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PV Vivekanand: Another revolution
March 27, 2012
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The world was thunderstruck when a “people’s power” rebellion toppled the regime of long-time Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who was seen as the most powerful leader the country had seen, in February last year.  It was deemed impossible for him to be ousted since his party had absolute and all-embracing power in every layer of authority. And the government had one of the most powerful – and ruthless – security forces of the world to crack down on any form of dissent. But the regime crumbled before the determination of the young people who thronged  Cairo’s Tahrir Square. The military stayed out of the fray and refused to join the regime’s push against the revolutionaries, but it assumed control of the country when Mubarak was forced to step down after 18 days of the rebellion.

The young Egyptians who led the anti-Mubarak revolt, and indeed the rest of the Egyptian people, were euphoric over their success. The international media rejoiced over a source of unprecedented developments. Today, those who staged the uprising are marginalised. Islamists, led by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist movement, have emerged as the dominant group in parliament in post-revolt Egypt and sidelined the revolutionaries, who could not really take their message to the voters. They are now forced to watch the struggle for power between the Islamists and the military, which has retained absolute power.

Despite their control of the new parliament, the Islamists have not gained executive authority and the country is governed, for technical purposes, by a government appointed by the ruling generals, who are in reality dictating terms to the cabinet.

On the other hand, some Egyptians suspect that there is even a secret agreement between the Islamists and the military. However, that is not very likely, given that the two sides do not trust each other. Both sides know that they will have a head-on clash sooner or later. While the Islamists want to set up a fully energised and powered executive authority, the military wants to ensure that it is placed beyond government oversight.

However, the two sides are accommodating each other since that is the only option and it suits them most at this point in time. The military has promised that it would hand over power to a civilian government after a president is elected in June. However, it remains to be seen whether the generals will live up to the pledge if the election produces a president seen unlikely to obey their orders. Perhaps they will have their own candidate and they will ensure that he/she wins the election.

The Muslim Brotherhood is the most powerful political movement in Egypt with unparalleled popular support. By virtue of its strength in parliament, the Brotherhood has secured a powerful say in the future of the country. Fifty members of a 100-seat committee that will draft a new constitution will be members of parliament and this will assure that the Islamists will have an influential say in determining what the new constitution should contain.

A list of nominations appearing on the Brotherhood’s website includes 36 Islamists and 14 MPs from other parties. The Islamists could also count on the support of 10 non-MPs in the drafting committee to ensure that they have at least a simple majority in the panel.

The liberals of Egypt fear that the Islamists will monopolise the drafting process and incorporate a strict form of Islamic law as the basis for the new constitution. Liberal MPs on Saturday walked out of a parliamentary session during which the drafting committee was to be selected. In the meantime, the generals have shown that they are in the same mould as the ousted regime.

Amnesty International has said that Egypt’s military rulers have “engaged in a wave of repression that has broken the promise of the uprising that began in January 2011 for a new future for the country.” There have been killings of “numerous civilians,” along with the persecution of non-governmental organisations (NGO) and their Egyptian and American employees for “the crime of sowing discontent with seditious calls for civilian rule.”

Washington has not given much attention to the charges. It acted only when Cairo detained and filed charges against American NGO workers. Washington twisted the Egyptian military’s arm into releasing them and letting them fly out of the country after threatening to freeze annual aid to Egypt.

If anything, the administration of US President Barack Obama has now decided to continue aid to Egypt, ignoring the concerns about democracy and human rights. The singular most important concern of the US is that post-Mubarak Egypt does not tamper with the state of peace with Israel under the Camp David agreement the two countries signed in 1979.

Some 85 per cent of the $1.5 billion annual US aid to Egypt attached to the Camp David accord go to the military. The approval of aid last week comes after US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton certified to Congress that “Egypt is meeting its obligations under its peace treaty with Israel.”

Clinton also waived “legislative conditions related to Egypt’s democratic transition, on the basis of America’s national security interests, allowing for the continued flow of foreign military financing to Egypt.”

The US is clearly aware that aid goes to subsidise the military regime’s oppressive reign, but it is only living true to its colours. Its record shows that the “pursuit of US national security interests” outweighs “the promotion of American values and universal human rights.”

Here it is not even “US national security interests” that matter; it is in the interest of Israel at whose altar “American values and universal human rights” are sacrificed. Back in Cairo, we could expect the struggle pitting the Islamists against the military to continue for some more time before developments force the hands of the Islamists or the ruling generals. And when that happens, it could trigger yet another revolution.

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