Monday, July 25, 2011

Egypt Between Democracy And Autocracy

By Christophe de Roquefeuil
Six months after the start of the uprising that toppled former strongman Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's transition is suspended between promised democracy and the fear of a return to authoritarianism in a different form. Cairo's Tahrir Square, the symbolic heart of the January 25 revolt, has once again become the epicentre of protests to demand that the page be turned on the old regime once and for all. The army, which took power after Mubarak's ouster on february 11, went from hero to hate figure in a matter of months, accused of putting the brake on reforms and using Mubarak-era tactics to stifle dissent and maintain absolute power.
Dozens of former regime officials are currently on trial, including Mubarak and his two sons, but activists have accused the justice system of being slow and opaque. The Jan 25 uprising succeeded in dissolving Mubarak's National Democratic Party, whose tentacles stretched far and wide in politics and business. The party headquarters was burned during the uprising, and the ash-blackened building still stands in the centre of the capital as a reminder of the 18 days of demonstrations for change.
The revolt also paved the way for the birth of new parties and political groups, basking in new-found freedom. But no strong leader or party has yet emerged. Parliamentary elections have been announced for autumn, but the Muslim Brotherhood appears to be the most organised group, and the old regime with its extensive networks could yet resurface in the provinces. "It's a revolution but without cadres, with no party, no leader, no precise ideology," said political analyst Hassan Nafea.
It's a revolution that isn't finished," he told a Franco-Egyptian conference on post-revolt Egypt in the capital. "We are in a transition period. We don't see clearly what kind of regime is waiting for Egypt. We will still go through crises, deadlocks," he said. For Ayman Nur, Mubarak's main challenger in the 2005 presidential elections, the spectacular January uprising must not "hide Egypt's strong resistance to change". "The old regime constantly haunts us," Nur told AFP. Like in 2005, "I am still facing Mubarak, because the system is anchored in this society," said Nur, who plans once again to run for president.
The army and the government under its authority navigate between wanting to stabilise the country and the pressures from Tahrir, said Denis Bauchard, a Middle East expert at the Paris-based Institut Francais des Relations Internationales (IFRI). The process of democratisation will be "long, complex, gradual and marred by turbulence," he said in a study entitled "Unfinished Revolution." Nonetheless, "from the uncertainty comes the feeling that nothing will be like before," said Bauchard. "The January 25 revolution has liberated expression and opened the gates of dissent, not only on a political level but also on a social one," he said.
Compared with the bloody conflicts in Syria and Libya, and Yemen deep in crisis, the Egyptian experience remains crucial for the rest of the region, say international officials. "The expectations are high and the potential for frustration is considerable," said European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso during a recent visit to Cairo, underlining the fact that "the revolution is not finished." But he also told Egyptians: "If you can continue to succeed, the Egyptian example will give others new momentum to secure their own freedom." – AFP
This analysis was published in The Kuwait Times on 25/07/2011

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