Marginalised for years, Coptic Christians struggle to define their status as a new government takes shape.
|Egyptians frustrated with military rule have battled police in effort to bring legitimate government into power [Reuters]|
It is a fear that only Egypt’s post-uprising politics could produce: three governments existing simultaneously – none of them elected – just a day ahead of parliamentary elections.
There is the cabinet of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, which resigned en masse but continues to serve until a replacement is formed.
Then there is the newly appointed Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri, who has no actual government at his command.
And third, there is Mohamed El Baradei, put forth for prime minister by the protest crowds themselves.
And above them all, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which since assuming power in the wake of President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster has, in the opinion of many, steered the country closer to the brink of chaos.
On Friday, a coalition of youth, liberals, leftists and moderate Islamists announced their last hope: a “national salvation” government led by ElBaradei.
The ElBaradei solution is at once revolutionary and undemocratic, and its supporters care little about the vote set to begin on Monday.
That puts them directly at odds with the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, which analysts predict will win half of the People’s Assembly through its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party.
The Brotherhood has not offered support for the Tahrir Square protests since violence began on November 20.
Some former members say the group has banned participation in the protests, though those inside the Brotherhood say individuals – even high-ranking officials – are allowed to go on their own.
On Sunday, Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan issued a statement saying the group believed the elected parliament – which presumably will take office after balloting finishes in January – should choose the new government. This was an implicit swipe at the El Baradei proposal.
In Tahrir Square on Saturday night, Mohamed Arafat, an activist for ElBaradei and the liberal Social Democratic Party, told Al Jazeera that the “national salvation” government, while not elected, still enjoyed widespread support.
“For this period it’s ok, if most people agree it’s ok,” he said. “The only people who disagree are fans of the SCAF or the old [regime] or the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Arafat and other ElBaradei advisors seem to be taking the proposal seriously, and ElBaradei himself met with SCAF for three hours on Saturday.
Supporters of the salvation government idea, along with other activists, have expanded the Tahrir Square protest to a sit-in at the nearby parliament building designed to increase pressure on the military council. Both protest camps – with field hospitals, tents and blankets – seem to have dug in.
There are also plans to expand to a third sit-in at Maspero, the state television and radio building a few blocks to the north.
The site is heavily guarded and an extremely sensitive location for the government. On October 9 at least 28 people died there when the army violently dispersed a mostly Coptic Christian demonstration.
Since Friday, volunteers who support the salvation government have been distributing flyers in and around Tahrir Square and the parliament building, asking passersby to register their support with their name and national ID number.
ElBaradei campaigners say that the salvation government represents the consensus view of protesters and political parties, excluding the Brotherhood.
The proposed government attempts to embrace most of Egypt’s main political trends: leftists, liberals and Islamists.
Though ElBaradei, a presidential hopeful and Nobel laureate, would serve as prime minister, he would have two deputies: Abdelmoneim Aboulfotouh, a former member of the Brotherhood who left to run for president, and Hamdeen Sabahi, a high-profile socialist who is also running for president.
The roles of the three men remain unclear, and two others have been proposed as members of the government alongside them: Ahmed al-Sayed el-Nagar, who has served as the chief economist at the Ahram Center for Strategic and Political Studies, and Ashraf el-Baroudi, the vice president of the High Court of Appeals and an anti-corruption campaigner.
Baroudi, activists say, would likely assume the most difficult job of the ElBaradei government – overseeing the Interior Ministry, whose riot police fought deadly street battles with Tahrir Square protesters for six straight days this month.
For now, the ElBaradei government is a paper cabinet. Ultimately, the SCAF would have to accept the proposal, fire Ganzouri and agree to return to its barracks.
That still seems unlikely. In a special press conference on Sunday open only to defence journalists, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, SCAF chairman, insisted that he had met with ElBaradei (and Amr Moussa, also running for president but not part of the proposed government) at their request.
He pledged that elections would go forward and said Ganzouri enjoyed wide support and would have all the authority he needed to govern.
As elections begin on Monday, both sides will be looking for support in numbers.
The ElBaradei and anti-military activists want to see continued sit-ins at three high-profile sites in Egypt’s capital to pressure the SCAF into another concession.
The military and Brotherhood want a high voter turnout to legitimise the elected parliament.
“We have less than two months before the elections are finished,” Mariam Ali, an editor who helps manage the Brotherhood’s online presence, told Al Jazeera.
Ali said it was a “waste of time” to focus on ElBaradei’s national salvation government. She pointed to elections for the national Engineers Syndicate, which took place with high turnout and no obvious fraud earlier this week. As with the earlier Lawyers Syndicate election, the Brotherhood plans to do well.
“I don’t think there is any contradiction between having protests in the streets and continuing the electoral process,” she said.
“Many people at protests will participate in elections … The majority of Egyptians will be able to continue elections and make it a success regardless of the conditions.”