Egypt battles show revolution's unfinished business

Egyptian protesters throw stones during clashes with security forces on Monday in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

Story highlights

  • 24 people have died in recent protester-police clashes, a spokesman says
  • "This is about creating a whole new order," analyst says
  • Many in Egypt want to determine the role of the military now, another analyst says
  • The opposition is divided about upcoming elections, an analyst says
When Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down in February, tens of thousands packed into Cairo's Tahrir Square to declare victory and a new beginning. Nine months later, thousands have returned to the same spot, calling for something similar: the resignation of the country's military leadership.
The violence once again gripping the Egyptian capital shows that the uprising the world watched months ago was only a step on a long road, analysts said Monday.
"The revolution is unfinished," said Samer Shehata, an Egypt expert with Georgetown University.
Robin Wright of the U.S. Institute of Peace said Egypt's uprising is in "phase two" -- and highlights a broad reality of the so-called Arab Spring.
"This is far more complicated than simply ousting a single leader," she said. "This is about creating a whole new order in the region."
Protesters are standing up against the military rulers who officially took over after Mubarak's ouster.
After having held a great deal of power under Mubarak, the military openly took control.
Military leaders have said they will transfer power to an elected government. But while the complex electoral process is set to begin with next week's parliamentary elections, the presidential vote could be a year away.
Protesters say they fear that the entrenched military, which served under Mubarak, is working to maintain a grip on society.
While protests have been common in Egypt in recent weeks, the tensions have boiled over since Saturday with clashes between security forces and protesters.
Four days later, the demonstrators showed no signs of letting down after violence that had left 24 people dead and at least 1,700 wounded, according to Health Ministry spokesman Dr. Adil al-Dawi. About 100 police officers and conscripts, meanwhile, had been hurt, an Interior Ministry spokesman said.
Many in the streets are furious about a proposed constitutional change that would shield the military's budget from scrutiny by civilian powers. They say they worry the military would be shaped as a state within a state.
"The real question is the role of the military in Egypt," said Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland and the Brookings Institution.
"A lot of the segments of society -- the forces behind the revolution -- want that to be decided now rather than later," he said.
Mistrust of the military has expanded in recent months, he said. In the earlier days after Mubarak's ouster, the military "was careful" to give demonstrators "enough to defuse" tensions, Telhami said. But military rulers "have grown far more confident over the past three months" and less responsive to demands, he said.
The protesters appear to want their voices heard now to ensure the military does not avoid civilian oversight.
"I think that this is undoubtedly a defining moment," Telhami said.
Last week, Telhami released the results of a survey, conducted in October, that found 43% of Egyptians believe military rulers are working to slow or reverse gains of the revolution, while 21% say military rulers want to advance those gains.
Georgetown's Shehata said the opposition is divided over the electoral process ahead. Some elements want elections to proceed as scheduled, while others say they don't trust the process to be free of military influence, and that any elections now would be farcical.
"The revolution has been subverted by the military," Shehata said.
Egypt can build a functioning democracy and "has the institutions necessary for democracy," he said.
"It's not that (the Egyptian people) are incapable of being democratic. It's that the forces that are opposed to them right now have the guns."
Wright said the confrontation under way in Cairo "has been looming for a long time because the military has refused to follow through on its own promises to facilitate Egypt's transition to democracy."
Military rulers extended martial law and pushed back presidential elections, while implementing a parliamentary electoral system that "may rank as the most complicated in the world -- and is ripe for manipulation," she said. "And it has tried critics of its actions in military courts."
She added, "The military's moves to try to quell the phase two of Egypt's uprising -- whether through the use of force or tepid and unconvincing political compromises -- only make the situation more combustible."
The events in Egypt serve as a reminder that protest movements in other Arab nations are still "in an early phase," Wright said. "There's a lot more turmoil ahead."