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“Save the revolution”

by Helmut Danner


In April, a military court sentenced the blogger Maikel Nabil Sanaad photo to three years imprisonment for ‘insulting the military’

In April, a military court sentenced the blogger Maikel Nabil Sanaad photo to three years imprisonment for ‘insulting the military’

The resignation of Hosni Mubarak did not turn Egypt into a democracy. The protest movement must maintain its momentum. By Helmut Danner

Some Egyptians are asking: Was that a revolution or a military coup? As in every coup, the generals have taken over executive power. They will be in charge until a civilian government can take over. ­After initial cooperative behaviour, the military’s stance towards demonstrators has become increasingly tougher. There were numerous arrests, and on 8 April, at least two people were killed when a demonstration was broken up.

The military has explicitly stated it will not tolerate criticism. A prominent blogger, Maikel Nabil Sanaad, was sentenced to three years imprisonment for ‘insulting the military’.

Criticism, however, is indispensable, say the activists. They enjoy the support of a large share of Egypt’s people. A previously unknown sense of hope and freedom has changed attitudes. The old fear is gone, and that change cannot be undone. So yes, it was a revolution, which is what matters most, although it has not won yet.

The democracy movement must yet prevail over various conservative forces. It is not clear whether the military top brass really want reforms or are just trying to defend economic and social privileges. Influential businessmen and politicians are attempting to defend the status quo, even by instigating chaos. The Muslim Brotherhood was part of the opposition against Mubarak, but it is pursuing goals of its own.

In this environment, the democracy movement must maintain its momentum. There has already been success. Mubarak and some members of his inner circle are gone. People have assumed the freedoms of speech and expression, though such rights have not been granted by law so far.

Progress is slow however. Investigations against Mubarak and his family have begun, and their bank accounts have been frozen. At least twenty politicians and business people have to appear in court to be tried because of craft, corruption, and partly because of the killing ­of about 850 peaceful demonstrators. Mubarak’s party, the NDP, has been disbanded by court order. The military-backed government has appointed 20 new governors to replace leaders chosen by Mubarak.

Mubarak’s rule is over, but his system is still in place. Democratic change requires the officials from the old regime to disappear from the government and its bureaucracies. Today, however, Hussein Tantawi heads the military council. He was Mubarak’s defence minister. The state of emergency, which allows arbitrary military action without justification, is still in force.

The democracy movement demands the resignation of ancien-regime leaders. It wants the state of emergency to end. It calls for civilians to replace the military council.

The activists’ most important demand, however, is probably a completely new, democratic constitution. Two articles of the current constitution are especially problematic. One makes the Sharia the foundation of all laws and the other requires that 50 % of the members of parliament must be workers or farmers. In March, a referendum corrected a few constitutional flaws. The democracy movement wants more substantial change, and activists worry that the constitution will remain as it is now.

The mood in the country has shifted in the protest movement’s favour, but democracy has not been established yet. The movement’s problem is that it is made up of many different groups. They want to join forces and are considering to form a new political party as well as a non-governmental organisation to do social work. It is becoming increasingly obvious, however, that agreeing on a shared programme is much more difficult than resenting the dictator.

The activists want to “save the revolution”. To prevail long term, they must keep up the momentum – and that may well require new demonstrations. At the same time, they have to learn to agree on compromises among themselves and organise to become a united political entity capable of running in elections. The challenges remain daunting.