17 July 2011
Last week saw thousands of demonstrators go back to Tahrir Square for a ‘nonstop sit-in’ to protest the slow rate of change, despite warnings and fresh concessions from Egyptian officials. With threats of civil disobedience—such as closing down the Tahrir central administrative compound for two days, and threatening to close the vital traffic artery in Cairo and Giza, the 6 October Bridge, as well as the Suez Canal—the turbulence on the political scene reached a crescendo.
The protestors demanded speedier trials for Hosni Mubarak and his aides, the suspension of officers accused with attacking demonstrators, and that trials of civil offenders be held before civil courts.
About 1000 people blocked the main road from Suez to the Canal last weekend, while others halted operations at Adabiya port on the Red Sea. But the armed forces took matters in hand and traffic through the canal proceeded normally.
The Suez Canal ranks second on the Egyptian national income at a revenue of USD500 million. Fouad Abdel-Moniem Riad, professor of international law at Cairo University and a former judge at the international court for war crimes, warned of international repercussions of closing the Canal, since Egypt was bound by international treaties to keep the Canal open and safe for navigation.
The Egyptian stock exchange suffered losses of more than EGP11 million last week, compounding the losses of the Egyptian economy, pronounced by recent study to have exceeded EGP37 billion last March.
The protests came despite the fact that the week witnessed the resignation of Deputy Prime Minister Yehia al-Gamal, who had been widely criticised for his conciliatory approach towards businessmen backed by the Mubarak regime, in exchange for returning the money they reportedly made illegally. Former Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif was sentenced to a one-year suspended prison term for corruption, while former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly was given five years and former Finance Minister Youssef Boutros-Ghali was sentenced in absentia to 10 years in the same case. And the judiciary council recommended that the trials of Mubarak-era officials should be relayed onto TV public screens and moved to larger venues.
In the strongest response so far by the Egyptian military to the growing signs of dissatisfaction, the spokesman for the military authorities, Mohsen al-Fangari, issued a warning to those who “deviate from the peaceful approach during demonstrations and sit-ins and obstruct the institutions of the state”.
The military statement was delivered on State television in a threatening tone that suggested the generals may be close to running out of patience with the protests, sit-ins and strikes engulfing the nation since 25 January. However, it said the military##s response to offenders would be within the boundaries of “legitimacy”. The statement did not elaborate, but rights activists at home and abroad say at least 10,000 people have been tried by military tribunals for alleged security offenses since the army took over the streets from the police on 28 January.
The military also rejected criticism of its handling of Egypt’s transition to democratic rule, vowing not to give up its interim role in managing the country’s affairs until an elected government takes over. It expressed its support for embattled Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, and conceded that election procedures would begin in September. It also pledged to produce binding regulations for the selection of a constituent assembly that will draft a new constitution, allaying fears that Islamists would elect an assembly that would give the document an Islamic slant.