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

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Lada became a symbol of Russia’s failure to keep up with Western economies  

Our sanctions will not cripple Russia. It is doing a lot of the dirty work itself

Hamish McRae
The Israeli ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, has been dubbed ‘Bibi’s brain’  

Israel's propaganda machine is finally starting to misfire

Patrick Cockburn
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz