Grim future for Arab Spring as violence erupts in Egypt
Deep frustration over the way the Supreme Military Council is running affairs of state sparks new wave of protests in Tahrir Square, fueled by internal divisions between political movements.
"The masks are being removed, one after another, and this reveals that Mubarak's regime still governs us," the "April 6th" protest movement declared Sunday, describing the massive, tumultuous demonstration staged at Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday.
"What we are seeing now is a flashback to what we saw at the start of the protests in January," complained the independent newspaper al-Masry al-Youm. Could it really be that the revolution disintegrated last week, and that Egypt is careening toward violence?
At first glance, images over the weekend are reminiscent of the violent events last January in which police forces killed numerous protesters. Chants defying General Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, who heads the Supreme Military Council, echo cries of protest articulated against Mubarak. The April 6 movement made haste to formulate five demands that the army must fulfill for Tahrir Square to be vacated. These include the dismissal of the interior minister and Prime Minister Essam Sharaf.
It appears that the deep frustration regarding the way the Supreme Military Council is running affairs of state has animated this new wave of protests in Egypt. Yet unlike the huge demonstrations that marked the start of the revolution in Egypt, and which crossed party lines in a unified show of opposition to Mubarak's regime, this time internal divisions between the political movements are what fan the flames in Egypt's Tahrir Square.
The immediate pretext of the "million-man demonstration" staged on Friday was the document of principles formulated by Deputy Prime Minister Ali al-Selmy, which are supposed to stipulate the main fundamentals upon which the new constitution is to be based. The document does not provide for any form of parliamentary monitoring of the army. It also vests the army with power to define security threats (including political threats) ¬ this clause stirred the wrath of members of the Muslim Brotherhood, who fear that it will be applied to redefine them as a national threat.
Another section sets forth procedures for electing the constitutional formulation committee ¬ a minimum of two thirds of the parliament's members must approve the composition of this committee, the document stipulates. This clause, fear the Muslim Brotherhood and various secular organizations, is designed to protract the constitution formulation process, since it would be hard to forge such a decisive majority in parliament in support of the committee's makeup.
However, the opposition to this document of principles (which has been subjected to a number of important revisions) disguises a bitter dispute among political movements, particularly between the Muslim Brotherhood and liberal-secular movements. The feeling in Egypt is that the Muslim Brotherhood has profited significantly from the revolution in that it has transformed from an illegal organization to a legitimate outfit that can establish political parties; and the Muslim Brotherhood, Egyptian analysts believe, can even come out as the big winner in national elections.
For this reason, some of the liberal movements are trying to delay the staging of parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for another eight days; these secular groups seek additional time to organize for elections. For their part, the Muslim Brotherhood wants elections to be held on schedule, and it accuses the secular movements of instigating civil unrest in order to show that the state's security situation is unstable and thus ill suited for elections.
Yet the secular movements are not united at this stage. Some demand that the army set out a timetable, holding that power be handed over to an elected president by the end of April; others hold that a new constitution needs to be formulated at this stage, and then elections should be held according to the provisions in the constitution.
Meanwhile, the army demands that elections be held as scheduled, while members of the Supreme Military Council say that the recent demonstrations are the handiwork of "small groups of inciters," and that security forces can easily gain control of the situation. Although criticism has been vented against the army, it appears that all sides in the current power struggle want the army to remain as the guardian of the revolution, until power goes into the hands of an elected, civilian leadership.