Egypt‘s revolution is in danger of being hijacked by the army, key political activists have warned, as concrete details of the country’s democratic transition period were revealed for the first time.
Judge Tarek al-Beshry, a moderate Islamic thinker, announced that he had been selected by the military to head a constitutional reform panel. Its proposals will be put to a national referendum in two months’ time. The formation of the panel comes after high-ranking army officers met with selected youth activists on Sunday and promised them that the process of transferring power to a civilian government is now under way.
But the Guardian has learned that despite public pronouncements of faith in the military’s intentions, elements of Egypt’s fractured political opposition are deeply concerned about the army’s unilateral declarations of reform and the apparent unwillingness of senior officers to open up sustained and transparent negotiations with those who helped organise the revolution.
“We need the army to recognise that this is a revolution, and they can’t implement all these changes on their own,” said Alaa Abd El Fattah, a prominent youth activist. “The military are the custodians of this particular stage in the process, and we’re fine with that, but it has to be temporary.
“To work out what comes next there has to be a real civilian cabinet, of our own choosing, one that has some sort of public consensus behind it – not just unilateral communiques from army officers.”
There is consternation that the army is taking such a hard line on the country’s burgeoning wave of strikes, which has seen workers seeking not just to improve their economic conditions, but also to purge institutions of bosses they accuse of being corrupt and closely aligned to the old regime.
“These protests aren’t just wage-specific,” said Abd El Fattah. “They’re also about people at ground level wanting to continue the work of the revolution, pushing out regime cronies and reclaiming institutions like the professional syndicates and university departments that have long been commandeered by the state.”
The ruling military council has called on “noble Egyptians” to end all strikes immediately.
Egypt’s post-Mubarak political landscape has grown increasingly confused in the past few days, as the largely discredited formal opposition parties of the old era seek to reposition themselves as populist movements. Meanwhile younger, online-based groups are trying to capitalise on their momentum by forming their own political vehicles, and the previously outlawed Muslim Brotherhood has announced that it will form a legal political party.
After decades of stagnation, the country’s political spectrum is desperately trying to catch up with the largely leaderless events of the past few weeks and accommodate the millions of Egyptians politicised by Mubarak’s fall. “The current ‘opposition’ does not represent a fraction of those who participated in this revolution and engaged with Tahrir and other protest sites,” said Abd El Fattah. But with a myriad of short-lived alliances and counter-alliances developing among opposition forces in recent days, uncertainty about the country’s political future still prevails.
“Despite various attempts to form a united front, there’s nothing of the kind at this point – just a lot of division,” said Shadi Hamid, an Egypt expert at the Brookings Doha Centre. “You’ve got numerous groups, numerous coalitions, and everyone is meeting with everyone else. There’s a sense of organisational chaos. Everyone wants a piece of the revolution.”
This week a number of formal opposition parties, including the liberal Wafd party and the leftist Tagammu party, came together with members of the Muslim Brotherhood and a wide range of youth movements to try and elect a steering committee that could speak with a unified voice to the army commanders and negotiate the formation of a transitional government and presidential council.
Yet those plans have been overtaken by the speed of the military’s own independent proclamations on reform, raising fears that civilian voices are being shut out of the transitional process.
Some senior figures inside the coalition believe the army is deliberately holding high-profile meetings with individuals such as Google executive Wael Ghonim and the 6 April youth movement founder Ahmed Maher in an effort to appear receptive to alternative views, but without developing any sustainable mechanism through which non-military forces can play a genuine role in political reform.
“The military are talking to one or two ‘faces of the revolution’ that have no actual negotiating experience and have not been mandated by anyone to speak on the people’s behalf,” claimed one person involved with the new coalition. “It’s all very well for them to be apparently implementing our demands, but why are we being given no say in the process?
“They are talking about constitutional amendments, but most people here want a completely new constitution that limits the power of the presidency. They are talking about elections in a few months, and yet our political culture is still full of division and corruption.
“Many of us are now realising that a very well thought-out plan is unfolding step by step from the military, who of course have done very well out of the political and economic status quo. These guys are expert strategic planners after all, and with the help of some elements of the old regime and some small elements of the co-opted opposition, they’re trying to develop a system that looks vaguely democratic but in reality just entrenches their own privileges.”