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November 27, 2011

Another view: Egypt's unfinished revolution

New York Times Editorial

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More than 100,000 Egyptians did not intend to risk their lives in Tahrir Square last winter just to see another military-backed tyranny.

Military leaders — supposedly only running things until civilians can be elected — have used the nine months since they helped oust Hosni Mubarak to try to stifle democratic change and protect their own power.

Egyptians are rightly fed up, and they are back in Tahrir Square demanding real democracy. At least 38 protesters have been killed, hundreds hurt, scores arrested.

The system the army set up meant Egypt would not have an elected president in charge before 2013. On Tuesday, the generals offered to move the presidential vote up to next June. But that would leave the army in overall control through the middle of next year.

That is too long.

The United States has a clear interest in a stable democratic Egypt, at peace with Israel and its Arab neighbours. The $2 billion in annual aid it provides — two-thirds of it to Egypt’s military — means it has considerable potential leverage. It needs to press the military a lot harder to deliver a swift and stable transition to democracy.

The voting for a new Parliament is scheduled to begin on Monday. Given all of the unrest, and the army-imposed constraints, a free and fair process is by no means assured. But the last thing Egypt needs is further delay. The vote should proceed, and the international community should warn the generals that they will pay a high price if they try to corrupt or hijack the outcome.

The generals will claim that they are protecting Egypt from chaos. Their real concern seems to be protecting their prerogatives, including control of lucrative chunks of the economy. Their brutal and clumsy efforts to do so ensure greater instability. The only way to retrieve some of the army’s lost esteem is to observe strict political neutrality while speeding its exit from power.

The Muslim Brotherhood is now Egypt’s best organized political movement, and, with the voting ground rules already tilted in its favour, an almost certain big winner in first round of parliamentary elections. But its efforts to protect that advantage by cutting a deal with the military touched off popular anger, and it is now trying to backpedal.

Egyptians are back in Tahrir Square because they want real democracy. They are entitled to nothing less.

This editorial appeared first in the November 25th the New York Times

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M. Elmasry

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