A black day for Egyptian democracy: parliamentary elections

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The elections which started in Egypt today 28 November would be a farce if the situation in Egypt were not as menacing as it is. These elections have been deliberately designed to be strung out over four months. No democratic election anywhere in the world has ever, to our knowledge, been deliberately scheduled to take place over four months. The scope for stuffing ballot boxes is unlimited. Moreover, the ballot is taking place while demonstrations continue in Tahrir Square. In the last nine days, according to press reports, 42 people have died and thousands have been injured in clashes between young revolutionaries and the security forces.  Yet only a few days ago the military commander-in-chief Field Marshal Mohammed Tantawi said that the army had not killed a single Egyptian.

In a significant development, if it turns out to be the case,  the Muslim Brotherhood, which benefits from a well-oiled political machine, appears to have cut a deal with the military chiefs. Allow the elections to go ahead, they appear to have said. We shall win them. When we do so, we shall make sure that the army has no grounds for regretting our victory. The army needs this assurance. It has worked hand-in-glove with Mubarak during the 30 years of his brutal dictatorship. As a result, it needs an amnesty for the economic and human rights crimes it committed under the dictatorship.  Secondly, the army wants to retain the extensive assets it has built up in Egypt’s economy over the Mubarak years. Thirdly, the army wants the future “democratic” constitution – the current elections are for the purpose of electing a parliament which will then choose a panel to draw up a constitution – to allow the army a free hand to act as it thinks best in the interests of the country regardless of the government in power. The Muslim Brotherhood looks likely to oblige on all three fronts. Significantly enough, the Muslim Brotherhood did not attend the anti-army demonstrations in Tahrir Square last week. Another significant absentee from the demonstrations was political wheeler-dealer Amr Moussa, secretary-general until recently of the Arab League, who appears to have had a comfortable relationship with Mubarak when the latter was in power. One possible outcome is that the Muslim Brotherhood will provide the bulk of government ministers, including the Prime Minister, while Amr Moussa will become President. The army in the meantime will keep an eye on things in the background unless or until trouble breaks out. Even this weekend Tantawi was threatening to deal forcefully with “trouble-makers”, suggesting (as Kaddhafi did and Assad has been doing) that foreign hands were behind the mounting turbulence in the country. One man excluded from the cosy arrangement with the army is the democrat Mohamed Elbaradei, the former UN nuclear weapons chief. Not surprisingly, unlike the Muslim Brotherhood or Amr Moussa, Mr Elbaradei did show up at the demonstrations in Tahrir Square last week. What happens to Elbaradei will indicate which way the wind is blowing in Egypt.

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