Wednesday, July 27, 2011

North Africa: Egypt: Protests turn increasingly violent while tensions mount over trials

Former President Hosni Mubarak is set to head to trial alongside former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly, but the seeming reluctance to try other ministers, and the swearing in of other ministers who belonged to Mubarak's cabinet into the interim cabinet has created additional tensions amongst the Egyptian population. Concerns over Mubarak's recent wellbeing have scuppered earlier attempts to bring him to trial, where he is accused of ordering the killing of protesters in February.

Egypt's transition continues to be marred by violence between protestors and security forces, most recently over the weekend in which hundreds of people were injured according to the Egyptian health ministry (Al Jazeera, 23 July 2011). According to the protestors these clashes were triggered by the slow pace of reform in the country, and their marching to the defence ministry is a signifier of the increasing frustration some of them feel towards the ruling military council, as the military remains greatly respected amongst much of the population and has not behaved as badly as the police and intelligence services.

Clashes have occurred between groups best characterised as nostalgists for the Mubarak regime, who fear the insubstantiality of the demonstrators and groups who succeeded in toppling Mubarak. On the other hand, many Egyptians are growing weary about what they feel are continual protests, or else fear that the power of mass action and protest is being diluted. Yet a source of concern is that some political movements and groups, including youth ones, seek to delay the holding of elections, ostensibly so they are better prepared, although this strategy may turn out to be counterproductive, as such groups may lose support that they are likely to get from the momentum of the revolution. This is so because as time passes, that momentum wanes and claims that the revolution was the work of everyone and not just the youths will emerge, which has already begun. They may also lose support if they are perceived to be preventing the elections through naivety or incapacity, as this was clear during the 19 March referendum on partial constitutional amendments.

Groups that participated in the toppling of Mubarak arguably had a better chance of succeeding in elections if they were held early. They are also perceived to be weakening the chances of other, better-prepared groups through delaying tactics, which also possibly plays into the hands of the military and those who might prefer that the status quo persist.

This should also prove to be a serious test of the credentials and trustworthiness of the military in regards to their stated intention of returning the country to civilian rule, with the adherence to agreed deadlines on transition remaining the key indicator.

Compiled by Timothy Walker, ACPP Pretoria Office Intern