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Egyptians Back in Tahrir Square

Thousands of protesters have returned to Tahrir Square after a series of decrees from the ruling military government that grabbed more power, dissolved the current Parliament and de-emphasized the role of the President in the government. The moves threatened to extinguish hopes of a new dawn after the Egyptian revolution, and the revolutionaries have responded by returning to the posture that drove Hosni Mubarak from power in the first place.

The same parties who organized the protests early last year – labor groups and reform organizations among them – called for the protests today. And they were joined by the Muslim Brotherhood, who are just as angry about the military ruling on the Constitution, as their power was significantly diminished by it. Mohammed Morsi, the Brotherhood’s Presidential candidate, claims to have won the election, but the decrees whittled down his power while extending the power of the military and dissolving a Parliament where the Brotherhood held control. Some members of Parliament have continued to hold sessions, insisting that the Parliament remains the valid representative of the people.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces clearly engaged in a soft coup with their decree:

SCAF said in the addendum that it would assume the powers of the legislature until a new parliament is elected, would have authority over the budget, would decide on military appointments and promotions, and would shape the constituent assembly that will draft the new constitution. It envisages that a new constitution will be drafted, and new elections held for parliament, by the end of 2012. The protesters say that there is no basis in Egyptian law for the military council to appoint a constituent assembly to draft the constitution.

In addition, on Monday SCAF created a National Security Council, to be chaired by the president, with both civilian and military members, but with the officers in the majority. Such institutions have been deployed in places like Turkey and Pakistan in the past to constrain the control of a civlian president over military affairs.

Protesters have also been spied in the second-largest city of Alexandria, in addition to Cairo.

The US has threatened to withhold billions in military aid over this:

The United States urged Egypt’s military to move swiftly on plans to transfer full power to an elected civilian government on Monday, and suggested failure to do so would prompt a review of U.S. ties, which includes billions of dollars in military and civilian aid.

Both the State Department and the Pentagon – which oversees the close military links between the two countries – voiced concerns over moves by Egypt’s generals to tighten their grip on power despite a presidential vote aimed at sealing the country’s democratic future.

The US is easily the main funder of the Egyptian military. But the Administration already released $1.3 billion in military aid back in March, even though at that time, they admitted that the country had failed to reach benchmarks for democratic governance. They cited “national security” as a reason for the release of funds, and I have little doubt they would say the same today.

Meanwhile, the revolutionaries in Egypt still struggle.

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David Dayen

David Dayen