Voting brings some hope for Egypt

Egypt’s ruling military council regarded the extraordinary turn-out in the first stage of the country’s landmark parliamentary election as a vote of confidence in its handling of the post-Mubarak era. The military announced that 70 per cent of the 17 million eligible voters cast ballots in two days of balloting.

However, many Egyptians fear the new popular assembly will have little authority because the military will remain the real authority. They hope the unprecented magnitude of the vote will make the generals think twice about defying the popular will by refusing to cede power.

Most Egyptians insist that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which assumed the presidency when Hosni Mubarak was ousted, should stand down. After nine months of rule by the SCAF, many Egyptians blame the military command—but not the troops—for failing to begin the transition from the dictatorial regime of ousted President Hosni Mubarak to multi-party democracy. Activists camped out in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the cradle of the uprising that toppled Mubarak, contend that the military is carrying out a counter-revolution with the aim of maintaining its control.  The activists also say the Muslim Brotherhood has joined the military in this effort.

Largely successful

In spite of a spate of violence that preceeded the poll and confusion over the hundreds of candidates and multiple party lists standing for the 498 seats in the lower house, the first phase of the election was largely peaceful and voters, the majority participating for the first time, exited polling stations with a sense of pride and achievement. Egyptians hope that the two further rounds for the lower house in two and four weeks time and the election for the upper house set for January will also be peaceful. While the military council believes the massive turn-out enhances its stand-ing, the masses of voters will be quick to turn against the generals if they do not heed popular demands.

Egyptians from all backgrounds and all levels of society told The Deccan Herald that they voted because they thought their votes would count and that they want "change." They want an end to the corrupt authoritarian regime which has dominated Egypt for six decades.

If the military fails to deliver, disillusioned voters could very well swell the ranks of the revolutionaries still camped out in Tahrir Square where they say they will remain until the generals hand over power to a civilian ‘national salvation’ government. The revolutionaries have rejected the military's appointment of former Mubarak premier Kemal Ganzouri to replace the collapsed cabinet of Essam Sharaf and demand that Nobel prize laureate Muhammad Elbaradei be elevated to the premiership of a cabinet made up of fresh faces rather than old lags from the Mubarak era.

Tahrir Square, the birth place of the still struggling Egyptian revolution, has become a ‘no go area’ for security forces since November 19th when police evicted 250 civilians claiming compensation for relatives slain or wounded during the uprising.  On that day, masses of angry Egyptians returned to Tahrir Square as well as the squares and streets of Alexandria, Ismailiya, Suez and other cities and towns to protest and to attack police facilities in Cairo and elsewhere.  During clashes outside the interior ministry in Cairo, at least 40 people were killed and 3,000 wounded, mostly young men .

Tahrir is a very real threat to the generals, particularly because of the symbiosis between the revolutionaries and increasing numbers of ordinary people. Youssef Zaki, a physician and businessman, said the revolutionaries and the people are gradually growing closer and will one day confront both the military and the Muslim Brotherhood which seeks to rule in partnership with the generals. Zaki said that such a partnership would be blessed by Washington which seeks to stabilise Egypt by backing a SCAF-Brotherhood deal. He could not understand why the US, which backs democratic change in Tunisia and Libya, resists such a transformation here.

Egypt, of course, is the largest Arab country, with a population of 85 million and a vast expanse of strategic territory between West Asia and North and East Africa. Mubarak was Washington's man. Now the US has to depend on Field Marshal Muhammad Hussein Tantawi, Mubarak's defence minister of 20 years, to maintain the old relationship.

However, Tantawi has become the personification of the counter-revolution against democratic rule in Egypt. In Tahrir Square, the people have revived the chant the slogan that brought down Mubarak - "The people want the end of the regime." Early in 2011, they meant the resignation of Mubarak, today they call for Tantawi to stand down. They brandish Egyptian flags and shout, "Leave, leave, leave..."  The election could bring closer the day he leaves.

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