Egypt one year on

February 19th, 2012

Published on The Malta Independent Online, by David Casa, February 18, 2012.

… Exactly one year ago, thousands of Egyptians celebrated as the authoritarian ruler of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, stepped down and handed the government over to the military. The military council has been serving as an interim government ever since … 

The end of Mubarak’s term is just one milestone of the Arab Spring that swept the region. With the revolutions in Libya and Syria occupying headlines in the past year, the Egyptian revolution faded from view once Mubarak stepped down.

The turmoil in Egypt reached a temporary hiatus after Mubarak’s resignation, but has not ceased entirely. Nearly 1,000 Egyptians died in 2011 as a result of protests. The death toll could rise further as Egyptians continue to lose patience with the military government that currently rules the country and insist on the transfer of power.

The growing demand to have power placed in the hands of Egyptian citizens is plaguing the country with animosity toward the ruling military council. Presidential elections are scheduled for May and until then, the military council, formally known as the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) will govern Egypt’s unruly population. Despite repeated guarantees from the military council, many people believe that the transfer of power will not be painless. From October to December, discontent with the military sparked protests that resulted in 85 deaths. Doubts that there will ever be free and fair elections under the transitional military government have been raised both within Egypt as well as internationally.

As long as popular unrest continues in Egypt, it is unlikely that Egypt will return to the economic growth that it once enjoyed. Egypt’s growth rate in 2011 was around 1.2%, which is a stark drop from the 5.1% growth rate under Mubarak. Though economic growth in Egypt was consistent and strong prior to Mubarak’s downfall, Egyptians were unhappy with rampant corruption and widening inequality. This discontent remains but, now, there is much less of the pie to go around. This has given Egyptians another reason to protest and demand the transfer of power from the military council to a democratically elected civilian government.

The military council is receiving harsh criticism from another group in Egypt. The Christian population has taken particular issue with the military. Even before the military’s rise to power, an Islamist majority in Parliament made life for Christians living in Egypt difficult. 10% of Egyptians are part of the ancient Christian Coptic church. The Copts have been fighting to get the discrimination against them on the domestic agenda for decades.

However, out of fear of angering the majority Muslim population, discrimination against Christians has never been properly addressed. Despite the government’s assurances that Egyptian law as well as Islamic law mandates them to treat Christians equally, Christians have yet to experience equal treatment, especially with the military in power.

In fact last October, military police shot into a peaceful Coptic demonstration in Cairo. 25 people died, and almost 300 were injured. The Christian community in Egypt was in uproar over the shooting, but received little more than empty promises from the interim government that someone would be held accountable. Even when the military hands over power, an Islamic majority in Egypt makes it impossible to guarantee that the newly elected government will be able to effectively buffer the prejudice against Egyptian Christians.

Since the SCAF took power in February, they have been attempting to increase the power of the executive branch in the Egyptian government. Now that they are the executive, and in the absence of a constitution, they have the opportunity to shape the executive as they wish. Since the uprisings in Egypt began, the Egyptian military has worked to stop popular movement.

It was unexpected by both Mubarak and the military that the people would trigger such powerful change across the country. The transitional military government might try to stay in power or influence the presidential election in May, but now that the people succeeded in removing Mubarak, they certainly will not stop until power has been handed over. Protestors have already been successful in getting the military government to bring forward the presidential election date.

The EU thus far has not had a large role in monitoring Egypt’s transition to democracy. The main actor has been the US, which has been eager to create a relationship with the post-Mubarak regime. The military council recently cracked down on foreign groups trying to assist the transition, including many American groups. With the military in power, it is clear that foreign presence will not be welcome in Egypt.

The EU should still keep a close watch on the political developments in Egypt as the presidential election approaches. Given the new found willingness of Egypt’s people to take to the streets, it would come as no surprise if uprisings were to occur around May. Since the military council has shown little restraint in cracking down on protests, it is important for the EU to monitor the situation in order to avoid any further loss of life. The direction the world will see Egypt go in during 2012 remains unknown. For certain, the people in Egypt will not rest until their demands are met.

The EU should still keep a close watch on the political developments in Egypt as the presidential election approaches. Given the new found willingness of Egypt’s people to take to the streets, it would come as no surprise if uprisings were to occur around May. Since the military council has shown little restraint in cracking down on protests, it is important for the EU to monitor the situation in order to avoid any further loss of life. The direction the world will see Egypt go in during 2012 remains unknown. For certain, the people in Egypt will not rest until their demands are met. (full text).

Links:

Arab Spring: the impact on holidaymakers, one year on: What do the upheavals of the Arab Spring mean for the traveller? One year on, The Telegraph/Travel, by David Blair, February 17, 2012;

Chinese diplomat in Syria for talks on unrest, on Al Jazeera, February 18, 2012,

People & Power: Bahrain, Audacity of hope, on Al Jazeera, February 16, 2012;

Fin de partie au Proche-Orient, par Thierry Meyssan, le 14 février 2012;

Reporting on Revolution: Movie Examines Journalists’ Battle to Report Egypt’s Uprising, on Spiegel Online International, by Jess Smee, February 17, 2012: The documentary “Reporting… A Revolution” tells the story of six intrepid Egyptian journalists who watched in horror from their Cairo hotel as security forces attacked protesters near Tahrir Square during last year’s revolution. The film, which screened at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival, delves into how reporters react when their home city turns into a war zone … (full text and video, 3.58 min);

Arab Revolt on en.wikipedia.

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