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Published on July 17th, 2011 | by Zachary Waksman

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New Egyptian Government Takes Shape as Protests Continue

By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt - On Tuesday, the military announced that it was planning to adopt a “declaration of basic principles” that would oversee the drafting of a new Egyptian constitution.  But even as the ruling military council begins this process, public concerns remain over whether the revolution of January 25 has brought about the reforms it sought to achieve.

Despite this apparent show of good faith, thousands of protesters gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday, referred to as “The Friday of Final Warning,” to repeat the demands that spurred the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak.  This time, however, their anger was aimed at Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), and interim Prime Minister Essam Sharaf.  Once they finished their prayers, the dissidents chanted, “The Military Council is illegitimate” and “Down with Tantawi,” while also using poetry, song, caricature, and graffiti to express displeasure with the current regime.

As of Thursday, at least a dozen Tahrir protesters were in the midst of a hunger strike.  One of the strikers, Mohamed Fawzy, said that he would not accept treatment until the protesters’ demands have been met.  Those demands include the public trial of all officers who participated in killing protesters during the revolution and a public trial of the Mubarak family and other symbols of his regime.  They also want limits on the SCAF’s power and a purge of all government and state institutions, including banks and the media, of corrupt members of the previous regime.

To some, putting new people in power will not be enough.  Mohamed El-Baradei, a former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency who is running for president, opined that the government will have to change its policies.  “The revolution’s demands are clear.  We need an empowered government and a change of policies,” he wrote on his Twitter page.

Even after Tuesday’s announcement, the primary concern among the protesters is that the declaration will provide the military with a broad mission that could limit democracy in the name of preserving a secular state.  Tahani el-Gebali, a judge who is assisting in drafting the declaration, supports a broad role in the new government for the armed forces.  She believes that “[t]he military’s legacy gives it a special credibility.”  This credibility justifies its level of responsibility in protecting the new constitution’s legitimacy.  The military has traditionally had almost total autonomy in Egypt, including a budget that was not disclosed to the Parliament.

Ibrahim Dawrish, who helped create a new constitution that reduced the political role of Turkish armed forces, and who had taken on a broad mandate after a coup in 1980, told the New York Times that the SCAF seemed to be trying to imitate the Turkish model, which created political turmoil in Turkey for years.  “The constitution can’t be monopolized by one institution,” Dawrish said.  “It is Parliament that makes the constitution, not the other way around.”

Frustration appears to be growing within the military.  Even as anger towards them increases, the SCAF remains steadfast in its claim of being only a temporary regime.  Major General Mamdouh Shaheen, a council member, told a news conference that the military would remain in power until an elected government was in place, adding that the SCAF “does not want to stay in power.”

Whether that is true remains to be seen.  The final version of the declaration will provide some answers to that question, but will raise new questions as well.

For more information, please see:

Al-Masry Al-Youm – El-Baradei: Revolution wants policies, not people, changed – 17 July 2011

Ikhwanweb – As Protests Continue, Egyptians Determined to Fulfill Revolution’s Demands – 17 July 2011

New York Times – Egypt Military Moves to Cement a Muscular Role in Government – 16 July 2011

Daily News Egypt – Thousands in Tahrir on ‘Final Warning Friday’ – 15 July 2011

Al-Ahram Weekly – Must do better – 14 July 2011

Al-Ahram Weekly – Protesters’ demands –14 July 2011

Al-Ahram Weekly – Together we stand – 14 July 2011

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