What next for Egypt revolution and transition to democracy?

 
Egyptian protesters wave their national flag and shout slogans as thousands crowd Cairo's landmark Tahrir Square on July 15, 2011 to demand political change as anger grows with the military rulers over the slow pace of reform. The protesters are angry about the slow pace of change from the military council now running Egypt

CAIRO - The protestors are back in Tahrir Square, and as this city swelters in an Egyptian summer, tempers are short.

For three days running that we have gone into the cradle of this country's democracy movement, and we have witnessed fights. On one occasion our cameraman came briefly under attack.

Having quit the square several months ago, people reoccupied it on 8 July 2011.

Some claim that Egypt's revolution has stalled, others that it has come off the rails completely and a 'Second Revolution' is now under way.

The protestors have set up a tented encampment, with different pitches speaking for various campaigns.

There are some women arguing that civilians should not be tried in military courts, others who seek justice for those killed in January's revolution, or who plead for the rights of the Coptic Christian minority. There are also people there who are mentally ill, or from the margins of society.

'Rising tensions'

Many different voices can be heard, and of course people often disagree. It might be compared to a kind of Arab speaker's corner, except that there are certainly some views that would be beyond the pale here, and that the disagreements between speakers can turn violent.

When we tried to speak to Khalid, a young activist who was among more than 100 people wounded on Saturday night when protestors marching towards the military headquarters were set upon by knife-wielding attackers wearing civilian clothes, things soon got heated.

Shouting men dragged him away, saying that we journalists were only there to cast the protestors in a bad light and with tensions rising, we left.

The following day we managed to interview Khalid, and the mood was much more benign. He spoke about infiltration in the square by thieves and agents provocateurs. Khalid insisted that state TV had misrepresented him and his fellow protestors as, "crooks and gays".

From the way he referred to homosexuals, it was evident that he regarded this as a slur. So it is clear that there are some limits to free speech in the square - solidarity missions from the people of Israel or the gay liberation movement would, to put it mildly, be running great risks if they attempted to pitch tents here.

'Fissures opening'

Fellow journalists reported tensions even during the early days of the revolution. But one gets the sense talking to people around the city that the decision to reoccupy the square has undermined the original coalition of groups that brought down President Hosni Mubarak.

The Muslim Brotherhood reversed a decision to rejoin the protest and has now gone. As some of the more radical pro-democracy groups have adopted slogans urging the military to give up power immediately, transferring it to a civilian transitional authority, other fissures have opened with parties or groups who believe the army is still the best qualified institution to run the country until elections are held.

Of course, the emergence of these differences needs to be kept in perspective. Several Egyptians have told me that the process of change underway here compares very favourably with what has happened in Syria, Libya, and Yemen.

Outside the world of the square and political activism there are many who despair at the sight of the renewed protests. They believe that unrest is killing the economy. The plight of poverty stricken Egyptians was an important factor in fuelling the revolution, yet growth has now dwindled from 5% to 1%.

Where do these increasingly ill tempered differences leave the revolution and transition to democracy? That is a subject that we will be exploring in a forthcoming Newsnight report (to be broadcast next week) that we are now compiling.

It is clear though that reality is biting, views diverging without a presidential bogeyman in power, and even the renewal of a permanent protest in Tahrir Square has become controversial.

 
Mark Urban, Diplomatic and defence editor, Newsnight Article written by Mark Urban Mark Urban Diplomatic and defence editor, BBC Newsnight

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 12.

    Egypt? Who can tell, we'll just have to wait and see. Libya is much more important. I would have posted this on the Andrew Marr show page except you can't do that any more. This morning's (31st July) report from Tripoli was bad. Use John Simpson's incisive report about the assassinated general instead, much better than the speculative nonsense quoted from today's press. Poor show.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 11.

    'On one occasion our cameraman came briefly under attack'

    Lucky not a woman, as the event may not have merited mention.

    This Arab Spring lark seems to be proving less on message.

    Time to get some heavyweight anchors on a hotel balcony again to get things back on track?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 10.

    Tens of thousands of Egyptian Islamists poured into Tahrir Square, calling for a state bound by strict religious law. The shape of Egypt 5 months into revolution remains distinctly undecided, but Islamists have long been the best organized political force in Egypt.
    “Islamic, Islamic,” went the people's chant.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 9.

    Following the ouster of Mubarak in February, post-revolution Egypt has expressed a desire to open a renewed relationship with Iran. Iran & Egypt have not had diplomatic relations since 1980. Tehran cut ties after Cairo signed the 1978 Camp David Accords with Israel & offered asylum to Iran’s former monarch shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
    I expect a highly successful Iran/Egypt relationship.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 8.

    Having given myself 24 hours to ponder the Egyptian revolution, here's what I think we can expect: Egypt & Iran will be drawn closer. This will make Egypt stronger & awaken more ME countries. Iran & Egypt have had long - though frustrated - cultural bonds & are rooted in Islamic culture. As Iran & Egypt draw closer, foreigners will lose more & more control of ME.

 

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