Deja vu in Egypt

Just days before Egypt's first truly democratic elections since the ouster of Mubarak, the interim ruling generals have exposed their self-interest, and responded to the resulting protests by firing on the very people who considered them heroes just nine months ago.

Egyptians sure are learning the hard way that their military, which only nine months ago proclaimed itself to be ‘of the people’ is really ‘of itself’ and lead by a brassed-up Mubarak sans the charisma.

While the protesters who ousted Mubarak in February were tentative about Field Marshall Muhammed Tantawi heading the interim government, the military’s refusal to shoot Egyptians as the security police had done, and the inclusion of revolution-supporting Issam Sharaf as Prime Minister, arguably gave good cause to believe the caretakers would be just that – trusted with taking care.

Now the military has gone from hero to zero in a few months, and Sharaf and his entire Cabinet have resigned.  The revolution is confirmed as an excruciatingly difficult work in progress, and the first round of the election process which is due November 28, seems at worst in doubt, or highly problematic at least.

Many political parties are openly worried about those elections – more worried than the protesters - for the simple reason that some parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood sense they will be successful.  Protesters have been tearing down election banners as quickly as political party workers scurrying to post them. This is no political ‘situation normal’.

Any notion that a move from dictatorship to liberal democracy could be smooth, was never worth consideration. It wouldn’t be anywhere in the world.  Even less so when the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF)that is supposed to be governing in tandem with the civilian government consists of generals privileged by the old dictator, and who clearly have been calling the shots within the interim government.

Now, thanks to legislation that has come from the ruling military council, the military’s true intentions are all a little clearer.

Egyptians may have their democracy, but it will not apply to the military.

Elected MPs will be subject to public scrutiny, but the proposed military legislation intends to perpetuate the limited public accountability the Egyptian military has long enjoyed, including the rejection of any parliamentary oversight of its budget.  In effect Tantawi’s team has declared that while there will be a democratic process, no democratic tentacles will reach to the privileges of the military which will operate as an autonomous body out of the ambit of civilian government.

Not surprisingly, those who fought and died to rid Egypt of Mubarak in February will not have their sacrifices so glibly trodden on.

So they are back in Tahrir Square and on the streets of Alexandria, and guess who is firing a new and more lethal tear gas on them, aiming rubber bullets at their eyes and not their legs, and shooting with live ammunition and stun guns? Why, it is the military which refuses to acknowledge a post-Mubarak era applies to it well.

However the days of frightening Egyptians into submission are gone. Now regime sanctioned brute force, trial by military court, and continued enforcement of the Mubarak emergency laws just make Egyptians angrier and more determined.

When Tantawi addressed the Egyptian people to tell them to stop damaging Egypt by their protests, and conceded to an acceleration of the electoral process timetable by almost a year, he could well have been Mubarak.

Tantawi’s was yet another speech that, like all of those from Arab dictators who have either fallen or are toppling, bore no connection to reality and offered incremental concessions in the vain hope of averting an unmanageable backlash. Wrong...again.

Many could not even see or hear Tantawi’s rant about how the military would never hurt the people for the simple reason that they were being drowned in a sea of military-fired tear gas.

What is it about these ‘leaders’? Do they not realise that while international television channels are streaming their speeches, the split screens show simultaneous violent crackdowns which put lie to every patronising fabrication they espouse?

When Tantawi tells Egyptians that the military has no interest in staying in power and will return to barracks asap, they would be fools to believe him if the old adage about actions and words is still in vogue.

If the military doesn’t retreat and voluntarily subject itself to the democratic principles that are to apply to the rest of the country, it will be seen as violating the peoples’ fight for freedom and lose even the shred of credibility it may still have.

Which of course all begs the question as to how this phase of the revolution will play out.

The protesters who chanted “out, out, out” to Tantawi’s latest broadcast are also declaring that this time they will not be lulled in to believing it is safe to leave Tahrir Square. “We won’t leave, he must leave” is the chant.

If Tantawi did go, what would replace him until the electoral process is completed? At least when Mubarak shuffled off his throne, an administrative vacuum was avoided.

The military remains a very powerful Egyptian institution, and the leaderless nature of the revolution has proved a double-edged sword because no-one emerges from the streets as an obvious, let alone viable Tantawi/military replacement.

Egyptians who fought to oust Mubarak are now realising that the generals who took charge began almost immediately to unravel the people’s revolution for fear of eventually being also subjected to the ‘sunlight’ of democracy.

With little options available to them, it seems Egyptians will stay in Tahrir Square – even in the face of the massive military/police response.

Should next week’s stage one of the election process go ahead, it will hardly be the joyous occasion that it was for Tunisians. However, there is no doubt Egyptians have shown they truly are a politically involved people and, eventually, that will be a positive for their democratic nation.