Bruised and battered, yet undefeated during the pitched battles fought with ferocity with the security forces, Egypt’s young protesters, who had with stunning resolve and fortitude brought down former dictator Hosni Mubarak, are now confronting a new set of challenges.
The results of the first round of parliamentary elections, despite trickling in at a glacial pace, show that the country’s well-organised Islamists have tasted resounding success. The Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) of the Muslim Brotherhood, an organisation that had also faced decades of persecution under Egypt’s secular but authoritarian rulers, has won 40 per cent of the votes.
Together with the ultra-conservative Al Nour coalition, the Islamists have shown that they have the confidence of 65 per cent of Egyptian voters, who turned out in huge numbers during the first round of polls. Despite playing a significant part in mobilising massive crowds that brought down Mr.Mubarak, the liberal Egyptian Bloc could rally in its favour, not insignificant by any standards, but still a comparatively modest 25 per cent of the electorate that participated in the first round of polling.
The impact of the brutality of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), Egypt’s interim rulers post-Mubarak, that was demonstrated last month at Mohamed Mahmoud street and the setback that they encountered during the elections has begun to show among crowds gathered at Tahrir Square, the icon of Egypt’s unfinished revolution. Tahrir Square is now a tent city; a string of traffic islands encamped by a few hundred die-hard protesters. Many of the tents are virtual field hospitals, which provided crucial first aid as the injured were brought in droves from Mohamed Mahmoud Street. Heavy clashes had broken out between one end of the alley which feeds into Tahrir, and the forbidding interior ministry building that is located a few hundred meters away. A few days ago, as the protesters, according to some accounts, tried to storm the interior ministry, the emblem of authority of the Egyptian State, the security forces responded with overwhelming force.
Eye-witnesses said that during the fighting, waves of grey teargas smoke filled the entire street, and the high- pitched screams of the victims, felled by a hail of rubber bullets rang out disturbingly in the alley. “It was sort of surreal. I don’t know what kind of teargas they used, but it left a white residue on our clothing and caused severe convulsions. It was like a chemical attack,” says Moataz Mohamed, a young professional in an advertising agency who has persisted with his vigil at Tahrir.
Despite the lapse of several days that have passed, the street bears a ghostly appearance. A few die-hards continue to barricade its entrance with grey plastic tape, arguing with passion with those, who want the blockade to be lifted. Owners of fast-food restaurants, in the habit of doing brisk business because of their captive clientele of students from the nearby campus of the American University of Cairo, also appeal for an end to the siege. It may not be long before the weight of collective pressure forces the temporary occupiers of the Mohamed Mahmoud Street to give way to the demands of their detractors.
There is a general perception that despite its terrible human cost, the battle of Mohamed Mahmoud Street was not fruitless. The protesters’ grit to hold on despite the overwhelming odds forced SCAF to change the cabinet. In the face of the spirited resistance, Essam Sharaf was dropped as Prime Minister, and Kamal Ganzouri, was asked to take his place. But more importantly, the military rulers were forced to concede a timeline to complete Egypt’s transition to democracy.
SCAF announced that the entire process of parliamentary and presidential elections would finish by May 2012. This is not a tiny achievement, though it does not ensure that the military would go back to the barracks and handover all the executive and legislative powers to the elected representatives. Many street battles, like the one at the blood-stained Mohamed Mahmoud street may lie ahead before the stirring Egyptian revolution can ultimately triumph.
Despite their accomplishment during the second phase of Tahrir protests, Egypt’s young revolutionaries, nevertheless, face serious challenges that will test their resolve as well as tactical ingenuity.
The assemblage at Tahrir, dominated by liberals, despises Islamists, but after the elections, it may no longer be possible to keep distance from all of them. Without support from the Muslim Brotherhood, Tahrir protesters would find it extremely hard to confront SCAF, which they recognise, especially after the recent spurt of violence, as the biggest obstacle before the complete fulfilment of their democratic aspirations.
With tempers running high against the Muslim Brothers, who boycotted the latest round of Tahrir protests, and were largely seen as SCAF allies, the youthful protesters may have to rely on elder statesman
Mohamed ElBaradei, as the bridge for establishing for the moment, a working relationship with some of the elected Islamists to enable the revolution to run its full course.