CAIRO: On February 11, 2011, Hosni Mubarak’s Vice-President Omar Suleiman announced to the country and the world that the aging dictator was no longer the President of Egypt and the military would take charge of the country’s affairs.
Tears of joy flooded Tahrir Square and across Egypt on that day, with hope rekindled. The military was the savior. They had entered the fray and ended the bloodshed that killed at least 900 Egyptians in 18 days of protests.
Today, some 17 months to the day from that fateful event, the military took one step closer to solidifying their grasp on the country’s political sphere. The Supreme Constitutional Court made two rulings on Thursday that could have dramatic effects on the future of Egypt.
First, the “Azl”, or political isolation, law was ruled unconstitutional, allowing Mubarak’s last Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq to stand in the presidential run-off scheduled for the weekend. It also opens the doors for former cronies of the regime that tormented and slaughtered its own citizens to return to public and political life.
Second, in a shocking move that is being seen as a power grab by the military, the court also ruled parliamentary elections to be unconstitutional and disbanded the parliament less than 6 months into their term.
Political figures in the country, observers and activists jumped all over the moves, arguing that this was a military coup similar to how events played out between 1952 and 1954 when the Free Officers of Egypt led by Gamal Abdel Nasser removed the King from power.
However, the military coup they refer to occurred on February 12, 2011, when Suleiman announced the military was now in charge. Under Egyptian law, this should not have been the course of action taken. What should have happened upon the resignation of Mubarak and Suleiman, is the presidency should have gone to Speaker of Parliament. But parliament had been dissolved during the uprising.
There was, however, under the Egyptian constitution at the time another path, delineated in the document for succession. It should have gone to the President of the Supreme Constitutional Court.
It did not, obviously. The military, from that moment, had usurped legal procedures to take control of the country. They then went public saying they would remain in power for only 6 months, when elections would be held and a new constitution drafted. 6 months came and went and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) – who was led by Mubarak’s Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi – remained in power.
The events of today, the dissolving of parliament and the revoking of the political isolation law puts a massive dent in the revolution’s hopes for the change they fought, and died, for in 2011.
However, despite the current tension and uncertainty, there remains a glimmer of hope. Almost everyone I have spoken with in recent weeks, from taxi drivers to cafe workers and average citizens have all voiced their desire to not see a Shafiq presidency. They want the military out, however much they might respect the armed forces.
This is a dramatic change in public opinion than previous months. There seems to be a sense that the activists who took to Tahrir Square following the acquittal of security officials in the case of killing protesters are not aberrations, troublemakers and people who don’t want Egypt to be better. They are more in support of their calls for an end to the Mubarak era. Once and for all.
This is in stark contrast to other protests, and violence, that had erupted over the past 8 months in the country. Then, many people were antagonistic to the protesters, demanding they leave the square and return to daily life.
It is beginning to change. The military is fomenting a new charge of strength that only one segment of Egyptian society can wield: the people. They are coming.
If Shafiq wins in the run-off it will undoubtedly be a result of vote rigging. Egyptians will not accept the country to return to the era of the Pharaoh. Too much blood has been spilled in the past year and a half for the country to be passive against the return of the National Democratic Party (NDP).
Today did go a long way to solidifying the military coup we witnessed on February 12, but it is not unbreakable. We have seen activists push the military junta in the past year for changes. We have seen democracy in action.
Activists should understand this and, if needed, head back to the square and start the next phase in the revolution.
The revolution may be wounded, but the country can, and depending on the people’s will, remove their legs from the snare currently trapping them and make the new Egypt so many want to see manifested.