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John L. Esposito

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Is Egypt's Arab Spring in Danger of Being Hijacked?

Posted: 11/07/11 04:57 PM ET

Initial optimism and euphoria post the toppling of Egypt's Mubarak regime in the Arab Spring have eroded faith in the military and threaten a timely transition to civilian rule have been tempered by sobering challenges and threats. In contrast to Tunisia's successful elections, more than eight months after Tahrir Square, there are signs that the revolution may be hijacked by remnants of the Mubarak regime's institutions, in particular interim military transition government. A growing number of Egyptian lawyers and activists question the willingness of the military to ultimately submit to civilian authority.

At a workshop in Istanbul in early October, "The Arab Awakening: Transitioning from Dictatorship to Democracy," an Egyptian activist characterized the nature of the threat to a democratic transition: "The Egyptian revolution was peaceful. Whereas most revolutions end with thousands getting their heads cut off, in Egypt the heads we spared are speaking and working against the revolution -- how do we deal with this?" Many Egyptian and Tunisian participants also questioned whether despite Obama administration assurances of its support for self-determination, the administration would in fact be influenced by longstanding ties with the Egyptian military and with interim Tunisian government. As major Gallup polling reported: Two-thirds of Egyptians surveyed think the US will try to interfere in Egypt's political future as opposed to letting the people of the country decide alone. A similar number disagreed that the US is serious about encouraging democratic systems of government in their region.

The increasingly heavy-handed track record of the Egyptian transition military government and continued public support for it by the US tend to reinforce these concerns.

Among the major indicators that reinforce fears that the revolution being hijacked by the military are:

•The military's reintroduction of an extended emergency law by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) in the name of safeguarding law and order; since the revolution some 12,000 people have been arrested and are to be tried by covert military trials. The accused are often denied counsel, the opportunity to review evidence or examine witnesses; there are limited avenues of appeal. Eighteen death sentences have been handed down so far.

•A leaked copy of the Justice Ministry's fact-finding committee report lists 39 NGOs, including some of Egypt's most reputable human rights organizations, that are to be investigated for "treason" by Egypt's state security prosecutor. Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch warned: "It sends alarming signals about the transitional government's commitment to human rights that Egyptian authorities have started a criminal investigation with the same methods Hosni Mubarak used to strangle civil society."

•The transition military government's revision of the schedule for elections: the parliamentary elections (starting on 28 November and lasting until January 2012), which will then be followed by work on the constitution. The net result is that presidential elections could be pushed off as late as 2013. The result, as Gen. Mahmoud Hegazy stated: "We will keep the power until we have a president." Despite these actions, in an appearance with the Egyptian foreign minister, US Secretary of State signaled approval of the military's slower approach to handing over authority, describing it as "an appropriate timetable."

For many, Hilary Clinton's statement of support for the military's timetable has confirmed fears interference and intervention despite US publicly stated support for Egypt's revolution. This US position not only reinforces the hand of the Egyptian military but risks further undermining the Obama administration's ability to rebuild its lost credibility and role in the Middle East.

 
 
 

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