Egypt in transition: «The revolution ends with the elections»
Elisa Pierandrei 1 December 2011

Egypt experienced a very difficult moment last week when violent raids by security forces killed over 40 protesters and wounded 1,400 while attempting to vacate Tahrir Square, which once again filled with a permanent sit-in. Based on messages posted on blogs, Twitter and Facebook, for a while there were fears Egypt might become a new Syria.

When the polling stations opened on Monday, November 28th inaugurating the first post-Mubarak elections, there seemed be a wave of optimism at least among the citizens of Cairo, Alexandria and Port Said, among the first cities to vote. Up to now there have been no clashes. Certainly, the local press (see the independent Al Masry Al Youm) has been warning of the danger of manipulated results, but the citizenry feels they have been called upon to freely choose candidates, for the first time. They look with satisfaction at the manner in which the situation has evolved in Tunisia, while a recently released report by the Gallup organization reveals that most Egyptians believe prolonged protests are bad for the country.

The new independent daily newspaper Tahrir, born after the February revolution, led with an article on the second day of voting, November 29, under the headline, “The Blood of the Martyrs Lights the Road to Democracy.” At least 40 million Egyptians went to the polls to elect the two houses of parliament according to a timetable that has established a number of electoral rounds over the next four months. Five coalitions are in the race; the Democratic Alliance, whose main party is the Freedom and Justice Party, which is the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. Secular movements like Al Ghad, founded in 2005 by Ayman Nour, are also part of the Freedom and Justice Party. Egyptian Block was formed in June joining a number of secular movements. The Third Way is a coalition that wants to place itself in an intermediate position between the Democratic Alliance and the secular Egyptian Block. The Islamic Coalition has gathered a number of Salafite movements. The Alliance for the Prosecution of the Revolution is made up liberal, socialist and moderate Islamists who originally belonged to the Egyptian Block.

For Egypt, the most populous Arab country, these elections represent a delicate step towards democracy, because the January 25 Revolution is not yet complete. “300 parties and organizations were born from the ashes of the former regime. It is to be expected after 60 years of political and social oppression,” said Firas Al Atraqchi, a former news editor at Al Jazeera English Online who now teaches at the American University of Cairo. In spite of this, secular and left-wing parties were late on the political scene and their influence on the population and forces in power is limited. “They were late in organizing themselves,” said the expert, “and were thus not able to exert the important task of applying pressure on the SCAF (the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which is leading the country during the transition phase).” The role fell to young people who, suffocated by the military’s heavy hand, reoccupied Tahrir Square demanding the immediate removal of the SCAF from the national political stage.

The exception was “the Muslim Brotherhood that (through its political wing, the new Freedom and Justice Party) has worked to continue to strengthen an image that in fact it has been building for at least 80 years.” The Muslim Brotherhood has opened brand new general headquarters at Mokattam, launching a truly aggressive marketing and PR campaign. During the Muslim festivities the movement distributed meat, which is expensive because of inflation, and fed the poor.

Instead, many Egyptians in the past few days have complained they did not know who to vote for. They were informed neither by the media nor by the same political parties that should have represented them. Some asked for advice from their own families, others from friends. Others arrived at the polling stations and asked party members who were there. Many Muslim Brotherhood members had desks where voters could get information on how to vote. “It is completely ridiculous that Egyptian voters went to the polls so completely uninformed,” said Al Atraqchi, “The time of revolution is finished. These elections (boycotted by many blogger activists who launched the February Revolution) have sealed its fate.”

According to Al Atraqchi, who also writes for the popular Huffington Post blog (see also Something Remarkable is Happening in Egypt), the youth revolution of Tahrir Square must make an effort to immerse itself in political activism. “We’ve heard their slogans, read their banners and honoured their sacrifice. But the time has come to build the foundations of a democratic future with elections and parties.” Instead many of them decided to boycott the elections to prevent them becoming a way of legitimizing the power of the military.

In particular, Al Atraqchi points his finger at the network of the young activists who launched the January 25th Revolution. Instead of transforming street protests into political activism, “we have watched a mere transfer of energy from Tahrir to Twitter. For many months these social networks have become the battle ground for these kids. For some, the only Egypt was Twitter. A fatal mistake.”

As Al Atraqchi had foreseen, many Egyptians have voted for the Muslim Brotherhood “and – he concluded – if they are able to solve some of the economic problems of Egyptians, their seat count will likely grow in the next four or five years.”

Translated by Francesca Simmons



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