Growing uncertainty over Egypt′s future | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 10.02.2012
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Middle East

Growing uncertainty over Egypt's future

One year ago in Cairo hundreds of thousands came out to the streets and eventually forced Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak from office. On this anniversary, the military has partially lifted the state of emergency.

protesters in Tahrir Square

Protesters have returned to Tahrir Square, many dissatisfied with how the revolution has developed

While Egypt's current military has lifted some of the country's state-of-emergency law, rioters can still be dealt with according to its provisions.

According to Hamadi El-Aouni of Berlin's Free University, the change does not really mean an end to decades-old, heavy-handed tactics by security forces. Rather, he says, it is a formal accommodation to the demonstrators, who are still in Tahrir Square, and are still calling for political reforms.

In truth, he said, the military could apply the term "rioter" to any Egyptian it wanted to.

"What began as an Arab Spring, has turned into an Islamist autumn," he said, adding that many had expected things to go much differently.

Demanding freedoms

On January 25, 2011, the first large-scale demonstrations in Tahrir Square took place. People gathering there demanded more democracy, social justice and freedom of expression.

Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi

Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi

Three weeks after protestors loudly began letting their feelings be known, President Mubarak resigned.

In the meantime, the first free elections have taken place and a good 70 percent of the votes went to different Islamic and Islamist parties. The "Freedom and Justice" party of the Muslim Brotherhood, which describes itself as moderately Islamic, got 47 percent of the vote and is playing the most important role in building a new government.

The Brotherhood's coalition partners will be crucial in determining how religious Egypt will be in the future.

The second most powerful player is the radical Islamic "Party of Light" with 24 percent of the ballot. In third place was the liberal Wafd Party, which garnered just over eight percent.

It was a sobering election result, according to Rolf Mützenich, the foreign-policy spokesman for Germany's Social Democratic parliamentary group.

"In retrospect, we can see that we have come closer to the truth about Egypt," he said. "Maybe in the past, we were a little caught up in the euphoria."


According to Mützenich, one should not forget that there are large differences even within the groups now in power in Egypt. In the Muslim Brotherhood, for example, there are many young and critical activists to be found.

Rolf Mützenich

Rolf Mützenich

Even in Europe, the process of democratization was often a very rocky road.

"I think that many Egyptians accept that Islam plays an important cultural and historical role in their society," he said. "But the dominance of religion will not be accepted by a majority in the long run."

Political scientist El-Aouni, however, views the assurances given by moderate Islamic groups with skepticism. They will be judged, he said, on whether they are able to maintain national unity and bring about the levels of social justice they have promised.

Many young people, especially those from disadvantaged neighborhoods, are lacking much in terms of opportunity. It was here that the Islamic parties found a good deal of support. These young people also had high hopes for a better life resulting from the Arab Spring.

Watch and learn

Mützenich believes that the West must closely watch the developments in the region but also accept that its influence is going to be limited.

Middle East expert Hamadi El-Aouni

Middle East expert Hamadi El-Aouni

"While we have to keep the government and parliament in our focus, we also have to look at the society as a whole," he said. He points to countries like Turkey and Indonesia who have been successful in finding a way for Islam and democracy to co-exist.

An important component to Egypt's democratization process is the military. Since Mubarak's fall on Feb. 11, 2011, a military council under the command of General Mohammed Hussein Tantawi has been in control.

That will remain the case until a new government is formed, a new constitution passed and a new president elected. Demonstrators who have been in Tahrir Square for weeks now, and who have been making their demands for a political renewal known, remain skeptical, due largely to the violent crackdown on some by police and military forces.

The government has warned demonstrators on this one-year anniversary, saying it will not allow them to set the country aflame, Tantawi has told the press.

The security forces are the backbone that is protecting Egypt in this time of transition, he said, and "we won't let this backbone be broken."

Author: Sabine Hartert-Mojdehi / jam
Editor: Rob Mudge

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