Egyptian protesters demanding an end to army rule clashed with police firing tear gas in central Cairo on Saturday in a flare-up that cast another shadow over a parliamentary election billed as a free vote. But as November gets closer to December, the Arab Spring – in Egypt and elsewhere – is turning to ice as far as any concept of democracy is concerned. Military interference is creating tensions that might drag the country towards civil war.
While sensible heads in the West may be glad that, if nothing else, the Military is keeping the Muslim Brotherhood out of power, the Egyptian government’s legitimacy is becoming ever more doubtful and under attack. The announcement last Tuesday of a “National Salvation Government” may stem the violence for now, but the election is highly unlikely to lead to stability. This is because the rules cleverly designed by Egypt’s military leaders almost ensure that the Parliament elected will not reflect the views of the voters. Those who were at the forefront of the revolution have been kept from access to the secretive election-planning process. And unlike the example of the Tunisian election, access has been denied to UN election planners. The whole thing reeks of a stitch-up.
Unlike Tunisia, where a simple across-the-board proportional system to include many voices in the country’s legislative assembly was employed, the Egyptian military’s preferred system will marginalise new progressive, secular and liberal groups that lack grass-roots networks across the country.
But the military is playing upon a real fear: Egyptian liberals are sympathetic to the military’s attempt to dominate the constitution-writing process, being rightly fearful of Muslim Brotherhood dominance. Such is the nature of the ‘Arab Spring’ so naively expected by the West: fear of the lunatics getting the popular vote leads democrats to try and keep things dangerously elitist. In the long run, this will only aid the more extreme end of the Islamic spectrum: but self-styled ‘reasonable’ Egyptians argue that there is little alternative.
Some voices in the West argue that the Islamists are secretly in cahoots with military disciplinarians, and that in fact they have more in common with each other than with liberal democrats. But a Slogger close to events inside Egypt poo-poohs this idea.
“The old regime apparatus is fully intact and running the country without any deals," he writes, "Habib al Adli - Mubarak's brutal interior minister - is still running the police."