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But Who Now Speaks for Egypt

Analysis by Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa Al-Omrani

CAIRO, Feb 22 2011 (IPS) - In the aftermath of Egypt’s recent uprising, which led to the ouster earlier this month of longstanding president Hosni Mubarak, a number of groups have emerged under the banner of what has come to be known as the 25 January Revolution. The sudden proliferation of these movements has raised the contentious question: who now speaks for the Egyptian people?

“No single political trend can claim to speak on behalf of the revolution,” Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mohamed Saad Kitatni said on February 18, in the first-ever appearance by the group (which was officially banned under the Mubarak regime) on Egyptian state television. “All segments of the Egyptian public participated in the uprising, and it was this broad-based participation that ensured its success.”

On Feb. 11, Mubarak handed over executive power to the Egyptian Armed Forces following 18 days of nationwide demonstrations – unprecedented in both scope and intensity – in which more than 350 people were killed.

Since then, Egypt’s Supreme Armed Forces Council has met several longstanding demands of the opposition, both suspending the constitution and dissolving parliament. It has also promised to amend the constitution to allow free presidential and parliamentary elections within six months, after which it has vowed to hand authority over to an elected civilian government.

Certain key opposition demands, however, remain unfulfilled. These include the release of all political prisoners, the termination of Egypt’s longstanding Emergency Law, and the removal of the incumbent, Mubarak-appointed government.

In the absence of parliamentary representation and a working national charter, meanwhile, several groups – most of them youth-oriented – have stepped up to fill the political void.

The most widely recognised of these is the 25 January Youth Coalition, formally established on the first day of the uprising.

The coalition is comprised of several political youth movements, including Freedom and Justice, 6 April, the Youth Campaign for Mohamed ElBaradei, and Young People for Change. It also includes the youth wings of several opposition groups and parties, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, the Karama Party, the Wafd Party, the Ghad Party, the Tagammu Party and the Democratic Front Party.

“Legitimate authority does not derive from (Egypt’s) 1971 constitution,” the coalition declared in a statement issued shortly after Mubarak’s ouster. “Legitimate authority now derives from the 25 January Revolution.”

The coalition went on to lay down several demands, chief among which were the formulation of a new constitution, the cancellation of the Emergency Law, and the dissolution of Mubarak’s long-ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). The coalition also asserted its intention “to monitor all measures taken by the armed forces council to ensure the realisation of the people’s demands.”

Members of the 25 January Youth Coalition, however, are quick to stress that they “do not have a monopoly” on the revolution.

“No single individual has the right to speak for the revolution, including us,” 6 April press coordinator Injie Hamdi told IPS. “The 25 January Revolution belongs to all of Egypt’s young people.”

While the coalition was established relatively early on, several other groups – also bearing the “25 January” moniker – emerged after Mubarak’s departure on February 11.

On February 16, a gaggle of prominent intellectuals, writers and media personalities, along with a handful of young protest leaders, announced the formation of the “Council of Leaders of the 25 January Revolution.” Not unlike the 25 January Youth Coalition, the council’s stated mission is “to follow up on the revolution’s achievements.”

In the days following Mubarak’s resignation, even certain members of the former president’s ruling NDP jumped on the revolutionary bandwagon, announcing their intention to found their own youth-based “25 January Party”. Not surprisingly, the move was met with derision on the part of most protest groups and political observers.

“Mubarak’s removal cut the head off the corruption, but its body remains intact,” said Hamdi. “And this body consists of figures still associated with the regime, including rotten security officers, businessmen, and others who benefited from government corruption.”

“Any attempt by Mubarak’s NDP to make a comeback in another guise is destined to fail due to increased political awareness on the part of the public,” Amr al-Shobki, political analyst at the semi-official Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, told IPS.

Nor have all the groups to have recently risen from the ashes of revolution been youth-oriented.

On February 2, the ninth day of the uprising, a “Council of Wise Men” was assembled, mandated with mediating between protest groups and the Mubarak regime. So-called wise men included prominent Egyptian intellectuals and business personalities, such as Nobel Prize-winning scientist Ahmed Zeweil and Coptic-Christian billionaire Naguib Sawiris.

But this group, too, was quickly rejected by protest leaders, many of whom saw it as little more than a ploy to prolong the life of the ruling regime.

“These people don’t represent us; they haven’t even approached us for talks,” 6 April general coordinator Ahmed Maher told IPS at the time. “Besides, we completely reject any negotiations before Mubarak’s unconditional resignation.”

Young revolutionary leaders have also blasted the performance of Egypt’s longstanding “official” opposition parties, most of which – at the height of the uprising – threw their support behind the embattled regime.

“These so-called ‘opposition’ parties were never anything other than arms of the corrupt ruling structure,” said Hamdi. “During the uprising, they urged protesters to accept the regime’s concessions and call off the demonstrations. Then, following Mubarak’s ouster, they all changed their positions 180 degrees.”

Al-Shobki, for his part, expresses little surprise that Egypt’s current period of political transition has been marked by “loud proclamations” on the part of different groups attempting to claim the revolution as their own.

“This kind of jockeying is to be expected until presidential and parliamentary elections can be held,” he said. “And when that happens, those who are democratically elected will be granted authority to speak for the people.”

That being said, he added: “The public is perfectly capable of discerning those who supported the uprising from the beginning from those who changed their positions following the president’s removal.”

“All Egyptians have the right to speak their minds or offer suggestions for the betterment of Egypt,” said Hamdi. “But any attempt to dilute the revolution’s demands or achievements by anyone claiming to speak on its behalf will be rejected outright by the people of Egypt.”

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