Promises, but will it be the promised land?

By Ameen Izzadeen

Remember Zia ul Haq? Remember Pervez Musharraf? Soon after capturing power in two coups 22 years apart, the two Generals promised full democracy in Pakistan within 90 days. But once firmly in the saddle, they reneged on their promises and declared themselves presidents by amending the constitution in such a way that suited their agenda.
Now the Egyptian junta is talking about a six month timeframe to bring in democracy. History shows that military rulers seldom keep their promises on democracy, so much so that it is easier for the barren desert to turn into a fertile ground than for democracy to take root in the Middle East – a region that is more familiar with military rulers, monarchs and despots than with democratic statesmen. Will Egypt’s new military rulers be different?
The junta has dissolved parliament, suspended the constitution, pledged elections in six months and appointed a committee of jurists to draft constitutional amendments which are to be completed in ten days and put before the people in a referendum within two months. Good intentions indeed. But the path to the hell of a dictatorship is also paved with good intentions.
Although Egypt’s junta is sending what is being hailed by Washington as positive signals, doubts remain. This is because many key demands of the protesters still remain unfulfilled. However, the haste with which the junta has sent assurances to the United States and Israel seems to confirm that whatever the form of government that may eventually emerge will remain servile to Washington.
In one of its first announcements, the junta gave assurances to the United States and Israel, saying it was committed to uphold international treaties, especially Egypt’s treaties with Israel. This indicates that the junta will cooperate with Israel in starving the Gaza Palestinians who have been under siege since 2006. This also indicates that Egypt will continue to sell its natural gas to Israel at one third the market price. (Egypt is said to be losing some US$10 million a day as a result.)
No option would have made Washington happier than Mubarak handing over power to the military. While the tensed drama at Cairo’s Tahrir Square was reaching its climax, the Obama administration was hosting Egyptian military’s Chief of Staff, Gen. Sami Hafez Anan in Washington. Gen. Anan is being promoted as the common candidate – a compromise between Washington, the military and the protest leaders. Even Egypt’s most powerful opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, has given its nod for Gen. Anan.
The US President Barack Obama may seem to be supporting the pro-democracy protests. But the same cannot be said about the forces that control the US presidency. These forces make sure that whatever change takes place wherever will serve the US national interest – the interest of the capitalists and the Zionist lobby. Even Obama’s words in support of the popular uprising in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East serve the US national interest. They have helped the US to improve its image which George W. Bush had tarnished with his gung-ho policies.
What Egypt is witnessing today is not a transition to democracy, but a transition to government by another military ruler. The February 11 people-power victory was, in a way, a military takeover. Throughout the revolution, the military skillfully made use of the trust the people had placed on it to manipulate the events. The military’s thus-far-and-no-farther attitude stopped the surging waves of the people when they marched to the presidential palace and the state TV building. The military was in full force, ready to fire at anyone who dared to cross the line and ransack Mubarak’s palace, like the Iranian people did exactly 32 years ago, to the Shah’s palace.
Two days after a majority of the protesters left Tahrir Square, the military began to ride roughshod over those who decided to remain there until all the promises were fulfilled. The protesters, for instance, had demanded the lifting of the 30-year-old state of emergency, the release of all political prisoners and the prosecution of police officers who killed peaceful protesters, but the junta had indicated it was in no mood to do that. The protesters also demand that civilian leaders of the revolution be included in the transition government so that they can guide the country to the type of democracy the people want. But the military has chosen to ignore this demand as well.
The military is reading the riot act on the protesters, on the guise of bringing order to the country. Some protest leaders also seem to have compromised their position upon realizing that if they go beyond the military’s tolerance limit, they will run the risk of the reforms being postponed. But others are set to test the military’s tolerance limit in a massive victory rally today.
However, the six-month timeframe gives the military and its US backers time to come up with a type of government that will serve the US interest while sating the protesters’ hunger for democracy to some degree. What will probably emerge is a two-tier government, a hybrid system – with a president, most likely a US crony, responsible for foreign and defence policies while a government elected by parliament will run domestic affairs.
Meanwhile, unconfirmed reports circulating in Egypt say the ousted president has fallen into a coma in Sharm al-Sheikh. Prior to leaving the presidential palace in Cairo, he is reported to have told his son Gamal, who is synonymous with corruption in Egypt:  “You got me into this, you and your mother. You have ruined my history in Egypt”.
Will the rulers of the Middle Eastern countries where protests are being held take heed of the warning contained in Mubarak’s words?

(This article also appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

About ameenizzadeen

journalist and global justice activist
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