What is the purpose of the Egyptian state? Does it exist to serve the people—or the interests of the military elite? This is the question that now confronts the mass of Egyptians.
The ruling generals are determined to defend their own privileges. Despite promises of free elections, they are intent on keeping control over the economy and foreign policy. In effect, they want to run Egypt just as it was before, under the Mubarak regime.
The killings in Tahrir Square this week show how the army leaders intend to proceed. They will use lethal violence against those who want further change.
Elections planned for next week are likely to be chaotic. Few Egyptians believe they can deliver credible results. Is this the generals’ intention? Do they want to wreck the polls even before they begin?
The military has been in power for almost 60 years. It is run by officers who enjoy power and wealth. They benefited from the corruption of the Mubarak era.
For the generals a genuine democratic transformation is unthinkable. They are both fearful and contemptuous of the people, especially the activists who brought down Mubarak.
Faced with huge protests and by mass strikes in February, the officers reluctantly accepted that Mubarak had to go. Now they are the new Mubaraks—defenders of a system that delivers nothing for the people.
The mass movement has new, radical demands—the army must surrender power, the people will decide their future, the revolution must continue.
Egyptian socialists are calling for a general strike that unifies the streets and the workplaces. As in February, this is the key to further change and the means to develop new forms of direct democracy.
The latest crisis has also exposed the limits of many established parties. The Muslim Brotherhood, which reluctantly supported demonstrations against the generals, says it will not back further action.
Furious protesters say the Muslim Brotherhood has abandoned the struggle for change. On Monday they expelled Mohamed el-Beltagi, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, from Tahrir Square.