On February 11 this year, a massive nonviolent uprising involving all sectors of the population succeeded in ousting long-time Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak. However, since Mubarak's departure, Egyptians have been frustrated in their desire for a democratic transformation, and the armed forces, one of Mubarak's main support bases, has maintained its control of the country. But over the past weekend, more mass demonstrations, involving hundreds of thousands of protesters across the country, have brought the country to the point where the army might be forced out as well.
The context of the new mobilizations includes the poor performance of the Egyptian economy, as well as rough treatment meted out by security forces against demonstrators.
According to a report by Reuters reporter Una Galani, the country's budget deficit nears 10 percent of gross domestic profit, and foreign reserves are sharply depleted, while tourism and direct foreign investment have declined.
The wave of rebellions which, starting in Tunisia in January, have swept through the Arab world have been rooted in economic woes as well as dissatisfaction with the lack of democratic institutions, and Egypt is no exception. Jobs are scarce and, if Egypt is goes hat in hand to international lending institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund it is likely that the social safety net will take a hit, as cuts in social benefits will be the price extorted for any extension of credit.
The demonstrations that started up four days ago began in Tahrir Square in Cairo, but have spread to Alexandria, Port Said and other cities and towns. The numbers appear to be as great as in the protests that toppled Mubarak in February, and the police crackdown is just as vicious, with at least 33 protesters killed so far. The deaths have resulted from gunfire, rubber bullets, and tear gas.
Protesters, representing a large number of organizations and societal sectors, are demanding first of all the resignation of the de-facto military ruler of Egypt, Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, and of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has been ruling the country since Mubarak resigned.
Legislative elections are scheduled for Monday, November 28, and a presidential election by November 2012, but protesters fear that if these elections are carried out by a military government, they won't be honest. Rather, they want the government to be handed over immediately to a civilian National Salvation Council.
The military is digging in its heels. However, on Monday the interim cabinet headed by Prime Minister Sharaf did resign (the idea being to set up an "un-political" technocratic government), and Field Marshall Tantawi did offer the protesters the possibility of a referendum to decide whether the military should cede power, but this offer was indignantly rejected.
Besides an end to military rule, demands shared by all protesting groups are
*An end to trials of civilians in military courts.
*Holding the presidential elections in April 2012, not November.
*Investigation and punishment for state security agents accused of killing protesters, and a complete overhaul of the state security system.
Various meetings have been taking place among opposition parties, including some Islamist parties and liberal democrats. The powerful Muslim Brotherhood, however, has held back from participating in the protests at this stage, fueling fears that it might eventually make common cause with the military government.
On Tuesday, an agreement was announced between the military government and the Muslim Brotherhood, along with some smaller parties and organizations. According to this plan, the presidential election would take place toward the end of June, but the military would remain in control until then. This agreement was immediately rejected by the street movement, as an opportunistic ploy designed to allow the military and the brotherhood to exercise undue influence on the writing of a new constitution. This agreement was also contemptuously rejected by the thousands massed in Tahrir Square.
On the left, 13 political parties, including the Egyptian Communist Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the Revolutionary Socialists and the Free Egyptians Party met on Monday and issued a statement in support of the protests. They added the demand that all protesters detained by the authorities be released immediately, and strongly denounced the repressive measures being employed against protesters.
It is expected that protests will continue this week.