Sunday, 13 February 2011

When the Genie's out of the Bottle

On Kasr el-Aini Street near where I live in Cairo, the side-effects of revolution are evident on every block. Just as in the French and Russian revolutions, every professional and labour interest is seizing the moment to bring up institutional grievances which are peripheral to the broad aims of the millions who came out to demand the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. At the end of the street there's a printing press owned by the trade union federation, and the workers there are out in the garden demanding 'the implementation of the amalgamation' and other obscure internal measures. Up the road at the headquarters of the Principal Bank for Development and Agricultural Credit, the state bank which lends money to farmers, the staff are spilling into the street, campaigning against board chairman Ali Shaker. This is just a tiny selection of the protests and sit-ins which are sweeping the country as the old regime gradually implodes. Television stations say there are similar actions under way at state television and at Dar el-Tahrir, the big state publishing house which owns el-Gomhuria newspaper. There's a rumour that the ruling military council is about to put out another communique banning such protests and telling people to go back to work. But with the state in serious disarray, the police force discredited and the army overstretched, the military council is hardly in a position to enforce such a decree. The thrust of the protests seems to be that the existing managers, appointed by the Mubarak regime, are corrupt and have embezzled public funds to the detriment of the staff. Inevitably many of those managers will lose their jobs and some will be investigated or have their assets frozen, as has already happened to several of the outgoing ministers - Housing Minister Ahmed Maghraby and Tourism Minister Zuheir Garrana and Information Minister Anas el-Fiki, for example. As such people lose power and disappear from the scene, the position of other prominent members of the  'ancien regime' will become more and more untenable. The long-term intentions of the ruling military council remain obscure. Today they answered more of the protest movement's demands -- dissolving parliament and offering a six-month timetable for a new constitution and elections. But the other demands are not going away - the release of detainees, an end to the state of emergency and the formation of a new transitional cabinet to replace the one inherited from Mubarak. At the same time Al Arabiya is reporting that the council will find a new role in government for Omar Suleiman, the former intelligence chief that Mubarak appointed vice president in late January. That sends a signal in completely the opposite direction, given that the protest movement now sees Suleiman as a prime symbol of the old regime. At this stage in the revolution each and every personnel change is important and will be carefully watched to see where the military council is taking the country. Even the changes at state companies, especially in the media, can make an incremental difference to the balance of power. 

1 comment:

  1. I don't much like this "transitional period" idea... can't trust the army. It might be that those are bad experiences from my own country and I really hope I am 100% wrong here. Suleiman should be on trail along with many others not in the government.