Egypt’s democratic transition lags amid confusion
CAIRO — It took 18 days of democracy protests to end Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s 30 years in power. It may yet take at least 18 months after his overthrow to see off the generals who succeeded him.
The military, in charge since Mubarak was toppled in February, has said it will not hand over power until presidential elections are held. According to a timeline announced this week, that may not happen until August 2012.
The head of the electoral commission said this week a three-stage parliamentary election will start on November 21 and end on January 3. A senate election will begin on January 22 and end on March 4.
The military had said that, after the election, a panel will create a constitution to replace Mubarak’s, which was suspended after his ouster. It has six months to finish its work and then Egypt will vote for a new president.
Back in February, perhaps only a few of the hundreds of thousands who braved riot police and regime thugs to demand democracy would have imagined that Mubarak’s end would usher in prolonged martial rule.
A military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, says the military, which is headed by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, is not to blame for the delays.
“There were many demands to delay the elections,” he said. “And there is lack of stability in security.”
The country suffers from sporadic unrest — such as deadly clashes between protesters and police this month after activists stormed the Israeli embassy — and the police have yet to recover from the February revolt.
The military official said a decision this month to split the parliamentary and senate elections, which will prolong the transition, was made at judges’ requests because they would not have the manpower to monitor simultaneous elections.
The transition so far has been beset by tangle of confused demands from a plethora of activist groups and political parties and sometimes equally confused responses by the military and the caretaker cabinet it appointed.
Protesters who helped topple Mubarak now demonstrate against military rule, merely switching Mubarak with Tantawi in their chants. One of their main demands is an end to the military trials of thousands of civilians after Mubarak’s ouster.
Yet many secular groups want a delay in parliamentary elections, fearing their well-organised and financed Islamist rivals would snap up the seats.
“There are conflicting demands, and that is the result of the weakness of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf’s cabinet,” said Nabil Abdel Fatah, an analyst with the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.
“It is the result of the absence of a clear roadmap for transition,” he said.
An agreement on a transitional plan has so far eluded the political players. The Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s best organised movement, insists on quick parliamentary elections.
The Brotherhood, and other Islamist groups, also organised in July a massive rally in Cairo to protest demands by secular groups for a declaration of constitutional principles before elections.
The government has said it is working on drafting such principles, although a senior Brotherhood official insisted to AFP that, privately, the cabinet has assured them it was not.
Such a declaration, Abdel Fattah said, could allow for the election of a president, who would take over from the military, before a parliamentary election.
The Brotherhood says it is not running a candidate for the presidential election, but it will contest up to half of parliament.