What About These 8 Months?

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Anti-government protesters continue to rally against the incumbent administration.

The Guardian’s foreign affairs columnist Simon Tisdall explains.

After a week in the headlights, the regime is showing signs of regaining its nerve and assembling a strategy to overcome its perilous predicament. Whether it can work is another matter.

The survival plan centres on Omar Suleiman, who is head of intelligence, Mubarak’s close confidant, and the newly installed vice-president. Right now Suleiman is the most powerful man in Egypt, backed by the military (from which he hails), the security apparatus, and a frightened ruling elite hoping to salvage something from the wreckage.

Suleiman is, in effect, heading a junta of former or acting military officers. Mubarak has been reduced to a figurehead, sheltering behind this clique. But they will not humiliate him. There will be no ignominious flight to Saudi Arabia, like that of Tunisia’s deposed president, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

Mubarak’s fate aside, the regime may also be hoping that recent lawlessness and looting will convince people, particularly Cairo’s middle-class, that revolution is too risky and that the protesters have made their point. Likewise, rising food and fuel prices, shortages, lost earnings, closed businesses, falling exports and reduced tourism caused by the unrest will have a growing impact on working people if they persist with street action.

Concessions have been made, and the internet is back up, coincidentally just in time for the pro-Mubarak rallies. A few thousand brought in on buses, huge banners depicting the President’s face on the back of tanks, and numbers of the opposition starting to decrease, and it seems that Egypt just might move on from what has happened the past week. How difficult it will be, how unimaginable it is.

It was always clear that Mubarak wasn’t going to pick up and leave like Zine el dine Ben Ali in Tunisia. Mubarak is too proud, and whether you believe it or not, he loves his country too much. Mubarak’s speech yesterday was dignified and even defiant, as the President claimed he would die on Egyptian soil and that history would judge him.

Due to the emotion of the past few days, some have forgotten that the President has done great things for his country that should not go unnoticed. Tony Blair, the former British PM spoke yesterday about the sensitivity of the situation:

“Where you stand on him depends on whether you’ve worked with him from the outside or on the inside. I’ve worked with him on the Middle East peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians so this is somebody I’m constantly in contact with and working with and on that issue, I have to say, he’s been immensely courageous and a force for good,”

“It’s perfectly natural for those from the outside to want to support this movement for change at the same time as saying let’s be careful about this and make sure that what happens in this process of change is something that ends in free and fair elections and a democratic system of government and it doesn’t get taken over or channelled in to a different direction that is at odds with what the people of Egypt want,”

“I don’t think there’s a majority for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. On the other hand, what you’ve got to watch is that they are extremely well-organised and well-funded whereas those people who are out on the street at the moment, many of them will be extremely well-intentioned people but they’re not organised in political parties yet. So one of the issues in the transition is to give time for those political parties to get themselves properly organised.”

The message is clear: change must come, but it is better for it to come in September and to ensure that there is no undesirable void left behind.

But what about these 8 months? If we truly will have free and fair elections, then we must be able to have the freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly in the run up to them. How else could candidates come forward? How else could opposition parties states their agenda?

What about political prisoners who remain behind bars? Will they be released? What about the families of protesters who have been arrested, will they be released? Will torture continue? Will the police still wield the enormous amount of power they have? Will human rights be adhered to? Fundamental freedoms respected?

Will jobs be created? Will food prices go down? Will the poor be aided in this time?

So many questions that have been unanswered. So many questions that are likely to remain unanswered. You can see why the people still stand in Midan el Tahrir, and why the protests continue around the world. Obama mentioned that ‘change must begin now’. Now isn’t in eight months time.

And in the meantime, we remain with Omar Suleiman & Co. Not much is known about them, and not much is known about their agenda. What if they are here to stay?

The irony in picking up and going back to ‘normal’ for these next 8 months is overwhelming. Why, when change is so close, when we are on the cusp of something so new, should we drag our heels? Why hesitate? The whole world remains on our side. We could accept the orderly transition in September. But we have demands that must be met in the meantime.

A man pumps his fist while demonstrating at Midan el Tahrir, with smoke from the burning NDP HQ in the background.


Written by BraveNewEgypt

February 2, 2011 at 11:54 am

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