Egypt: Mursi’s Power Grab

After years of struggle under the repressive regime of Mubarak, the Egyptian people have seemingly come under another totalitarian leadership after the spontaneous power grab of the democratically elected leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Muhammed Mursi.

Muhammed Mursi Grasps for Autocratic Powers, Sparking Violent Animosity

Leading the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice party, Muhammed Mursi became the presidential candidate after Khairat el-Shater was disqualified.  Euphoric jubilation followed his election in June, despite the array of problem that he would face as president.  The celebration of his presidency and the democratic era of Egypt continued after the successful negotiations led by Mursi to instill a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel.  Nevertheless, the jubilation was short-lived as the streets in Cairo have filled with thousands of protesters demanding Mursi revoke recent policies granting Mursi near autocratic powers.  Reminiscent of the democratic groundswell that swept the country’s former leader from power nearly two years ago, Egyptians swarmed into Tahrir Square to demand that Mursi respect their wishes.   Protesters have risen throughout the country against Mursi and his declaration last week that his presidential edicts are beyond the reach of judges, suggesting his rise to unquestionable power and authority.  Mursi has promised the country and the top judges within that he will restrict his newly self-granted powers to sovereign matters.  The edict from last week granted Mursi immunity for his presidential decisions in sovereign matters but not judicial power.  So saying, Mursi’s edicts effectively neutralize the judiciary, which was the only branch of government in a position to balance Mursi, who holds not only executive but also legislative authority.  Nevertheless, as protesters storm Muslim Brotherhood quarters in various cities, the public belief in Mursi’s power restraint is evident.  The presidential decree triggered several days of street battles between Mursi opponents, supporters and police in major Egyptian cities, resulting in 370 injuries so far.

“Suddenly Mursi is issuing laws and becoming an absolute ruler, holding all powers in his hands.  Our revolt against the decrees became a protest against the Brotherhood as well.” – Mona Sadek, Tahrir Square protester

The election Mursi sparked a new era in Egyptian history in which hopes arose for a democratic transition through which a new Egyptian infrastructure would arise on a prospering economy and a democratic society.  So saying, the path towards the democratic era contained a plethora of hurdles for Mursi.  Among these hurdles was and continues to be the numerous opposition groups opposing the monopoly on power that the Muslim Brotherhood holds.  Another hurdle remains the strong military presence, embodied by the military council that existed as a transitional government after Mubarak.  So saying, Egypt’s elections did not promise an easy road forward and many through Mursi would merely become a puppet leader for the military council.  Nevertheless, the actions being taken by Mursi now have indicated the perseverance of the new guard towards the construction of a new era for Egypt.  The election of a Muslim Brotherhood monopoly sparked animosity in Egypt among opposition groups, proliferating fears of a religious theocracy emerging in the hard-fought political freedom they had just won.  Therefore, with the majority Muslim parliament in the midst of writing a new constitution, the minority groups of Egypt remain fearful of their country emerging as a religious dictatorship like Iran.  These fears are represented in the judicial system, as the top judges are skeptical of Mursi’s vision of Egypt’s future and were intending to oppose many of the new government’s actions.  For these reasons, domestic forces were turned against the Mursi government for its religious views and thus Mursi has taken an apparently dictatorial pathway at ensuring the democratic transition for Egypt. Mursi argues that he needs to sweep the judiciary of Mubarak’s old guard to ensure a new constitution and parliament.  According to Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood, the edicts are necessary to defend the fragile Arab Spring revolution that led to the country’s free elections.

“We are the people who will keep you honest, right after you grabbed all of this power for yourself that has made you even more powerful than Mubarak, who we got rid of last year.  So the people were here to say, ‘We might have elected you as president, but we did not elect a new dictator”. – Mona Eltahawy, Egyptian journalist

Mursi’s actions, construed as a step towards dictatorial power, has brought Egypt back to the brink of revolution as the country has come to a halt as protests and strikes paralyze the foundations of the nation.  In addition to outbursts on the street, Egypt’s judges have reacted.  All but 7 of Egypt’s 34 courts and 90% of its prosecutors went on strike in protest.  The unrest raises new concerns about stability in Egypt, thus halting Egypt’s path forward and doing the opposite of what Mursi had hoped his actions would bring about.  The fears of the people have spread to the Egyptian stock market, with volatile trade over the past few days, and the turmoil could derail government efforts to implement already unpopular economic policies such as the removal of petrol products.  The turmoil is also causing the international community to yield in its advancement towards Egypt.  The International Monetary Fund (IMF) board is to meet in a few weeks to consider a nearly $5 billion financing agreement for Egypt and its members will need to ensure that the economic outlook for the country has not changed and that the government is capable of successfully implementing its economic reform program.  So saying, the domestic forces are shown to consider Mursi’s actions as those of dictatorial consolidation, but the intentions of Mursi are not those of a dictatorial nature.  Mursi’s democratic ideals are seen in his mediation of the Israel and Hamas crisis.  As the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing, fears had arisen that Egypt would rescind on its 1979 peace treaty.  The possible dissolution of the accord is an appeal shared by many Islamist figures who see the Israelites as a foreign imposition and an evil needing to be eradicated.  Nevertheless, Mursi demonstrated his resolve for peace and stability by negotiating the cease-fire and aiding the Israeli nation.  Thus, to suggest Mursi is intending to usurp power in an Islamist power grab opposes his mediation of the crisis, the installment of the democratic institutions in Egypt, as well as the drafting of a new constitution intended to secure a system of democratic checks and balances on aspects of authority and power in Egypt.

“I think it is a bit of an exaggeration, not because I know his intentions – but I think he cannot really become a new pharaoh and what we’ve witnessed over the past few days really testifies to that.” – Khalil, Egyptian activist

In retrospect, the edict marks the usurpation of dictatorial powers by Mursi, but the intentions behind Mursi do not seem to suggest that Mursi is intending to institute another religious dictatorship in the Middle East.  Moreover, the response of the country to the actions taken by Mursi clearly illustrate the inability for Mursi to capture such a position of power.  The democratic ideals and institution already installed have empowered the people and their vigor will not allow for the Muslim Brotherhood to hijack the revolution from them.  The Arab Spring revolution in Egypt remains one aimed at democratic transition and Mursi has attempted to consolidate the installment of the necessary steps through his unorthodox actions, attempting to halt questions and repeals in order to solidify the passing of already unpopular acts that are necessary for Egypt to emerge as a strong democracy.


Egypt: Mohammed Mursi and Egypt’s Foreign Relations

Islamist Mohamed Mursi was declared winner on Sunday of the run-off presidential election, becoming Egypt’s first freely elected president and now faces the overbearing power of the military council that has already curbed his powers as president and dissolved the previous Islamist-led parliament.

Mohammed Mursi’s Victory Represents the Continuation of the Revolution

The election of Egypt’s first democratically elected president has followed with euphoric jubilation, yet the hopes of the Egyptian revolution may fall short as President Mursi currently stands merely as a figurehead of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the military junta that maintains widespread control of the country.  So saying, Mursi faces an array of challenges at home and abroad.  So far, the democratic road-map for Egypt has been plagued with militaristic totalitarianism wielded by the military, an iron first that has dissolved the constitution and the democratically elected Islamist parliament.  Under the interim constitutional deceleration, the military council has ensured that it retains the power to make laws and budget decisions until a new constitution is written and a new parliament is elected.  Alongside the challenges to overcome the repressive hold of the military, Mursi also inherits a struggling economy, with widespread poverty, high unemployment and its main source of investment, its tourism sector, is slow to come back after the political and social unrest that has haunted Egypt since its uprising against Mubarak.  The political situation remains very much unsettled amid lingering questions about whether the military will loosen its grip on power.  Its firm handed ruling has already led to mass demonstration and clashes with authorities, illustrating that th revolution still continues.  Although the Egyptians successfully ousted Mubarak and his regime, their jubilation was short-lived as military officials continued the same longstanding policy of using deadly force against domestic populous in cases of emergency.  Thus, the excitement following the election of the former Muslim Brotherhood member may be as short-lived as the cheers following the dispatching of Mubarak.

“The revolution goes on, carries on until all objectives of the revolution are achieved and together we will complete this march.” – Mohammed Mursi, President of Egypt

Although Mursi has resigned from the Muslim Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party so as to represent all Egyptians, he does represent the more conservative Islamist view of the Brotherhood and thus raises many questions about international relations for Egypt.  His win has already had an immediate impact beyond Egypt’s borders, inspiring Islamists who have risen up against autocrats across the Middle East and swept to power in North Africa.  Among the fears of the international community is Iran and the possibility of Iran and Egypt forming diplomatic ties.  Iranian news agency Fars published an interview in which Mursi called for restoring severed ties to build strategic balance and though Egyptian officials denied the interview had taken place, it still illustrated the significant fears circulating about a Islamist revival in the region.  In the heart of these problems is the issue of Israel.  Egypt currently is in accord with Israel due to a 1979 peace treaty that was signed and consolidated under Hosni Mubarak.  Amid the cries of the Egyptian populous, however, are calls for the dissolution of the accord.  The viewpoints are ones shared by the many Islamist figures who have referred to Israeli leaders as ‘vampires’.  The relations of Israel with the rest of the Middle east are best illustrated by Iran, whose supreme leader has called for a perpetual cultural war against the Jewish nation and wishes to see them disappeared from the face of the planet.  The tension has recently been heightened by Iranian mission into uranium enrichment.  So saying, Israel and its Western allies have been very vocal about the continuation of the peace deal with Egypt.  Mursi has stated his intentions to preserve all national and international agreements, but his calls for unity and devotion to the representation of the will of the masses does pose a conflicting point as the masses are not in favor of said agreement.  The victory for the Muslim majority will likely strengthen the hand of Hamas in its fight against Israel because it will give it a moral boost.  The Islamist attitude has become charged after the victory.  Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi has stated that Palestinians look forward to future cooperation with Egypt and its supportive position for the Palestinian cause, once again depicting the balancing game that will be played by Mursi to appease the cultural diversity of the region and uphold his ties with the West and Israel.

“Israel appreciates the democratic process in Egypt and respects the results of the presidential elections.  Israel looks forward to continuing cooperation with the Egyptian government on the basis of the peace treaty between the two countries, which is a joint interest of both peoples and contributed to regional stability.” – Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister

In retrospect, the democratic election of Mursi represents a historic milestone for Egyptian transition to democracy but it is still a long way from stability and the successful installation of democratic institutions.  Before the declaration of the presidential winner, the military council warned of its intentions to use deadly force against protesters and dispatched more than 1,800 ambulances, which is a clear illustration of the problems that are still rampant in Egypt.  Along with this evident military oppressiveness, the Islamist resurgence does pose a problem for democratic progress and regional peace for the regions of North Africa and the Middle East.  So saying, Mursi faces a plethora of domestic and foreign issues that span from restoring a basic infrastructure in Egypt to maintaining peaceful ties with Israel.

Syria: Houla Massacre – The International Puzzle Box

The perpetuating Syrian conflict has become a diplomatic crisis due to its recent intensification resulting in the deaths of 100 dissidents in the town of Houla and once again isolating opposing members of the United Nations Security Council on methods of response.

Syria’s Conflict Continues to Polarize the International Community

The international response to the Syrian civil war has been a blitzkrieg of failed resolutions, condemning statements, economic sanctions, and failed observer missions, all of which have been knee-jerk reactions to the inability of the international community to authorize a join resolution of all UNSC member nations to respond with military force.  Despite the evident slaughter of men, women and children in Houla, both Russia and China reiterated their opposition to military intervention in Syria.  Their resolve is also paralleled by the remaining presence of Syrian diplomats in their countries, a juxtaposition to the position of 9 other Western nations that have expelled Syrian diplomats from their embassies.  Along with Japan, the US, Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain have all retroactively announce the expulsion of Syrian diplomats in protest of the massacre in Houla.  Nevertheless, the show of force in the Western hemisphere amounts to nothing because of the rigid positions of China and Russia.  Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov stated that Moscow will veto any Council resolution that authorizes foreign military interference in Syria.  Similarly, in Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said China opposes regime change by force in Syria. The massacre, another death toll to be added to the genocide, is another reflection of the failure of the Annan ceasefire deal.  Annan’s plan had called on the Syrian government to withdraw heavy weapons from civilian areas and abide by a truce with rebels.  President Assad had promised to abide by the regulations if the rebels were to cease their weapon smuggling and lay down their arms, a clause that clearly represented a security dilemma as the rebels would then be helpless.  Although many attacks have been carried out since the plan was laid out a month ago, the Houla massacre represents the peak of slaughter in the deteriorating county of Syria.  According to Herve Ladsous, pro-Assad gunmen known as the shabiha executed civilians and others were killed by artillery and tank fire, all of which was clearly the responsibility of the Syrian government.  So saying, the polarized positions of Russia and China have kept the full power and authority of the UN at bay, whilst allowing executions and genocide of thousands to continue under Assad.

“We took this action to expel Syrian diplomats in response to the massacre in the village of Houla – absolutely indefensible, vile, despicable massacre against innocent children, women, show at point-blank range by regime thuds, the shabiha, aided and abetted by the Iranians, who were actually bragging about it over the weekend.” – Victoria Nuland, State Department spokeswoman.

In response to the climatic events, the European Union is likely to press the Human Rights Council to recommend the UNSC refer the case of Syria to the International Criminal Court.  Nevertheless, because China and Russia have the power to veto any UN sanctions against Syria, the widespread outrage is unlikely to translate into tough action on the Syrian government.  The dilemma emerging is that members of the international community want different things and do not share the same principles, though mass slaughter being wrong would be one to share.  Russia, China and many 3rd world nations are not victim to the same outrage and gun-ho attitudes of many Western nations.  The repression of a totalitarian regime is not so hard a concept for many to grasp, most especially considering that many nations were victim to repression from Western imperialism.  Despite the demise of the old Soviet empire, the of Putin still represents the hardness of the past.  Though it may be referred to as ugly and not nice, the regimes of the East stand because of their heavy-handedness, as being implemented by Assad to a much greater extent.  Moreover, the repression enforced in Russia during the first round of elections, considered to be rigged, represents elements of the Stalin-esque era.  Combined with the installment of loyal office-holders in the regime by Putin, the rigidity of the country to liberalization is evident.  So saying, Syria also represents to Russia its last stronghold in the Middle East and is also part of a lucrative bilateral trade agreement, thus making Russia very reluctant to lose such an ally.  In the US, the position of Russia and the massacre in Syria has entered the presidential race, with Republic candidate Romney calling Russia’s position heartless and ugly.  Romney has further called for a firmer and more assertive position by the US.  Nevertheless, as with all presidential statement, it is easy to blame and insult but hard to actually come up with an effective strategy or replacement.  The tools with which to approach Russia are not as clear and concise as the GOP candidate presumes.  Many have called for the isolation of Russia through moral and verbal attacks, something that will have as much of an effect as the Anna peace plan in Syria.

“We hold the Syrian government responsible for this slaughter of innocent lives.  This massacre is the most unambiguous indictment to date of the Syrian government’s flagrant violations of its United Nations Security Council obligations.” – Victoria Nuland, State Department spokeswoman

The ties between Russia and China are not easily isolated and cut, and thus attacking Russia with morality questions will undoubtedly lead to more rigidity and opposition by the Russian regime to any Western resolution towards Syria.  Moreover, the cohesive West is not as cemented in its mission towards Syria either.  Israel, a strong US ally in the Middle east, does not want to have  strong Syria nearby and welcomes the thought domestic divide and a weakened enemy.  Israel is surrounded by enemies and the likely repeal of its nonaggression treaty with Egypt, due to its rising Islamist party, will represent another enemy and tense relation for Israel.  Israel is also presented with the encroaching threat of a nuclear Iran, another powder keg tied to the Syrian conflict.  Iran is a strong ally to Assad and is responsible for providing much of Syria’s arms trade and troops, such as the trained shabiha thugs.  If the West were to intervene in Syria, not only would this divide the hemisphere of the West and East into extreme poles, but Iran will most likely drop nuclear talks that are set to resume and thus continue its uranium enrichment, possibly resulting in a volatile nuclear power in heart of the Middle East.  So saying, the cultural and religious divides of the Middle East present an unconquerable task of overcoming or appeasing.  Israel’s existence is already reason enough for many nations to start war, but if Turkey were to involve itself militarily on the behalf of the West, the divides between the Kurdish, Shi’ite and Sunni populations would ignite into a much larger international crisis.

“I made it clear that it is not an open-ended process and that time is coming, sooner rather than later, when the international community will need to make an assessment as to how things are going and what further actions or activities may be necessary.” – Kofi Annan, UN special envoy

In retrospect, the situation for the international community is a looming diplomatic and humanitarian crisis which is only perpetuated by their indecisiveness and polarized members.  The Western nations are attempting to involve themselves in the internal dynamics of domestic politics of a country miles away and in the throes of a civil war, a task nigh impossible without considering the opposition they face from their own member nations.

Egypt: Final Phase of Elections and Islamist Majority

Voters return to the polls in the final phase of parliamentary elections, which have thus far been dominated by Islamist parties, with the Muslim Brotherhood seeking a majority to form a unity government.

Egyptians Return to the Polls for the Final Phase of Elections

Despite Western liberal perspective on the current rounds of elections, the Islamist parties have captured around 71% of votes, perplexing such liberals that view the Islamist parties as restrictive.  It is true that the Islamist parties advocate restricted freedoms but the Islamist parties hold true to the religious values of the domestic populace, as well as giving voice to the peoples’ wide-spread grievances through their grassroots campaigning.  So saying, Selectorate theory effectively explains the election results that seem to be an abnormality to Westerners.  Selectorate Theory implies that a democracy has a large winning coalition, as they must appease a large majority of the population to remain in power.  Egypt, long repressed under dictator Mubarak, is voicing its determination for change and a government that reflects their values.  They are not willing to remain silent as the military junta returns the country to a dictatorial rule; rather, the return of riots and demonstrations clearly  illustrates the supposed “silent majority” being vocal in their grievances and calling for a government that they have fought for.  For these reasons, the Islamist parties  are vindicated in their efforts to empower the people during the months of riots, as they are the parties that are seen as representative of the people and representative of the values that they have for so long fought for.  Evidently, these parties will stride onward and forward throughout the last rounds of elections as they remain symbolic to the long months of bloodshed and sacrifice by the Egyptians.

“Under the former regime, my ballot was already marked for me.  I’ve come here today, knowing that my vote will count.  I’ve voted for the Muslim Brotherhood.  They have the experience in running politics and I am convinced they will start implementing serious reforms.” – Fawzi Mohamed, pensioner

The Islamist parties are the best organized political parties.  During Mubarak’s regime, the government cracked down on any form of organized dissent and civil society groups were virtually non-existent.  Currently, the military junta is also responsible for waging an increasingly violent crackdown of protesters.  Last week, soldiers raided 10 pro-democracy and election monitoring organization, including 3 US groups.  Nonetheless, the mosque is the sole refuge for political opponents of ruling regimes, granting the Islamist parties leverage.  The Islamist have used the cover afforded by mosques to increase their outreach in society and these networks have effectively educated voters about their parties and ensuring they get to the ballot box.  In a country with no democratic experience, the campaign was not about concrete political issues.  The electorate voted for symbols and slogans rather than political programs.  Islamist emphasized that they speak for God and His Prophet, the two most powerful points of reference in the Muslim constellation.  They emphasized the striking contrast between purity of Islam and the corruption of secular political in Egypt since its independence.

Most effective throughout the events has been the Muslim Brotherhood through its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), a group that has stood resilient since its founding in 1928.  Egyptians have backed the Muslim Brotherhood largely because it opposed the former regime.  Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood boast that the organization has been an opposition party since its founding, remaining anti-establishment.  Moreover, emphasizing their long-term opposition status, the Muslim Brotherhood has highlighted their political experience.  Many voters desire a veteran party with the skills to solve the country’s economic and social problems.

“The party’s winning of the majority in the new parliament does not mean going it alone in writing the constitution without consideration for the rights of other Egyptians, or ignoring the political forces which did not get a majority or failed in the parliamentary elections.  All political forces and intellectuals in Egypt, regardless of their political religious allegiances, will take part in writing the constitutions.”  – Mohamed Mursi, head of the Freedom and Justice Party

Egypt’s military rulers said Sunday that the election process will be sped up following clashes in Cairo.  Protesters have called for a quicker transition to civilian rule.  Under the guidelines established by Egypt’s interim military rulers, the elections for the People’s assembly, the lower house of parliament, began on the 28th.  The election process for the lower house will take place in different administrative districts in December and January.  Each district will have two days of voting.  Elections for the Shura, the upper house, begin on January 29th and will end in March.  The newly elected assembly will then write a new constitution.  The ruling military junta says a presidential election will be held before July 2012.  The voting will pace the way for Egypt’s transfer to civilian rule.

Egypt: Supreme Council of the Armed Forces

As the Egyptian police forces clash for a fifth day with protesters demanding the military junta relinquish power, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has accepted the resignation of Egypt’s Cabinet.

Demonstrators Target the Prolonged Rule of Mohamed Tantawi

Since the protests began on Saturday, 37 civilians have died, illustrating the claims that the supposed transitional military council that replaced President Hosni Mubarak in February, has now become the enemy of the revolution in Egypt.  The military, under Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, had originally pledged to return to barracks within 6 months of Mubarak’s removal, but its apparent reluctance to relinquish power and privileges has fueled frustration among Egyptians.  The clashes have gained international coverage and many human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, have targeted Egypt’s military junta for the use of excessive force that has sometimes exceeded the brutality of Mubarak.  Protesters have vowed not to leave Cairo’s Tahrir Square until the military council steps down, apparently giving Tantawi an ultimatum to which no amount of inflated rhetoric of false promises will get him out of.

“I urge Egyptian authorities to end the clearly excessive use of force against protesters in Tahrir Square and elsewhere in the country, including the apparent improper use of tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition.” – Navi Pillay, UN human Rights Chief

The resignation of the civilian Cabinet of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, has been among the political consequences resulting from the escalating street violence throughout Egypt.  The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has been targeted by domestic forces  and international media, as startling images come back of the brutal beating of already subdued protesters sparking memories of the cruelty that the Egyptian had fought against initially, under Hosni Mubarak.  In response, the military council has attempted to appease protesters through concession.  Mohamed Tantawi vowed in a public address Tuesday to hold presidential elections by July 2012.  The promise reminded many protesters of the hallow speeches of the former dictator, further infuriating protesters of the apparent authoritarian regime that has taken control of their country.  Aggravation has only to continued to intensify as Tantawi suggested holding a referendum on whether military rule should end earlier, which many viewed as a ploy to appeal to many Egyptians who fear further upheaval.  With the vacancy left by the resignation of Essam Sharaf’s Cabinet, Parliamentary elections are set to begin on Monday and Tantawi has pledged that polls would go forward as promised.

“There are many viruses in the system.  It needs to be cleaned out entirely.  We need to change the regime lie they did in Tunisia and Libya.” – Abdullah Galah, Computer Sales Manager and Tahrir Square Demonstrator

The next legislature has opened windows for many competing groups to begin pushing for power, illustrating the division of Egyptian society, as well as the instability that will remain for a longer period of time then is being offered by protesters.  The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s strongest and best organized group is not taking part in the ongoing protest, attempting to demonstrate its desire not to do anything that could derail the election, which it hopes to win along with its allies.  60 years after it was banned, the Brotherhood has found itself empowered in the wake of the February 11th usurpation of Mubarak.  Forming the Freedom and Justice party, the notorious opportunists hope to win enough seats in the new legislature to push through a new constitution with an Islamic slant and bring this mainly Muslim nation of close to 85 million people, close to an Islamic state.  Consequently, the expected win for the Muslim Brotherhood have stirred fears in Israel and its bilateral ties and the future of the country’s peace treaty.

In retrospect, the cries of joy and peace from the crowds that vindicated years of struggle against Hosni Mubarak have now turned into rocks and fists as the military junta dictates and suppresses their futures and their aspirations.  Similar to the French Revolution in 1789, which ended with the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte  and his military rule, the Egyptians have awoken to the reality of the instability and the terror that has come with a power vacancy being occupied by a military junta.  So saying, with an uneasy truce being held together by a “human shield” of clerics between police forces and demonstrators, the obstacles to democratic transition and the challenges to Egypt’s future are now only accumulating.

Egypt: Coptic Protests Lead to Violent Suppression

The instability in Egypt has intensified despite the usurpation of Mubarak, as Christian members of the Coptic church protest against the military junta that has been in place since February.

Protests in Egypt Continue

The Egyptian revolution began as a peaceful popular uprising in January 2011, a campaign of non-violent resistance focused on legal and political issues.  Millions of protesters demanded the overthrow of the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.  The primary demands for protest organizers were the end of Hosni Mubarak’s regime and the end of emergency law.  On February 11th, Mubarak resigned from office.  To fill the power vacuum, Mohamed Hussein Tantawi stepped in as the head of state for the military junta.  The military rule is intended to exist for 6 months until elections could be held and until that time, the prior cabinet headed by Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik will continue to serve as a caretaker government until a new one is formed.  Nevertheless, the military junta has not appeased protests, which have continued to occur because of a very real that concerning the possible indefinite rule of the military over the country.

“Now is a time for restrain on all sides so that Egyptians can move forward together to forge a strong and united Egypt.  As the Egyptian people shape their future, the United States continues to believe that the rights of minorities – including Copts – must be respected, and that all people have the universal right of peaceful protest and religious freedom.” – Jay Carney, White House Press Secretary

The attack by the Egyptian army, on Christian who were seeking to peacefully protest Sunday in the center of Cairo, produced tragic and reprehensible results, including an estimated 26 deaths and more than 500 injured.  The Coptic sect, which makes up about 10% of Egypt’s population, were marching to protest the failure by the military government to prevent attacks on their churches.  The existence of the Coptic in Egypt has been a major source of sectarian tension in Egypt, illustrated by a mob attack on a newly built church, considered illegal by local Muslims, in the southern Egypt town of Edfu on September 30th.  In the two days since the violence, Christians have grown furious with the ruling military, verbally attacking the junta with a string of accusations.  The Coptic church has accused the junta of allowing attacks on Christian repeatedly with impunity.  Muslims perpetrators of sectarian violence are rarely punished in Egypt, opting instead for reconciliation talks in which Christians are pressures to drop accusations.

Moreover, witnesses among the Sunday protesters assured the media of peaceful intention of the Christians, but it quickly escalated into violence when the demonstrators were attack by civilians wielding sticks, throwing stones and firing bird shot.  A video circulating online (posted below) depicts at least two military vehicles plowing through crowds of Christian demonstrators at high speeds and even running some of them over.  Other report say that soldiers fired directly at protesters.  In response, the Coptic church has announced three days of fasting and prayers as Christians’ sense of injustice hit a new high.

“The people of Egypt have rights that are universal.  That includes the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech, and the ability o determine their own destiny.  These are human rights.  And the United States will stand up for them.” – Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States

The 24 senior offices on the ruling council have repeatedly said that they wish to handover power to civilians as soon as possible.  Instead, they keep extending their time: having at first promised to carry out transition by last month, they now are talking about a timetable that would keep them in office for at least a year, and maybe much longer.  In the meantime, they have subjected thousands of civilians to unfair military trials, intimidated the media and terrorized tourists and foreign investors with erratic economic decisions, including the rejection of much-needed foreign loans.  Instead of protecting Christian churches and the Israeli embassy, they cite such outbreaks of violence as justification for still more repression – including the extension of the previous regime’s autocratic emergency law, which was one of the primary demands of the protests against Hosni Mubarak.

In retrospect, the sense of chaos in Cairo illustrates that the general should be pressed to accelerate the election of a civilian president to whom power can be handed over.