The truth revealed, at last, in Tahrir Square

Emerging from the cloud of deaths and violence in Tahrir Square over the last few days is a truth long obscured: the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that Mubarak left in power when he resigned in February is the principal obstacle to a democratic transition.  This is not news to civil society activists, for whom the Twitter hashtag #NoSCAF is a shorthand for much of what has gone wrong since the revolution.  But as the year has progressed from the discrete, focused goal of forcing Mubarak to step down into the muddy, technical details of how and when new elections would be scheduled and the constitution amended, it has been difficult to draw attention to the counter-revolution underway.  As I argued months ago, the military was applauded during the revolution as a necessary counterweight to the hated security forces but they are inadequate custodians of the transition; now, with the killings in Maspero on 9 October and what has happened in the last few days in Tahrir Square, the inadequacy of the military is unmistakable to all.  That alone has the potential to reinvigorate the civil society activists who led the 25 January revolution but subsequently grew so disillusioned; more important, it could re-engage the millions of generally apolitical Egyptians who came out into the streets to join the revolution but have since stayed home waiting to see what their earlier courage has done for them.

It will be interesting, now, to see what the Muslim Brotherhood will do.  For months, it seemed they had become partners with the military in an odd and unexpected ‘better the devil you know’ kind of way but now the Brothers appear to have drawn the line at the military’s recent attempts to enshrine their privileges beyond the elections.  Egypt’s first real parliamentary elections are due next week and the military — in contrast to Tunisia — has done a shambolic job laying the groundwork for them.  This chaos is widely expected to favor the Muslim Brotherhood, who spent decades under Mubarak building up a support network no electoral competitor can now rival.  During the revolution, it seemed the Brotherhood leadership recognized that they were better off in a coalition government than winning outright: they will surely do well in any truly free and fair elections but an electoral result that does not accurately reflect the diversity of political interests in Egypt will be unstable.  This balanced outcome is precisely what resulted from the recent elections in Tunisia.  In Egypt, the SCAF has bungled the job and needs to go: the 25 January protests won half a revolution, but now is the time for it to be made complete.

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