The World from Berlin: 'Egypt's Uprising Now Seems Like Historical Hiccup'

The winner of Egypt's presidential runoff election has yet to be officially announced, but he is unlikely to wield any authority after the military claimed sweeping new powers. German commentators on Tuesday question whether the country can regain its democratic momentum.

Police guard the parliament building in Cairo to prevent former members from entering. Zoom
REUTERS

Police guard the parliament building in Cairo to prevent former members from entering.

Following the audacious power-grab of the Egyptian military during elections over the weekend, the future of the country's democratic revolution appears to be in serious jeopardy, with more unrest on the horizon.

As the country focused on its first democratic presidential election, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) issued decrees that dissolved the Islamist-dominated parliament and took sweeping legislative powers for itself. With that, the military effectively staged a coup, leaving the yet to be announced president powerless, and crushing the Egyptian people's hopes of ushering in a new democratic era after the fall of Hosni Mubarak's authoritarian regime last year.

Though official election results won't be revealed until Thursday, both candidates have claimed victory in the close race. But the Islamist candidate from the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Morsi, who has claimed 52 percent of the vote, is believed to be the likely winner. His party supporters have said they will stage protests across the country on Tuesday against the military council's actions. Mainly Islamist politicians have also said they will attempt to enter the parliament building to protest the legislative body's dissolution, a move the military has been ordered to prevent.

Morsi's opponent, Mubarak's last Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, whose campaign team has claimed that the Muslim Brotherhood "terrorized" voters, would be a more desirable president in the eyes of the military council, which has a long history of hostility toward the Islamists. Still, on Monday the generals sought to reassure the country that they would hand over power to the new president by the end of the month in a "grand ceremony," though they did not specifically name Morsi or a date for the transition.

International Concern

The uncertain situation and the threat of renewed violence has prompted deep concern from the international community.

On Monday, United States President Barack Obama's administration warned the Egyptian military council to quickly hand over power to the newly elected president. Failure to do so could result in losing billions of dollars in US military and economic aid, they said. "This is a critical moment in Egypt, and the world is watching closely," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters. "We are particularly concerned by decisions that appear to prolong the military's hold on power."

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle urged whoever turns out to be the winner of the election to implement democratic reforms. The new leader must act as the "representative of all Egyptians," he said on Monday in Berlin. "The Egyptian people, who are now so divided, must be brought back together again," he added.

German commentators on Tuesday are skeptical, however, that such a task will be possible, given the military council's grip on power.

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"After 60 years of military rule, the lonely, god-like power of the generals has reached a new high point. The democratic uprising of 2011 now seems like a historical hiccup."

"Even if the election commission confirms the victory of Egypt's first Islamist president as the only democratically legitimate official in the constitutional vacuum, this would be no guarantee for a smooth term in office. The dissolving of the parliament proved that. But if Mursi were defeated and Mubarak's last Prime Minister Shafiq were put in office, anything would be possible -- including new waves of persecution and attacks by militant Islamists against the state."

"Most voters behind both candidates wanted stability and security, both of which could remain a dream. But more unsettling than this is the effect on the political culture. The generals are banking on protest fatigue among the people. Their day-to-day lives are crushing, and political activity will become a luxury. The fear of a theocracy by the Muslim Brotherhood alone makes the liberals willing to accept a little oppression. The military council … misused the people's enthusiasm for creating democratic structures to stage sham performances. The short moment of self-empowerment is over."

Left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung writes:

"Hardly anyone in Egypt believed that the military council would actually hand over its power to a civilian president as promised. But the actions of the military exceed even the worst expectations."

"After the Arab Spring, many people spoke of the 'Turkish model,' by which was meant a democratic Islamist government. But now a very different Turkish model is being discussed -- the one from the past where a military holds on to power, unwilling to give it up for decades."

Financial daily Handelsblatt writes:

"Taking practically no notice of the revolution by young people in Cairo's Tahrir Square, Egypt's army has once again cemented its power. And, secretly, the West is happy about this. There won't be anything more than well-intentioned words directed towards the generals. Because the only alternative to the now emerging military dictatorship 'lite' would be the Islamists -- an option viewed with horror."

"Now only the hope remains that things will stay quiet along the Nile, and that the military has learned that they aren't all-powerful. The young revolutionaries will return to Tahrir Square if the country doesn't see any reforms. The new military dictatorship 'lite' cannot and will not be as harsh as the Mubarak regime."

"The role of the West remains questionable. Nothing has been done to strengthen the young democrats. Big promises of massive aid payments weren't kept. Thus, for many, the only choice has been between supposed stability (the army), and the social, bricks-and-mortar network of the Muslim Brotherhood. The young, secular revolutionaries had neither the chance to mobilize themselves nor the ability to boost the economy with Western money and use it as their trump card."

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"The generals in Cairo couldn't possibly have shown more contempt for the Arab Spring. … It's now clear that Egypt has traded Mubarak's autocracy for a military dictatorship. The freshly elected president (according to his own claims), Islamist Mohammed Mursi, is in a difficult position. While he (may have) beat Mubarak's old colleague Ahmed Shafiq, the guarantor of the old regime, the military has already delivered his first major defeat."

"Mursi's battle for power is only at the beginning, and it could take a long time. And, if the Muslim Brotherhood is really willing to go through fire and water for him, it could also be bloody, because the military leaders will not give up their power. A long period of instability threatens Egypt. The country and its citizens will continue to suffer."

-- Kristen Allen

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