Egyptian intifada: Notes on the Revolution



CAIRO, Feb 23, 2011 (Veterans Today) — On February 11, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak delegated executive power to Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), bringing an end to his 30-year rule. The handover followed 18 days of popular demonstrations countrywide — unprecedented in both scope and intensity — in which more than 350 people were killed and thousands injured.

The SCAF currently consists of 17 members, including longstanding Defense Minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi. In the president’s absence, the defense minister is considered commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

In a series of official communiqués released in the following days, the SCAF endorsed protesters’ “legitimate demands,” stressing that those demands would be carried out “according to a specified timetable.” The council also promised a “peaceful transition of power” to an elected civilian authority within six month’s time.

Notably, in a February 12 communiqué, the SCAF asserted that Egypt remained “committed to all regional and international obligations and treaties,” in reference to, among other things, Egypt’s 32-year-old Camp David peace treaty with Israel.

Military makes good, almost

On February 13, the military council formally suspended the Egyptian Constitution and dissolved both houses of Egypt’s bicameral parliament, meeting longstanding demands of the opposition. It also declared its intention to run the nation’s affairs for a six-month transitional period until parliamentary and presidential elections could be held.

On February 14, the council appointed an eight-member “panel of experts” mandated with amending certain articles of the national charter to allow free parliamentary and presidential polls. The constitutional amendments, the council stated, would be hammered out within ten days before being put before a national referendum within two months’ time.

The constitutional panel is headed by moderate Islamist thinker and former judge Tarek al-Bishry, who earlier served as vice president of Egypt’s State Council. Other panel members include prominent judges and law professors and one member of the Muslim Brotherhood opposition movement, which had been officially banned under the Mubarak regime.

Several key opposition demands, however, remain unfulfilled by the SCAF, including the termination of Egypt’s longstanding Emergency Law — which grants the state sweeping powers of arrest — and the release of all political prisoners.

What’s more, to the disappointment of many critics, the military council has also decreed that Egypt’s incumbent government, led by Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, would “continue as a caretaker administration until a new government is formed.” The Shafiq government had initially consisted of both new ministers and longstanding ones, all of whom had been appointed by Mubarak.

On February 13, two SCAF members met with eight prominent young protest leaders. In an online statement issued after the meeting, two of the latter — Amr Salaama and Wail Ghoneim — reassured the public that the armed forces council was committed to instituting “a democratically-elected civilian ruling system in Egypt.”

“The council informed us that it would work quickly to replace the Shafiq government and reiterated its commitment to prosecute all corrupt regime figures, both current and former,” the statement noted. “The council also said that it planned to draw up a list of those arrested or disappeared [during the recent uprising] and vowed to begin looking for them.”

Who speaks for the Revolution?

Meanwhile, in the absence of parliamentary representation and a working national charter, several groups — most of them youth-oriented — have emerged under the banner of what has come to be known as Egypt’s “25 January Revolution.” The most widely recognized of these is the “25 January Youth Coalition,” formally established on the first day of the uprising.

The coalition is comprised of several political youth movements, including Freedom and Justice, 6 April, the Youth Campaign for Mohamed ElBaradei, and Young People for Change, among others. It also includes the youth wings of several opposition groups and parties, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, the Karama Party, the Wafd Party, the Ghad Party, the Tagammu Party and the Democratic Front Party.

“Legitimate authority does not derive from [Egypt’s] 1971 constitution,” the coalition declared in a statement issued shortly after Mubarak’s ouster. “Legitimate authority now derives from the 25 January Revolution.”

In its statement, the coalition went on to lay down several demands, chief among which were the formulation of a new constitution, the termination of the Emergency Law and the dissolution of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP). The coalition also asserted its intention “to monitor all measures taken by the SCAF to ensure the realization of the people’s demands.”

While the coalition was established relatively early on, several other groups, also bearing the “25 January” moniker, have emerged in the wake of Mubarak’s February 11 departure.

On February 16, a gaggle of prominent intellectuals, writers and media personalities, along with a handful of young protest leaders, announced the formation of the “Council of Leaders of the 25 January Revolution.” Not unlike the 25 January Youth Coalition, the council’s stated mission is “to follow up on the revolution’s achievements.”

Even certain members of the former president’s ruling NDP have jumped on the revolutionary bandwagon, announcing their intention to found their own youth-based “25 January Party.” Not surprisingly, the move has been met with derision on the part of most protest groups and political observers.

Cabinet reshuffle doesn’t cut it

On Tuesday, February 22, Egypt’s new rulers — in an effort to satisfy opposition demands for a government free of Mubarak-era holdovers — announced a major cabinet reshuffle. The following figures were selected for the following ministerial portfolios:

Yehia al-Gamal as deputy prime minister; Ashraf Hatem as health minister; Amr Ezzat Salama as scientific research minister; Ahmed Gamal Eddin Mousa as education minister; Mahmoud Latif as petroleum minister; Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour as tourism minister; Gouda Abdel Khaleq as social solidarity minister; Ismail Fahmy as manpower minister; Maged Othman as communications minister; Safwat al-Nahas as human development minister; Georgette Qilliny as immigration minister; and Samir Sayad as higher education minister.

Several ministers from the previous cabinet were maintained, however, including Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq; Industry and Trade Minister Samiha Fawzy; Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul-Gheit; Justice Minister Mamdouh Marei; and Interior Minister Mahmoud Wagdy. The new minister of trade and investment, meanwhile, has yet to be announced.

On the same day, some 4000 demonstrators assembled in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to demand that the armed forces meet their outstanding demands. Rejecting the ministerial reshuffle, they called for the removal of the entire cabinet, including the current, Mubarak-appointed prime minister.

They also reiterated demands for an end of the Emergency Law, the release of all political prisoners, the dismantlement of the state’s Central Security (CS) apparatus, and the prosecution of all former officials found guilty of ordering violence against protesters during the uprising. Protest leaders, meanwhile, have called for a million-man demonstration in Tahrir Square on Friday, February 25, to restate their demands.

Also on Tuesday, February 22, an official source at the SCAF was quoted as saying that high-ranking CS officers would be replaced, but that the CS apparatus — which operates under the auspices of the interior ministry — would remain intact. Under Mubarak and dismissed interior minister Habib al-Adli, the main function of the CS apparatus had been to protect the regime by infiltrating and weaken opposition parties and movements.

The CS apparatus had also been used to purge state institutions, trade unions, and universities of elements seen as potentially hostile to the regime. CS forces are also accused by critics of the widespread use of torture in Egyptian prisons. Several protest movements have specifically demanded that the CS apparatus be abolished and its powers transferred to Egypt’s intelligence services.

Military dispositions

The profound shock to Egypt’s political status quo, along with the eruption of similar uprisings in other states of the region — including Bahrain and Libya — has been followed by significant military deployments in the region.

On February 17, the Associated Press quoted security officials as saying that Egyptian soldiers had been dispatched to protect a pipeline that runs across the northern Sinai Peninsula used to transport Egyptian natural gas to Israel. On February 5, at the height of the uprising, unknown assailants bombed a gas terminal in the area, briefly disrupting the flow of gas to Israel and Jordan.

On Tuesday, February 22, Egypt beefed up its military presence on its western border with Libya — especially around the Soloum border crossing — following the eruption of a massive popular uprising in that country. The Muammar Qaddafi regime has reportedly met the challenge to its authority with extreme ferocity, using African mercenaries and helicopter gun-ships to put down the rebellion.

Perhaps most significantly, also on Tuesday, February 22, two Iranian warships passed through Egypt’s Suez Canal from the Red Sea into the Mediterranean. The two ships, a naval frigate and a supply ship, reportedly entered the canal at 5:45am after receiving permission from Egypt’s military government.

The move represents the first time for Iranian naval vessels to pass through the Suez Canal since Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979, the same year in which Tehran severed official relations with Cairo. The ships are reportedly expected to pass along the Israeli coast on their way to take part in a planned training exercise with Syria, an Iranian ally. Israeli officials, meanwhile, have described the move as “a provocation.”

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