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Monday, 21 November 2011

The unfinished revolution

Over the weekend, the situation in Egypt has become ever more critical. The most sustained protests since President Mubarak was ousted in February. 13 people died and hundreds were injured in clashes between security forces and protesters, back in Tahrir Square.

The protesters are concerned that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Egypt's interim government, is dragging its feet on elections and trying to cement its own position. This weekend's deaths seem certain to prolong the protests and lead to another occupation of Tahrir Square.

Before this, the military has put nearly 12,000 Egyptians in front of military tribunals, has been making policy on the hoof and is sticking to a plan to hold presidential elections a whole year from now. The military already stands accused of the deaths of 27 protesters in clashes with mostly Coptic Christians last month. Most prominently, bloggers and activists who the military have tried to silence through their tribunals have gone on hunger strikes. There are appalling stories of prisoner abuse in Egyptian jails, with one prisoner killed - allegedly tortured - after trying to smuggle a SIM card in.

Elections are due to take place next week. But the military hasn't yet confirmed any date for the transfer of power to civilians. Until they do, the elections will be unempowered. There is a political vaccum, and some analysts suggest the only choice is between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Army.

Inevitably, the UK's Arab Spring focus has been on Libya. It's a hard balance for Western countries to encourage indigenous revolution rather than be seen to dictate ourselves. But we should surely be making it clear to Egypt's military rulers that they need to reassure Egyptians that they are there only on an interim basis, that civilian rule will follow swiftly, and to reject autocratic military tribunals that are bringing Egyptians onto the streets again. Perhaps the best hope is for Egypt's neighbour Tunisia to keep influencing change in Egypt. Tunisia's elections were swift, peaceful and effective. Egyptians deserve the same.

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