Egyptian revolution, Part 2: Now, to build a nation
Egypt must shift the passion of a revolution to the hard task of birthing a free nation. As national elections loom, the question persists: Will the military relinquish control?
It's Thursday night and the Egyptian revolution has come to Minya al-Qamh, a small agricultural city on the Nile River Delta. Gay party lights crisscross a downtown street where local youths have quickly erected a colorful tent around a stage. One organizer cranks up the public-address system to warm up the crowd, chanting anti-Mubarak lyrics over the rap song "Gangsta's Paradise." "Hosni and Gamal Mubarak/ too much grief/ 30 years/ no relief."Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Egypt's Next Step
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The slow-arriving local burghers and workers pay little attention. They're waiting for the star of the show: Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh. Dr. Aboul Fotouh, a former Muslim Brotherhood leader who recently broke from the Islamist group, is one of the most prominent candidates to declare he's running for Egypt's presidency. He's the first national-level politician to visit this town 100 miles north of Cairo since Hosni Mubarak was toppled in February. Several hundred locals, as a result, have turned out to hear him.
Avuncular and energetic, Aboul Fotouh laces his speech with many of the bromides universal to almost any campaign: the need to improve education, the importance of available health care, a vow to stamp out corruption. But he also throws in a few tart comments, derisively referring to Mr. Mubarak's crippling rule of Egypt and calling for a tougher stance toward the "Zionist criminals" to the north.
Such rhetoric, even the presence of someone publicly vying for the presidency, would have likely ended in a beating or worse for Aboul Fotouh and his followers just two years ago. But today the tableau of him stumping on a stage stands as a sign of how tangible freedom is in the new Egypt – and in some ways a reminder of how fragile it remains, too.
Nine months after the fall of a Middle Eastern autocrat that transfixed the world, Egypt is transitioning from a revolution to the messy process of birthing a nation in a way that is unleashing new voices, new ideas, new parties – and old dangers.
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As Aboul Fotouh and other candidates jockey for position and political parties gear up for historic parliamentary elections, the secretive military that has been the power behind the Egyptian throne since the 1950s remains firmly in control. By its recent actions, the country's military junta – the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) – has shown it is seeking to insulate itself from political change. It has jailed journalists and bloggers, shot and killed protesters – including 17 Coptic Christians last month who were complaining about unfair treatment by the state – and used secret trials against civilians. It has grabbed the megaphone of state media to darkly warn of "foreign hands" in Egyptian affairs and repeatedly revised Egypt's transition plan and the military's role in it.