Sunday, October 9, 2011

Cairo clashes mask a more insidious threat to a democratic future

Violence underlines the quieter moves by Egypt's military rulers to kill off any genuine shift towards a free society


Jack Shenker
The Guardian, Sunday 9 October 2011

"It should come as no surprise that Sunday night's violent clashes, which again brought death and chaos to Cairo's streets, took place on a day that saw many other developments underline the febrile power struggle at the heart of the Egyptian capital.

Bloodshed will capture the headlines, but the quieter moves by Egypt's military rulers and the plainclothes thugs whose motives increasingly appear inseparable from the army elite are also worth mentioning: the rapid shutting down of a television station that had been broadcasting live footage of the mayhem; the earlier announcement that military tribunals for civilians would remain operational in certain circumstances (despite a public outcry against them); a violent assault on a university strike in Alexandria; and the ongoing tussle over electoral law, which some political forces believe is designed to kill off genuine moves towards democracy.

Collectively, the day's events illuminate something that has been clear to many on the ground for a long time: that despite its co-option of revolutionary rhetoric, Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) is doing everything in its power it can to stifle and frustrate meaningful change....

But it is between the generals and those on the street where the division really lies. There, amid the tear gas canisters, rubble and spent ammunition cartridges, the chants ringing out are: "Christians and Muslims on one hand" and: "The people want the downfall of the Field Marshal" – the latter a reference to Egypt's current de facto leader, Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, couched in the language a nation used to articulate its rejection of Mubarak.

But although it is the Salafist mobs reportedly trying to break down hospital doors to get at wounded Christian demonstrators that present the most obvious figures of blame, it is Egypt's broader political elite, and particularly its increasingly brazen junta, that shoulder the biggest responsibility for Sunday's events....."

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