Sure, we were all happy. And of course we celebrated. The whole world was watching Egypt. We were enormously proud. But then?
The Egyptians have returned to daily life, which has become much more difficult than before, because the economy is suffering. With the lack of tourists some sectors make little to nothing. Unemployment is on the rise while prices are exploding. The people have become tired of revolution.
Nevertheless, some things have changed. Nowadays, we all have a political conscience. Parties are founded by everyone. Everyone is speaking up and everyone wants to become organised. They suddenly have an intensity of public discussion never seen before. The experience of having been able to ask for their rights causes ripples in the people’s conscience. Occasionally, there are small demonstrations, students and hospital doctors go on strike, state workers protest openly, workers draw attention to unacceptable conditions. Even if this kind of protest goes a bit astray sometimes, it is generally a very positive change that Egyptians want to make their voice heard after so many years of repression.
This new attitude is of immense importance for the political development of the country, because the temporary governments installed by the Military Council have so far only accepted reforms under pressure from the streets.
On February 11, 2011, Hosni Mubarak abdicated and the military took over the government. Since then, there have been only a few cosmetic changes on the political level. In principle, the old power structures from before the revolution are still in place.
The army’s leadership stratum is made up of a part of the old Mubarak regime. They form the Military Council. It is never mentioned that this body has never been elected by the people. In some ways, the military council is continuing the strategy of the old government of undermining the unity of the Egyptian people in order to ensure its own interests.
Part of their strategy consists of a lack of clarity about elections, the spreading of rumours in the media about foreign agents, the purposeful disinformation disseminated concerning political plans and changes.
Take the March referendum for instance: most Egyptians had no clue what their vote would do or for what changes in the Constitution they should vote and why.
This left a lot of room for manipulation, and therefore certain interest groups used their power to influence the voting process in their interest.
During the revolution, the people had held the military in very high esteem. Now that it has assumed power, it is supposed to ensure the transition to democratic structures. It is only natural that there should be protests when instead of this they carry out reactionary policies against the revolutionary demands.
The military has no real interest in simply handing over power to the people and thus endangering their own power. The military’s privileges are manifold and involve immense financial advantages. Who would favour democracy if this means personal decline?
Thus, a democratic theatre piece is being played in the foreground, while the choreography of chaos directs the moves in the background, which divert people’s attention from the themes and issues that really concern them. This had worked well during the revolution, and these methods also work well now: Again and again there are pro-Mubarak demonstrations, although it is clear that most of the demonstrators are being paid by the old system’s profiteers.
The security situation is not very clear because of the continuing attack by paid thugs, who are to spread fear and unrest.
The police continue in large areas to no longer be visible in public anymore and not do their duty since the days of the revolution when Mubarak’s regime had withdrawn them from the streets while releasing criminals from jails.
Attacks by known religious extremists feed animosities between Muslims and Christians in order to divert the focus from the political to the religious and in order to water down the political-social targets.
Another delay tactic used by the Military Council to ensure it can hold on to its hitherto untouched power, and which makes the transition to a democratic form of government more difficult: The Military Council appoints commissions, whose members are in their favour. Although supposedly representing the people’s interests, they only dispense necessary political change in small doses, take it back again or sovereignly change it. Thus, only public pressure or continuing public protests lead step by step to any changes towards democracy.
This is why, in the last weeks, a lot of Egyptians have made their demands for political renewal clear again in ongoing demonstrations in Tahrir Square. However, the revolutionaries were purposefully discredited in the public opinion by the official media; the idea was propagated that they were responsible for the bad economic situation, because they didn’t give the country a moment’s peace.
The Muslim Brothers and their extremist faction, the Salafists, are the beneficiaries of the situation. During the revolution they had played an interesting role. Originally, the Muslim Brothers had criticised the revolution. This fit into the left’s long-time assessment of the Brothers as not being against the repressive system of the authoritarian state as such but only wanting a stronger Islamicisation of the legal structures. They later succumbed to the pressure of their younger members and completely backed the revolution. It is clear that they see an important role for themselves in the future government of the country.
This is absolutely fine for the military, because the Muslim brothers are not seeking an upheaval in the existing power structures. Financed by the Saudis and tolerated by the Military Council, the Muslim brothers and the more religiously extremist Salafists are expanding their influence among the poor and ignorant rural population that has been made very insecure by the current economic crisis.
The first political reforms by the Military Council already subtly supported the Islamists: the party law, promulgated in June, favours rich organisations with many members. To found a new party 5,000 initial members are required, each of whose membership declaration has to be certified by an expensive notarised procedure.
Additionally the members’ list has to be published in two leading newspapers, which costs millions. The Muslim Brothers, during their “opposition” time under Mubarak, were the only party that already had an organisation with broad impact and access to a lot of money. Thus, the new party law is no obstacle for them.
The rich offshoots of the old National Democratic Party can, like the newly founded parties of the well-to-do rightists and liberal-conservatives, also easily overcome the financial hurdle in order to constitute a party. The only ones who cannot get through the financial hurdles are those groups that also wish to represent the interest of the poor.
But there are also other obstacles on the path of supposed democratisation:
There is much discussion and division among the politically active as to whether the planned elections should take place before or after the drafting of the new constitution.
Those in favour of elections before the draft constitution want a new government elected as fast as possible and are willing to accept the risk that the power of the president might remain unlimited, just as before the revolution. They then would expect this government to redraft a new constitution that limits its own powers.
Opponents of this model demand the drafting of the constitution by an independent commission that includes representatives of all groups, classes and levels of society, before any new elections are envisaged.
The Military Council offers to have the constitution drafted by a commission they would appoint made up mainly of well known regime-friendly Muslim Brothers, while calling for elections as quickly as possible irrespective of the constitution problem.
It is evident that really free and democratic elections are not possible in this precipitous way, and that in this case the people would not really know what kind of government they are voting for and on exactly what constitutional basis.
The public protests in the last weeks on Tahrir square have something to do with this problem, and the last word has not been spoken yet. Initially there was a general consensus among the protesters to wait for the end of the fasting month of Ramadan and then to see what the Military Council decides about elections. After all, there has been a continuous series of new public announcements in the last weeks and no one now knows exactly what the current status quo is. Before Ramadan, they had announced the elections for November. We are all waiting for the end of the feast at the beginning of September to see if new decisions have been made in the meantime.
Certain conditions would have to be fulfilled to enable truly democratic elections, but realising these conditions still lies in the distant future: A party and electoral law would have to be passed by a democratically elected commission with a popular mandate. As we know, such a commission does not exist.
The financial barriers that the new party law imposes on new party foundations have up to now only allowed a few parties to constitute themselves, which do not reflect the true variety and breadth of interest in the population. The new electoral law revised by the commission appointed by the Military Council corresponds to the old one, with only a few passages hastily reworked.
What is more, ideally the new electoral law should be based on a new constitution, and this is of course not the case.
There are further structural problems that stand in the way of free and democratic elections: There are no voter lists. During the March referendum, everyone could vote if he had an ID and in any election bureau irrespective of his home region. This has proven to be chaotic. Transforming the handwritten data from March into voter lists in barely six months is impossible, and the voter lists of the old government are faulty and incomplete. Therefore the possibility of creating relevant voter lists within such a short time remains an enigma.
A further important point is that democratic elections need voters who know their rights and their duties. Methods for fair election campaigns and free and secret ballots are unknown in this country and require deliberate public voter education.
For this there is not enough time or interest on the part of the military government. Instead, elections are to be pulled off as quickly as possible with the most predictable possible result that permits the military and the ruling class to continue just as before, only this time under a modest democratic cover.
In order to pre-empt any criticism of this not-so-democratic development, international election observers will not be allowed, according to the time-tested model.
When forbidding election observers, the Mubarak regime had argued that Egypt could take care of itself. The same goes for the upcoming elections.
Nevertheless, this time national observers are allowed, but only during the voting process. The preparatory phase and the vote counting takes place without public scrutiny. The transition to a democratic future under the military’s friendly supervision promises an interesting time to come.