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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

An impatient minority holds Egypt hostage

by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

© AP Images, Egyptian people protest in Tahrir Square, Cairo in January 2011
© AP Images, members of the Egyptian army and police force discuss tactics.
© AP Images, an Egyptian demonstrator makes the V-victory sign as he attends a protest at Tahrir Square, Cairo
© AP Images, soldiers from the Egyptian army are loaded on to armoured personal carriers before a joint military and police operation

The Egyptians have had an uprising that brought about the ouster of their president, plus most of the old guard closest to him, and they should be looking forward to free and fair, multi-party elections in November. Their revolution could potentially be hailed as a success story; the people have a voice for the first time and, although the economy remains shaky, offers of economic aid and debt relief have been flooding in from the GCC states as well as from Western powers. But instead of capitalising on interior and external goodwill, disparate elements of the population, with the taste of people power still on their lips, appear bent on fracturing the country.

Many ordinary Egyptians, who threw their weight behind the young revolutionaries earlier this year, are fed up. They are the ones looking forward to a brighter tomorrow, and who are willing to exercise patience in order to achieve their common goals. They’ve had enough ‘Days of Rage’, ‘Second Revolutions’ and ‘Million Men Marches’. They’re tired of negotiating traffic jams each Friday because the squares are clogged with activist sit-ins and youths with nothing better to do, taking advantage of the party atmosphere.

But people craving security, stability and prosperity are in danger of having their hopes shattered by the anarchists, power-seeking activists, parties with self-interested agendas – and elitist intellectuals eschewing real politic for unrealistic ideologies. Their demands are diverse. Some are more interested in taking revenge on former regime figures and members of the security forces than anything else.

Not content with the arrest of Hosni Mubarak and his sons or the sentencing of various former ministers and corrupt regime cronies, they are demanding swift trials and severe punishments for police officers suspected of killing protestors under orders. Others are demanding an end to the military detentions and tribunals.

Yet others, dissatisfied with changes made earlier to the constitution, are demanding a new constitution prior to the November ballot, for the purpose of precluding a possible takeover by the Muslim Brotherhood in tandem with other Islamist parties. In response, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has appointed a committee to draft a new constitution giving the military overall responsibility for ensuring national unity and maintaining a secular state. However, the committee members have rejected giving the military the power of intervention in policies made by any future elected government.

Most dangerous of all are those calling for the resignation of Egypt’s military chief Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, accusing him and his colleagues of having betrayed the revolution’s principles. Until now, the military has gone out of its way to show solidarity with the people and has allowed them to demonstrate unimpeded. On July 8 when protestors erected ‘tent cities’ in the squares of Cairo, Alexandria, Port Said, Tanta and Aswan, soldiers distributed bottles of water and shouted: “The people and the army are one hand” amid chants of “Down, down with military rule”.

When I saw an officer being thoroughly disrespected when he tried to talk, to protect leaders in Tahrir Square during last Friday’s televised demonstration, I was appalled. Egypt’s armed forces used to be the pride of Egypt and the entire Arab World, but since the revolution, like the interim governments, they have done nothing but pander to the protesters’ every whim. Its willingness to roll-over not only makes the military seem weak and ineffectual, it leaves decent people without any real protection.

While I understand that the military chiefs want to avoid violent clashes with the people that could result in a bloody schism, they should not allow their authority to be undermined at every turn by all and sundry claiming to speak on behalf of the Egyptian people.

The fact is that until elections take place, nobody has any right to represent the will of the people. However, I keep seeing various unknowns introduced as leaders of this or that group being interviewed on Arabic networks, who talk as though they have been given a mandate. They do nothing but moan and groan and rarely have any sort of vision. For them, the revolution has become something akin to a video game. In all honesty, watching ‘Great Egypt’ being treated in such a frivolous manner by jumped-up, unqualified nonentities fills me with anger and disgust. Whoever those guys are, if the country’s future rests on their shoulders, Egypt’s ‘liberation’ will be a mockery as well as a stamp of shame for all proud Arabs.

The only constant in Egypt is the military, which its detractors either fail to understand or else they are being manipulated by foreign puppeteers, eager to see the country weakened, divided or even split in two like Sudan.

Egypt’s enemies are many and they will do anything to ensure the largest Arab country doesn’t emerge strong to readopt its role as the Arab world leader, permitting Israel and Iran free reign throughout the region and allowing the intervention of nations greedy for oil, as is occurring now in Libya due to Muammar Qaddafi’s stubborn selfishness. Should Egypt fall, the Arab nation will topple along with it and the Gulf will become more vulnerable to outside forces than ever.

Instead of watching from the sidelines, the Arab leaders should work with prominent and responsible Egyptian leadership figures, whether members of the military or civilians, in order to preserve the country’s integrity. The GCC States, in particular, should help the Egyptian authorities to straighten out the mess and delay giving massive sums of economic aid until they know who’s in charge to make sure the money won’t end up in corrupt pockets.

I am convinced that ordinary hardworking Egyptians will be relieved once they know who’s in charge of their country. I can only hope they choose wisely. Only a strong and experienced leader, prepared to take the reins and unafraid to step on troublemakers’ toes, can give them the stability, security and economic growth they crave.

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