After the Revolution Egypt's Struggle to Reinvent Itself

A new state is being born in Egypt in the wake of the revolution. While the old guard is battling to preserve its influence, scores of new parties are jockeying for power, including the Muslim Brotherhood, which is resorting to shrewd tactics in a bid to cement its political clout.  

A demonstrator waving the Egyptian flag above a packed Tahrir Square in Cairo in April.

A demonstrator waving the Egyptian flag above a packed Tahrir Square in Cairo in April.

By in Cairo

On the banks of the Nile, politicians of all kinds are vying for power in a democratic contest the likes of which Egypt hasn't witnessed in generations. The severity of their clashes shows how rapidly freedom of opinion has developed -- and how limitless that freedom now is. But the dreams of the fearless protestors who took to the streets in January are at risk of being crushed in a power struggle among Egypt's resurgent old guard.

Five months after Hosni Mubarak, who ruled the country for 30 years with a single political party and a clique of corrupt corporate leaders, stepped down at the age of 83, Egypt's population of some 80 million is mired in a political swamp. It is hard to discern the democratic reforms, the long-overdue improvement in living conditions and the more equitable social order that Egyptian protestors longed for. "It's business as usual," wrote the popular weekly newspaper Al-Fagr (The Dawn) in a resigned commentary. "The old powers are still in control."

Very few of Egypt's key government decision-makers have had to give up their posts. Only a handful of prominent officials, such as Information Minister Anas el-Fiqqi and Mubarak's previous long-standing advisor and secretary general, Safwat el-Sherif, were replaced. Their staggering corruption and blatant nepotism rendered them untenable.

The cleaning-up necessary for a credible fresh start has been sluggish, even though Egypt's political parties have gradually been putting pressure on the country's ruling military council. However, even critics concede that some progress has been made: Mubarak's sons have been detained, and the former ministers of housing and tourism have each been sentenced to five years in prison. The government has also asked Interpol to help track down former officials who fled Egypt -- another step forward. But attempts to cover up past transgressions, and the continued delays in prosecuting Mubarak -- who is permitted to order his personal hairdresser to come from Cairo to his residence in the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh -- betray the reluctance of the military council and the justice system to deal with the legacy of the old regime.

Egypt May Soon Have More than 45 Political Parties

Security also leaves much to be desired. Crime is rife due to a lack of police operations. Unknown gangs have meticulously dismantled and stolen some 300 kilometers of train track along an important route across the Suez Canal towards Palestine and Israel.

For weeks, the political landscape has been in a state of surprisingly spirited transformation. The country may soon have more than 45 political parties, if all of the announcements are brought to fruition. The approval process is simple. The military council only bars political parties that are based on religon. Religious parties are forbidden.

That rule is no longer being enforced to the letter. But the leader of the Coptic Church, Shenouda III, forbade his 10 million followers from establishing Christian parties. And even the Arabian Peninsula's wealthiest resident, billionaire Egyptian business leader Naguib Sawiris, has adhered to that requirement and limited his political activity to providing financial and staff support to liberal parties. His In-TV has become the most popular non-partisan television channel. He doesn't transmit pro-Christian propaganda.

The heavily traditional Wafd Party, which has for decades embodied modern secular values, also abstains from any religious symbolism -- with the exception of the crescent and cross which form the party's emblem. To emphasize its openness to all denominations, Wafd established a scarcely credible alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's most powerful Islamist movement. But powerful Wafd party members such as executive committee member Mohammed Sarhan quickly rebelled against the alliance, and the anti-Islamist party youth arm plans to establish a "completely liberal" Neo-Wafd Party in a few days.


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