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What's next for Egypt?

A roundup of Egypt analysis after the mass protests – and harsh crackdown – around Tahrir Square over the past few days. Some democracy supporters advocate delaying next week's elections.

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Thanks to the massive popular move back to Tahrir, more fundamental change is the only way forward.

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The new situation has to force all of us to rethink our positions.  That includes me.  I have been arguing for months in favor of Parliamentary elections as the only way to begin to build strong institutions with democratic legitimacy to hold the SCAF accountable. I still believe that this was the right position under the conditions of the last few months. But those arguments have been overtaken by events.  It is almost impossible to imagine how meaningful, legitimate elections could be held in less than a week at a time of open battles in the center of Cairo and Alexandria and other cities. Many political forces have suspended their campaigns, and few voters are focused on the election.  It is unlikely that a body elected under these conditions will command real legitimacy.  As much as it pains me to come to this conclusion, and for all my fears that this will only lead to a longer-term delay in a democratic transition or become an excuse to exclude Islamists, it probably does now make sense to postpone the elections for a short period.

But postponing the elections only makes sense if the SCAF can be forced to agree to a much more dramatic and immediate transfer of power to a civilian government, with clear commitments to overseeing a rapid move towards elections. The crowds in Tahrir want to see fundamental change, and now is the chance to get it.

Issandr El Amrani (who with his colleagues writes the Arabist blog, an indispensable chronicle of Egypt's political and cultural currents), wrote after Tantawi's speech that Egypt is at a fragile, vulnerable moment, and the failure is not the military's alone.

The failure of SCAF's transition over the last nine months is not theirs alone. It is that of a good part of the political class that said nothing when key former regime figures where left alone for months, and Mubarak was in Sharm al-Sheikh with his sons. It is that of the Egyptian elite that went back to its privileged lifestyle and did nothing to address the social injustice in the country — not to always compare things to Tunisia, but there the private sector, trade unions and the government got together and negotiated 10-15% salary increases across the board. They bought social peace by renegotiating the social contract.

In Egypt you get the feeling that the upper class has completely ignored the social roots of the January uprising, and at the same time backed a return to similar kinds of politics of patronage, where parties and movements try to buy the poor with handouts and cheap meat at Eid. People don't want to be given charity, they want to be given social rights. This too is political — it's not about economic mismanagement. It's not about an uprising of the poor. It's about the political vision for a social economy.

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