Egypt on edge as feuding factions both claim win
Two rival candidates both claim victory in Egypt’s first free presidential elections. At the same time, the army is crushing liberal opposition, and seizing absolute power for itself.
Fifteen months ago, young Egyptians rose up in a peaceful revolution to topple the regime of the ageing dictator, Hosni Mubarak. It took weeks of protest. Demonstrators endured beatings from regime thugs; torture and tear gas from police. Nearly 850 people were killed.
Mubarak hoped that his security services, backed by a lavishly funded military, would crush the rebels in the streets. Instead, the generals turned on their master. The dictator was forced out. The young revolutionaries thought their moment had come; that their country could enter a new era of freedom.
Today, hope has become despair. Over the weekend, Egyptians did indeed go to vote in the first free presidential elections since the beginning of dictatorial rule in 1952.
But, for the young liberals who were at the forefront of the revolution, the choice on offer felt like a sick joke. This was the election they had fought, bled and died for. And yet many chose not to vote at all. The names on the ballot paper seemed almost equally unattractive.
One was Mohamed Morsi – the favoured candidate of Egypt’s popular Islamist party, the Muslim Brotherhood. This party has ties to hardline Salafists, who want to introduce a very strict interpretation of Islamic law. Liberals fear that the Muslim Brothers will be hostile to women’s rights, and to the rights of Egypt’s religious minorities.
But the only alternative was Ahmed Shafiq – who served as prime minister under the old Mubarak regime. To elect Shafiq would be, in essence, to undo the revolution.
And while the revolutionaries were choosing who to back, real power was being stolen from under everyone’s nose by the generals on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Alarmed by the prospect of a Muslim Brotherhood victory, the SCAF declared martial law on Wednesday, dissolved Egypt’s parliament on Thursday and, on Sunday evening, awarded itself perpetual veto power over any future Egyptian constitution. Taken together, these measures practically add up to a full scale military coup.
With election results not yet in, and both candidates claiming victory, power is split between the army, the Muslim Brotherhood and the remnants of the old regime. The young people who built the revolution have seen it stolen from them.
Now they face a terrible dilemma. Many, rejecting all the power players, want to return to the streets. They would face death and imprisonment rather than compromise their revolutionary values.
Others, less optimistic, say the revolution is dead. They want to swallow their pride and support the Muslim Brotherhood, which does at least have the power to beat Shafiq and stand up to the army. Any compromise, they say, is better than a return to the old regime.
- People sometimes say: ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend.’ How much do you agree?
- What would your government have to do to get you so angry that you wanted to stage a revolution?
- Write a speech you could deliver at a revolutionary meeting, urging your friends either to support or oppose the Muslim Brotherhood.
- The Egyptian revolution was part of a broader movement called the Arab Spring. Research and write a newspaper opinion piece, answering the question: Did the Arab Spring make the world a better place?
Some People Say...
“Never compromise your values – however worthy the cause.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- First Greece, now Egypt. It seems like not a day goes by without another ‘vital’ election!
- Yes there have been a few lately. Don’t forget France a few weeks ago, and US elections coming next term! This Egyptian contest does matter a lot though.
- How come?
- Egypt is the most populous (and some would say influential) country in the Middle East. Now it is set for a huge power struggle between the Muslim Brotherhood and the SCAF.
- The outcome will have a big effect on the politics of the Middle East. And – since so many countries depend on Middle Eastern oil – what matters there, matters everywhere else too.
- Muslim Brotherhood
- The Muslim Brotherhood is a huge organisation with branches in Syria and Tunisia as well as a strong presence in Egypt. It is an Islamist organisation – i.e. it believes that Islam should be at the centre of political life. However, Muslim Brothers have varying opinions on how strictly Islamic law should be interpreted.
- Salafists are hard-line Islamists, who take a traditionalist, ‘back-to-basics’ view of Islamic law. They are very strict on things like music, alcohol and women’s rights, and are much feared by Egypt’s liberals.
- Egypt’s religious minorities
- By far the largest minority in Egypt are Coptic Christians. The Coptic Church dates back to days of the Roman Empire.
- Martial law
- Specifically, the SCAF decreed that the army should be allowed to arrest civilians on any charges. Thousands of activists and charity workers have already faced military trials since the revolution, and many have been imprisoned.