In Post-Mubarak Egypt, Protestors Demand A Date for Free and Fair Elections from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces

12.2.11

With Hosni Mubarak gone, the celebrations in Egypt on Friday night, and into Saturday morning, were a wonder to behold. Over 18 days, the protestors in Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the 18-day people’s revolution that ousted the hated dictator after 30 years, demonstrated to the world that, if enough people press for change, anything is possible — not only the toppling of a dictator, but also the disarming of foreign regimes that, as a rule, are committed to meddling significantly in the affairs of the Middle East.

Now, however, with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces running the country, it remains to be seen whether enough people will stay out on the streets, and continue to engage in strike action, to ensure that a second key element of the protestors’ aims — primarily, the establishment of a civilian-controlled interim administration prior to free and fair elections, and an end to the state of emergency that was in force throughout Mubarak’s 30-year reign — will take place sooner rather than later — or, in the gloomiest scenario, not at all.

In seeking to reassure the protestors, the Supreme Council delivered a fourth message to the people — Communique No. 4 — on State TV, in which a senior officer, General Mohsen el-Fangari, stated that the military will “guarantee the peaceful transition of power in the framework of a free, democratic system which allows an elected, civilian power to govern the country to build a democratic, free state,” and pledged that “The Arab Republic of Egypt is committed to all regional and international obligations and treaties” — which will obviously reassure Israel (and its many Western allies) that the 1979 peace treaty still stands. The Council also stated that the current government would continue to perform its duties until a new government was elected, asked the people to return to their responsibilities towards the country, and also asked the people to cooperate with the police.

However, because the Supreme Council failed to present a timetable for the transition to civiian rule (or whatever civilian-military hybrid might emerge from open elections), many of the protestors in Tahrir Square refused the request to return home — understandably, from my point of view. Although it appears that Omar Suleiman, Mubarak’s chosen Vice President (and the hated chief torturer of the Mubarak regime, and of its US allies) is not part of the interim picture, the current situation remains too vague for the protestors to take on trust.

After all, the Supreme Council consists solely of Mubarak’s former allies, and the acting ruler, the 76-year old former defence minister, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, was appointed as deputy prime minister by Mubarak on January 29 as part of a futile reshuffle to placate protestors, and was noted, in a US diplomatic cable from March 2008, which was published by WikiLeaks, as being “aged and change-resistant”. The diplomatic cable stated that both Tantawi and Mubarak “are focused on regime stability and maintaining the status quo through the end of their time. They simply do not have the energy, inclination or world view to do anything differently.”

As a result of fears that there is, effectively, nothing to prevent the Military Council from failing to fulfil the protestors’ full demands if they abandon Tahrir Square and cease to exert pressure on the country’s leaders, some of the organisers of the revolution “announced they had formed a council to negotiate with the military and to oversee future demonstrations to keep up the pressure on the army to meet the demand for rapid democratic change,” as the Guardian explained. One of the organisers, Khaled Abdel Qader Ouda, said, “The council will have the authority to call for protests or call them off depending on how the situation develops.”

As people “continued to pour in to Cairo’s Tahrir square, in part to celebrate at the epicentre of the revolution against the Mubarak regime,” the Guardian also reported that there was “concern among some of the core group of activists,” because of the army’s “apparent intent to control the political transition.” As the Guardian proceeded to explain:

A group of the activists issued what they called the “People’s Communique No 1″ — mirroring the titles of military communiques — listing a series of demands. They included the immediate dissolution of Mubarak’s cabinet and “suspension of the parliament elected in a rigged poll late last year.” The reformists want a transitional administration appointed with four civilians and one military official to prepare for elections in nine months and to oversee the drafting of a new constitution.

The Washington Post noted similar concerns, explaining that “the armed forces signaled there were limits to how much change they would tolerate, ignoring demonstrators’ demands to dismantle the institutional legacies of former President Hosni Mubarak.” The Post also stated:

Many of Egypt’s revolutionaries … vowed … to continue their peaceful occupation of Tahrir Square, saying their demands for democracy and accountability were still unmet. Smaller but still vibrant crowds packed the square in central Cairo to take stock of their improbable success at ousting Mubarak and to contemplate what might come next. Soldiers remained posted outside the square, ostensibly to maintain order, but they grinned approvingly at the spectacle unfolding before them.

Another organizer of the protests, Issa Adel Issa, stated, “We don’t want a military government. We want a democracy with civilians in charge.” As the Post described it, he “ticked off a list of demands: the dissolution of Mubarak’s handpicked parliament; the dissolution of his ruling National Democratic Party; the release of thousands of political prisoners; and prosecution of those responsible for the deaths of an estimated 300 demonstrators who were killed during the 18-day revolution.” He added, “We have to sentence those responsible for these crimes.”

Ahmed Abed Ghafur, a 36-year-old computer engineer who had been in Tahrir Square for four days, said he had “no intention of leaving … until the military made more specific promises about institutionalizing a true democracy.” He explained, “This is a revolution, not a half-revolution. We need a timetable for elections. We need an interim government. We need a committee for a new constitution. Once we get all that, then we can leave the square.”

I have to say that, at present, I agree with Issa Adel Issa and Ahmed Abed Ghafur more than I agree with Khaled Abdel Qader Ouda, who spoke of sporadic protests to ensure the transition to democracy. Mubarak fell through the sustained pressure of millions of people, and there ought to be enough suspicions about the history of the military leaders — as well as the aims of Egypt’s foreign allies (however much they are praising the outcome of the revolution in public) — for the Egyptian people, who achieved this 18-day miracle, to remain wary — and to remain wary in large numbers.

What took place in Egypt over the last two and a half weeks was so significant, and so inspirational, that it must not be compromised by false hopes, or a sense of false security. The world is still watching, and for many millions of those watching, the triumph of the people over a long injustice — and one deliberately propped up by the West — is one of those all too rare moments in human history when the power base shifts to those with hope and clarity, rather than those with dark aims, and disdain for the people they claim to rule.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

21 Responses

  1. In Post-Mubarak Egypt, Protestors Demand A Date for Free and Fair Elections from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces | Andy Worthington « Yahyasheikho786's Blog says...

    [...] In Post-Mubarak Egypt, Protestors Demand A Date for Free and Fair Elections from the Supreme Council…. [...]

  2. Tweets that mention In Post-Mubarak Egypt, Protestors Demand A Date for Free and Fair Elections from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces | Andy Worthington -- Topsy.com says...

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Andy Worthington, Elie Levasseur. Elie Levasseur said: ProJ @GuantanamoAndy: In Post-#Mubarak #Egypt, Protestors Demand A Date for Free and Fair Elections from Supreme… http://bit.ly/geSO58 [...]

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Tashi Farmilo-Marouf wrote:

    Good point. Although I am still ‘glowing’ – you are right, we shouldn’t blatantly trust anyone in power or coming into power. It is time to keep a prudent and watchful eye on events as they unfold.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    James M. Dorsey wrote:

    It is stunning that the Egyptian military is uncritically assumed to be a force capable and interested in transiting Egypt from a dictatorship to a democracy despite the fact that it has been effectively in power for 60 years. There is no doubt that the military understands that a degree of change is inevitable but it is more likely to want to retain what can be retained package it so it is palatable for domestic and international consumption with a sense of attentiveness to public opinion and a limited degree of transparency and freedom of expression.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Tashi and James, and everyone else who “liked” it. We must indeed “keep a prudent and watchful eye on events as they unfold,” and watch closely what Western governments — and Israel — are doing as well, behind their fine words about respecting the will of the people. Since when have our governments cared about the will of the people? They care only about the proportion of the voting public — always a shameful minority — who can be persuaded to vote for them.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    James M. Dorsey wrote:

    true, it’s essentially the same principle as applied to the Egyptian military: sceptical vigilance

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Halimah Felt wrote:

    I just shared this post on my FB page; it’s that worthwhile and important in my book! I like how you tell it, Andy*^! xox

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Mona Kranke wrote:

    Andy – I totally agree!
    Today I read that the Egyptians themselves call their unrest “White Revolution”. If this is true, it’s a sure sign for failure!
    Every revolution that got a surname of a nice color, fabric or calm time, was no revolution.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Erlinda Pennington wrote:

    Mubarak is gone, but the military has the power. Is that something the people want to happen? The fight is not yet over. The people should stay active and more vigilant each day until a real democracy can be achieve. However, getting rid of Mubarak is just one great giant step to moving forward. Mission is not yet accomplished.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Noer Hamzah wrote:

    Military has the power, egypt society will be welfare in economic and political ? I think this case imposible, in history, military has power will be corupted democracy.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Shahrazad Rose wrote:

    the fight is l not over, we do not talk about the power just these which is in the Militarism’s hand it is also in the hand of those who want to occupied Egypt (the foreign).

  12. Julie Kinnear says...

    In my opinion Omar Suleiman as the future leader of Egypt is not the best choice since he has been the right hand of the former president for such a long time. But considering the methods and practices of the Muslim Brotherhood he seems to be the lesser of the two evils.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    I don’t agree with you at all, Julie, but you are, of course, entitled to your opinion. I think it is time that the Muslim Brotherhood was allowed to take part in a democratic process, as with Ennahdha in Tunisia.

  14. What’s Next for Egypt? « Cynical Synapse says...

    [...] Supreme Council of the Armed Forces promised democracy, saying the military [...]

  15. Battle for Britain: Resisting the Privatization of the NHS and the Loss of 100,000 Jobs « Homo$auru$ says...

    [...] in the country”? Or are we condemned, by the selfishness and indolence of our culture, to watch the Egyptian people rise up in revolt, but do nothing ourselves? As Weir noted: Lately we have had protests over tuition fees, the [...]

  16. Revolution in Libya: Protestors Respond to Gaddafi’s Murderous Backlash with Remarkable Courage; US and UK Look Like the Hypocrites They Are | NO LIES RADIO says...

    [...] the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, where there was remarkably litle bloodshed, and the dictators Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni [...]

  17. Revolution in Libya: Protesters Face Gaddafi’s Murderous Backlash as US, UK Ooze Hypocrisy | Amauta says...

    [...] the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, where there was remarkably little bloodshed, and the dictators Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni [...]

  18. The Year of Revolution: The War on Tyranny Replaces the War on Terror « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] Tunisia and Egypt, where the dictators Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak were deposed, and in other countries [...]

  19. Egypt: Protestors Still Disappearing Or Being Convicted By Military Courts « « Eurasia Review Eurasia Review says...

    [...] = 'wpp-252'; var addthis_config = {"data_track_clickback":true};In the three weeks since I last wrote about Egypt, following the fall of the dictator Hosni Mubarak and the assumption of control by the Supreme [...]

  20. Tunisia Revolution Rolls On With Abolition Of Secret Police « Eurasia Review says...

    [...] Egypt generally seems to have been mirroring events in Tunisia, overthrowing its own dictator, Hosni Mubarak, on Febuary 11, and then forcing the resignation, on March 3, of Mubarak’s tainted [...]

  21. Brave Protestors In Syria Call For Freedom « Eurasia Review says...

    [...] in Syria does not have the momentum of the ocean of protestors in Tahrir Square in Cairo, where, as in Tunisia, the aging bullies of the old regime were outnumbered on an almost [...]

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