The first anniversary of the revolution which ousted President Hosni Mubarak found the revolutionaries sorely divided and perplexed about their achievement. The tens of thousands of Egyptians, who filled Tahrir Square Wednesday night, Jan. 25, couldn't agree whether to protest continuous military rule or celebrate the country's transformation.
The emblematic square was a simmering cauldron of conflict as historic processes cranked forward elsewhere in Cairo.
Monday, Jan. 23, the 498 deputies elected in Egypt's first democratic elections took their seats in the Lower House and chose Mohamed Saad Al-Katani, Secretary of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), which won just under half of the parliament seats, as speaker.
Members of the ultra-strict Salafi Al-Nur party and the conservative Wafd which is allied with the Brotherhood were elected deputy speakers.
None of the liberals or youths who spearheaded the revolution – or women – had any chance of gaining office in a parliament in which Islamists hold nearly three-quarters of the seats.
Its opening session soon descended into mayhem as inexperienced lawmakers tried to make speeches from their seats, interspersed with shouting and crying – and all the same time.
The ruling military council (SCAF) marked the anniversary by partially lifting the decades-old emergency laws.
Tuesday, January 24, US Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson called at Al-Nur party headquarters in Cairo and met with leaders of the Salafi party.
Her visit was no surprise to anyone familiar with the current state of affairs in Egypt. While the conventional Western and Arab view is that the military rulers and the Muslim Brotherhood have formed a secret alliance, the real partners are the generals and the Salafis, who have joined hands to cap the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Washington too seeks to prevent the ascendant Brotherhood from dominating Egypt – hence Ambassador Patterson's talks with the Salafis.
Transition in limbo
Wednesday, liberals and Islamists gathered at opposite ends of Tahrir Square. As Brotherhood volunteers checked IDs and conducted searches among the tens of thousands of celebrants, dissonant chants rose from the two camps: Religious songs and shouts of “Allahu Akbar,” from Brotherhood loyalists, “Down, down with military rule” from the liberals.
They are all in the same boat, stuck in the limbo of Egypt's transition. DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Cairo sources report that five weighty issues remain unanswered before it can be determined who will end up ruling the country:
1. Following the Lower House's election of the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Saad al-Katani as Speaker, what happens to the government appointed by the military junta and Prime Minister Dr. Kamal Al-Ganzouri? Will it continue to govern, or is parliament competent to name a new administration and ask the Brotherhood as the largest elected faction to put forward a candidate for forming a new cabinet?
In public, Muslim Brotherhood spokesmen disavow any interest in the posts of president and prime minister and are therefore not running candidates for those posts. But will they continue to leave these appointments to the military rulers? It’s hard to imagine the Muslim Brotherhood relinquishing a historic opportunity to rule Egypt.
A presidential or a parliamentary democracy?
2. On March 30, 2011, the Supreme Military Council published a Provisional Constitution for the Arab Republic of Egypt. It stipulated that the elected parliament set up a committee for framing a new constitution.
Six months later, in August 2011, the military rulers announced discussions were underway with various political groupings on a document of "inviolable constitutional principles." After agreement is reached on this document, the SCAF would publish it in the form of a “constitutional declaration” that will include “criteria” for selecting members of the committee charged with drafting Egypt’s new constitution.
So the question now is this: Now that the new legislature is in place, who appoints the constitutional committee, parliament or the military rulers?
3. A new constitution must stipulate whether Egypt remains a presidential democracy with the president holding supreme powers, or transitions to a parliamentary democracy, with the presidency a largely ceremonial office and the government answerable to parliament. Big question mark.
4. Will the new deputies consent to endow the Egyptian military with the special status of Defender of the Egyptian Constitution? Will they grant the heads of the armed forces immunity from prosecution and interference in the financial-commercial empire they control?
6. The Egyptian economy and a nation of more than 80 million are meanwhile floundering in a sea of uncertainties and galloping penury. This week, its foreign currency assets shrank to just $9 billion.
Who will take charge of rescuing Egypt from economic catastrophe? The army which has fallen down on the job, or the new, inexperienced lawmakers, none of whom has a clue where to start?