By Caroline Margiotta
For the first time since former President Hosni Mubarak resigned last February, Egypt – the most populous Arab country – seems to have finally taken great strides in recovering from over three decades of autocratic rule; however, Egypt’s success as a democratic nation seems fragile at best given the civil unrest which was sparked by military rule.
In a monumental action which followed a long period of National Democratic Party dominance, Egyptian civilians voted to elect 498 members of the People’s Assembly over six weeks, with the remaining ten Assembly members yet to be elected by the military . According to the BBC, Islamist parties saw an overwhelming victory in the parliamentary elections, with the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) followed closely by the ultra-conservative Salafist Nour Party in having gained an overwhelming majority— approximately 73 percent– of seats.
Despite the promise of a fair democracy presented by these elections, however, Egypt has remained under military rule since Mubarak resigned on February the 11th of last year, and the period of unrest in Egypt is far from over. Ironically, many Egyptians had hoped that a system of temporary martial law would be an excellent means of transforming Egypt’s government into a democracy. Islamists believed that the military would pave the way for their domination in new parliamentary elections, while Liberals believed that the military would prevent Islamists from gaining excessive power.
While the Islamists were indeed victorious in the recent Parliamentary elections, the military has surprised all parties concerned in expanding its power over the troubled nation. At this point, despite the FJP’s victory, the military council is set to remain the highest authority in Egypt until at least the end of June, and it has recently drafted a document which would exempt the military from any civilian management. Additionally, although many senior generals have promised the Egyptian people that the council’s rule has a time limit, the military has failed to put forth a date for presidential elections.
Given the seemingly indefinite end of military rule, waves of protest have continued across Egypt. On January 25th, for example, approximately 100,000 Egyptians from across the country gathered in Tahrir Square to protest the rule of the military council and to observe the first anniversary of the protests which led to Mubarak’s ouster. In this particular demonstration, the previously-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood also celebrated its victory in the Parliamentary elections, demonstrated its support for the military’s decision to end martial rule by the end of June, and proclaimed that “the people want the end to the military trials of civilians… [and] the handover of power. ” However, because members of the Muslim Brotherhood linked arms in Tahrir Square to prevent protestors from reaching Parliament to demand the military’s previous surrender of power during the January 25th protest, liberal demonstrators struck out against the Muslim Brotherhood on January 31st, demanding an end to rule by both the military and the Muslim Brotherhood.
In the midst of these political protests, protests against the police, the Interior Ministry, and the military council have continued in Egypt as a result of a February 1st brawl in Port Said between rival soccer fans which left over 70 casualties. Thousands of Egyptian soccer fans (often called “ultras”) have gathered in Cairo and other cities across the country to protest against what they perceive as the police’s inaction in preventing these deaths . Many protestorsbelieve that the police aided in the violence at the soccer match on Wednesday, and have suggested that the police either failed to seize weapons from fans or turned off the field lights to aid Port Said fans in their attacks; they have also blamed the military council and Interior Ministry for failing to prevent the violence.
Given the fragility of a newly-formed democracy, the irrefutable difficulty of a complete power transition, and the historical difficulty of putting an end to military rule, Egypt’s chances of success were slim to begin with. However, because the Middle East as a whole has been plagued by unrest over the past two years, and because Egypt’s military has had a history of political corruption, the next few months will certainly have the Western world watching with anxiety and anticipation in equal parts as the new Egyptian government attempts to restore peace and stability to the tumultuous nation.