The army is in control and for a night that worked because they were something else. Something other than a corrupt dictator and the thieves that made up his family and cabinet. But the army is in control and whether it’s short term or they have other plans and regardless of how they came to slide into the throne, when they say stop, you’re meant to stop. Orders, chain of command. And in a regimented world like that, protesting is akin to mutiny.
“The people’s legitimate demands will be met,” the supreme council of the armed forces declared right before Mubarak dripped off. “We’ve given them enough, if we keep giving them what they want next they’ll ask us to marry (them off),” a bendy legged soldier complained to me as he pointed to Tahrir Square where the night before this army had beaten, chased and electrocuted sleeping protesters. He couldn’t understand why the protesters were still there. “They want Shafiq to go because Mubarak appointed him, but he did that after they wanted him to change the ministers.”
But I don’t expect a man whose days are spent following orders to understand. Especially when those orders are in direct contrast with the will of a perceived mutiny. It doesn’t matter what the army thinks, this isn’t their show; they’re just interlopers as tarnished at the top as the old brass hands that for decades choked Egyptians. Now the television’s lights are somewhere else but the spirit is as sharp. The revolution that overthrew Mubarak has now come up against another entrenched dog. This one took longer to bare its teeth but if anyone thought curfews, military checkpoints and tanks on the street meant the revolution was going to be delivered without interference on its course to free elections, a decent parliament and a clean state, they were looking for an excuse to rest after the exertions of 18 days spent chipping at the granite clad crooks.
“Give them a chance to do something, they haven’t had enough time yet,” I keep being told. And nor should they (Shafiq, the army, all remnants from the rotten regime) have any time. What’s at stake now is Egypt’s fate. This isn’t a once in a generation opportunity, it’s rarer than that. The changes so far are cosmetic; some new faces heading inept ministries who swore their allegiance to Field Marshall Tantawi and rhetoric with a cursory nod to the people. The people whose pushing and dignified courage means they have earned the right to be more than spectators to what might unfold. There is no way that the country’s fate should be or can be handed over to the same people who benefited or were complicit in the rampant corruption and nefarious brutality that is up against a wall now that Egypt has stood up.
However promising the talk emanating with the stench of collusion from the obscure relations between the supreme council of the armed forces and Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq’s cabinet, it will both limit and compromise the potential of real, long lasting freedom and political accountability in Egypt. The sacrifices, the momentum, the shaking off of the tyrant’s choke, these cannot be in vain, and it is the chance of that transpiring that cannot be given to these old men in tarnished suits and military uniforms. The future now belongs to the generation that rose up and dared to believe what previous ones didn’t even dare to dream. It is by staying on the streets, maintaining the occupation of Tahrir and other centres of protest that a people without true representation in rooms of power where their futures are being discussed and carved out can maintain the pressure and let the power brokers know they are accountable, they are being watched. And if that means testing the patience of grey men in khaki, it is far better than waking up in six months to find the revolution was left to turn on the same crooked circle.