Leading article: The storm clouds are gathering over Egypt

 

Share
Related Topics

When mass protests toppled Hosni Mubarak in February last year, Cairo's Tahrir Square swiftly became the emblem of the hopes of the Arab Spring. Sixteen months on, however – with the constitution still not written and soldiers guarding the doors of the parliament – the outlook for the Egyptian revolution is far from certain.

There were always going to be hiccups. After six decades of military rule, three of them under Mr Mubarak, dismantling the old power structures – the so-called "deep state" – could hardly be expected to run entirely smoothly. But all the signs suggest that the ruling military council is tightening its grip on power just as the time to relinquish it is approaching.

It is true that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has restated its commitment to hand control to the new President at the end of this month as planned. But on Sunday night, a bare few hours after the polls closed, the council issued a constitutional declaration granting itself both sweeping legislative and budgetary oversight and also, crucially, the final say over who will draft the constitution that will set out the President's powers.

Coming just days after the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parliament was declared unconstitutional and dissolved, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the military is consolidating its position while it can. The decision that the army will remain outside presidential control, and that parliamentary elections will not go ahead until after the constitution is in place, only add to moderate Egyptians' fears. It is understandable, then, that the council's actions were swiftly branded a "coup", and that there was a smattering of demonstrators back in Tahrir Square yesterday.

In response, there was much bluster from the council, not least the claim that the situation is being "blown out of proportion". For such protestations to have any credence, however, will take action as well as words. Until then, it is, alas, Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei's verdict of "a grave setback for democracy" that stands.

But it is not only the machinations of the military council that are disquieting. A presidential race that, by the final round, pitted Mohamed Morsi, of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, against Ahmed Shafik, a former air force commander and Mr Mubarak's final Prime Minister, has only added to the frustrations of the young, liberal demonstrators who led the Tahrir Square protests. To many, such a choice looks like the revolutionary momentum is all but lost.

The election has certainly proved a close-run thing. So much so that both sides are making early claims of victory, ahead of Thursday's official result. Although neither candidate merits unqualified support, it is Mr Morsi who must be preferred of the two. The election of Mr Shafik simply looks too much like a return to the bad old days, even more so in light of the military's latest moves.

That said, a Morsi presidency carries significant risks of its own. For all his efforts to cast himself as a liberal, the prospect of Islamist rule remains a disconcerting one. More concerning still, given recent developments, is that Mr Morsi may prove no more effective a break with the past than Mr Shafik. The Muslim Brotherhood was a latecomer to the protest movement, and has been a vocal supporter of the military council since. If the SCAF is bent on pulling the President's constitutional claws, it would be up to Mr Morsi to fight it. And whether or not he did so would determine Egypt's political future.

More than anything, Egypt needs a leader who can start to unify its fractured society and address its increasingly acute economic problems. The optimism of February 2011 is not entirely spent, but there is much cause for concern. Tahrir Square may see more protests yet.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Riyadh is setting itself up as region’s policeman

Lina Khatib
Ed Miliband and David Cameron  

Cameron and Miliband should have faith in their bolder policies

Ian Birrell
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor