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The current political crisis in Egypt is complicated. In a way, it sums up many of the problems of the modern Egyptian state, particularly since July 1952. One aspect of the current situation, which I believe will be decisive in the coming period, is the conflict between two different powers over political legitimacy: the army and popular forces in the street.
From the viewpoint of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), Egypt’s popular uprising has made demands that the Council shall realize but in the manner and at the rate that it deems appropriate for the country. The SCAF does not recognize anything called “revolutionary legitimacy” and insists on the continuity of existing laws and institutions. It’s members constantly describe Hosni Mubarak as the "former” president, rather than the “ousted” president.
The SCAF considers itself to be the ruler of Egypt, at once deriving legitimacy from Mubarak’s handover of power to the military while at the same time claiming that their response to popular demands for change make them different than the former regime.
On the other side, we, the revolutionaries and supporters of the revolution, see our popular demands as the basis of political legitimacy. They are the standard by which the legitimacy of the rulers are based, whoever they may be. The “people” are an active force whose sacrifices have earned them the right to impose their demands on those in power. Their legitimacy requires continued protests through which they can threaten the army’s fragile and temporary legitimacy.
A compromise between these two contradictory views may still be reached if the SCAF becomes more sensitive to the demands of the revolutionaries and more appreciative of the pivotal role they now play in Egyptian politics. To do this, the SCAF must adopt a more revolutionary discourse and exert greater efforts to introduce sweeping reforms. Such a compromise may be activated through Prime Minister Essam Sharaf’s caretaker government, as he and some of his ministers stand at an equal distance from both the revolutionaries and the SCAF.
However, revolutionary groups are unorganized and have not extended bridges of confidence with the SCAF in order to create a negotiating mechanism to reach a settlement. The SCAF, meanwhile, is unlikely to accept such a compromise because the recognition of revolutionary legitimacy as the source of its own power will thrust it into conflicts with state institutions that remain untouched by the revolution. Besides, a compromise on the part of the SCAF would mean ceding some power to other groups. The SCAF is willing to negotiate with the "revolutionary youth” and to listen to their demands, but maintain that these demands belong only to "one sector of the public".
For these and other reasons, the SCAF is inclined to favor groups that advocate stability, like the Muslim Brotherhood and remnants of the National Democratic Party (NDP), and aims to facilitate their rise to power through quick elections. These groups do not have clear political orientations, they only call for calm.
But putting these groups to the test of elections is extremely dangerous since they’re not true parties, but rather rival groups that fight for limited gains using whatever tools they have at their disposal -- such as thuggery and vote-buying. And the SCAF is unwilling to take this path to the end, for it’s keen on curtailing the powers of any upcoming president who may curb the Council’s authority. This explains why it insists on holding the parliamentary elections ahead of the presidential poll.
As for the Muslim Brotherhood, they are torn between support for the SCAF, which has promised them gains in the coming elections, and fears of a comeback by the former regime. As a result, they’ve decided to take a middle path -- to support both the revolution and the SCAF.
Meanwhile, the revolution is regaining control and is able to stop former NDP members, the Brotherhood and the police from coming together as a unified counter-revolutionary force, under the leadership of the SCAF. However, it remains unable to produce an organized alternative with a unified leadership.
The current battle is crucial in stopping counter-revolutionary plans, however, it may not help with building the new regime. As a result of the weak organizational structure of the revolution, revolutionary powers should consider halting protests after specific demands are achieved in order to build on those achievements. This move should help them organize their ranks to prepare for what may be a more serious future confrontation.
It may take long for stability to be achieved in Egypt. So we need to take a breath and organize our ranks in order to continue the revolution.
Sherif Younis is a lecturer of Egyptian and European modern history at Helwan University, and a professional translator. He is a member of the edirotial collective of el-Bosla magazine.