'The real fight for democracy in Egypt has yet to begin'
A Cairo newspaper editor on why the elections will not
prevent protesters from returning to Tahrir Square
THURSDAY 01 DECEMBER 2011
When it comes to economics, you don't mess with Wael
Gamal. Before becoming a managing editor of Shrouq -
Sunrise, to you and me - he was economics editor of the
Egyptian daily, and he casts a cold eye on soldiers who
don't understand money. "Not a single one of the 20
generals on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces
understands the economy," he says, with a certain laugh
infecting his voice, "and at their press conference the
other day, all their numbers and conclusions were wrong.
They wanted to scare the people off the streets by saying
that Egypt will go bankrupt. The ministers were all trying
to correct the statistics afterwards."
Gamal had just voted for the secular "Revolution" list,
and it was the first time he had entered a polling booth
in his 40 years. "I never voted in elections before
because they were all fraudulent. Before the revolution,
our editor-in-chief was about to be jailed because of a
report we carried on the rigged 2010 elections. I was
chased by the police twice in 2003 because I was involved
in the movement against the American war in Iraq."
These are happier times, then. No police agents hover
outside Shrouq's front door. Not right now, anyway.
"The choice of [the new Prime Minister, Kamal] Ganzouri
was very nasty," Gamal says. "He intends to keep a third
of the members of the old government and two of them -
Hassan Younis, the Electricity Minister, and Faisal Naga,
the Planning Minister - were Mubarak ministers. I think
the people will return to Tahrir Square after the first
voting results are announced.
"But what has happened is huge progress. Sure, people saw
violations at the voting, but compared to what happened
before, it was a great improvement. I am optimistic."
This isn't a widespread sentiment in Egypt right now. And
if the Muslim Brotherhood wins the largest number of seats
in the election, which they assuredly will, Gamal believes
it will be under enormous pressure: from workers, from
trade unions, from the US. Strikes, he says, will start
again after the elections. "The Brotherhood [says it] will
not change the tax policies, so they are against the poor.
This will not balance the budget. I think they will fail.
The economy is going to be crucial. Egypt makes lots of
money through tourism. Will the Brotherhood support
Already, new trade unions have been created, but a new
workers' rights law has been refused by the army
leadership. The labour ministry has told new unions they
have to merge into the old syndicates. As for Field
Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Gamal says he is ill,
that he has no intention of becoming President although
this might not apply to all members of the Supreme Council
of the Armed Forces, the SCAF, which Egyptians call the
Maglis el-Askleri (Military Council). The name of General
Sami Amman floats around these days, although Gamal says,
with a sense of relief, that "if there had been an
ambitious, efficient member of the SCAF, we would have
been in trouble."
Gamal sees a divided Muslim Brotherhood, the movement
having already spawned two rival parties, its youth cut
off from older members, its leadership already out of
agreement with the army. "They are saying that parliament
should be able to form a government" - which the military
does not want - "but the Brotherhood make compromises with
He added: "This exaggeration of the power of the
Brotherhood is an obsession. There are internal
differences and they lost the youth from the first day [of
the revolution]. As for the Salafists, they are not
accepted by Egyptians, even in the countryside. They will
maybe get 10 per cent of the votes."
Oddly, Gamal suspects that the Arab revolutions may have
been inspired by the overthrow of dictatorships in Latin
America, "where opponents of the regimes occupied squares
and fought with the police; we had the same kind of
developments in social and economic life". But when I ask
about the army's latest warning of "foreign hands"
provoking violence in Tahrir Square this month, Gamal
snorts with cynicism.
"This is hypocritical. They moan about foreign money going
to NGOs. But they let the US donate $150m to promote the
'transition to democracy'. The army gets $1.3bn from
America. Then that's a different matter. But the future
will depend on the next confrontation. The SCAF is very,
very weak. Every time 100,000 people go to Tahrir, the
government falls. They are on the defensive. The problem
is that people in Tahrir don't have the power to put more
pressure on, to confront the real web of interests behind
the SCAF and to confront the old regime in the work
places. There will be a real fight for democracy and
The old optimism is coming back to Gamal. "In just nine
months, the strength of the army is collapsing. Who would
have imagined that people would be shouting 'Down with the
Military Council'? This is good for political progress in
Egypt." The army, as "protectors" of a new constitution,
intend to keep their privileges out of parliament's hands,
Muslim Brothers or not, which is what the Tahrir
demonstrators will be complaining about again in
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