Retaking the square

In January, protesters demanded the end of the emergency law, which has now been expanded and is demanded to end, again.

Tahrir guy shouting
The Maspero Massacre was the first time the Tantawi regime used large scale violence, resulting in over 20 deaths [EPA]

Cario, Egypt – For those who have been in Tahrir over the past few days, the sound of gun shots, explosions and ambulances rushing back and forth from Mohammed Mahmoud – the street known for its American University in Cairo campus – to one of the several makeshift hospitals in the Square render any explanation as to why Field Marshal Tantawi’s Tuesday concessions are inadequate, unnecessary. Like Mubarak and leaders across the Arab world, Tantawi made the mistake of offering too little, far too late.

Nine months after the Egyptian Revolution that shook the world, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has shown no signs of working towards guaranteeing the demands of protesters – freedom, democracy and social justice, in the words of Tantawi. On the contrary, key measures taken by the military over the past several months have solidified its counter-revolutionary presence. A failure to repeal the Emergency Law, continued military trail of civilians, the Maspero Massacre and most recently the Selmy Document are all military efforts which bring into doubt SCAF’s intentions of paving the way for democratic, civilian rule.

One of the key demands of protesters during the January 25th Revolution was an end to the Emergency Law, used by Mubarak to heavily restrict freedoms and to try civilians in military courts. Rather than capitulate to this demand, the Emergency Law is not only still in force, but was expanded by the military in September. Among the added restrictions are stipulations against those who criticise the armed forces and Egyptian government, and those who propagate “false rumours”. The government’s right to try civilians in military courts through the Emergency Law is alive and well under military rule; 12,000 civilians have been subject to military trials since the Revolution.

The Maspero Massacre of October 2011 was the first notable use of violence by the military regime. A predominately Christian protest in front of Maspero, the national radio and television building, left at least two dozen dead at the hands of police and military forces; images of military tanks running over protesting civilians quickly circulated. Mina Daniel, a young activist known for his involvement in the Revolution, killed by gunshot wounds, became a symbol of the Maspero Massacre. His dying request, a funeral in Tahrir Square, was attended by thousands.  

One of the military’s most recent anti-democratic measures came in the form of the Selmy Document, a proposed set of supra-constitutional principles that would engrave the powers of the military. The document provides SCAF with jurisdiction over the assembly which will be responsible for drafting the constitution as well as the power to set guidelines for the election of members of this assembly. The document further guarantees secrecy of military budget, paving the road for continued corruption that drove people to Tahrir earlier this year.

Since the January Revolution, SCAF has failed to propose any real plans for the transfer of power to civilians. The parliamentary election system, a district-level proportional representation, mixed closed party list and individual system, with an additional farmer and labourer quota requirement seems to be more of an attempt to create a process so elusive that the legitimacy of results will be impossible to confirm than a true attempt to establish a democratically elected body. Furthermore, SCAF statements suggesting that presidential elections would not occur until 2013 at earliest add to the scepticism of the military’s dedication to democratic rule.

As I was walking through Tahrir over the past few days, one protester commented that Tantawi is more loyal to Mubarak “than a shoe” while another chimed in that November 19th is in actuality February 12th (a reference to the day after which Mubarak stepped down), and that this time protesters would not be fooled into leaving the Square before guaranteeing their rights. While Tantawi’s concessions could have been greeted with some satisfaction on the first day of the current protests, SCAF made the fatal mistake of many Arab leaders: using violence against protesters and conceding far too late. If the Maspero Massacre shook people’s confidence in SCAF, the Tahrir killings of the past few days have completely undermined it. SCAF further chose to use the same methods as Mubarak to quell the protests and gain public support – violence, and media to propagate the notion that foreigners and ‘unknown’ forces are behind the current uprising.

The protesters of Tahrir will likely refuse to let the blood shed over the past few days go to waste and will remain to occupy the Square until there is tangible change. As the violence continues, demands grow; protesters would like to see an immediate transfer of power to civilian rule, perhaps to a National Salvation Government that will be granted full legislative and administrative authorities. There seems to be additional insistence upon the procession of parliamentary elections and a clear timeline and methodology for the drafting of a constitution and election of a president within the next few months. Furthermore, Egyptians have yet to see those responsible for the killing of protesters during the January 25th Revolution held accountable, and as the current protests continue, this demand along with accountability for Maspero and Mohammed Mahmoud killings is likely to grow louder. An end to the Emergency Law, including the trying of civilians in military courts, while not one of the original demands of this protest, is again likely to surface.

Tantawi’s November 22nd speech is reminiscent of the Mubarak era, filled with praise for its own self-attributed accomplishments and inadequate concessions. SCAF has spent the past nine months destroying the confidence which the Egyptian people entrusted it with. Despite the fact that the military sat by as police and thugs attacked protestors during the January 25th Revolution, they were greeted by hopeful slogans on the day that Mubarak stepped down. The popular post-Revolution chant, “The People and the Army are One Hand”, is now nowhere to be heard. The brave youth of Tahrir Square – young, educated activists readily willing to risk their lives for the rights of their people – render freedom and democracy for Egypt within reach. As I left Tahrir on Wednesday, the chants grew louder above the roar of ambulances and clanging metal of protesters calling for more supporters: down with military rule.

Sarah Mousa graduated from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs in 2010, and is a 2010-2011 Fulbright Scholar in Egypt.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.