Egypt: ‘The people want an end of the regime’

Months have passed since Mubarak was ousted, but Egyptians have not united against the remnants of his administration.

Since Mubarak was ousted, sectarian violence and military repression has increased in Egypt [GALLO/GETTY]

Since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in February, the Egyptian people have been at the centre of a struggle for their nation’s future.

The initial euphoria at the ousting of Hosni Mubarak gradually eroded as fractures emerged: Secularists, Islamists and Christians struggled to find common ground or to define a clear, shared set of political goals.

The chant now immortalised worldwide – “the people want the end of the regime” – modulated into myriad demands where each person, group and party claimed to represent the interests of the people.

Sectarian violence reared its ugly head, in Cairo’s Imbaba district and in the village of Sol, south of Cairo. The demolition of, and attacks on, churches continued.

The Islamist bloc frayed, as elements long suppressed by Mubarak’s regime and seeking the trappings of theocracy began to organise political movements independent of the Muslim Brotherhood.  

The military, so revered by the Egyptian people, defined itself as a safeguard of the revolution; it became quite normal to hear Egyptians talk of how the military and the people were of “one hand”.

However, this narrative clashed with reality: The military started making arrests during the uprising, with 12,000 people tried in military courts since February, at a conviction rate of 93 per cent; while soldiers forced virginity tests upon female activists detained in a backroom of the Egyptian museum and activists critical of the military were committed to mental institutions.  

The former president, his hair freshly dyed, was wheeled into a makeshift Cairo court – perhaps suffering heat exhaustion after months of military detention in the idyllic resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. Most probably, it was nothing more than a feeble attempt to win public sympathy.

A state of disarray

The trial of Hosni Mubarak and his sons Alaa and Gamal spluttered along in an on-again off-again manner. Loyalists and opposition gathered outside, hurling rocks at each other. The trial is now on hold until late December.

People returned to Midan Tahrir repeatedly, always forced out by the military. Early on the morning of April 9, the military stormed Midan Tahrir. The cracks of sustained gunfire reverberated through the sleeping city. Shell casings littered the square and plumes of smoke billowed skyward from trucks consumed in flames.

 Anger in Egypt

But as the months passed, Tahrir Square – a symbol of national unity during the uprising – seemed to represent a nation dissolving.

With the first round of parliamentary elections looming, the country is in a state of disarray.

Dozens of parties are fielding candidates vying for positions in parliament, while independents are also running – more than 6,000 candidates nationwide.

Former members of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP), disbanded in April by the Supreme Administrative Court, have organised new political groups and are contesting the upcoming elections.

The Islamist bloc fractured into several groupings, while secular movements remain largely disorganised.

Parties are required to nominate only one woman from their list, raising the spectre for the exclusion of women from parliament.

Additionally, campaign budgets were capped by the military at LE500,000 ($83,750), leading to concerns that former NDP representatives – with their vast financial reserves and connections to big business – would have an edge over other candidates.

Meanwhile, the security forces have continued with the torture and gross violations of human rights that characterised Mubarak’s regime.

On October 27, 24-year-old Essam Atta died in a maximum security prison after guards allegedly turned hoses on and shoved them into his anus and mouth.

The Supreme Council

Scant improvement has been made since the downfall of Mubarak.

Most analysts suggest that the future Egyptian parliament will be weak and riven by fractures, which would, quite obviously, reduce the leverage the public could wield over the president.

Everyone knows the elections that will really count are the presidential elections, which the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) has put off well into 2013, arguably securing – or unilaterally extending – its executive role over the formative stages of post-uprising Egypt.

The SCAF is closely calibrated to Pentagon policy, being the recipient of an annual US$2 billion in US military aid since signing a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, which grew out of the Camp David agreements the previous year. Existing treaties act as a powerful disincentive for SCAF to usher in genuine participatory politics: Most Egyptians despise Israel’s grotesque repression of Palestinians and would certainly like to see the peace treaty dissolve – at least until the US and Israel adopt a more proportionate approach to resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict.

However, the consequences of Egypt moving in a direction unsavoury to the US and Israel are clear to the SCAF.

In a final cruel twist, a collection of around 3,000 businessmen and lawyers in Cairo and Alexandria have begun pasting posters on walls around the cities. The posters call for the head of SCAF, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, to run for president.

This campaign should be read as the beginning of a military bid for the presidency; if not Tantawi, then someone else drawn from within military ranks.

Despite the insurrection, Egypt’s people remain caught between stifling Islamic orthodoxy, repressive social structures, autocratic rule meted out by the military junta and a Western world framing its foreign policy in terms of Egypt’s geo-strategic importance – particularly with regards to Israel and the Suez canal.

Ultimately, the more vocal citizenry have marginally restricted Egypt’s political parameters and the potential for abuse of power, but their uprising has yet to force an observable impression into how politics are conducted.

Glen Johnson is a journalist from New Zealand now based in the Middle East.

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