Egypt’s top prosecutor has announced that former President Hosni Mubarak will be prosecuted, possibly in a military court, for ordering the killing of protesters and corruption. The ousted leader may face the death penalty. This will be a test of Egypt’s experiment with democracy, as there is a high potential for a show trial. The decision came as major protests are planned for Friday against the military leadership. They are being called the “Second Egyptian Revolution.”
The military regime has caved to growing public demands to quickly prosecute Mubarak and other officials. On Friday, a huge rally is planned to take place to put pressure on the leadership. The event is being called alternatively “The Second Egyptian Revolution,” the “Second Day of Rage” and “The Revolution Part II.” The protesters hope to force more limits to be put on the military’s power, such as ending military trials of civilians. Hundreds of bloggers have jointly criticized the military, challenging the ban on doing so.
The demonstrators are also calling for parliamentary elections scheduled for September to be postponed so parties have more time to organize. This is probably why the Muslim Brotherhood has declined to join the protest, as it benefits from near-term elections that minimize the time for competitors to mobilize. The Coptic Christians and secular liberals opposed the referendum on March 19 for this reason, but were overwhelmingly defeated.
The Muslim Brotherhood took part in demonstrations against the military council in April. The military did not carry out threats to forcibly disperse a sit-in, and tens of thousands demonstrated in Tahrir Square. Some even called for the resignation of Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the leader of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces that now governs the country. These gatherings took place despite a ban on all strikes and protests that destabilize the country; a broad ruling used by the military regime to solidify its grip.
The military regime has been criticized by Egyptian activists and human rights groups for its actions since the fall of Mubarak. It has cracked down on demonstrations, and has put up to 10,000 civilians on trial in military courts without access to lawyers or family members. It arrested a 25-year old blogger for criticizing the military, and three activists were apprehended on Thursday for putting up posters promoting the next day’s rally. It also summoned an editor and two journalists that broke a story alleging that a deal was being reached with Mubarak. According to the report, he would release an audio tape offering to give up his assets in exchange for immunity. The three were released after they signed an agreement not to publish anymore stories about the military without prior approval so “confusion” wouldn’t arise.
The military rulers have been trying to win over the Islamists. It is opening up the Gaza border crossing, which will undermine the blockade on Hamas. It is trying to begin a new relationship with Iran, and has reached out to the Muslim Brotherhood. There is also no indication that the military desires to modify or eliminate Article 2 of the constitution that makes Sharia the law of the land. It will be important to see if the charges against Mubarak will be justified under this article.
The military has also not stepped in to protect the Coptic Christians that are facing increased persecution. It even revoked the citizenship of a Christian lawyer in the U.S. for allegedly defaming Islam. In some cases, the military has clashed with the Coptic Christian minority. In February, it shot a monk and six church workers at a monastery when it raided the facility for allegedly not having the required permits. The military also dismantled a church’s security wall, saying it was illegally constructed.
The military regime has not confronted the Islamists, but the Supreme Council of Armed Forces says that it will not allow “another Khomeini” or “extremist factions” to come to power. This is an indication that it is willing to hold onto power if the Islamists come to power. The council was almost certainly referring to the Muslim Brotherhood when this statement was made. Since then, the Brotherhood has allied with the Salafists and al-Gama’a al-Islamiya, which has renounced violence and is forming a “civil political party based on Islamic principles.” The Brotherhood also recently hosted the leader of Hamas in its party headquarters.
The Supreme Council of Armed Forces has good reason to fear an Islamist takeover. The Muslim Brotherhood has raised its expectations for the parliamentary elections, and will now compete for half of the seats. The organization previously said it would only aim for one-third. If the Brotherhood can reach this goal, the next government will be formed on its terms. Should its Salafist allies add just a single more seat to its tally, then the Islamists will have a majority. This is extremely dangerous, as the next government will oversee the writing of a new constitution.
The news isn’t all good for the Muslim Brotherhood, though. A poll in April found that it is in second place, behind the secular nationalist Wafd Party. The Wafd had a 46 percent approval rating, eight points above the Brotherhood. Nearly one-fourth of those interviewed said they would vote for the Wafd, and the Brotherhood was only chosen by 12 percent. The now-banned party of Mubarak was chosen by 10 percent. This shows there is a strong non-Islamist voting bloc that can effectively compete with the Brotherhood.
A three-way struggle is underway in Egypt between the liberal political elements, the Islamists and the military regime. Friday will give a glimpse into the future of the country. The protests will demonstrate the level of opposition to the military rulers, as well as the leadership’s commitment to democracy, and willingness to tolerate challenges.