Stemming the Cycle of Violence in Egypt Internationally Monitored Elections Can Help Egyptians Give Voice to Their Desire to End Political Corruption

Article excerpt

THE situation in Egypt is growing more dangerous. Fundamentalists seem determined to fight the government till the end and the government seems resolved to crush this movement by force. For the last six months, not a week has passed without a bomb exploding in Egypt, or a shootout between Islamic groups and the police. Last month more than 50 people were killed and scores were injured, most of them innocent bystanders. The government reaction to the militants was to send thousands of its troops into the streets to arrest every possible suspect, often on flimsy evidence. At one time the number of government troops in Imbaba, a poor section of Cairo, reached 14,000. The Egyptian organization for human rights has criticized the police handling of the situation, especially the government's detention of children as young as 8 years old. The Cairo human rights organization reported that the government has tortured relatives of suspects to gain information, as well as torturing the suspects themselves. There are more than 10,000 political prisoners in Egypt, most of whom are Islamic. The scale of these human rights violations has turned many ordinary Egyptians against the government.

Moreover, Islamists and their relatives are not the only victims of government violence. When troops opened fire in a mosque in the southern city of Aswan, they not only desecrated the mosque but wounded and killed innocent worshipers. This is why few Egyptian citizens have joined the government in its anti-terrorist campaign.

The cycle of violence has several resolutions. The military could oust President Mubarak. It has been rumored that the resignation of the former defense minister and assistant to the president, Abdulhaleem Abughazala, was a move to distance himself from a discredited regime and to make himself available if the generals called him to head a military government. Mr. Abughazala is popular among the high ranks of the military and known for his pro-Western views. He is also accepted by the Islamic groups because of his appearance of piety. (Abughazala's wife wears Islamic dress.)

Indeed, Abughazala could be the man to strike a balance between Egypt's Western position and the Islamic groups. People close to Abughazala say that he has indicated that if the military takes over he is willing to have an Islamic figure as his prime minister. Perhaps to discredit Abughazala, the government controlled newspaper Al-Ahram reported that his resignation was in fact a dismissal due to his extramarital relationship with a Coptic woman - a report that may or may not be true.

With the discrediting of Abughazala, the field is left wide open for a flamboyant middle ranking military officer to take over, a Qaddafi-like figure or a fundamentalist. Currently, many Egyptian military officers are either Islamists themselves or sympathize with the Islamists because they come from similar class backgrounds. …