The Egyptian Spring is wilting under greedy Generals?

The Egyptian people were jubilant when they got rid of their last pharaoh, Hosni Mubarak, last year in February. It was deemed a crowning achievement for millions of those who’d launched a costly struggle, in blood and toil, to overthrow a tyrant who’d ruled with an iron hand for 30 years and cheated them of their fundamental rights of liberty and justice. The general feeling then animating the common Egyptian’s perception was that the long night of military rule under hectoring generals who thought of themselves as lord of the land had, finally, come to an end.

Alas, there seems no vestige left of that perception 16 months later. Instead, a new reality has quickly caught up with the people of Egypt: that the cabal of generals-all of them minions and cohorts of Mubarak-is still determined to hold on to its privileged status of untouchables and pursuing a course calculated to put a virtual end to the Egyptian ‘spring.’ There are unmistakable and irrefutable signposts confirming the fears of the Egyptian people that their struggle has been in vain and that autocratic rule by the men in uniform is refusing to go away, or fade out.

The most dismaying proof of how callously the power-addicted Egyptian generals have hijacked the people’s movement for freedom from oppression and tyranny is the drama surrounding the yet-inconclusive presidential election.

As these lines are being written, the date stipulated by the Election Commission of Egypt for the declaration of the final result of the second-round of presidential election, June 19, has already passed. But there has been no result yet. The election commission has only come up with a cryptic announcement that it would still take an unspecified length of time for it to sort out all the complaints filed against irregularities on the polling before unveiling the name of the winner.

It’s obvious that the election commission is waiting for its cue from SCAF, or the Supreme Council of Armed Forces. SCAF is proving to be the bane of the Egyptian people and the tormentor of their hankering for freedom from the oppression, of their rights and liberties that has been in force in Egypt since 1952, when the army had toppled the monarchy to hog political power in the name of the people.

SCAF, headed by Field Marshal Hussain Tantawi, an old crony of Mubarak, has 24 high ranking military officers sitting under its canopy. All of these are men who’d been appointed by Mubarak at the peak of his power, enjoyed his trust and are still, obviously, loyal to him. Even if they are no longer loyal to Mubarak, for argument’s sake, they are irredeemably committed to the essence of Mubarakism, which was, in a nutshell, wedded to absolute power wielded by the armed forces at the expense of the people’s aspirations and their demand of democratic freedoms.

SCAF had stepped into the void left by Mubarak’s ignominious fall from power, under intense popular agitation, as a referee. It feigned of honouring the people’s will and assist the revolution to a smooth passage to a democratic dispensation. However, SCAF’s actions, since then, have been just the opposite of its avowed intent to stand as a guardian of the people’s will.

In the original scheme of things announced by SCAF in March 2011, parliamentary elections came first, followed by a constituent assembly, chosen from within the parliament, and tasked with the drafting of a new constitution. The election of a new president was to come at the end of the process capping the people’s struggle.

However, SCAF, never inclined to give up its power, apparently started having second thoughts about transition to democratic rule after the election of the new parliament last winter. The people’s will had spoken, unambiguously, in favour of the Egyptian Brotherhood, the Ikhwanul-Muslimeen, which dominated the election outcome. A snide propaganda campaign was triggered, with the so-called liberals and secularists in its vanguard, thumping their chests that the Brotherhood was out to smother the democratic aspirations and stamp their brand of orthodoxy on it. Obviously, abetted by ‘friends’ in Israel and U.S., who expressed their own fear of Egypt becoming another Iran under the Ikhwan, SCAF devised a clever scheme to thwart the drafting of a new constitution. The so-called liberals and secularists were prompted to walk out of the constituent assembly on the excuse that it was dominated by the Ikhwan and couldn’t be trusted to come up with a document reflecting the will of the people.

SCAF, then, mangled the sequence of transition elements by bringing the presidential election ahead of the writing of a new constitution. It clearly manifested mal-intent on part of the generals to manipulate the election and subvert the people’s will. Mohammad al-Baradei, the erstwhile head of IAEA, who was expected to enter the presidential fray as a strong candidate of the moderates pulled out of the race by remonstrating the absence of a constitution to oversee the election. He was the first to express reservations about the fairness of the election with SCAF sitting over the process as both the monitor and arbiter. He could foresee and smell SCAF generals’ malfeasance and proclivity to throw spanners in the country’s transition to a democratic order.

SCAF left no doubt in anybody’s mind about its palpable intent to cheat the people of Egypt out of their dreams of a democratic country when, on the eve of last month’s first round of presidential contest, it unleashed the hand-maiden Constitutional Court to declare that the parliament had become dysfunctional and lost its moorings because of some irregularities in its election, which only belatedly came to the notice of the court.

Sending an entire parliament, freely elected by the people in an election monitored by outside observers and declared free and fair by them, packing was a blatant and high-handed move which left no shred of doubt that the hectoring generals sitting under SCAF’s canopy were determined to subvert the democratic process and keep their choke-hold over the country intact and unchallenged.

The cheating generals’ claws were further bared on the eve of the final round of the presidential race, between the two leading contenders from the first round, on June 17, when SCAF announced a sweeping package of rules aimed at consolidating the power base of its 24 denizens, and of the armed forces as a whole.

It was decreed that the new president, elected by the free will of the people and representing Egypt’s 80 million masses, will not be commander-in-chief of the armed forces; that privilege would stay with SCAF, which will have none sitting over its head. SCAF will also be the last word on the budget of the country, over its defence policy as well as its foreign affairs. Rubbing more salt into the wounds of the people, SCAF, if necessary, will also write a new constitution of the country, thus arrogating to it the privilege of a constituent assembly.

SCAF’s legerdemain smack, unabashedly, of a total power grab by the blighted generals to perpetuate hegemonic military rule in direct contravention of the long and costly struggle the Egyptian people have waged over the past 18 months.

U.S., which has loomed so large and preponderant over Egypt’s policies over the last three decades-and whose largesse keeps the Egyptian generals so well-equipped, in arms and money-has, for the sake of form, if nothing else, expressed its reservations over the SCAF power-grab. However, to all those aware of the close co-operation and regular consultations between the Egyptian power barons-in-uniforms and U.S. don’t attach much significance to Washington’s murmurs of protest in defence of democracy, or the democratic rights of the Egyptian people now under a massive threat from the arrogant generals.

SCAF and its American mentors must have felt very perturbed and anguished by the outcome of the first round of the presidential race, with its front runner, Muhammad Morsi, belonging to the much-derided Brotherhood. The runner-up in that round-to the surprise of the Egyptian electorate as well as to interested observers-surprisingly turned out to be General Ahmed Shafiq, a former chief of the Air Force and the last prime minister nominated by Mubarak to save his sinking ship.

There are no shades of grey about the loyalties and political platforms of the two candidates. Morsi represents the majority wishes of the people of Egypt who have apparently had enough of the deceitful generals and the minuscule class of fortune-seekers and gold-diggers spawned by successive military regimes. The Ikhwan, to their credit, aren’t a political group in the conventional sense; they’re more a social force, cohesive, well-organised and fully attuned, at their grass roots, to the daily bread-and-butter issues of millions of Egyptians condemned to the punishing grind of a life of misery and penury. The Brotherhood has earned a place in the hearts of the ‘wretched of the earth’ by working to alleviate their suffering and making life a little bit tolerant for them.

General Ahmed Shafiq, in contrast, represents the well-heeled establishment that has been responsible for much of the people’s suffering. The Egyptian intelligentsia--comprising self-styled moderates and secularists-has long peddled to the west, with eminent success, the opium that they alone stand between the ‘civilised west’ and hordes of ‘radical Muslims’ and, therefore, must be supported to ensure that the centre of political power in the Arab world must remain their fief and property.

The second round of voting in the presidential contest has led to the triumph of Morsi, as was widely expected by all and sundry. The Brotherhood has come up with a complete tally of more than 16,000 polling stations, reflecting a clear cut victory for Morsi. However, Shafiq, clearly emboldened by the establishment’s covert support, is also claiming victory of his own. The tussle obviously focuses the spotlight on the election commission to set the record straight and announce the name of the winner, officially.

It doesn’t take a genius to understand why the election commission is dragging its feet on the election result. It’s buying time for SCAF’s power-hungry generals (vultures to the Egyptian people) to twist arms all around and blackmail the Brotherhood into signing on the dotted lines.

There are rumours, aplenty, that SCAF is negotiating, behind the scene, with Morsi to agree to the power-sharing formula currently on the table. This will not, at all, be a division on equal terms but an unequal distribution anointed by the age-old maxim of might being right. In other words, Morsi will have to be content with only a sham presidency, with only trappings of power on display in his court while real power would still belong to the generals and wielded by them at their own sweet will.

Partisans and apologists of SCAF are predicting that the Brotherhood would agree to the power-sharing offered to them by the generals because they-the traditional wielders of power over the past six decades-have the ‘interests’ of the Egyptian people close to their hearts and have the capacity to still ensure a smooth transition to meaningful democracy.

Whether the Ikhwan falls to the bait and bites it is still debatable. They may agree to this doctored outcome of the people’s painful struggle for emancipation in the hope that time, eventually, would favour them. They could be right, but they could also be wrong; only the time will tell whether they were right or wrong in agreeing to cut a deal with avaricious generals.

It’s, however, certain, at this juncture that the dream of the Egyptian people for a democratic dawn in their lives has clearly been robbed and turned into a nightmare by undemocratic and rapacious forces bearing a distinct hallmark of the tyrannical Mubarak era. Throngs of protesting masses turning up at Cairo’s Tahrir Square, once again, to voice their frustration and anger at the hijacking of their revolution by the jackals ensconced in SCAF is a categorical proof that the Egyptian people aren’t prepared to allow their hard-won ‘spring’ to wither because of the power lust of Mubarak’s cohorts. It isn’t Mubarak or his vestiges entitled to have the last laugh but the people of Egypt and their valiant battle for salvation from oppression and tyranny.   

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 July 2012 on page no. 18

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