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Egypt is slipping back into dictatorship, and we must not let it

25th June 2012

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The revolution that began in Egypt in January 2011 is deemed by many in the West as having ended on the 11th February of the same year, when long-ruling President Hosni Mubarak resigned from office following massive public demonstrations and the refusal of the army to fire upon protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

Things seemed so promising for the now 'free' people of Egypt, who were following in the footsteps of neighbours Tunisia, who had started the 'Arab Spring' and had forced the removal of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who had been in power for almost 23 years.

There was, and still remains, one major problem. That is that the people of Egypt are not yet free, for the resignation of President Mubarak marked the implementation of the military as the ruling force in Egypt.

Events moved quickly and positively, however. The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) were designed to be an interim government which would ensure the running of elections for a new parliament and president, and would subsequently relinquish power.

Parliamentary elections were held in November 2011, and the new Parliament met for the first time in January 2012. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces immediately transferred legislative authority to the new parliament, and plans were drawn up in April for a constituent assembly of 100 members to establish the new Egyptian constitution.

In late May, the first round of voting for the new Egyptian president began, and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces rolled back decades of oppression by lifting the State of Emergency which had existed in Egypt for the past 45 years. Again, all of these steps sound extremely promising, but they do not paint the entire picture.

As well as all the seeming political progress, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has recently embarked upon a series of reforms which seem to be aimed at ensuring that it remains in power in Egypt.

On the 13th June, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces declared 'de facto' martial law in Egypt, and granted military officers the powers to arrest civilians and have them tried in military courts. These powers are, it is claimed, to remain only until the new constitution is introduced.

Just one day later, the Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt ruled that the parliamentary elections had been run illegally using invalid laws as a basis, thus, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces assumed all legislative authority from the parliament once again, and forcibly dissolved parliament on the 15th June.

Last Saturday and Sunday the second-round of voting took place for the Egyptian presidency, but the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces issued an 'interim' constitution which gave them the powers to control the Prime Minister, pass laws, control the national budget and declare war without any form of checks or balances. This 'interim' constitution also ensured that the military and defence minister were removed from presidential control or authority.

In addition to this, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forced also selected a 100-member constituent assembly of their own to draft a new, permanent, constitution. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces explained that this new constitutional assembly would only draft a permanent constitution should the constitution drawn up by the parliament-picked assembly be rejected by the Supreme Constitutional Court.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces have stated that they will hand over power to the new president at the end of June, and will stage a mass national celebration to commemorate the event.

I do not see how this situation can end well. The presidential elections have come and gone, and the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohamed Morsi, is declaring himself to be the victor, all whilst the military leadership are blaming Islamists such as the Muslim Brotherhood for exacerbating tensions in the country.

Military governments, or 'juntas', rarely give up power so easily, despite claiming that they are providing an interim government until an elected one can take power. Take the examples of Argentina, Greece, Burma, Algeria, Thailand and so on. The situation which existed in Algeria in the 1990s bears the closest resemblance to that which currently exists in Egypt.

Following the victory of the Islamic Salvation Front in the 1991 elections, the military forced the president to resign and dissolve parliament, after which the military took control of the government. Algeria erupted into civil war between the military government and the Islamist guerillas in 1991, and only ended in 2002.

If Egypt is to ensure that the ideals and reasons for its initial uprising against Hosni Mubarak are not quashed under an oppressive military government, then Egyptians must continue to pressurise and protest against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, to ensure that they, too, do not descend into civil war.

Equally, the West has an obligation to maintain diplomatic pressure upon the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, so that it does not abandon all pretence of allowing democracy to flourish in Egypt and instead install itself as the permanent rulers of Egypt for years to come.

Western nations must not allow themselves to acquiesce and ally themselves to the ruling Supreme Council, as they did with previous Arab dictators. If they do, then they will not only be betraying Egyptians, but they will also be betraying people desiring democracy and freedom across the globe.

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