Egypt: Then and now

November 29th, 2011

The initial love affair the public had with the ruling Armed Forces when they deployed into the cities 10 months ago has given way to loud mistrust. Where did things go wrong? – Published on weekly Al-Ahram – Issue No. 1073, by Amirah Ibrahim, 24 – 30 November 2011.

The SCAF does not aspire to hold onto power and is fully willing to transfer responsibility immediately should the people wish, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces SCAF replied on Tuesday to demands by protesters in Tahrir Square that the military should hand over power immediately … //   

… It was expected that the SCAF would accept the cabinet’s resignation, form a new national salvation government and hold parliamentary elections on schedule, all of which were announced in Tantawi’s address.

Those concessions, made to show goodwill by the military rulers in meeting the demands of the people were not welcomed by protesters and political movements mainly due to the mistrust and doubts about SCAF’s true intentions over the past several months.

The SCAF had invited the country’s political movements, 23 parties and possible presidential candidates for crisis talks on Tuesday which ended in agreement over the major sticking points except for the swift departure of the SCAF. A suspension of military trials of civilians was announced at Tantawi’s address. A detailed statement by the SCAF followed in which details of the meeting were revealed. On Wednesday morning, Lieutenant General Sami Anan, chief of staff and SCAF deputy, repeated what he said was the “natural stand” taken by SCAF towards all political parties in the theatre.

The SCAF is seen by some as a copy and paste job of the regime of former president Hosni Mubarak, adopting the same stubborn, isolated and slow-to-act thinking. Many believe that even though the ball has been in SCAF’s court for months, the generals have done close to nothing, neither improving economic, security and social conditions nor pushing the political process forward.

Observers say the SCAF, when acting as a political body, has been unmasked in many crises, moving only under the pressure of mass protests. Putting Mubarak and his cronies on trial was, as an example, of SCAF taking decisions only when under tremendous pressure.

Promulgating laws guiding the political process have also been a subject of dispute between the SCAF and political parties. These have included the right of Egyptians abroad to vote; the formation of new political parties; the law organising the practice of political rights; the law organising parliamentary elections; and a law on political corruption law which stipulated means to isolate members of the ousted regime from political life. This latest law had been discussed for three months but the SCAF only issued it on Monday, a week before the set date of elections to start.

On the ground, the SCAF has been criticised for reproducing the ousted regime. Opponents say that even Mubarak’s ruling party, the NDP, was dissolved by a court ruling, not by the SCAF.

Another accusation levelled at the SCAF is that officials charged with corruption under Mubarak are now running for the new parliament and many stand a decent chance of winning. If a court later decides that such officials should be ousted from parliament, under the newly issued political corruption law, the fate of the new parliament will be largely unknown.

A formation of a government of national salvation could be the last alternative if a popular referendum over an immediate transfer of power is held. But even this remains a mystery. When he suggested the idea on Tuesday, Tantawi did not specify to whom the SCAF would hand over power, opening the door for much speculation and rumours over the role of Islamists, the Supreme Constitutional court or an elected presidential council which the protesters demand.

SCAF members have been unavailable for comment, though observers are quick to point out that they repeatedly urge the media to be transparent. (full text).

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