Irrespective of who will ultimately grasp the power in Egypt, the situation may remain on a cliffhanger for a long time to come.
Neither of the run-off candidates in the presidential elections held last weekend — Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister under the ousted Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak and the favorite of his army men who are still in virtual control of the country, and Mohammed Mursi, the leader of the impressive Muslim Brotherhood, the strongest Islamist group in the region — are the particular favorites of the liberal youth movement that led the Egyptian uprising in the famous Tahrir Square more than a year ago.
Yet, the other side of the Egyptian coin has not been all that disappointing. After all, Egypt had, for the first time, smooth parliamentary and presidential elections in which Shafiq and Mursi are now locked in close battle, although the latter is believed to be the winner. It was a competition whose outcome was difficult to predict since the two run-off candidates had, for the first time, to genuinely appeal to the seemingly divided Egyptian people who are apparently tired of the wrenching competition now in its 16 months.
Mursi was a professor of engineering at California State University before he moved back to Cairo where he established the Freedom and Justice Party, in effect the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood. Shafiq was said to be an “impressive” chief of the Egyptian air force and an “innovative” minister of aviation. But most importantly, his colleagues were members of the all-powerful ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which took over command of the country after ousting Mubarak.
It was SCAF that pulled the rug from underneath the assumed front runner, the Islamist leader who had just promised that his regime, supported by the Egyptian parliament where most of the seats were held by his group, the Muslim Brotherhood, would treat all Egyptians, regardless of faith or leanings, evenhandedly.
Apparently sensing that their favorite, General Shafiq, may not make it, SCAF turned its guns on Mursi. He was shorn in advance by decree of much of his power as president, just as polling stations closed. Two days earlier, SCAF had dissolved the new parliament after a Mubarak-appointed court found alleged irregularities in the election. Moreover, the Supreme Council spelled out limited powers for the new head of state and reclaimed for itself the law-making prerogatives normally held by parliament, pending the election of a new legislature in 60 days.
This was described as a “soft” coup by many Egyptians. One prominent Egyptian, Mohammad Al Baradei, a former U.N. diplomat and Nobel peace laureate, tweeted this turnaround, more correctly, as a “grave setback for democracy and revolution”.
This also amounted to a slap in the face of the Obama administration, which had recently donated, as had always been the case, $1.3 billion to the Egyptian military, the biggest army in the Middle East. It actually followed a surprise confirmation by Egypt’s top military leader and head of SCAF, Fieldmarshal Hussein Tantawi, who had served the deposed Egyptian leader for over 20 years, to U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that the target date for civilian rule would be met.
Robert Fisk, a prominent British journalist who has covered the Middle East for decades, recalled a letter from Gamal Abdel Nasser, then an Egyptian officer who later assumed the Egyptian presidency, to General Mohammed Neguib, explaining what they should with King Farouk whom they ousted about 60 years ago.
Nasser’s prophetic letter mirrors what is taking place in the Egyptian capital nowadays. He wrote: “The Liberation Movement should get rid of Farouk (sic) as quickly as possible in order to deal with what is more important — namely, the need to purge the country of the corruption that Farouk will leave behind him. We must pave the way towards a new era in which the people will enjoy their sovereign rights and live in dignity. Justice is one of our objectives. We cannot execute Farouk without a trial. Neither can we afford to keep him in jail and preoccupy ourselves with the rights and wrong of his case at the risk of neglecting the other purposes of the revolution. Let us spare Farouk and send him into exile. History will sentence him to death.”
It is hoped that the power-hungry Egyptian generals would digest what the great Arab leader underlined about 60 years ago and that is still noteworthy today.
The writer is a Washington-based columnist.The article was published in Jordan Times on June. 21, 2012