been beaten, arrested and dragged before military tribunals. Some have been sent to jail, such as Maikel Nabil, who was sentenced in March to two years in jail for "insulting" the military and publishing "false information" by posting a blog questioning its role in the revolution.

Female protesters have been subjected to "virginity tests", sexually assaulted, stripped and beaten. And in December soldiers, for the first time, were used lethally against a wave of protests that had started in November as a response to the generals' attempt to insist on guaranteed secrecy for the military's vast budget from parliamentary oversight. That would have given the army the right to veto articles in a new constitution, and prorogue the country's new constitutional assembly.....

Like others in the core of Tahrir's revolution, he believes that the electoral process his country has witnessed – including the role of the main Islamist parties – has been co-opted by the military to ensure its continuing influence and privileges, not least their business interests cemented during the Mubarak years. But, like many, he questions whether the present push back against the revolution by the military and other institutions of the deep state shows its continuing strength or is rather evidence of its growing weakness.....

While the Muslim Brotherhood may have won a popular mandate in the recent elections, he argues that the party has formed a "temporary alliance" with the generals. The outcome – as Carter suggested last week – might be a deal to protect the military's immunities and leave them in place to exert their influence over Egyptian political life as the military did in Turkey and continues to do in Pakistan as a powerful cadre of securocrats.....

However, the question is whether the generals are planning any kind of exit at all. Indeed, Amnesty International's annual report, which was published this month, suggested that despite the military's promise to protect protesters it has detained 12,000 Egyptian citizens and carried out abuses almost identical to the last days of the Mubarak regime, including tightening controls on the press and NGOs.....

As Adam Shatz remarks in an article on Egypt in the current issue of the London Review of Books – quoting Régis Debray – the counter-revolution is revolutionised by the revolution.

In Egypt today that cycle of revolution and resistance to it is a long way from being played out."

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