Leading article: Egypt's army must leave room for democracy

 

Share
Related Topics

The scenes from Cairo in recent days have been met with alarm around the world, as well they might have been.

Egypt was the second country in the region, after Tunisia, to remove its long-time ruler after a mostly peaceful show of people power. As by far the largest country to have successfully accomplished a revolution, it became a beacon for others.

There is an uneasy symmetry between the heroic tenacity of the protesters on Tahrir Square nine months ago and the more untidy, more volatile nature of the equally persistent crowds now. But there is also a difference, and that difference is mood. The protests of Tahrir Square in February were buoyed by hope – the hope nurtured by Egypt's young population that a better life was possible, and that they could make it happen. That hope now seems a long way from Tahrir Square.

But the seeds of the present discontent were also sown in those early weeks, in the acceptance – part joyous and part in trepidation – that the military should preside over the transition. When the army took over, as Hosni Mubarak bowed to the inevitable, the transfer of power was widely hailed as a liberation. But it was a liberation only insofar as the officers who formed the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces accepted that this was a strictly interim arrangement, designed to bridge a perilous power vacuum between the enforced departure of the President and the organising of free elections.

There was always the risk that the military would rediscover a taste for power, or that a failure to accelerate the development of new institutions and robust electoral procedures would provide a pretext for the army to remain as a bulwark against disorder. Either would make the army takeover in February look more like a military coup, with hindsight, than a liberation.

This is not – quite – where things stand today. But it is what the protesters fear, why they have returned to Tahrir Square, and why they are resisting all attempts to dislodge them. Similar demonstrations are reported from elsewhere in Egypt.

The renewed protests, and their geographical spread, show that there can be no going back. But they are evidence, too, of how many opportunities have been wasted as the months have passed. Reforms have barely begun in any sector; living standards have languished or declined further, as the tourist industry has shrunk. Frustration has set in.

These are dangerous times. Only one week remains before the start of parliamentary elections, yet it looks as though they will be a far cry from the exercise in democracy for which the protesters agreed to leave the square all those months ago.

The specific trigger for the new protests was a plan by the military council to claim veto power over a new constitutional drafting committee. The original idea was that such a committee would be set up by the new parliament; any role for the military – let alone a veto over the committee's composition and work – could be seen as negating the whole purpose of the elections.

For voting to proceed in this atmosphere would be a recipe for trouble. But so would be a postponement, which would only compound the growing pessimism and risk new clashes. The military have to be persuaded that any attempt to prolong their hold on power will make an already perilous situation worse.

One solution might be the intervention of an honest broker. The United States, which has kept a low profile in the region since it withdrew its support for the Mubarak regime, and the Arab League, which has taken an increasingly tough stance on Syria, should consider joining forces in such an initiative. Its purpose would be no more and no less than to save the Egyptian revolution.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: When is a baroness not a baroness? Titles still cause confusion

Guy Keleny
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?