Egypt’s first free parliamentary elections after the Arab Spring saw the Muslim Brotherhood win 47 percent of seats. The question now is whether the moderate Islamists can really wrestle power from the hands of the military without further bloodshed.
Almost one year ago to the day, the people of Egypt swarmed Cairo’s streets, demanding democracy and the head of 83-year-old President Hosni Mubarak.
After 18 days of demonstrations Mubarak was toppled, but not before 850 protesters had been killed and thousands more injured in a bloody crackdown by his henchmen.
Today the disgraced former president, who seems to be confined to a hospital bed, faces a battle, both against his deteriorating health and prosecutors’ attempts to condemn him to the death penalty for ordering a deadly response to the protests.
Mubarak may be gone, but the military leaders who helped prop up his regime for 30 years are still in power. And even if the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces fulfils its promise to relinquish power once presidential elections are completed in June, worries persist that they will continue to pull strings behind the scenes.
The tough and delicate task of wrenching control from the armed forces will lie mainly with the moderate Islamic group the Muslim Brotherhood.
Election results announced on Saturday revealed the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party will be the dominant force in the parliament’s lower house after winning 47 percent of seats.
“They are really going to have to prise power away from these generals. This is a state that has really been a military state for over 60 years. The army does not want to give up the rights to oversee whoever is holding civilian power,” Robin Wright, a fellow at the US Institute of Peace, who has just returned from Egypt, told the BBC.
The first challenge facing elected representatives will be to hold accountable those who ordered and took part in the deadly crackdowns on protesters both under Mubarak and the rule of the military.
There are concerns among Egyptians that Mubarak’s trial will be a whitewash and fail to deliver real justice against the deposed ruler. There are also worries the Muslim Brotherhood will shy away from putting military chiefs on trial for the deaths of scores of protesters in recent months.
'The military will be held responsible'
But Mohamed Badie, head of the Muslim Brotherhood, rebuked these suggestions on Saturday.
“We say that we respect and appreciate the army, but the military council must be held accountable for any mistakes. No one is above accountability,” Badie told Egyptian channel Dream TV before the election results were announced.
Appealing for an end to the anti-military protests that have marked recent months, Badie added, “This is a transitional period, and we urge everyone to cooperate until we reach safety.”
Badie also insisted that a national security council should be set up and parliament, rather than the military, should have the right to determine who sits on that body.
“The responsibility for oversight on all people’s institutions, including the military, lies with the People’s Assembly,” he said.
On the controversial issue of the military’s budget, Badie said it would be ‘reviewed’ and ‘scrutinised’ by a special parliamentary committee that will include representatives of the army.
Political power might not be the only thing that the army will be reluctant to hand over. According to some estimates, military-owned enterprises constitute up to a third of the country’s economy.
If the Muslim Brotherhood appears content with the progress made towards democracy, those demonstrators who helped overthrow Mubarak are certainly not.
Protests demanding justice for those killed at the hands of authorities have continued, with thousands of anti-military protesters descending on Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday.
And the one-year anniversary of the uprising against Mubarak is set to be marked by further demonstrations against military chiefs on Wednesday.
International pressure needed
Some experts on Egypt are calling for foreign governments to tighten the screws on the country’s interim rulers to ensure transfer of power to elected representatives.
“If the United States wants to build a positive relationship with a new democratic Egypt, President Obama should state unequivocally that Egypt’s future lies with a democratic civilian government and that the military rulers do not have the unconditional support of the US government”, said Neil Hicks, International Policy Advisor for the US based organisation Human Rights First.
On Friday the US president took a step in that direction when he held a telephone conversation with the Egyptian military council chief Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi.
“The president reinforced the necessity of upholding universal principles and emphasized the important role of civil society, including non-governmental organisations, in a democratic society,” a White House statement said following the call.
On Wednesday Egypt’s military rulers plan to mark the occasion by holding a nationwide air show, including flyovers by warplanes. They have declared the day a national holiday.
But the people of Egypt are unlikely to be impressed by low-flying military jets, when what they really want is for the military to take off and let civilians take over.