The long shadow of Mubarak

Maria Fanlo
International Catalan Institute for Peace
Maria Fanlo

Maria Fanlo

Half a year ago, the invasion of streets and squares by the Egyptian population attracted the attention of the entire world. Encouraged by the success of the revolt in the neighboring country and a profound feeling of exhaustion, they decided enough was enough, and cried out against authoritarianism and their lack of freedom and faced down an entrenched and corrupt 30-year regime.

They were eighteen intense days in the streets of Cairo, in Tahrir Square and in other Egyptian cities, but they were also intense days for all those who were excitedly watching them thanks to a flood of news items which delighted television viewers, of various shades and nuances, as if they were part of a newspaper serial. In any event, the coverage of the eighteen days of a historical event that will certainly be a milestone in the region's history cannot be denied. Furthermore, despite this situation simmering under the surface in recent years, when discontent was widespread, when sections of the population had already been trying to take over the streets and had been harshly repressed, when censorship was the order of the day and abuse and torture were systematic, Egypt often did not even merit a short news items in the international sections.

I mention this because the non-violent struggle of the young protagonists of the Revolution of January 25 which encouraged other sectors of the population, with various demands, differing contexts but a common goal, did not end after 18 days. Despite the lack of news, perhaps due to a lack of stirring images, the struggle in Egypt has continued and will continue because the revolution is not over. And the fact of the matter is that it is currently at a crucial and delicate stage - one that is full of hope but also of uncertainty.

Egypt is in a period of transition towards legislative elections to be held next September, and is led by a Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Despite the image disseminated by the army recently of the revolt and its "supposed" communion with the people in Tahrir, the existence of suspicion and distrust of the army's "savoir faire" is quite understandable in any context of a democratic process.

The harshness with which this transition is being implemented is not too distant from the iron fist policy that appears not to have disappeared along with Mubarak. The country has been governed by a state of emergency since 1981, which into force after the assassination of Sadat, and continues to be applied with inertia and impunity. It has been and remains a weapon with unlimited powers.

It is the repeal of this law that is one of the main demands of the opposition. Despite the army's promises to repeal it when the situation returns to normal, in the first four months of the transition there have been 5,600 trials of civilians in military courts. A Cairo resident, with the irony that characterises the people of the city, told me that "we asked the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to judge the oppressors and Mubarak's men quickly and now it turns out that we ourselves are the victims of the express trials."

There have been military trials and detention without charge with abuse and torture. These include some outrageous cases confirmed by the army such as the "virginity test" that eighteen women were forced to undergo after being arrested after a demonstration in Tahrir Sqaure last March. There are many such cases, according to Human Rights Watch, which is also calling on the Armed Forces Supreme Council to implement a firm policy of zero tolerance of torture and sexual abuse, starting with its own police officers.

In this scenario, perhaps more attention should be paid to the situation. This is a transitional period that will lay the foundations for the country's future political and social construction and reconciliation. And that is not all. During the so-called Arab Spring, the outcome of this process in a country that has historically been a touchstone for the region will have an impact and will certainly set the tone for future developments in other countries in the Middle East.

Ultimately, this is a country and a civil society that has cried out for the need and the possibility of rebirth. The architects of a revolution, as the Egyptians themselves say, run the dangerous risk of being kidnapped.