The World from Berlin 'How Can Egypt Vote Under Such Conditions?'

Egypt's military leaders on Monday faced another explosion of protests demanding an end to army rule. The official death toll from the most recent demonstrations rose overnight to 22. German editorialists hope next week's historic national ballot will not be derailed.


Clashes between Egyptian security forces and demonstrators continued on Monday as troops tried to remove protesters from Cairo's Tahrir Square, extending a three-day spate of unrest.

The protest is the longest since President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February. The health ministry confirmed that 22 people were killed during unrest on Sunday and Monday, with an estimated 1,750 demonstrators injured.

The spike in violence comes just a week before national elections on Nov. 28. International observers fear that the country's first free vote in decades may be disrupted by the clashes.

Protesters are challenging ruling military leader Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, fearing he seeks to entrench the army's power by obtaining special rights in the nation's new constitution. After Mubarak was ousted, the military was designated to oversee the country's democratic transition.

A Peaceful Ballot?

On Monday some 3,000 protesters filled Tahrir Square again despite efforts by security forces to repel them with tear gas and batons.

According to news agency reports, demonstrators hurled stones at police and tried to march towards the interior ministry. Television images showed ambulances at the scene.

The youth protest movement April 6 has accused the military leaders of using the same tricks as Mubarak and called for them to step down.

Following the elections, the military is set to retain power until presidential elections determine who will take over in late 2012 or early 2013.

German editorialists on Monday reflect on Egypt's latest upheaval, expressing hope that the country's democratic transition can continue despite the violence.

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"Libya and now Syria are evidence of the new dynamic of the 'Arabellions' that are overtaking the region. The historic transformation also appears to be continuing in areas where it was already successful, though here too it still has a long way to go. This is illustrated by Egypt, where Tahrir square is once again the main stage for mass demonstrations challenging the 'new' regime, which has answered with violence."

"One week ahead of national elections, Egyptians are protesting against the military's demands that its special rights from the Mubarak era are retained in the new constitution. That is not democratic. These events reveal how pervading powers continue to play a role in the region."

The left-leaning Tageszeitung writes:

"The violent crackdown on a small tent gathering in Cairo once again raises the question: What goals are Egypt's ruling military leaders pursuing?"

"Recent violent unrest reinforces the prevalent insecurity affecting many parts of society. The army wants to profit from this atmosphere by stigmatising the demonstrators as the cause of the unease and profiling themselves as the guarantors of calm. It also has the option to cancel the forthcoming election citing fears of potential violence. "

"That, however, would be a disaster for Egypt's international reputation as well as the country's internal politics… Meanwhile, any decision to shelve the vote would trigger even more protests on Tahrir Square."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"The Egyptian generals earned themselves historic acclaim when they chased an out-of-touch Mubarak from power in the spring, avoiding escalation. However the rulers have gambled away their credit. It is irrelevant whether they acted out of political incompetence, greed or hunger for power. The fact is military rulers have not freed Egypt."

"In the battle for Tahrir Square we are witnessing the clash between revolutionaries and the military which did not take place in the spring. Just a week ahead of the ballot, events are moving at a dizzying pace. Prospects for a happy ending have also vanished. If the army tolerates the revolutionaries then it will send a signal that it cannot sustain its power monopoly. How can the nation vote under such conditions?"

"If the army sweeps the revolutionaries away in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez, Aswan and elsewhere, it will simply accelerate the protests. The upcoming vote and its significance for the nation's future constitution give the unrest an unprecedented caustic edge. This is not only about Egypt's military ruler Field Marshal Tantawi -- it will shape Egypt's future, which currently looks uncertain at best."

The regional daily Stuttgarter Nachrichten writes:

"So is there hope for democracy in the country on the Nile?"

"Certainly, the initial wave of jubilation is over, but we are not facing another change of direction. People have a deep yearning for the pending elections and retain hope in their future. There is not a power in Egypt which can prevent the ballot and quash the widespread desire for freedom. Democracy will not happen overnight in Egypt but whoever ends up taking the reins of government will have to face up to a more self-confident population."

-- Jess Smee


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