Mass demonstrations took place in Cairo last week. Thousands gathered to support the President’s decision to reconvene parliament. His initiative defied the order of the constitutional court, backed by the military council, to annul the recent parliamentary elections. The struggle for power continues in the country as the Muslim Brotherhood and the military vie for authority.

Background:

Previous Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, was ousted from his position in February 2011 following the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. The people of Egypt gathered in a largely non-violent protest to demand the overthrow of Mubarak’s 30 year long dictatorship. Despite the non-violent nature of the protest, demonstrators and police came head to head and 846 people were killed while 6,000 were injured. Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that Mubarak had resigned as president on the 11th February and transferred authority to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).

SCAF has held authority in the country since Mubarak was ousted and stated when they took power that Parliamentary and Presidential elections would take place imminently.

The parliamentary elections took place from November 2011 to January 2012 and the Muslim Brotherhood, standing as the Justice Development Party, part of The Democratic Alliance for Egypt, won a majority. Egypt’s first civilian and post-revolution president Mohamed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, was voted in as President on 18th June 2012.

Shortly before the presidential election results were announced on the 24th June, the ruling military council issued a series of decrees granting itself broad power over the future government in an apparent effort to limit presidential power. This move – seen by many as an attempted power grab by SCAF – has led to the problems in Egypt over the last few weeks as the military and the Muslim Brotherhood wrestle for power.

The contest between the two authorities was made clear on Tuesday when the Constitutional Court – Egypt’s highest court – cancelled a decree by Morsi to restore parliament. Morsi had issued a decree on Sunday ordering parliament to reconvene, in defiance of the constitutional court’s ruling and a military decree ordering its dissolution.

The Judges’ Club gave Morsi 36 hours to withdraw his decision to reinstate parliament, and the military council urged him to uphold the law. “If this does not happen, we will announce measures in response”, warned head of the Judges Club, Ahmed al-Zend.

Morsi ignored warnings and parliament met on Tuesday 10th July for a mere five minutes, during which the court stated that its initial decision to dissolve the assembly must be enforced and Morsi’s decree was in violation of earlier rulings.

The assembly was boycotted by several liberal MPs who believed that parliament was acting unconstitutionally, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has encouraged the two authorities to settle the dispute. “We strongly urge dialogue and a concerted effort on the part of all to try to deal with the problems that are understandable, but have to be resolved in order to avoid any kind of difficulties that could derail the transition that is going on,” she said.

Protesters gathered across Cairo to voice their discontent at the situation. In Tahrir Square, protests were held to demonstrate against the dissolution of parliament, while anti-parliament protesters gathered in the eastern district of Nasr City to object against its return.

Mahmoud Bayoumi Heikal who was present at the protests said: “Thirty million Egyptians elected this parliament. Thirteen million elected the president. I want to say that all of us as judges, consultants, the Ministry of the Interior, the military, the people, the poor, orphans, navy and everyone else are all in the same boat. If this ship survives, we all survive; and if it sinks, we all sink.”

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office continues its advice to British Nationals against all but essential travel to parts of Egypt, and recommends that all tourists should avoid protests and large gatherings in the country. They have also noted that that there has been an increase in sexual assaults on women during demonstrations in Tahrir Square and have warned women in particular to avoid these areas.

Former University of Nottingham student and ex-Impacter, Natasha Smith, recounted her own horrifying experience in Tahrir Square, during the announcement of Mohammed Morsi as the new president. While she was attempting to get footage for a documentary, Smith was the victim of a brutal sexual attack, that she vividly detailed in her blog. She describes an atmosphere “of jubilation, excitement, and happiness”, however things soon changed and she found herself being dragged into the crowd, stripped and assaulted “like fresh meat among starving lions”. In the end she only escaped after being pulled into a medical tent and disguised in a burka as the wife of an Egyptian man.

Smith was told that that the attack had been triggered by a group spreading rumours that she was a foreign spy. She was also told by local women that, “This is not Egypt! This is not Islam! Please, please do not think this is what Egypt is!” It seems that this is something that Smith appreciates. She says that she is “determined to return to this wonderful country and city that I love, and meet its people once again.” She is also set on completing her documentary and on challenging “the stereotypes and preconceptions that people have of Arab women back in the UK and the US.”

Antonia Paget

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