Thursday, February 09, 2012

Post-Mubarak Egypt Still Faces Formidable Challenges

Post-Mubarak Egypt still lost

JAILAN ZAYAN | CAIRO, EGYPT - Feb 09 2012 14:26

The spectacular uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak a year ago turned the political order upside down in Egypt where the former ruler is now in jail and once-oppressed Islamists in Parliament, but for most Egyptians the grievances remain unchanged.

Mubarak's unshakeable three-decade rule crumbled under the weight of 18 days of unprecedented street protests, forcing the strongman to resign on February 11 last year and prompting a wave of collective euphoria.

The uprising pumped energy into the country: political parties were formed, debates whirred everywhere and power was handed over to a military council that vowed to pave the way to democracy and swiftly return to the barracks.

For the first time in decades, Egyptians felt they had a stake in the country's future.

"Egypt will never be the same," proclaimed US President Barack Obama the day Mubarak fell.

But a year later, the jubilation has given way to frustration and anger as political dissent continues to be stifled, corruption still prevails and price hikes pile pressure on households.

"Mubarak may have left, but the two pillars of his regime, a strong police state and an unjust economic system, remain in place," said Rabab al-Mahdi, a political science professor at the American University in Cairo.

But the very same two factors are what is driving the revolution forward, she said.

Many changes

Protesters who embraced the military as supporters of the revolution have turned their anger against the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which they accuse of mismanaging the transition and seeking to retain a degree of power.

Demonstrators have been taking to the streets for months to demand the ouster of the military ruler, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Mubarak's longtime defence minister who is now in charge of the country.

They accuse the army of human rights violations, violence against protesters and sowing instability to justify its position at the top of the political ladder.

Mahdi concedes there is a long way to go to achieving the goals of the revolution of freedom and social justice but admits "there have been many changes".

The uprising brought the first court appearance of an autocratic leader toppled by the Arab Spring protests.

Mubarak, his interior minister and six security chiefs are facing trial for their involvement in the killing of protesters during the uprising.

His two sons Gamal and Alaa -- symbols of power and wealth-- are also behind bars with a host of former ministers and officials on charges of corruption.

It was an epic downfall, with the once absolute ruler reduced to a caged invalid, a scene unthinkable before the January 25 revolution when the mere mention of his health could land an editor in jail.

'The fall of the Pharoah'

The first hearing in August saw the ailing 83-year-old Mubarak wheeled into court on a stretcher, drawing a collective gasp from Egyptians who watched the "fall of the Pharaoh" live on tv.

His arch foes, the Muslim Brotherhood -- long banned and and whose members suffered a widespread and sometimes brutal crackdown at the hands of the interior ministry -- formed the Freedom and Justice Party and now control almost half the seats in Parliament.

The more hardline Salafi movements, whose adherents were jailed for years, have become new power brokers, with the Al-Nur party coming second in Egypt's first free and democratic elections that wrapped up in January.

The players may be different, but the debates in Parliament reflect the same concerns as a year ago: the price rise of butane gas, fuel shortages, corruption, police violence.

"Much has changed, but more remains the same," said analyst Seif Abdul Shahid in a recent column in the state-owned Ahram Online website.

"The real issue is not taking power, but defanging power. When the people called for the end of the system, it meant more than persons," he wrote.

The new Egypt has also been gripped by instability since Mubarak's omnipresent and hated police force disappeared from the streets during the uprising.

Street clashes between police and protesters, sectarian violence, attacks on a pipeline that supplies gas to Israel and armed robberies have only further infuriated Egyptians.

Activists have called for mass demonstrations and a general strike on Saturday, vowing to keep their unfinished revolution alive. -- AFP

Source: Mail & Guardian Online
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