The pro-democracy Egyptian revolution is heading towards producing results contrary to the expectation of those who spearheaded it.
The Islamist parties now stand a good chance to win an absolute majority in the parliamentary elections in November, and also contest successfully the presidential election. This outcome would be alarming for secularist pro-democracy elements and many regional and international actors, Israel and the US in particular, but it would need to be embraced as part and parcel of process of Egypt’s democratisation journey.
According to an Aljazeera public opinion survey, released on July 7, 2011, nearly 50 per cent of those polled indicated first preference for the Muslim Brotherhood, represented by the Freedom and Justice Party. Another 27 per cent expressed support for the Salafist cluster or what is now called Nour Party. Although there are some ideological and operational differences between the two parties, both are nonetheless Islamist, advocating political Islam as the framework for Egypt’s transformation.
A parliamentary electoral victory, with support from some, if not all, Salafists, will enable the Muslim Brotherhood to form a government in its own right, headed by a prime minister from its ranks or beholden to it. So far the party has denied it plans to field a candidate for the presidential election. But this does not mean that it will fail to support a preferred candidate. As the situation stands, none of the pro-democracy secularist figures, such as the former Egyptian foreign minister and head of the Arab League, Amr Mussa, and the ex-boss of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammed Elberiddi, who are both seeking the presidential position, is likely to harness sufficient votes to beat a Brotherhood-endorsed candidate. The result may well be Muslim Brotherhood dominance in Egyptian politics.
These developments can easily be viewed as alarming by those who have historically viewed the Muslim Brotherhood as a menace to Egyptian and regional stability. However, this need not be the case. In any event, the Islamists, who are not homogeneous in their political and social disposition by any means, are unlikely to be in a position to establish a theocratic order, for example, similar to what has developed in Iran. Although the Saudi-backed Salafists remain a wild card, the same cannot be said about the Muslim Brotherhood. As the oldest party since its foundation in 1928, it has learned through bitter experiences that if it fails to secure popular support for its policies, it will have little chance of hanging on to power for too long, should it achieve electoral victory. The party’s mainstream leadership seems to have already shifted its posture in pursuit of centre-right realistic policy priorities and goals, and recognised the fact that the Egyptian society is a mix of 90 per cent Muslim and 10 per cent Coptic Christian, and that the country’s military leadership is pro-secular, with close ties with the United States.
Whilst a majority of Egyptians are devout Muslims, there is a great number amongst them that they do not want Islam to underpin the operation of their state and society. And it is this critical mass that is most likely to remain determined in ensuring that the Egyptian revolution stays on course to deliver a democratic rather than an Islamist political transformation. In this, they can count on the support of the military leadership and the international community. The February revolution has delivered Egyptians a new era of awareness and expectations. A failure on the part of any governments – Islamist or secular – to respond to this development effectively could easily result in the failure of that government, continued public turmoil and policy paralysis, which will not benefit anybody.
It is time for sober heads to prevail not only in Egypt, but also outside of the country. The US and some of the regional actors, most importantly Israel, bear a special responsibility in this respect. It would be a fundamental mistake if any of these actors were to try to circumvent Egypt’s process of democratisation in order to prevent the Islamists from coming to power through fair and free elections. Democracy cannot always be expected to deliver the kinds of outcomes that could fulfil their preferences.
Algeria’s past experience should be a warning to all. In January 1991, the Algerian Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was on the verge of a winning a democratic election, but domestic secular liberal forces, supported by France, encouraged the military to intervene in order prevent FIS from achieving its goal. As the military cancelled the elections, and banned FIS and arrested many of its leaders, it helped generate the conditions for many radical members of FIS to go underground and take up arms, resulting in the gruesome killing of some 100,000 Algerians over the next decade. Algeria is still reeling from that episode, and its overall stability and security remains fragile.
Similarly, one must not look overlook the manner in which Israel and the US called for democratisation of the Palestinian politics, but when the Palestinian Authority held a general election in January 2006 and the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas won it democratically, Israel and its supporters rejected the outcome. The failure to accommodate the results contributed substantially to acrimonious divisions among the Palestinians, with the West Bank remaining under the control of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas taking over Gaza Strip 18 months later. This complicated further the process for finding a viable resolution to the Palestinian problem.
At least 6 people were injured as a result of a gunfire fight outside of Giza’s Faisal metro station late Saturday night. One man is in critical condition after he was shot in the head, security sources said.
The fight started between two men after the first complained about the second passing by his house driving a motorbike, the same security source added.
The first man then fired a shot from a gun in the air to intimidate the second, who minutes later pulled out a shotgun, climbed on the roof of a building and started shooting randomly at the crowd below, injuring bystanders.
Police are still searching for the two men, who escaped soon after police arrival.
The shooting came only hours after a gunfight erupted in the busy district of Moski, killing at least four people and injuring dozens in a gun battle. Molotov Cocktails and rocks were also used.
That fight involved two families who attacked others over a dispute over displays in the area. Tens were arrested after the police and the army were called to the scene. The deputy general from Moski police station was injured after a being hit in the face with a bottle. Police said they are still searching for the guns that were used and other suspects.
Egypt turned back 450 travellers seeking to cross from Gaza at the Rafah border point after an attack on a Sinai police station, Hamas officials said on Sunday.
Gaza’s Hamas-run interior ministry said that the 450 would-be travellers, some of them patients seeking medical treatment, were turned back at the border on Saturday.
Palestinians in Gaza have accused Egypt of creating unnecessary hold-ups at the crossing, the only one open to residents of the coastal territory, and the interior ministry said it had a backlog of some 30,000 travel applications.
In a statement, the ministry gave no details on why the travellers were turned back, but the incident came after Egyptian forces arrested 12 men, including three Palestinians, in connection with an attack on a north Sinai police station.
North Sinai security chief Saleh al-Masri announced the arrests on Saturday, a day after the attack on the police station in El-Arish.
The attack came as clashes rocked the town on Friday, killing three civilians, an army officer and a police officer and leaving 19 people wounded.
Also on Friday, around 150 men in trucks and on motorbikes rampaged through El-Arish, firing assault rifles in the air, terrifying residents.
They rode through the deserted streets waving black flags which read “There is no God but Allah,” before attempting to storm the police station.
Gaza residents hailed Egypt’s decision to reopen the Rafah border crossing in May, after an uprising overthrew the government of former president Hosni Mubarak.
The decision ended Egypt’s cooperation with a blockade Israel imposed on the Palestinian enclave in 2006, after Gaza-based militants snatched an Israeli soldier.
But since the border reopened, Egypt has closely restricted the number of travellers able to cross each day, leading to repeated requests from Palestinians including the Gaza-based Hamas government for larger travel quotas.
The trial of former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak has been moved to a police academy in Cairo for added security, the minister of justice said.
The trial had been scheduled to take place at a Cairo convention hall Wednesday.
The 83-year-old former president and his former interior minister, Habib El Adly, face possible death sentences if convicted of unleashing police on the demonstrations that drove them from office in February.
Six of El Adly’s assistants face trial on the same charges, Justice Minister Mohamed Abdel Aziz Al Guindy said Saturday.
Mubarak has denied the charges.
The human rights group Amnesty International has estimated that at least 840 people were killed and more than 6,000 wounded during the three-week uprising that toppled Mubarak.
A police officer accused of indiscriminately shooting protesters has been sentenced to death in absentia.
In addition, Mubarak, his sons Gamal and Alaa, and a business associate face trial on corruption charges.
The trial will be open to the public under heavy security and carried on Egyptian state television, Guindy said.
The trial is set to open on the third day of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
Mubarak ruled Egypt with an iron fist for nearly 30 years before the revolt that toppled him February 11, leaving the nation under the control of a military council. He has been hospitalized since suffering heart palpitations in April, but Health Minister Amr Helmy declared Thursday that the ailing former strongman is “fit to stand trial, given a proper transportation arrangement.”
Prosecutors have said Mubarak suffers from depression, fatigue, repeated irregular heartbeats, low blood pressure that could lead to fainting and an increased risk of heart attack. His lawyer disclosed in June that the ex-president had been struggling with complications from a previously concealed 2010 surgery for stomach cancer.
Earlier this month, hospital officials reported that Mubarak had fallen into a brief coma and recently said that he was depressed and refusing to eat as he awaits trial.
Egyptian military Saturday arrested 12 people in connection with the attack on a police station in Al-Arish in Northern Sinai late Friday.
The attack left four people dead, including a police officer, while about 20 people were injured, including citizens who happened to be in the area at the time of the incident.
Several unknown armed men besieged the police station in North Sinai on Friday, in an apparent attempt to set it ablaze but the soldiers who stood guard prevented this, leading to an exchange of fire with the attackers.
The police station has been reinforced with additional security personnel, as investigations have commenced into the attack.
In a seperate incident, the military Saturday clashed with another group of armed men, who were trying to break into a gas station in Al-Arish, which exports gas to Israel through North Sinai.
Security sources told PANA the gunmen attacked the gas station with rocket-propelled grenades, adding that the attack did not record any human casualties.
The attackers destroyed the cooling line connected to the gas exporting line, which was empty at the time.
The pipeline, transporting gas to Israel has been attacked four times in the past few months.
An army officer and two civilians were shot dead in clashes between an armed gang and Egyptian army and police in the north Sinai town of Arish on Friday, security sources said.
About a hundred armed men rode through Arish on motorcycles and vehicles waving flags with Islamic slogans and firing in the air, terrifying the local population, Sinai security sources said.
The gang then attacked a police station, engaging in a shootout with Egyptian police and army that left one army officer dead. A 70-year-old man and a 13-year-old boy who were caught up in the shooting died from bullet wounds.
Another army officer and 11 security guards were wounded in the attack and taken to an army hospital for treatment, MENA state news agency.
Before reaching the police station, the attackers had camped at a main square in the city, raising black flags. They destroyed a statue of former President Anwar al-Sadat and fired shots in the air. A 12-year-old boy was wounded because of the firing.
Following the police station attack, the perpetrators continued to roam the city, firing at street lights in a quest to darken the area, according to witnesses.
A security source told Al-Masry Al-Youm that the military is sending special forces to secure the area.
The identity of the attackers was not known.
Witnesses said the attackers, many of whom wore masks, did not seem to be from the area as they lost their way several times before reaching the police station.
Egypt is already on the edge, facing citizen arrests and fears that the protesters currently engaged in a sit-in in Cairo’s Tahrir Square are “spies.” On Wednesday afternoon, the head of Egypt’s military junta said that foreign countries were “meddling” in the internal affairs of the country.
The statements by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi come as a public battle for support is being waged between the protest movement and the military, who last week claimed the 6th of April youth movement had a “suspicious plan” for Egypt.
Those comments, made public in an official Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) statement led to clashed between residents in the Abbassiya neighborhood on Saturday that saw some 300 people injured.
“There are foreign players who feed and set up specific projects that some individuals carry out domestically, without understanding,” Hussein Tantawi, head of the ruling military junta said in an address to officers.
“It is possible that there is lack of understanding, that foreign players are pushing the people into inappropriate directions,” Tantawi said, adding that such foreign parties “did not want stability for Egypt.”
Tantawi, who has received the brunt of activists calls for change – including his removal – did not call on his troops to intervene in the civilian battles last weekend.
“It was the people who intervened and confronted this,” he said, stressing that “the armed forces have protected the revolution.”
Tantawi added that the army was staying the course and was “committed” to handing over power to a civilian government after elections, scheduled to begin this November.
However, worries are growing in Egypt that the military is attempting to maintain power and is not moving swiftly enough to implement the demands of the protesters, namely the ending of military trials for civilians and the speedy trials of former regime officials.
On the ground, the PR fight is taking its toll, with many average Egyptians believing the military’s denouncements of the protesters in Tahrir, which has led to worries that violence could spark in greater numbers.
Airport officials say some 300 passengers were rushed off an Egypt Air plane that caught fire before takeoff from Cairo.
The officials say an electrical short in the cockpit caused the fire early Friday as the plane was scheduled to fly to Jiddah, Saudi Arabia.
The passengers were rushed off the plane to a transit hall as firefighters put out the flames. The officials said two firefighters were later taken to the hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation.
The fire didn’t affect general air traffic and another plane was being prepared for the passengers traveling to Jiddah.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Thousands of Salafist protesters Friday packed Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square, where they joined members of liberal groups in a Friday of Unity to renew their calls for the trial of officials from the former regime.
However, the Islamic slogans and banners showed potential tensions between the Salafists and the liberals. The Salafists, in a show of force, called for setting up an Islamic state and enforcing Sharia law in Egypt.
Chanting “There is no God but Allah” and “Islamiya, Islamiya”, the Salafists waved banners that read “Islamic Egypt”. They also waved Saudi flags.
The Salafists’ chants drew criticisms from others who said the slogans violated an agreement to avoid divisive issues.
Instead of “Peaceful, peaceful,” which demonstrators have chanted during confrontations with security forces, they repeated “Islamic, Islamic”.
And instead of “The people want to topple the regime”, they yelled, “The people want to implement Sharia,” a strict form of Islamic law.
Salafists are ultraconservatives, close to Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi interpretation of Islam and more radical than the Brotherhood. They seek to emulate the austerity of Islam’s early days and oppose a wide range of practices like intermingling of the sexes that they view as “un-Islamic”. Many also reject all forms of Western cultural influence.
More than 15 parties and political movements took part in yesterday’s protest to demand an end to military trials of civilians, the prosecution of former regime members found guilty of abuse, and the redistribution of wealth.
The Islamists wanted the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to cease its plans for presenting a set of principles that will form a framework for a new constitution.
Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Gamaa Islamiya and Salafists argued that only God’s word is greater than any man-made constitution and that only a parliament chosen by free election can set the terms for a constitution, due to be re-written after the People’s Assembly and the Shura Council will be elected in November. “Islamic law above the Constitution,” the Salafists chanted.
They said that they would gain enough support to dominate such a parliament and thereby set the terms.
The groups fear that a kind of bill of rights could close off the possibility of a state run by Islamic laws.
The liberal youths, who once dominated Tahrir, were a minority in the square.
The protesters said tensions mostly emerged between liberal groups and Salafists rather than the Brotherhood, which takes a conservative but not strict Salafist approach to Islam.
In Suez, some 120km northeast of Cairo, the official MENA news agency said some groups including the liberal Wafd Party announced they were withdrawing from the rally because of Islamist tactics.
“(Wafd) and a large number of parties as well as the Suez Revolutionary Coalition decided not to participate after they had become sure that the religious groups participating refused the principle of harmony and insisted on slogans that bring up divisions,” Ali Amin of the Wafd Party was quoted as saying.
However, alongside the Islamic slogans, there were also other chants in Tahrir, such as “People and the Army, hand in hand”.
Some protesters have accused the Brotherhood, which was banned under Mubarak but now enjoys unprecedented freedom, of making a pact with the Army.
The group denies it. But the question of how hard to push the Army over reforms remains.
In the Sinai city of el-Arish, hard-line Salafists fired rocket-propelled grenades and other heavy weapons in the air during protests, injuring a small boy, according to an intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorised to release the information.
In the southern city of Assiut, deputy police chief Yosri el-Jammasi said Salafist protesters beat up a group of protesters from the Communist party trying to join their demonstration. At one point, some in the crowd yelled back at a speaker who criticised the idea of constitutional guidelines.
A huge rally Friday meant to symbolize unity highlighted instead the deepening splits between secular and religious parties over Egypt’s future, signaling battles certain to unfold in coming months over the influence of Islamic law on the nation’s new constitution.
The demonstration in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, one of the largest since President Hosni Mubarak was toppled in February, reaffirmed the power of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist organizations that amassed tens of thousands of supporters. It came as weeks of protests have convulsed the country and polarized political parties whose true agendas are emerging.
“The people want an Islamic state,” Islamists chanted while outnumbered secular demonstrators watched from the sidelines in a square streaked with religious banners and echoing with loudspeakers.
Secularist parties have pressured the ruling military council to draft guidelines to govern the writing of a constitution. The Muslim Brotherhood has criticized the move as an attempt to circumvent the new Parliament, which Islamists are expected to control, giving them power to pass a constitution weighted in Sharia law.
“I’m really scared of the potential of an Islamic state in Egypt. Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood don’t allow any democracy within their movement,” said Amira Badr, a 27-year-old administrator who attended the rally.
The competing goals reveal the passions and dangers the Arab’s world’s most populous country faces as it navigates away from the Mubarak era and toward defining Egypt’s character for coming generations.
The demonstration was to be a day of putting differences aside so Islamists and secular groups could protest together in urging the military council to enact reforms and bring officials from Mubarak’s regime to justice. That unity, however, was overwhelmed by calls from moderate and ultraconservative Muslims to instill the Quran into the laws of the land.
“Islamic, Islamic, we don’t want it secular,” shouted protesters.
Secular and youth parties worry that such sentiment could shape a constitution that doesn’t protect women and non-Muslims. This concern has grown in recent months as ultraconservative Islamist groups, such as Gamma al Islamiya, which carried out terror attacks in the 1980s and ’90s, have become politically active.