A troubled country. The boats decorated with bright colourful lights sail endlessly down the nile through the night. Cairo never sleeps. Looking out over the Nile, from the 14th floor where I live, everything appears very normal. But the handful of people in those boats that sail by tell a story of a trouble country. Usually swarming with tourist, Cairo remains bereft of the visitors months after the uprising which they refer to as the revolution.
The people I speak with at the hotel and in shops and on the streets have mixed feelings. They succeeded in removing their president but are uncertain about what lies ahead. With few tourists visiting, they struggle to find work. The taxi drivers approach us in groups, each one competing against the other for our custom. They wait for the benefits of the change that they have demanded but it will come slowly. Some are not sure if it will come at all. “We went onto the streets. We wanted the corruption to end. We wanted change. Now we have different groups arguing and it is making us tired,” said …, a local beautician.
She can no longer endure the conflict. She wants calm and to feel safe.
Egyptians have long been used to seeing police on every street corner. Now they are not that visible and prefer to take a back seat. Everyone appears to be waiting. The Supreme Council also holds back in a way that makes some believe that they are allowing the situation to deriorate so that they can move in later and restore order thus winning greater support of the people. On the street, there are complaints of theft and thuggery.
At the same time the calls for the former president’s head is not abating. On Tuesday he, his two sons and others are expected in Cairo to face charges of corruption and killings of demonstrators. There are those who bay loudly for their heads. They must pay for stealing from us, they say. They must pay for killing our children.
In the famous Tahrir Square, large banners of the martyrs are displayed alongside photographs of key politicians considered responsible for their deaths.
On Friday past, the Square considered to be the symbolic centre of the revolution filled up with thousands upon thousands of protestors in what was dubbed as Unity Friday. The idea was to bring together the Islamist groupings as well as the liberal and revolutionary groups in one major display of unity to call for elections as well as
But all did not go according to plan. The Islamist groups took centre stage changing slogans that offended the other groups who then withdrew from the Square.
The transition in Egypt will not be easy. There is a tug of war between opposing interests. Some want elections to be held in November. Others want a clear definition of constititutional amendments before elections are held. Some want the imposition of an Islamic state, others want a constitutional democracy. As the tug of war continues, the reality is that Egypt is by definition a military state. Mubarak and his party has been smashed but power has been transferred to the army which holds the keys to a future settlement.
While protestors marched on Tahrir Square on Friday, about 60 local and international people mainly with legal backgrounds, met for two days across the Square at a hotel conference room. They met to deliberate and seek ways in which to deal best with the challenges of a transitional phase that the country finds itself in. What is to be done with monies stolen and taken abroad? What is to be done with police guilty of killing the protestors and how will they deal with all the arrests and torture that had taken place over the past 30 years? The foreign presentations came from Spain, South Africa, Chile, Tunisia, Morocco and Chile.
They listened intently to the way in which these countries had dealt with their past. The emotions were high in a gathering where all participants were clearly affected by the recent battles. “Egypt is still in square one, not in square four,” said Jamal Eid, a lawyer with the Arab Network for Human Rights. “When a journalist or blogger is arrested we are told it is precautionary. Yet we are still waiting for them to be released. Very few cases are going to court. Instead people are being taken to military courts. We thought things would be different after January 25th but the military are half tyrants and half gods.
He points out that there is a lot of confusionand lies and people were protesting about the lack of independence of the prosecutor.
Hussam Bahjat of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights wants to find the snipers who killed the people. “When we raise these issues with the military, they say find them and bring them to us and we will prosecute.” He suspects that they know it would be difficult for the people to find them. “We are faced with an imperfect process,’ he said. The question for him is how to reach a strategic perspective for real reform.
The Egyptian delegates are agreed on one thing: They have broken their silence and were no longer afraid of the Security Forces. Outside at Tahrir Square, the protestors take charge of their own security arrangements. We have to produce identification before proceeding onto the square. Well-built young men alongside some rather slender and frail-looking youth and a few women are on duty. Inside the square, they have erected numerous white tents where they live and sleep determine to keep the focus on the revolution. They are unarmed. Crowds gather in front of different platforms where speeches are made. At the same time, large numbers march along chanting slogans such as “We are one”. They carry posters displayed photographs of those killed and wave Egyptian flags. From the other side of the Square, comes another group moving in another direction. The atmosphere is carnival-like with colourful lights draped across the fronts of tents and small wagons selling food to the crowds. It was hard at first to understand why large groups were marching in different directions until it became clear that they were strengthening themselves in preparation for the bigger protests. It was their version of the South African toyi-toyi, a joyful group activity designed to create group cohesion and singularity of purpose.
Would they again be able to mobilise the millions they did on January the 25th? It will largely depend on how the drama unfolds. While many were joyous when it was announced that Mubarak had stepped down, it does not appear that Egptians are united about bringing him to trial. Added to this is the feeling that those who had made the revolution do not have a clear political instrument, such as a political party to enforce their will. “The revolutionary forces are scattered, ” said Khaled Ali, a lawyer participating in the discussions at the hotel. “We have made an incomplete revolution. The silent majority have spoken. We are ignoring them and are dealing with political parties and their differences, ” he said.
He considers the military state to be a danger. ‘Mubarak fell down but not his administration,” he said. “Now there are some who say that the hell of Mubarak is not much better than the heaven of the revolution.”8/1/2011
Were the options open to the Egyptians between a military state or a religious state? Fareed Zahran, a politician said he was against both possibilities. “We want a civil, patriotic state,” he said. He is concerned that the military may be seeking accommodation with the Muslim Brotherhood and in this way sideline the parties who want constitutional reform. “We are in dire need of a robust parliament and in dire need of constitutional change,” he said.
The problem was that the revolution for the military was complete. According to the gathering, the military in those18 days of protest achieved what they wanted to. The eight constitutional amendments they were now suggesting were no different from the ones suggested by Mubarak before he stepped down.
Added to this internal resistance to change was outside resistance to change. Issam Shiha from the El-Wafd Party believes that the outside resistance to change comes from the United States and Israel. “If there is genuine change in Egypt, the whole region will change,” he said.”We need radical change in the mechanisms that oppress people.”
He argued for serious reform of the police, judiciary and the media.
In addition he pointed out that it was a huge problem that the stae was not acknowledging its guilt. “The legal and judicial mechanisms continue to practice the hegemony of Mubarak and his regime.” he said.
Ahmed Ragheb, the Director at Hesham Mubarak Centre for Human Rights has helped to set up an initiative referred to as the Egyptian Police Initiative. Through this forum, they are discussing how to reform the police and how to deal with criminal policement. “We need to set up our own initiatives around different issues of reform,” he said. “We definitely need new laws to be passed,” he said.
Egypt has a Treachery Law that could be used to prosecute violations but this is inadequate from a legal point of view. “We have a legislative vacuum,” said Nasser Amin, Director of the Independent Judiciary Centre. “We cannot prosecute crimes against humanity.” The military would have to endorse the Rome Agreement which could then allow prosecution on Egyptian soil.