x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Egypt's military needs to exit the political process

Egyptians are unhappy with the slow pace of political reform, and time is running out for the ruling generals to get it right.

The message out of Cairo's Tahrir Square at the weekend was clear: Parliamentary elections, set for November 28, will be meaningless unless Egypt's Supreme Council of Armed Forces (Scaf) begins to relinquish power. Unfortunately for Egyptians, this appears to suit the military just fine.

On Friday, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians, mostly supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, returned to the place where their revolution began. This time, though, frustration was not directed at one man but rather the institution that kept him in power.

"If Scaf does not resolve this issue before the elections, there will be a catastrophe," one Brotherhood organiser, Amer Al Mousilhi, told The National. "We will stay here in Tahrir until the guidelines are changed."

Friday's day of frustration lacked the intensity and vitriol of past rallies, with many performing prayers, giving speeches and reciting poems. But marches were carried out by one of the country's best organised political groups; if Egypt's leaders have learned anything this year, it's that public anger will not be pacified by ignoring grievances.

It's worth remembering how Egypt arrived at this moment in its history. Military control has been an undercurrent in Egyptian politics for six decades. It brought Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser to power in 1952, and it has supported each subsequent leader since. Hosni Mubarak's ouster could not have brought reforms to this institution overnight. But Egypt's military leaders are overlooking a new calculation: the public's unhappiness with the status quo.

A military strangle-hold on the political process is about as far from the revolutionary ideals first championed in Tahrir Square so many months ago as one can get. But exactly how much the military leadership can do to reassure its people in under 10 days remains to be seen.

Still, what is beyond debate is that the generals now in charge need to hand over the reins, removing themselves from the constitutional drafting process, and make way for a democratic transition of power. Stability is a must, but so too is political progress.

The Muslim Brotherhood do not speak for everyone in Egypt, but their message on Friday has resonance. Circumventing a meaningful transition in the political process, as the military is doing, can only end badly.