Calls for a “Salvation Government” Suggest New Transition Roadmap

Protester pushes tank

Egyptian political parties are trying to translate the anti-SCAF anger of protestors in Cairo and elsewhere into a set of specific demands.  While each major party has a slightly different version, the two key demands are holding a presidential election by April 2012 and forming a “national salvation government” to run the country until that time.   It all boils down to a demand for the SCAF to hand over control of the transition to civilians—or, at a minimum, share power with civilians during the transition—starting now.  Nearly all of the political parties and movements have protested the SCAF’s monopoly on control of the transition for months now, and these demands now have new life due to public anger at the SCAF over its general mishandling of affairs (security, economy, sectarian tensions) as well as its ham-handed attempt to hotwire the new constitution through the self-serving supra-constitutional principles issued in early November.  Most of the parties still would like parliamentary elections scheduled to begin November 28 to go forward; some have implied they might boycott if the SCAF does not meet their demands.

Twenty-five political groups including most members of the Brotherhood-led Democratic Alliance signed a statement November 21 demanding that the SCAF “begin discussions for the formation of a national salvation government.” Presidential candidates Mohamed ElBaradei and Hamdeen Sabahi took the demand a step further, calling on the SCAF to immediately transfer “all” of its powers to a salvation government.  Meanwhile, 38 political groups including the Revolutionary Youth Coalition (RYC) and the April 6 Youth Movement issued a similarly strong declaration calling for a fully empowered salvation government to oversee the remainder of the transition. The Social Democratic Party called for “the formation of a national salvation government with real powers through a dialogue with all political forces” and the Adl Party issued its own statement demanding that the new body be empowered with executive authority until presidential elections next year. Protesters in the square echoed these demands, with activist Rami Shaat saying on November 21, "We are not clearing the square until there is a national salvation government that is representative and has full responsibility.”  The RYC is threatening a million-man demonstration for November 22.

The Brotherhood’s gradually-hardening position suggests that the SCAF has not succeeded in its attempt to buy the Islamists off by issuing a law that might disqualify some members of the former National Democratic Party (NDP) from the upcoming elections.  The Brotherhood, which apparently feared electoral competition from the former ruling party more than any of the new post-revolutionary parties, has been furious at the SCAF about this issue for more than a month now.  But the issuance of the law just one week before the elections might be too little and too late to buy off the Islamists.   First, the law probably cannot be implemented in time to prevent NDP members from running—although it might still cause invalidation of some electoral victories down the line.  Second, the Brotherhood now must keep its position in tune with public unhappiness with the SCAF.  Already Brotherhood politician Mohammed ElBeltagui faced embarrassment when on Monday he was ejected from Tahrir by protestors who were angry that the Brotherhood had not supported them over a long and bloody weekend.       

With protests expected to escalate in the next few days, the SCAF will need to make much more significant concessions—withdraw the supra-constitutional principles altogether and set an early and firm date for a presidential election, at a minimum—if it wishes to avoid an ongoing confrontation that will make parliamentary elections nearly impossible to hold next week, with most Cairo voting districts up for contestation in the November 28 round. 

Michele Dunne is the director of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. She can be reached at Mara Revkin is the assistant director of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and editor of EgyptSource. She can be reached at mrevkin@acus.orgPhoto Credit: Asia News 

Image: EGYPT_Tank_in_Cairo.jpg