Sharaf's resignation is not enough for Egypt

With a military monopoly, neither political commentators nor ordinary Egyptians are willing to predi

It's not the first time since the ousting of Hosni Mubarak in February that demonstrators have returned to the streets, but this latest wave of protests, and the authorities' violent response, is by far the most significant. The crowds are more numerous and angrier, the crack-down more bloody than on previous occasions, and the timing is crucial: parliamentary elections are scheduled for 28 November.

On Monday, the cabinet led by Prime Minster Essam Sharaf tendered its resignation to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). SCAF has yet to accept, but the resignation of the civilian government is unlikely to appease the protesters on the streets of Cairo and other major cities. Their real target is the military, accused of human rights abuses and of concentrating political power in its hands, and with every life lost the demonstrators' position becomes more entrenched.

The trigger for the protests, which began on Saturday, was the publication of a draft document outlining the principles of the constitution, under which the military and its budget could be exempt from civilian oversight. But since February, concern has steadily mounted that the military (which after all has played a crucial role in Egyptian politics since the fifties) is monopolising political decision-making, and anger has built over continuing human rights abuses -- an Amnesty International report released on Monday concludes that Egypt's military leaders' human rights' record is worse than that of the Mubarak regime.

Heba Morayef, a researcher for the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch, described the atmosphere in Cairo on Monday night as "very raw and very angry." Regardless of whether or not the cabinet's resignation is accepted, "it's not going to make people go home," she says, as the chants in Tahrir Square called for the resignation of SCAF head,gu Mohamed Hussein Tantawi.

Despite calls by the US on Monday for the parliamentary elections to go ahead as planned, Morayef believes that it is more important that the military comes up with "confidence building measures, such as ceding power to a national unity government composed of representatives from across the political parties, or a presidential council." The elections may have to be delayed to allow this to happen, she believes.

For Morayef, the latest clashes may have been tragically violent, but they aren't necessarily destructive for Egypt's transition process. "It can only be good because things have been so bad so far. This wasn't planned for, but it is forcing a confrontation over military rule. I'm happy at the sustained in anger in a way, because the military thought it could just keep things ticking along as it was", she says.

In Alexandria too, the atmosphere is "very angry", according to English teacher Mohamed Ansary, although he is keen to emphasise that outside the demonstrations life is going on as normal. The response to Sharaf's resignation has been positive, but he agrees it is not enough. "People are happy, because the people on Tahrir Square expected a lot from Sharaf, but he was just a tool for the military. But the main issue is not Sharaf, it's the Supreme Council and they want it to leave."

He fears that unless the government regains control or delivers real concessions, they will have a "big problem" on Friday, traditionally the day that has seen the largest anti-government demonstrations. He has yet to take to the streets, although he may do if the "situation deteriorates". Unlike Morayef, however, he is suspicious of any attempt to delay elections, suspecting that the current unrest may have been deliberately stoked by secularists afraid of a potential Islamist victory.

Having been outpaced by events on the street, neither political commentators nor ordinary Egyptians are willing to make any predictions, and it's still not clear how the SCAF will react to the latest events. It's rare that the political future of a country is decided in hours rather than months or years, but today is one such occasion. The demonstrators may be forcing a change to the political agenda, but just as in February, Egypt's future and its hope for democracy depends on the military's response.

Sophie McBain is a staff writer for Spear's.

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.

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“Brexit is based on racism”: Who is protesting outside the Supreme Court and what are they fighting for?

Movement for Justice is challenging the racist potential of Brexit, as the government appeals the High Court's Article 50 decision.

Protestors from the campaign group Movement for Justice are demonstrating outside the Supreme Court for the second day running. They are against the government triggering Article 50 without asking MPs, and are protesting against the Brexit vote in general. They plan to remain outside the Supreme Court for the duration of the case, as the government appeals the recent High Court ruling in favour of Parliament.

Their banners call to "STOP the scapgoating of immigrants", to "Build the movement against austerity & FOR equality", and to "Stop Brexit Fight Racism".

The group led Saturday’s march at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Detention Centre, where a crowd of over 2,000 people stood against the government’s immigration policy, and the management of the centre, which has long been under fire for claims of abuse against detainees.  

Movement for Justice, and its 50 campaigners, were in the company yesterday of people from all walks of pro and anti-Brexit life, including the hangers-on from former Ukip leader Nigel Farage’s postponed march on the Supreme Court.

Antonia Bright, one of the campaign’s lead figures, says: “It is in the interests of our fight for freedom of movement that the Supreme Court blocks May’s attempt to rush through an anti-immigrant deal.”

This sentiment is echoed by campaigners on both sides of the referendum, many of whom believe that Parliament should be involved.

Alongside refuting the royal prerogative, the group criticises the Brexit vote in general. Bright says:

“The bottom line is that Brexit represents an anti-immigrant movement. It is based on racism, so regardless of how people intended their vote, it will still be a decision that is an attack on immigration.”

A crucial concern for the group is that the terms of the agreement will set a precedent for anti-immigrant policies that will heighten aggression against ethnic communities.

This concern isn’t entirely unfounded. The National Police Chief’s Council recorded a 58 per cent spike in hate crimes in the week following the referendum. Over the course of the month, this averaged as a 41 per cent increase, compared with the same time the following year.

The subtext of Bright's statement is not only a dissatisfaction with the result of the EU referendum, but the process of the vote itself. It voices a concern heard many times since the vote that a referendum is far too simple a process for a desicion of such momentous consequences. She also draws on the gaping hole between people's voting intentions and the policy that is implemented.

This is particularly troubling when the competitive nature of multilateral bargaining allows the government to keep its cards close to its chest on critical issues such as freedom of movement and trade agreements. Bright insists that this, “is not a democratic process at all”.

“We want to positively say that there does need to be scrutiny and transparency, and an opening up of this question, not just a rushing through on the royal prerogative,” she adds. “There needs to be transparency in everything that is being negotiated and discussed in the public realm.”

For campaigners, the use of royal prerogative is a sinister symbol of the government deciding whatever it likes, without consulting Parliament or voters, during the future Brexit negotiations. A ruling in the Supreme Court in favour of a parliamentary vote would present a small but important reassurance against these fears.