The Muslim Brotherhood's rejection of the call by a liberal coalition for a pro-democracy civil disobedience campaign coinciding with the first anniversary of the fall of the former strongman, Hosni Mubarak, has once again exposed Egypt's political fault lines.
Rising out of the bloody street battles in November between pro-democracy activists and the security forces, The Egypt Revolutionaries' Alliance (TERA) — an umbrella organisation of over 50 political groups — backs the campaign demanding that the ruling military council transfer power to a civilian executive drawn from the recently elected Parliament. The nascent coalition includes the April 6 Youth Movement, the star of the uprising that brought down Mr. Mubarak. Nearly two million workers affiliated with the newly-formed Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions and the Egyptian Democratic Labour Congress have supported the call for a general strike on February 11 — the day Mr. Mubarak was forced to step down a year ago.
Unimpressed by the canny timing and the objectives of the call, Mahmoud Hussein, a top representative of the Muslim Brotherhood, said the time for agitations in Egypt was over and the process of nation-building had to commence. “These calls are extremely dangerous and threaten the nation and its future,” he warned. “A general strike would see train traffic halted, no transportation, and no work in factories, institutes or universities.”
Hotly contesting this view, Egypt's liberal young guns argue a national focus on bread-and-butter issues should await, and not precede, the full anchorage of core democratic reforms. These include the immediate exit of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and its replacement by a government appointed by the People's Assembly. The alliance has also called for the immediate conduct of presidential elections and the purge of the country's security administration, which it says is extending the profane Mubarak-era security culture. Piqued by the slowness of the trials of former regime figures, TERA is also demanding the formation of “revolutionary tribunals” to speed up the delivery of justice.
The call for a fresh political campaign to support a liberal agenda, seriously opposed by most Islamists, comes at a particularly sensitive moment. Anger against state authorities is rife after the recent bloodbath at a football stadium in Port Said. There is a widely-held suspicion that the country's new rulers may have either masterminded or abetted the violence that killed 74 football fans.
As tensions simmer between the pro-democracy Liberals and Islamists, a recent development involving the Americans appears to be adding to the friction. Egyptian authorities have decided to put on trial 19 Americans and 24 others linked to four NGO's engaged in pro-democracy activism in the country. The charges include “conducting research to send to the United States” and supporting candidates and parties “to serve foreign interests”, the New York Times reported. Analysts point out that in case the investigation establishes negative links between some pro-democracy activists and the U.S.-run organisations, it is likely to embolden the Islamists, who have already been buoyed by their sweeping victory in the recent parliamentary elections.