Unity of Tahrir has dissolved as 'new Egypt' proves elusive
A YEAR ago, tens of thousands of Egyptians responded to a call by internet activists to protest against police brutality by taking to the streets and squares of their country and launching an uprising that toppled 30-year Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.
Demonstrators, who numbered 50,000 in Cairo’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square alone, were attacked by armed police and plain-clothes interior ministry “thugs” seeking to clear the square. But the protesters remained and fought off constant assaults for 18 days until the armed forces high command sided with the protesters and staged a coup against Mubarak.
The generals pledged to speed up the transition to multiparty democracy and hand over to a civilian authority within six months. This was not honoured.
Today the generals are set to commemorate the dramatic popular uprising that caught the imagination of people around the world. But activists who caused the uprising are calling for the ousting of the military council, which continues to wield power even though it has overseen the dissolution of the old people’s assembly and the election of a new parliament, which was inaugurated on Monday.
Unfortunately, the unity of purpose that powered the uprising quickly dissipated. More than 50 revolutionary movements, factions, alliances and parties are behind today’s demonstrations.
However, the majority of Egyptians, weary of constant protests, strikes and disruptions, simply seek a quiet life. They have repudiated activists seeking protracted revolution by voting for constitutional amendments proposed by the generals and have given Muslim fundamentalist parties, prepared to collude with the military, overwhelming control of the people’s assembly.
In the run-up to today’s protests, the revolutionaries were squabbling over arrangements and objectives.
According to Ahram Online, the website of Egypt’s semi-official daily, all revolutionaries reject the festivities sponsored by the military and believe in the need to sustain peaceful protests.
They have good reasons to take this line. Over the past 11 months, people power has forced the generals to hold civilian trials for Mubarak and regime members, end military trials for civilian dissidents, and agree to a presidential poll in June this year rather than some time in 2013.
However, the revolutionaries differ among themselves on how the transfer should proceed, creating confusion in the minds of Egyptians consternated by post-Mubarak uncertainty.
Most revolutionaries hold that legislative and budgetary powers should be transferred to parliament now.
Some demand that the military should cede executive power to the parliamentary speaker or a figure chosen by two-thirds of the people’s assembly and bring the presidential election forward to April.
If the demand for the handover is not met one way or the other, Ahram Online says “most revolutionary groups” could mount protracted nationwide protests and strikes, beginning today, with the aim of repeating last year’s uprising while avoiding clashes with the security forces.
Mass action is the secular revolutionaries’ only option because they have been excluded from parliament by voters who chose conservative fundamentalist candidates rooted in the past rather than progressive liberals seeking to forge a “new Egypt”.
Although mistrusted by most peasants and workers, the revolutionaries might have won more seats in the assembly if they had formed a single party and proposed reforms benefiting the poor.
But the revolutionaries, united in Tahrir, splintered into quarrelling factions once they had left the square. From time to time, these factions coalesced into fragile electoral blocs that dissolved and reformed with different constituents. These then competed for seats, splitting the secular vote and giving fundamentalists a landslide.
For the revolutionaries, reversion to Tahrir could be the sole solution to division and dissolution, but only if they agree on when and where to demonstrate and put forward clear, common demands.