Riveted by Mubarak trial, Egypt faces uncertain future

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FOR a moment the euphoria returned, and the pride Egyptians felt when they toppled president Hosni Mubarak surged again as they watched the ageing dictator in court.Cafes were charging two Egyptian pounds (A31¢) for patrons to view the trial, televised live to millions across the region, and talk across Cairo was of little else.

But beyond the legal processes, which could take months, there remains deep concern that those once loyal to Mubarak continue to control the country, while well-organised Islamist groups surge in popularity in the lead-up to parliamentary elections in November.
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”The danger and threat of fanaticism is not limited to the parliamentary elections, it is a threat to the whole society – to education, health, literature, and the arts, to every part of modern Egypt,” says Hala Mustafa, a liberal academic and commentator. ”The Islamist voices are louder than ever, not just the Muslim Brotherhood, but the Salafis, who are very shrill about personal freedom and rights. It is not just women who are under threat, but Copts and moderate Muslim men.”

Staying mostly silent during the 18 days of protest that ultimately toppled Mubarak on February 11, Islamists are now making their voices heard, demanding recognition of Islam in the new Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood is predicted to win about 20 per cent of the vote, but the Salafis – long opposed to involvement in politics – now have their own parties and combined with the Brotherhood could form a majority in parliament.

”The Salafis are playing the role of the morals police and this is very dangerous – they are very close to the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia,” Dr Mustafa says.

”I hope the liberals are gathering themselves to balance this … and that the [Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Egypt’s interim authority] acts as a safeguard to individual rights and freedoms.”

Reform of the security sector could be the major obstacle to democracy.

There are generations of police officers who have used torture with impunity, arrested and detained people without charge and committed other human rights violations still serving in the force.

Mohamed Kadry Said is a military adviser at the al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo and says that along with revitalising the country’s moribund economy, shaking up the security sector is a priority.

”We need a civilian head of the military, and the military needs to be under the oversight of parliament – both its performance and its budget,” Dr Said says.

He says the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces made ”a big mistake” when it announced it would not allow international observers to follow Egypt’s parliamentary elections – a mistake he believes the council will soon correct.

”The elections should be conducted under the international system – why hide?” he asks.

Despite the challenges, Dr Said is optimistic.

”There is debate and dialogue that has not previously existed in Egypt, there are signs the society is starting to deal with democracy and it will never go back again – the public will not let it,” he said.

Despite the rise of Islamist groups, Dr Said said the new Egypt was ultimately being shaped by the protesters in Tahrir Square. There may be no famous names or political parties growing out of that movement, and there may be vast differences between them, but in his eyes they have changed the face of Egypt forever. ”I said to them: ‘You brought Mubarak down in 18 days, don’t tell me you are not ready for politics.’ But I also said to them that it is not good enough just to go to Tahrir Square – if they want to continue the change they must go to the towns and villages to win the election.”

Egypt’s economy is stagnating – its hotels are empty, tourists are staying away in droves and businesses are struggling to stay afloat.

And while the start of Mubarak’s trial was well received by the markets, experts say that only an orderly transition to democracy will prompt significant economic improvement.

Now adjourned to August 15, the trial centres on the question of whether Mubarak or his interior minister, Habib al-Adly, gave the order to officers to use live ammunition on hundreds of unarmed protesters.

Read Full Article:  http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/world/riveted-by-mubarak-trial-egypt-faces-uncertain-future-20110805-1ifit.html

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