I’ve been keeping a close eye on political events in Egypt, an interest spurred by my visit to the country last November. Some news I get via email from people I met while I was there, people with hopes of a better future, mired ever deeper in doubt, especially now that the Islamists have come out of the parliamentary elections as the dominant force, commanding two-thirds of the representation.
A presidential election is scheduled for sometime this year but in the meantime the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) remains in control. The generals may eventually slip into the background, but I don’t think the military will ever relinquish power; I don’t think it will ever give up its role as king maker, one that it has held ever since Nasser’s coup in 1952.
On the streets, still punctuated with violent discontent, the word is that the very models of modern major generals have struck up a clandestine deal with the Islamists. In parliament the liberals, those with the confidence of the street protesters, are fighting a kind of gallant rearguard action. Legislation has been proposed that that would exclude the army from oversight of any future elections. I guess it’s unlikely to succeed, unless the Freedom and Justice Party, the main Islamist force, decide to break their links with the soldiers
The real victim here in the complex game of political poker is Egypt’s ancient but vulnerable minority of Coptic Christians. Incidents of sectarian violence, in part encouraged by the military, have been steadily increasing since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak last year. Under attack from the extremist Salifist movement, with the army offering intermittent protection at best, the community is going through one of the most apprehensive stages of its history. There is little doubt that they are being singled out as a scapegoat. Thousands have left the country; millions have no choice but to remain.
Freedom is not for free, said one of the banners held up in Cairo’s Tahrir Square last year. How ironic it is that the secularist dictatorships, the regimes of Saddam Hussein, Hosni Mubarak and Bashar al-Assad, the last still holding on, offered the greatest protection to the Christians of the Middle East. Now the Copts are indeed discovering that freedom is not for free. It has a price, one being negotiated at their expense.