Thursday, November 24, 2011

Egypt at a Crossroads

Downtown Cairo on November 24, 2011

Over the next 96 hours the future of Egyptian democracy may very well be decided in the interplay of the main actors in the ongoing conflict. The military that has ruled Egypt since July 23, 1952 when a group of military officers, calling themselves the "Free Officers Movement" overthrew the unpopular King Farouk I ended the constitutional monarchy and founded a republic where the military dominated the country over the next 59 years. The Islamist movement known as the Muslim Brotherhood that participated in the January 25, 2011 revolution (along with liberal and secular Egyptian activists) is not participating in the present round of protests. The departure of both Hosni Mubarak from power and his son no longer the heir apparent is now being looked as only a first step to ending military rule by many Egyptians who are now taking to the streets once again.

Elections for the Egyptian parliament are supposed to be held on Monday, November 28.

In the days approaching the elections mass demonstrations have taken place across Egypt and the military response has been harsh. The level of violence against the demonstrators has escalated and the evidence of the brutality has generated a backlash that has forced the generals to apologize for the violence. At the same time that clashes have been taking place between the government and opposition activists gathered in Tahrir Square in Cairo as well as in Alexandria, Qena, Mansoura, and Damietta demonstrating that it is nationwide movement.

The Guardian reports that prominent US-Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy was brutally sexually and physically assaulted after being arrested by Egyptian riot police during a 12-hour ordeal inside Cairo's interior ministry. She had bones broken in both wrists necessitating two casts.

Nevertheless outside of the protests life goes on much the same in the rest of Egypt. There are complaints from some merchants that the conflict has not been good for tourism and hurt their business.

Downtown Cairo on November 24, 2011

The decision to hold the first main demonstrations at Tahrir (Liberation) Square has deep roots in post-colonial Egypt that stretch back to 1919 and the uprising that formally achieved Egyptian independence from Great Britain. It was a nonviolent movement that used civil disobedience tactics. Brutal repression by the British backfired and they were forced to recognized the independence of Egypt on February 22, 1922. The square got its name informally after the 1919 uprising and was formally changed to Tahrir Square following the 1952 military coup that did away with the last vestiges of British colonial rule. It appears that Egyptian generals are repeating the same mistakes now in Egypt that the British did in 1919.

Tomorrow, Friday, November 25th Egyptian democratic opposition activists have called for massive demonstrations to demand the end of military rule. Over this weekend it can truly be said that Egypt is at a crossroads and the next few hours could chart what course Egyptian politics will take over the next half century.

Civil disobedience achieved independence for Egypt in 1922. Will it now achieve democracy in Egypt in 2011?

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