Status quo interests frustrate Egypt’s uprising

The slogan on Facebook and Twitter for rallies accurately captured the mood in Egypt: “I have not felt the change, I am going back to Tahrir,” as protesters called for renewed protests on Friday May 27. Gradually the Egyptian youth and people are finding out that they have been cheated out of the rights they fought so hard for and that their struggle is far from over. It has also dawned on them that the military is no friend of the people even if it stayed out of the fray during protests last January that led to the ouster of the ailing and aging dictator Hosni Mubarak. The military’s refusal to attack the protesters sealed Mubarak’s fate but as Crescent International has repeatedly warned in these columns, the military cannot be relied upon to usher in change. It is an instrument of the status quo. Given the deep links the Egyptian military has with US political, military and business groups, it is unrealistic to expect that it will allow any meaningful change to take place in the country.

There were also rumours swirling around last month that Mubarak and his wife would be granted amnesty if they issued a public apology for all the wrongs they had inflicted on the Egyptian people for 30 years. They would also hand over their assets as part of the deal. The media reports sparked a wave of criticism and prompted calls for a “Friday to Reject the Apology,” rally in Tahrir Square. Several youth groups warned that granting amnesty to Mubarak would spark a new revolution in Egypt. Amid calls for rallies, the people, especially the youth have expressed disappointment with the way the military council is running the country.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces had to issue a public denial on May 18 dismissing such rumours but people appeared unimpressed, not least because the military regime has treated the Mubaraks with kid gloves while coming down hard on the protesters. Historically, patriotism has been the last refuge of the scoundrels, but in the case of the Mubaraks, it appears hospital has become their refuge. Two months ago, when it was announced that Mubarak would be questioned about his enormous wealth and how he acquired it, he immediately fled to a hospital in Sharm el-Shaikh, reportedly “suffering” from heart ailment. Last month, when his wife Suzanne was being questioned about her assets, she also complained of chest pains and a possible “heart attack.” She was temporarily detained and released on May 17 after she relinquished assets and property valued at some $4 million. The move aimed to settle corruption allegations against her, but it was unclear whether she would still face trial.

Suzanne Mubarak was hospitalized after she “fainted” and complained of chest pains during questioning about her assets. It was reported she would be transferred to a women’s prison after medical treatment. Anti-corruption prosecutors have claimed that Mubarak’s wife has millions in bank accounts in Egypt and owns a villa where she and her husband lived. It is not clear how much money the Mubaraks may have abroad. Some estimates put it in the tens of billions of dollars. If true, they have a lot of explaining to do about where this money came from. Handing over $4 million sounds peanuts, or chickpeas for hummus, compared to the billions in their accounts.

In addition to public anger over the military crackdown on protests and the arrest of thousands of people that have simply disappeared, not to mention the tens of thousands that still languish in jail under the old state of emergency law, there is also increased lawlessness in the country. Many suspect that criminal elements have been let loose from prisons to create chaos so that people would accept curtailment of their rights for security to be established in society. Many people live in fear and do not venture out of their neighbourhoods. Mansour el-Essawy, the new Interior Minister, says the lawlessness is the inevitable legacy of the revolution, a claim hotly contested by others. “I think it is deliberate,” said Dr. Shady al-Ghazaly Harb, an organizer of the Tahrir Square protests, who contends that officials were pulling back to invite chaos and a crackdown. “I think there are bigger masterminds at work.”

Of the 24,000 prisoners who escaped during the 18-day uprising, 8,400 are still on the loose, and 6,600 weapons stolen from government armouries have not been recovered, el-Essawy told the Egyptian daily, Al-Masry al-Youm. This is one perspective on the problem. The other, more plausible explanation is that police officers are no longer interested in doing their “job” because they are forced by circumstances to change their style from swagger and threats to treating people with respect. The changeover from acting as thugs to law enforcement officials is difficult to accomplish. Further, they see their former boss Habib el-Adly, interior minister in Mubarak’s brutal regime, serving a 12-year prison term for corruption and facing another trial for charges of unlawful killing. Scores of officers are in jail for their role in repressing the protests. This clearly acts as a deterrent to deal even with criminals. In fact, there is perverse satisfaction in it for the police; they seem to be telling people, “You wanted freedom, now face the consequences.”

Police indifference in dealing with criminals stands in sharp contrast with how the military-led regime has targeted civilian protesters. There is much public anger over civilians being tried in military courts. For many, the only change is that of faces at the top. The situation has become worse because it is difficult to confront the military that is answerable to no one and there is no higher authority because they have all the guns.

Many Egyptians have come to realize that there has been a military coup instead of getting freedom. They were used in the protests against the Mubarak dictatorship to facilitate takeover of government by the military. The entire protest movement was carefully choreographed from Washington using the Egyptian military. The army chief, General Sami Enan, is the real strongman in the country; he is even more pro-American and anti-Muslim than Mubarak.

By now it should be clear to the protesters that without an identifiable leader who would take control after the ouster of the former dictator, their movement could easily be hijacked. This is precisely what has happened. It is not in the interest of the powers that be to allow major structural changes in how the country is governed. While there is no doubt about the protesters’ sincerity and enthusiasm, these are not enough to change the system. By allowing major pillars of the old regime, the military, police, bureaucracy and the judiciary to continue as before, they have handed over the fruits of their struggle to others. The chaos and fear that grip the streets of Cairo and other cities is the direct result of this fundamental mistake. The protesters will discover that even after the proposed elections in September, if they are at all held, things will continue much as before.

So what exactly have they achieved by their struggle, valiant and noble as it was?