I’ve had various friends ask why violence broke out in Egypt this weekend. Here’s some context for those who want to know why Tahrir Square is back in the headlines.
Egyptians are incredibly angry at the ruling military junta–the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF)–who took power when Mubarak stepped down in February. Their anger stems from an as-yet unfulfilled desire to complete the Revolution for democracy that they began nearly 10 months ago.
The military has responded to this anger by letting Mubarak-era riot police and secret police out of their cages, allowing them to unleash an unprecedented amount of aggression on protestors. This violence has come less than 10 days before Egypt’s first post-Mubarak Parliamentary election is set to begin on November 28.
Some sources of protestors’ anger:
- Lack of oversight: Since taking power in February SCAF, led by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, has significantly increased its own power without any real oversight. It has accomplished this while maintaining the appearance–particularly to foreign governments–of fulfilling a need for stability and fostering national identity.
- Military trials of civilians: Mubarak style aggression and intimidation of Egyptians by state actors has continued. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 12,000 civilians have been brought before military tribunals since January, which is more than throughout Mubarak’s 30-year rule. This has amounted to a sense among Egyptians that the civil liberties and rights they fought for have not yet been achieved.
- SCAF has expanded Egypt’s hated Emergency Law instead of removing it, which was one of the main tenets of the revolution.
- In particular, SCAF has jailed influential activist blogger Alaa Abd El-Fattah on trumped-up charges, claiming that he helped instigate the violence that led to the death of 28 Coptic Christian protestors on October 9.
- SCAF has pushed back the timetable for Presidential election to 2013, which they claim is in order to allow a constitution to be drafted first. They also announced that they intend to maintain control of the government after the upcoming Parliamentary election until a President is elected.
- On November 1, SCAF announced a series of supra-constitutional measures, which included:
- Military budget will not have to be transparent to the public
- SCAF has veto power over whether the President can declare war.
- SCAF has the authority to appoint 80 of the 100 members of the assembly that will draft the new constitution, while only the remaining 20 will be drawn from the newly elected Parliament.
- Friday: Tens of thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters along with a small number of liberal activists from the April 6th movement (one of the groups that started the Revolution) protest in Tahrir Square for an end to military rule.
- Late Friday night/early Saturday: Muslim Brotherhood supporters go home. Some Salafis (ultra conservative Islamists) appear in Tahrir Square who along with the liberal activists are determined to set up tents for the night. Riot police appear and aggressively attempt to clear the Square.
- From Saturday through Monday, the police and Mubarak’s baltageya (state-sponsored thugs) unleash a frightening and unprecedented level of aggression and violence on Egyptians. The Army is at least complicit in these abuses, if not directly aiding the police. Police use tear gas, rubber bullets, and live ammunition on protestors, which has led to at least 33 deaths since Saturday. Videos of police aggression have circulated widely, drawing more people back to Tahrir Square.
- The Muslim Brotherhood, who dominated Friday’s protests, refused to participate in the bloody protests of Saturday through Monday. Any successes to be won in the next few days will not be the result of Muslim Brotherhood efforts.
- A particular area of tension has been Mohamed Mahmoud Street, which runs between Tahrir Square and the Ministry of the Interior, home to the notorious Central Security Forces (CSF). Friends have described Mohamed Mahmoud Street as a war zone over the past few days.
- I’ve heard it mentioned in passing that this was all to be expected when Egyptians accepted military rule in February. I cannot stress enough how much this has been a learning process for all of Egypt, the Arab World, and for those outside its parameters, and that this learning is a part of the long and messy transition from autocracy to democracy in the era of late capitalism. When you haven’t had responsive or responsible government for 30 years, it’s difficult to envision how it should all work while simultaneously defending and winning your right to it. We need to be patient and support Egyptians in this transition.
- In order for this transition to happen, though, SCAF must step down. We must pressure the United States – who provides $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt annually – and other foreign governments to demand that SCAF relinquish control to a civilian government immediately.
Most Egyptians have never voted in a free and fair election, and it remains to be seen whether they will have that opportunity when the Parliamentary election begins on Monday, Nov. 28. Egypt’s transition to democracy is too important for Egyptians, the future of the Middle East, and the U.S.’s role in it for us not to pay attention.
Please feel free to add thoughts or ask questions below. Dialogue welcome.
Filed under: Uncategorized |