Is Egypt's Revolution Over?

Article excerpt

Tahrir Square is filling again today, but it no longer holds the symbolic power for Egyptians that it did in early 2011. Now it's more of a democracy ghetto.

Within hours of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's being pushed from power by a popular uprising, activists were huddling in cafes and apartments around Cairo, asking, "What next?" All of them, from recently politicized young revolutionaries to labor activists to the seasoned hands of the Muslim Brotherhood, knew the task would be daunting. "Mubarak, go!" was a proposition that millions of Egyptians were happy to get behind. The "what are we for?" bit, and forging unity against a regime that had lost its figurehead but not its raw power, was always going to be the hard part. Nearly a year and a half later, Egyptians have participated in five rounds of elections but still have no civilian government. The country's interim military rulers, who had promised a civilian government by July, have made a last-minute power grab that appears to end all pretense of their being the guardians of a democratic transition.

Today, protesters are once more filling Tahrir Square, this time with their anger focused on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that has ruled Egypt since February 2011. But the square no longer holds the symbolic power that it did in early 2011. Then, the show of people power broke through a taboo against protest and the fear of decades.

Now, Tahrir is a sort of a democracy ghetto, a place where the military allows public rage to be vented and contained. As the thousands streamed to Tahrir the military issued a statement insisting its recent steps - dissolving parliament, making constitutional moves to cement its power and protect it from civilian oversight - were for the good of the nation.

Egypt was supposed to announce presidential election results yesterday, but SCAF has "indefinitely" postponed the results of the June 16-17 presidential election runoff. Recent events make clear that whether the winner is the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi or Mr. Mubarak's last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, the military will remain in the driver's seat.

"For us, really, it's a declaration of war," veteran human rights activist Hossam Bahgat told the Monitor earlier this week. "It's ... closing a bracket of 18 months of uncertainty and making it abundantly clear that whoever is elected president is not going to have much power, because the only house of power is going to be the military."In February 2011, most Egyptians didn't see this coming.

No more crowd surfing for officers

In the heady days after Mubarak's ouster, "the Army and the people are one hand" was a popular slogan, with an officer at one point practically crowd surfing through Tahrir Square amid joyous chants that the military had sided with the people. But the military has been the real power behind the Egyptian government since the 1952 Free Officers Movement coup upended the Egyptian monarchy. The unlikelihood that the military would give up its power and privilege lightly was evident in the announcement of Mubarak's ouster. "The president ... has decided to leave his position as the president of the republic," began Vice President Omar Suleiman, Mubarak's longtime head of military intelligence, as victory cries and ululations began to crest over Tahrir, "and has entrusted the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF] to administer the nation's affairs." The military has been steadily formalizing its power ever since, issuing decrees, making laws, and calling the tune on the transitional process. But only in the past month has its desire to be a permanent kingmaker shifted from suspicion to solid fact. In recent weeks, the ruling generals have dissolved parliament, granted themselves legislative authority, given military police broad powers to detain and arrest civilians, sought to place officers above civilian supervision, and effectively taken control of writing a new constitution. …