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Egypt: What’s occurring?

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In her first column of the term, Thea Osborne looks at the current situation in Egypt for Exeposé Features.

Cairo protests Image credits: Gigi Ibrahim
Cairo protests
Image credits: Gigi Ibrahim

It has been particularly difficult to ascertain a clear understanding of the situation in Egypt since the overthrow of Mubarak in 2011. The old regime, secularists, Islamists, military and international powers have all tried to place their stamp on Egypt’s future resulting in chaos, dissatisfaction and further splintering within all sides. Furthermore, it appears to have become even more confusing since the overthrow of the democratically elected Muhammad Morsi in July last year after his brief 13-month rule. It is estimated that over 1,000 people have died since Morsi’s overthrow and many, particularly those in the Muslim Brotherhood to which Morsi belonged, have claimed that his overthrow was a coup against the democratically elected leader and that there have been systematic attacks on the Brotherhood ever since, including branding them as a terrorist organisation. It is the role of the army which seems the least transparent and yet most constantly powerfully part of Egypt’s post-revolution history and the recent constitutional referendum seems to be the latest twist in reinforcing their power.

To many the latest constitutional referendum is seen far more as a vote as to whether Morsi’s overthrow and the power of the military has been approved, then anything relating to the text that it contains. It was announced on Saturday that 98 per cent of participants voted ‘yes’ to the new constitution This could potentially have the power to pave the way for new elections and provide a legitimacy to the military’s handling of the state since helping to topple Morsi last summer. However, there are large criticisms of the campaign, particularly the government’s arrests of ‘no’ campaigners along with the voting turnout of 38.6 per cent despite the government having desperately urged people to vote as part of their ‘patriotic duty’. The turnout is not as low as that for the constitution voted for under Morsi’s rule but still indicates that much of the population does not have confidence in the current political system and as a result is either boycotting or feeling apathetic towards the vote. There were geographical divides between north and south in voter turnout; the more traditionally Islamic south appears to have primarily boycotted the vote as a protest against the crackdown on Islamism and Morsi’s overthrow.

The constitution generally strengthens the military, the police and the judiciary; key points include: the president can serve only two four-year terms, the defence minister must be chosen by the military, Islam is the state religion but freedom of belief is “absolute”, the state guarantees equality between genders and no political party can be based on “religion, race, gender or geography”, protests are still subject to strict laws and civilians can still be tried by a military criminal court. Despite certain liberal appearances the constitution has many critics within liberal groups, such as the 6 April Movement who were very involved in the ousting of Mubarak and who consider it as a return to the days of military leadership under Mubarak and simply a legitimisation of the powerful and unquestioned position of the army’s power. The Muslim Brotherhood is also understandably critical of the constitution particularly as its rules concerning the role of religion within political parties destroy its legality.

Parliamentary and presidential elections are now due to take place within the next few months and there seems little doubt that General Al-Sisi who orchestrated the coup against Morsi will run for president. If successful, once again a military strongman will be in charge of Egypt and there will be little room left for doubt as to the power of the military within Egyptian politics. The authorities have insisted that the country is on the road to democracy, others though are predicting mass revolt and another revolution. Whatever the case it is unquestionable that the military has an unrivalled position that they are very unwilling to jeopardise and many direly predict that oppression, censorship and violence are already and will continue to be used.

Thea Osborne, Features Columnist

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