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The Egyptian Military Must Yield to Civilian Democratic Rule in Egypt

IDEA Editorial

November 23, 2011

                                                Ghelawdewos Araia

Back in February 2011, I tried to address the Tunisian and Egyptian peoples upsurge in a paper entitled �The Historic North African Peoples� Uprising and Its Implication for American Foreign Policy� (www.africanidea.org/uprising_africa.html) and I stated, �These uprisings compel us to constantly reassess the past, but they also enable us to come to grips with the complexity of the mass protests and relatively understand the essence and outcomes of the mass-based rebellions, although we may not figure out the definite future trajectory of the movements.� In the same paper, I further argued with respect to Egypt as follows: �Mubark, like most dictators, had underestimated the initial outburst of the people and resolve of the militants at Tahrir Square, but when he knew that his days were numbered, he had to yield to the people�s avalanche. He is now gone, but we must be cautiously optimistic about the future of Egypt, although the likelihood is Egypt is going to be transformed via democratic process.�

Now, in retrospect, the phrases �we may not figure out the definite trajectory of the movements,� and �we must be cautiously optimistic,� could be argued, they were statements in anticipation of the second gathering of the Egyptian people at Tahrir Square in the last week of November of 2011 to demand democratic civilian rule in Egypt.

Unfortunately, this time, the Egyptian military that acted in sympathy with the mass protests in Tahrir Square in February and promised to hand over power, attacked the peaceful demonstrators with tear gas and live bullets and as a result thirty three people died and two thousand were injured.

Despite the grim and tragic encounter at Tahrir Square, however, the Egyptian people�s determination and resolve forced Field Marshall Mohammed Hussien Tantawi to appear on TV and address the nation, and on behalf of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, he said, �[The armed forces] are fully prepared to immediately hand over power and return to their duty in defending the country, if that is the wish of the people; and if necessary, a popular referendum could be conducted.�

Some leading Egyptian political leaders who supported the mass uprising in Egypt seem to be satisfied with Tantawi�s initiative. For instance, Naguib Sawiris, former head of Orascom Telecom and founder of Free Egyptian Party, in an interview with Charlie Ross (November 22, 2011), said that he is satisfied with Tantawi�s TV address and his promise of yielding power to the people.

Now that Tantawi promised to hand over power to a democratically elected civilian rule, even if it is a false promise on the part of the Supreme Council, the Egyptians should prepare the groundwork for real democratic transition, in which the people will have a say and would be able to control their destiny.

In order to have a democratic transition in Egypt, thus, the leading political figures must strategize in such a way to go beyond spontaneous mass demonstrations to organized political transition. For instance, the many political parties including the Revolutionary Youth Alliance and the Free Egyptian Party could form an overarching organization, sort of umbrella political party that could advocate on behalf of the Egyptian revolutionaries and serve the people�s interests during the transition.

The umbrella organization should not be satisfied with elections (if the Supreme Council keeps its promise), for the latter alone could not guarantee a true democratic transition. We have witnessed, time and again, dictators allowing elections and yet circumvent the electoral process in an effort to elongate their rule and subsequently claim sham victory and banish or incarcerate the opposition.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, in cooperation with the umbrella organization, must either amend the constitution that has been banned or promulgate a law by decree that could help facilitate the formation of a new government. Meanwhile, while negotiations take place between the political leaders and the Supreme Council, the Tahrir Square demonstrators must seriously consider, 1) the significance of the negotiation, which could result in galvanizing their demand; 2) that continuous demonstrations and protestations could be costly in terms of human life and could create fertile ground for undesired elements to gain momentum and hijack the revolution; 3) that Egypt is the home of ancient and rich civilization and its heritage must be jealously guarded by its people, including the militants of the Tahrir Square.       


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