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?
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He spent years switching cellphones and sleeping on friends' floors to avoid state surveillance. He and a number of other young Brothers took part in the early days of the Tahrir protests against the wishes of the Brotherhood leadership, which feared inciting a government crackdown and seemed leery of joining hands with a largely secular protest movement. Shaped by these experiences, he drifted away from the group, becoming a critic of its top-down style and willingness to make accommodations with the military.Skip to next paragraph
"I didn't quit. I was fired," he says in an interview at a cafe of his ouster from the Brotherhood in July. He publicly criticized the group as too close to SCAF (the Brotherhood has often echoed the military's warnings about "foreign hands" in Egyptian affairs), and as unaccountable to its membership.
"I don't want the Brotherhood to be a political party. It should be a civil group whose members can join whatever party they like," he says. "If we try to legislate religion, we're going to divide Egypt."
Now, he's one of the founders of the Egyptian Current Party, led largely by former Brothers. It's Islamic in character, but Kasaas insists there's nothing religious in its agenda.
"Is alcohol forbidden in Islam? Of course," he says. "But Muslims shouldn't drink because they're Muslims, not because of what the government does or doesn't do."
Whether his party will get any electoral traction is hard to say. A group of activists declaring a party is one thing; organizing across a country of 80 million people, where government-controlled media remain how most people get their news, is something else. He, like more than a dozen political activists interviewed from across the Egyptian political spectrum, is worried about the parliamentary elections being marred by violence, vote buying, and military meddling.
"In the Mubarak days, the NDP people could just buy their way into parliament," he says, referring to Mubarak's since-banned National Democratic Party. "Those habits, those people, remain all around us, and it's very dangerous.
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Transitions from authoritarianism to democracy are never easy, even under the best of circumstances. Some post-Soviet states, particularly in Central Asia, descended quickly into new forms of despotism after the fall of the Soviet Union. Indonesia, which dumped its last dictator, Suharto, in 1998, witnessed almost a decade of sectarian upheaval and economic uncertainty until finally becoming, for now, a fairly stable democracy.
Egypt, too, faces challenges both common and unique. Its economy is beset by some of the biggest problems in the region outside of Yemen. It is trying to surmount an authoritarian culture that has been in place in some form since the Pharaohs. The military, the fist that has been the guarantor of that authority in modern times, is particularly reluctant to loosen its grip.
In some ways, this is understandable. For almost 60 years, the military has been a virtual law unto itself. Egypt's 1952 revolution that overthrew the monarchy was led by the "Free Officers Movement," and the country's first president was a general. Its second, Nasser, was a colonel. His successor, Anwar Sadat, was a military academy graduate, and Mubarak bore the equivalent rank of general in the Air Force.
To this day, senior officers have their own clubs, their own residential subdivisions, their own holiday resorts, and by and large live apart from society. The military runs a vast array of businesses that produce everything from bottled water to refrigerators. Members of Egypt's conscript Army are sometimes used as labor in these factories, and civilian workers are subject to military law – handy for dealing with strikes.