On February 11, 2011, Egyptians, and much of the world who had been following the events, had succeeded in overthrowing a dictatorship that lasted 30 years. It is just a little over four months that Hosni Mubarak stepped down as President of Egypt, and many questions remain unanswered.
If one is to judge revolutions, and the results they brought about, it would be premature to say much about the changes in Egypt in 120 or so days. However, there are some indications already which are very troublesome, and which cannot possibly co-exist with a so-called democratic state. Though Egyptians themselves are saying that they will be masters of their own destinies now, the ruling party, which is for all intents and purposes, the old-regime military headed by General Mohammed Tantawi is conducting business as usual.
There are opposing forces at work in Egypt, from within and without. Within the country, we have a general youth movement with the desire to create a secular democracy, with religious tolerance, equal rights for women, freedom of speech and the press, and a fair distribution of the country’s wealth. On the other hand, we have the Muslim Brotherhood, who have allied themselves with the Wafd ‘liberal’ party, who are hard core Islamists with a younger generation creating a rift within the parties due to disagreements. They have the support of the Al-Azhar grand Imam, Ahmed El-Tayeb, who declared yesterday that he supported a ‘constitutional, democratic state’. The road map drawn by the latter, in consultation with other elite intellectual and religious figures can be seen in its entirety here. ‘We need a serious commitment to universal human rights, the rights of women and children‘, el-Tayeb said.
What is not mentioned in this road map is the contradiction in terms between a constitutional, democratic state and a state where 90% of its citizens are Muslim, and where Islamic Shariah law should remain an essential pillar of of the legislative process. Shariah law, by its very nature, is discriminating. It contains specific dogma as it applies to daily life, marriage, prayer, finances, death and inheritance which favor the male gender.
From without, Saudi Arabia is using largesse to the tune of $4billion to manipulate the military and foment sectarian violence by supporting extremist groups like the Salafis. If you are wondering why Mubarak was never moved from Sharm-el-Sheikh, this may give you some insight. If you are also wondering why his trial date extended to August 3rd, 2011, or why he may in fact, never get to trial, this is a possible answer. The Saudis did not hide their profound displeasure at the mistreatment of one of their ‘cronies’. Enter the US, where it was recently announced that the army and the US are moving forward with the same policy agreement of US$1.5 billion in foreign aid that will ensure no attacks on Israel. Which may also explain the opening, closing, re-opening of the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt.
Bringing the country’s top ministers to justice was not as swift as Egyptians would have hoped. This may have given them ample time to move their assets. Trials are oftentimes postponed more than once. Freedom of speech is limited: one is still not allowed to criticize the ruling party without getting arrested, fined or jailed.
As for freedom, it’s a really tough call. Since the army has been in charge, 7,000 civilians have been arrested. Military courts are still held against civilians. Torture is still going on and unfortunately, the police force is made up mostly of illiterate men who only understand violence. The not-too-recent ‘virginity tests’ which were imposed on women activists in Cairo provoked tremendous anger, and international outcry, which was first denied, then admitted by the military who vowed this would never happen again.
How can you have reform when the people at the top were present and willing participants under Mubarak’s iron fist command? First and foremost, there needs to be economic recovery as the majority of Egyptians are reeling from the effects of unemployment. Adding to that is the huge drop in tourism due to insecurity fears, and then an entire set of industries and trades are menaced. The US is hosting an Egyptian economic forum in DC next week in an effort to get things moving. That will not be enough.
The revolution did start, but don’t expect miracles. The road is long, difficult, but not impossible.