Sunday, November 20, 2011
Massive riots occurred throughout Egypt this weekend as protesters in major cities challenged army rule of the country.
Hundreds were injured, and the death toll, depending on who's counting, ranges from 12 to 15 people. According to my sources, it was even higher.
The protest was directed against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and its head Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the de facto transitional rulers of the country.
The army has shown signs of being reluctant to give up power. With the first set of staggered parliamentary elections set to start November 28th, The protestors are accusing the army of trying to retain power from behind the scenes as it oversees the transition, which could see military rule until the presidential elections that have no set date at this time and may not happen until late 2012 or early 2013.
Additionally, the army is involved in a dispute with various political groups and the army-picked cabinet over ground rules for the drafting of Egypt's new constitution. The army wants provisions that could leave the military essentially free of civilian control, free of any oversight over the army's budget and the 'guarantors' of Egypt's new constitution once it gets written. This, as you might recognize is the old Turkish model, and Egypt's Islamists have no intention of going to the trouble of taking power if the army can legally depose them.
The initial clash came when the Egyptian police attempted to clear out the protesters in Tahrir Square in Cairo. As the police moved towards them the protesters in the front lines used a tactic that worked during the clashes that brought down Mubarak, kneeling in an attitude of Islamic prayer. Last time, the army backed off. This time they didn't.
For the first time since the initial revolt, Egypt's state police force, a symbol of the Mubarak regime was deployed in force, and they were openly backed up by the army. The protesters were badly beaten without any regard for age or sex, and protesters later showed reporters spent shotgun cartridges, bullet casings and empty teargas canisters. Some of the tear gas canisters had been purchased by the Mubarak government from America, the UK and Israel had English and Hebrew markings on them, which caused fresh outrage
Here's the back story and it's an interesting one. The Brotherhood and other Islamist groups have been a major force in gradually fomenting discontent against the army's rule since it became obvious that the army was not quite ready to completely cave in to Islamist rule.
According to my sources, the Muslim Brotherhood initially instigated the protests after Friday prayers in anger over the army's refusal to obey what amounted to an ultimatum from them to bar ex-members of former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party from running for office in the upcoming parliamentary elections. They used the excuse of the army's rather heavy handed rule as a sparking point.
Then, once the festivities were under way, the Brotherhood officially pulled back from the protests as they ramped up so as not totally antagonize the army while leaving just enough 'independent' Islamists in the crowd to give them credibility with the protesters.
What passes for Egypt's current government played right into this . Mansour el-Essawy, the interior minister whose resignation the protesters demanded sounded just like his predecessor in the Mubarak era, claiming that the police hadn't fired at anyone and that the demonstrators had shot at each other. And the generals stuck to a hard line.
"If security is not applied, we will implement the rule of law," said General Mohsen al-Fangari, a member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Egypt's de-facto government. "Anyone who does wrong will pay for it."
I have to admit this was a master stroke. Initially, the army was seen as the people's hero for not participating in crushing the initial revolt against Mubarak. After this weekend, they're seen as oppressors and the chief obstacle to 'democracy' and it's the Brotherhood that's now seen as the heroes. Watch for the Brotherhood to use this to get even more of the army and police lower ranks and officers on their side.
The Brotherhood was expected to get a 40% majority in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Assuming the elections are fair and honest and the results implemented, their majority will probably be even greater after this weekend's events, and they will be seen as the saviors of Egypt's 'democracy'. And if the elections are rigged or not held, look for Egypt to explode again.
It's a perfect lead in to the establishment of a new Islamic Republic.
UPDATE: My sources were apparently proven correct once again. The reported death toll has risen to 35. Meanwhile, Egypt's interim civilian cabinet has resigned en masse.