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Egypt masses resist military repression

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

May 14, 2012

As Egyptians prepare for the first round of national presidential elections on May 23-24, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has enacted a series of repressive measures. Clashes between armed militias of supporters of the Islamist political parties killed up to 20 people on May 2 outside the Ministry of Defense in the Abbassiya District of Cairo. Many believe SCAF backs the militias.

On May 5, hundreds of Egyptian riot police fled Central Security Forces camps and blockaded a highway leading out of Cairo. These actions were said to be in response to reports that an officer had shot dead a conscript. Video footage obtained by the Agence France-Presse showed the CFS conscripts marching through the streets in civilian clothes denouncing the shooting of one of their colleagues. (May 7)

Military and riot police were dispatched to the area to break up the demonstration. CSF troops are poorly paid and are deployed to areas of unrest to contain mass demonstrations in the country where the political situation remains volatile. In 1986, a rebellion among CSF troops brought thousands into the streets in clashes that lasted several days.

The struggle within the security forces follows a series of events that have raised tensions, including those on May 2.

SCAF denied responsibility for the May 2 clashes and immediately ordered an interior ministry investigation. Many Egyptians, however, have said someone is manipulating events so as to continue military rule and demand postponement of upcoming presidential elections. The SCAF has said they will hand over power within 60 days of the elections and the creation of a new government.

During May 4 demonstrations against the military in Cairo, a soldier was killed and several hundred people were injured. On May 5, security forces arrested 300 people for interrogations that will last for 15 days.

The army also imposed an overnight curfew around the Ministry of Defense. Those held in the May 5 sweep face charges of assaulting army officers and soldiers as well as lesser charges. (Middle East Online, May 6)

The defense ministry protests targeted the disqualification of two leading Islamist presidential candidates, denying candidates for the Freedom and Justice Party and the Salafists the right to run. Khairat al-Shater of the FJP was accused of having a criminal record under the Hosni Mubarak regime It was said that the mother of Hazim Abu Ismail of the Salifist al-Nour Party held United States citizenship, which he denied.

The Salafist al-Nour Party has denied involvement in the sit-ins outside the defense ministry and has attempted to disassociate itself from Abu Ismail’s disqualified candidacy. Al-Nour did denounce the May 2 clashes, saying that the SCAF is attempting to delay the presidential elections.

The candidates & Egypt’s political future

Twenty-three candidates initially filed to run for the presidency. On April 14, the Supreme Presidential Elections Committee announced the disqualification of ten candidates.

Mohammed Morsi, who is the official FPJ candidate, is so far trailing behind Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, an independent Muslim, in the polls. According to recent reports, Fotouh is being supported by the conservative Salafists al-Nour Party as well as the more moderate Al-Wasat.

Nonetheless, national polls indicate that Amr Moussa is the leading candidate for the presidency. The former Secretary General of the Arab League, Moussa was closely associated with the ousted government of Hosni Mubarak. In a survey conducted by Al-Ahram, 39 percent of prospective voters will support Moussa and 24 percent Fotouh. Morsi received only 7 percent in the poll. The survey was based on interviews with 1,200 people throughout the country.

Moussa has campaigned in the Suez Canal area and has pledged to create what he calls a new economic zone along the region as well as investing in neighboring Sinai, where the Bedouin sector is based. The Bedouins have long complained of being marginalized in Egyptian politics and economic development.

Moussa is aiming to win 50 percent in the first round — a formidable task. This would eliminate the run-off election on June 16-17. A run-off vote would likely set Moussa against an Islamist candidate, which could unite the religious constituency controlling about half of the parliament.

The backdrop to the elections also includes a major conflict between the Islamist-dominated parliament and the SCAF-appointed cabinet. The Islamists in parliament have attempted to dissolve the government in the lead-up to the presidential elections.

Political economy & international relations

Despite Egypt’s natural gas wealth, its national debt is exploding. The Egyptian government’s indebtedness to international oil and gas companies is said to be at least $4 billion.

For years Egypt has purchased gas at international prices and sold it at subsidized rates in local markets. As as a result, the oil ministry is being compelled to renegotiate payments to foreign suppliers. Political unrest has also contributed to the decline in revenue in key sectors of the economy.

The U.S. ruling class is closely following the situation in Egypt, as are Israel and Saudi Arabia. Egypt is strategically located, with a population of 80 million people. Historically, it has been a trailblazer for political trends in other parts of Africa and the Middle East.

Egypt is the second largest recipient of direct foreign assistance from the U.S. The Pentagon supplies the military with more than $1 billion annually and holds joint military exercises with Egypt’s army. Washington and Cairo exchange intelligence resources.

Recently the Egyptian government cancelled an agreement with Israel to supply natural gas after months of sabotage of the pipelines between the two countries.

These variables will have an impact on the elections and postelections processes.

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UPDATED May 16, 2012 9:51 AM
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