Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Recoil from the Arab Spring

I’m not aware of an official gestation period for human disenchantment, but nine months after the Egyptian revolution, the crowds are back in Tahrir Square calling for change. The unrest of early 2011 gave birth to what seemed on the surface a highly efficient uprising. From the initial protests, through the ‘day of rage’ on January 25th, the momentum for social and political reform gathered pace until the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, under six weeks later on February 11th. Fast work, but not thorough, it would seem. The ruling military powers who undertook to hold the reigns, temporarily, while the dust settled and the wheels of democracy began turning, are still in control. The dust has cleared and the picture looks very much as it did last year, only the cast has changed.   

Amnesty International have now published a report indicating that the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) have not only failed to deliver on promises of reform, but many of the human rights abuses that characterised the previous regime have continued, escalating in some cases. Far from a measured devolvement of military powers, the remit of emergency law imposed under Mubarak has effectively been extended, complete with military courts and brutal treatment of dissenting voices. Amnesty say “the tradition of repressive rule” has continued. SCAF admit that 12,000 civilians have been dealt their brand of military justice, 13 of them sentenced to death. Reports of torture in captivity abound, in tandem with failure to investigate reported abuse.

In the face of renewed protest and the glare of the international media spotlight, Field Marshal Tantawi, head honcho in uniform, has promised an accelerated path to democratic rule, simultaneously accepting the offered resignations of the entire cabinet, whilst failing to tender his own. Those tasting tear gas in the side streets of Cairo have reason to doubt his intentions. It comes as no real surprise of course that after the fat cat gets toppled, the stand-in finds he likes the taste of cream too, we’ve all read Animal Farm. The army have been effectively running the show all along, maintaining the status quo by fair means or foul. They will no doubt have assumed that revolution meant a new figurehead to the ship, but the crew keep rowing. But the growing thousands in the streets want democracy. The notion that the army no longer run the show, but carry out the stage directions of a producer elected by the audience, may be a pill they won’t swallow without someone holding their noses. And you would have to reach over a gun to do that.

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