Impatience Grows Over Egypt's Unfinished Revolution

Guy Raz speaks with Samer Shehata, professor of Arab politics at Georgetown University, about how anger with Egypt's military rulers has prompted more protests, and how elections planned to begin next week may not be enough to quell the unrest.

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

For a broader view of what's happening now in Egypt, we're joined by Samer Shehata, who is in Alexandria. He's an assistant professor of Arab politics at Georgetown University.

Samer Shehata, welcome.

PROFESSOR SAMER SHEHATA: Thank you for having me.

RAZ: Nine months ago, those crowds in Tahrir Square were jubilant. They were celebrating the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. They were talking about a new democratic future. Those crowds are now back for different reasons. Explain what their main objections are today.

SHEHATA: Well, their main objections are that the people who have been running the country since Mubarak's ouster have done a terrible job and they have not been democratic. They have been trying civilians in front of military courts. They have been responding to peaceful protests with violence. They have detained upwards of 10,000 individuals. They have arbitrarily made decisions about the elections coming up, which have angered many people and have led many to believe that they're less than sincere in terms of democratic transformation.

RAZ: Samer, it was my understanding that the military was ostensibly backing this pro-democracy movement. Of course, they didn't fire on the protesters back in February. And the protesters essentially said that they trusted the military. What happened?

SHEHATA: Well, I think that the initial problem is that the military didn't support the revolution. The military didn't use force, that's right. They realized that Mubarak was a liability. So they, as they say, pushed him under the bus to save themselves. You have to remember, the Supreme Council of the armed forces, the men who are running the country right now, they were all appointed by Mubarak - all Mubarak loyalists.

And then, in terms of what's happened since then, I think they've shown their non-democratic aspects, and that's what's led people to come back out onto the streets.

RAZ: One of the demands of the pro-democracy protesters was for new and open parliamentary elections. Those will happen. It will begin on Monday. Won't the results of those elections, Samer, resolve a lot of their grievances?

SHEHATA: Yes and no. Many are saying that the elections really shouldn't take place right now, in a context of lack of full security, in a context that really wasn't - isn't clear in terms of the timetable and the specifics of the transition of power to a civilian authority.

The timetable that the military put forward was elections begin on November 28th, they end in March. At that point, a committee is determined by the parliament of 100 people who are to write a constitution. That's supposed to take six months. Then you are supposed to have presidential elections. So it wasn't clear to many when exactly the military was going to cede power.

RAZ: Interestingly enough, the Muslim Brotherhood, which is presumably the largest opposition in Egypt now, does not want to postpone those elections. They want to go ahead and go forward with them. Is that because they're assuming that they are going to win big?

SHEHATA: That's right. They've been campaigning very well and they feel that they're going to do well in these elections. And that is how they're going to better their position politically in the political process.

RAZ: If the Muslim Brotherhood does gain a majority in these in these parliamentary elections, does that then set them up for a confrontation with the military council?

SHEHATA: No, because they are only contesting about half of the seats in parliament. Their strategy has always been not to rock the boat too much. One of their slogans is: participation, not domination. Because they realize that if they were to contest all the seats, and if they did win a majority, that would not only frighten Egyptians, it would frighten the international community.

They tried to further their position without rocking the boat or confronting authority too much. That's what they did under Mubarak and that's what they're doing now.

RAZ: That's Samer Shehata. He's an assistant professor of Arab politics at Georgetown University, speaking to us from Alexandria in Egypt.

Samer, thank you.

SHEHATA: My pleasure.

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