Political uncertainty drags on in Egypt

The slow progress of political reform continues to frustrate people that are desperate for change

The beginning of the trial of former president Hosni Mubarak on 3 August marked another step towards the consignment of Egypt’s old political order to the history books. But when it comes to the replacement of the old regime with a new system of government, the path ahead is still a long one.

The political and constitutional reform process on which the country has embarked under the authority of a transitional government has failed to satisfy everyone. Six months after Mubarak’s resignation on 11 February, protests are still a feature of daily life.

On 23 July, fighting broke out in the streets of the capital when thousands of demonstrators attempting to march to the Defence Ministry were met by opposition from a combination of local residents and what media sources described as “thugs”. At least 143 people were injured in the clashes that ensued, according to Health Ministry officials.

Acceleration calls

The march was the culmination of two weeks of demonstrations in Tahrir Square in Cairo and city centres across the country, protesting against the slow pace of change under the interim government. Activists have called for an acceleration of the reform process, including the more expeditious prosecution of former regime members and a clear programme for the handover of power from the military to a civilian government.

In a statement issued at the end of July, the 6 April Movement, which was at the forefront of the 18 days of demonstrations that brought the end of Mubarak’s regime in February, declared that it would be the “last to leave Tahrir Square, either alive … after triumphantly achieving the demands of the Egyptian people or as martyrs for the sake of God and the nation”.

Many opponents feel that too little has changed under the interim government. The cabinet derives its mandate from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, headed by Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who for two decades was defence minister in the Mubarak government.

There are fears that the military, which is estimated to control as much as 30 per cent of the economy, will remain a dominant force even after the parliamentary and presidential elections planned for the coming months. There have been demands for Tantawi to step down. Reports that demonstrations during July in Alexandria and Suez were met with force by military police have also angered protestors, although the army denies the charge.

But while the street demonstrations continue to grab the headlines, the reality is that Egyptians are far from united in their demands.

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Richard Nield is a freelance journalist, photographer and filmmaker covering the Middle East and Africa. In 10 years covering the region, he has been published and broadcast by clients including the BBC, Reuters, Al Jazeera, The Economist, The Financial Times, The Independent and Foreign Policy magazine. He has reported from throughout the region, including Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, South Sudan, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.