Whither Now Egypt?

By Joseph M. Cachia

For those who thought the Egyptian revolution is done and past, think again. The Egyptians did not go home. They are out there again if things do not turn out the way they had hoped.

There’s no question that the unrest in Egypt is of paramount world concern. Opinions vary about how this situation will work out, but many analysts think, or rather hope, that this situation could actually have a positive outcome for Egypt.

One must keep in mind that Egypt’s standing in the Arab and Islamic world is partly linked to its role as a patron of the Palestinian cause in the era of Nasser.

There is talk about America’s worries that a government less friendly to the USA will be installed. That is secondary, as long as it is a government that cares for its own people. And maybe if the US doesn’t interfere, there is a chance of that happening. Hopefully the Egyptians would not swallow the bait of falling in the same gutter that they managed to escape from, enticed by the hypocritical words of Obama; “We stand ready to provide assistance that is necessary to help the Egyptian people as they manage the aftermath of these protests.” In her statement, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton claimed that Washington’s concern in relation to Egypt was to bring about a “real democracy” and not a “so-called democracy that then leads to what we saw in Iran.” Sometimes the argument comes in the form of "I support democracy, but only if I agree with the results." In other words, her sole criterion for a democracy is not the will of the people, but subordination to US interests or perhaps an imperialist ‘pax americana’.

The fear really is an Egypt that no one can predict. Will it continue in its former alliances? What good are its former alliances if they have to be maintained by a brutal and corrupt police force in the streets of Cairo?

The young activists who had organised the protests are still very optimistic but would not give up the pressure on the army to fulfil all its reform pledges, including the release of thousands of political prisoners. The leadership of the Coalition for change is still divided over the extent to which the army can be trusted.

If the Egyptian masses were allowed to express their genuine aspirations at the ballot box it would spell an end to the country’s role as a servile client of Washington and Israel.  The issue that worries the US is that when people are free, they try to be independent. They will not accept living in the custody of the US.

Many western leaders are worried that the failure of the Egyptian regime could see the Muslim Brotherhood, the most well-organised opposition party, take control. The Mubarak regime has historically used the Muslim Brotherhood as a bogeyman to frighten the people and the Western countries. However, it’s not radical Islam that worries the US – it’s the independence.  The nature of any regime it backs in the Arab world is secondary to control. Subjects are ignored until they break their chains. The US and its allies have regularly supported radical Islamists, sometimes to prevent the threat of secular nationalism.

There was a sense among reformists in Cairo that the army has been true to its word so far.  Indeed, the Army has unequivocally stated that "it will not be an alternative to the legitimacy approved by the people". But concerns have mounted in the last days. Secular democratic parties are not involved in the dialogue the Army currently has with the Muslim Brotherhood. The process for reforming the constitution is far too quick and is not inclusive. Representatives of the old regime are there but there are no women. The question here is this: ‘Is the army more representative of the people, or more representative of the old status quo?’ It boggles the mind to think that, after all the sacrifices the country made to unseat a dictatorship, a new one seems to lurk in the shadows of this promising new era. 

The pledge that elections would take place within six months was welcomed, but a faster timetable was then introduced, making it impossible for the impoverished liberal parties like Wafd (‘Delegation’) or El Ghad (‘Tomorrow) to organise. The Muslim Brotherhood gets huge financial support from the Gulf States and is experienced in fighting elections. While the Brotherhood will not put up a presidential candidate, it will fight across the country for parliamentary seats. Alternatively, the hugely-popular Wael Ghoneim – a Google manager who was held and beaten up during the recent violence – has already been drawn into talks with the administration. Political groups would be able to accept unlimited funding from individuals, corporations or even foreign powers interested in influencing the presidential elections. This will leave the Egyptian political system ripe for corruption.

The young demonstrators are determined that the future political make-up of Egypt should reflect their role in the revolution. Nevertheless, getting rid of the dictators was only the first step of a process in which ordinary people will fight for their rights, notably better wages and public services. In a country of 80 million with 40% that live below the World Bank poverty level of $2 a day, it’s doubtful that the ‘youth element’ would hold the voting majority.

"All Egyptians now think they are Che Guevara, Castro or something," says Essam el-Erian, a senior leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, bursting into laughter. "This is democracy."

Foreign governments, especially those in Europe and the US, have to make major reassessments as the Arab world makes up its own mind at last.

– Joseph M. Cachia lives in Vittoriosa, Malta. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: jmcachia@maltanet.net.

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