ECLECTIC RANT: Post-Mubarak Egypt Still a Work in Progress

By Ralph E. Stone
Thursday December 29, 2011 - 11:15:00 PM

Two friends of mine recently returned from Cairo and report that except for Tahrir Square and the immediate surroundings, there is very little evidence of protests against military rule. True this is scant anecdotal evidence, but it appears from the news accounts that the protestors may be losing the propaganda campaign that portray them as vandals and arsonists. And perhaps demonstration fatigue has set in. 

Egyptians supported the initial demonstrations calling for the ouster of President Muhammad Hosni Sayyid Mubarak, but once that was accomplished, most of the general populace just wants to get on with every day living. In fact, to many the presence of the military is seen as a stabilizing force in the transition from Mubarak's rule to something else. 

And the military knows when to back down and apologize when, for example, after a women's demonstration on December 20 demanding an end to military rule, the ruling military council apologized for beating, stripping, and kicking female demonstrators beginning December 16. 

Under Mubarak, Egypt was a secular nation. However, in the first of three rounds of the parliamentary elections, the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party garnered the most votes with 37 percent of the nearly 10 million ballots cast. The Brotherhood is a movement that seeks to expand Islamic law. The Al Nour Party won 24 percent of the vote; it is dominated by the ultraconservative Salafis, which seeks to impose strict Islamic law similar to Saudi Arabia. There are two more rounds of voting in 18 of the country's 27 provinces through January. The election of the Brotherhood and the Al Nour Party could be crucial in determining Egypt's future as the new parliament is supposed to appoint a committee to draft a constitution that many Islamists want based in part on principles in the Koran.  

In the second round of voting, the Brotherhood won 86 of the estimated 180 seats in this round or 47 percent. The Al-Nour Party won 20 percent of the vote.. Basically the secular and liberal forces who were the main element behind the uprising against Mubarak are being trounced at the polls. 

The military has appointed a 30-member council to oversee the process of drafting the Constitution. 

The presidential election is scheduled for June 30, 2012. The ruling military council will probably have much "input" in the final constitution and in the presidential election. In fact, the U.S. is pressing the military to maintain special powers and rights over any future government including a declaration that the country’s recent parliamentary elections will have no bearing on the makeup of Egypt’s future executives. This may mean the military will try to retain the power to select the executive. Maybe Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the leader of Egypt’s ruling military council, will run for president..  

Why is there concern with a possible Islamic-dominated parliament and presidency? Because of fear that the Muslim Brotherhood’s deep hostility to Israel — which reflects majority public opinion in Egypt — would pose difficulties for American policy. And its conservative views on the rights of women and intolerance of religious minorities are offensive by Western standards. 

Another factor in the equation is the unique role the military plays in the Egyptian economy. The military owns virtually every industry in the country, including car assembly, clothing, manufacture of kitchen appliances, natural gas bottles, the construction of roads, highways, bridges, and some of the foodstuffs is grown and/or processed by the military. These economic activities are not helpful to the Egyptian economy as a whole because the military's low-cost subsidized labor, exemption from taxes and licenses, undercuts private entrepreneurs. Would a military-controlled economy survive an Islamic-dominated Egyptian government? 

Thus, there are many political and economic incentives for the military to exercise some control over whatever new government emerges from the parliamentary and presidential elections. There are rumors that a second, violent revolution will happen on January 25. Egypt's caretaker prime minister Kamal el-Ganzouri has appealed for a two-month period of calm to try to end the nation's political crisis and to restore security. Clearly, post-Mubarak Egypt is still a work in progress.