By Tom Perry / Reuters
CAIRO: Egypt’s military rulers want elections in six months’ time but political activists who ousted Hosni Mubarak fear remnants of his administration and the tight deadline for polls pose threats to an incomplete revolution.
While Mubarak’s fall from power shows how much has changed since protesters first took to the streets a month ago, the apparatus of the state which served him for three decades remains largely intact.
Egypt is still ruled by people he appointed in a system of government that the opposition says needs a complete overhaul.
The military council to which Mubarak handed power on Feb. 11 is committed to overseeing democratic elections and appears eager to give up its role in government to a civil authority.
But it also seems hesitant to do much more than that on the reform front, wanting to leave further changes to the government that emerges in the coming months. The tight timetable for elections is a source of concern for many planning to run.
“There is legitimate fear for the revolution stemming from those seeking to ambush it and those who have an interest in its failure,” wrote Amr Hamzawy, research director at the Beirut-based Carnegie Middle East Center.
Publishing in Shorouk newspaper, Hamzawy described a threat from “those gathered around the previous president in Sharm El-Sheikh or those embroiled in the authoritarian, corrupt system which he established for the past decades.”
The military’s steps towards elections have been welcomed by the opposition. But the rapid course it has charted on that path is causing concern for Egyptians who say more time is needed for political life to recover from decades of oppression.
Quick elections suit politicians associated with Mubarak’s National Democratic Party who have survived a corruption crackdown that is targeting high-profile figures from his era.
They are already mobilizing for the legislative elections which the military has said it hopes to hold within six months.
The deeply-rooted Muslim Brotherhood is the only other group whose interests are suited by a quick vote. An experienced Islamist group, it could be ready for elections in weeks, though it will not seek a majority or run for the presidency.
‘This cannot happen in six months’
“I have a lot of reservations about Egypt’s interim period: moving from a dictatorial to a free, independent nation,” said Mohamed ElBaradei, a leading figure in the Egyptian opposition movement that coalesced to topple Mubarak.
Egyptians need time to form political parties and to communicate with the people, he told Al Arabiya television. “This cannot happen in six months.”
“Others say the six-month time frame is fair because it is equally short for everyone.”
His remarks echoed the views of others, including the newly-established Wasat Party, which have called for a year or more of interim government before elections.
Unlike 1952, when Egypt went through a revolution led by the army, the military appears to have no appetite to stay in power, diplomats in Cairo say. It would like to return to its old role in defense while guarding economic privileges built up over the years and seems uneasy in government.
That is why it is moving quickly with the reforms needed for elections.
Reaching out to the public through media including a page on Facebook, the military still enjoys broad respect for its public commitment to meeting the aspirations of the Egyptians who rose up against Mubarak.
Constitutional reforms designed to open up politics have been unveiled and will be put to a referendum within weeks.
But the council, headed by Mubarak’s long-time defense minister, seems reluctant to do more than the bare minimum on reform, a Western diplomat said.
“We think they are looking to do as little as possible on the decision front. They know they have to deliver constitutional amendments and free and fair elections. That’s really all they have committed to,” the diplomat said.
That mindset could explain why Ahmed Shafiq, appointed prime minister by Mubarak in the last weeks of his rule, is still in office. It might also explain why the military has yet to signal any intention to enact a major reform of the police force whose reputation for brutality helped fuel the uprising.
Shafiq, a former military officer, was the target of a protest in Tahrir Square on Friday calling for his removal.
Thousands of protesters urged his resignation during a demonstration that was less well attended than those that brought down Mubarak but which indicated that street protest is here to stay as a feature of Egyptian politics.
Hamzawy warned that since Mubarak stepped down on Feb. 11 the opposition was passing through “a foggy moment which had stripped it of the strategic initiative.”
“I fear it will lead to a state of confusion in action with very serious consequences,” he wrote.