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The Field Marshall, the testimony, and the suit - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The current debate between the members of the political spectrum in Egypt regarding the appearance of Field Marshal Tantawi – who is currently head of state by virtue of the role being played by the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces – in a civilian suit on a street in Cairo, and his testimony in the trial of former President Hosni Mubarak, is a clear expression of the current political scene in Egypt which suggests – to outside observers – a state of chaos.

The situation in Egypt today has created an image even funnier than the theory of “creative chaos” coined by a group of neo-conservatives during the term of former U.S. President George W. Bush. Here we are witnessing what might be called “delightful chaos”, represented in the state of political fluidity and confusion being experienced by all players. Likewise, there also appears to be a state of enjoyment amongst the audience which has been dazzled to the point of overload by all this [political] movement, grinding, and noise which they are watching “live” after decades of political stagnation and lifelessness.

So it was natural that the scene of the Field Marshal walking around downtown Cairo in a civilian suit, would lead to a stream of comments, questions and analysis by political forces. However in the end this scene cannot be said to possess any greater political significance than it does on face value, even if we assume that Field Marshal Tantawi does have [post-transitional] political ambitions, and there are no clear signs of indications of this. In addition, the “revolutionary situation” in Egypt would not allow this. The assumption is that presidential elections will be held, the people will choose, and the role of the political forces will be to guide them. So what is there to be worried about?

As for the issue of Tantawi’s testimony at Mubarak’s trial, the details of which were leaked to websites and newspapers, this was subject to criticism by certain political circles and the revolutionaries because his account denied that the army had received orders to fire [upon protesters] when the military asked Mubarak to step down. This [testimony] was followed by previously unseen footage of his meeting with officers months ago in which he said the same thing. Field Marshall Tantawi then returned and spoke publicly at the opening of a project two days ago, confirming that the army would never fire [upon its own people]. The question everyone should ask themselves is: do they want to see a witness in court telling them what they want to hear, or do they want to hear the truth, even if many do not like it? In the end, isn’t it up to the judge to decide?

In this post 25-January revolution phase, where people want to build a state based upon the foundations of freedom and justice, the issue of having the courage to tell the truth, and officials – in this new [political] system – having responsibility and not being afraid to make decisions, is something that must be promoted. This is how nations progress and how ethics improve.

However, these are all marginal issues to the major issue which we must focus on, namely talking about real politics. This means safely passing through this transitional period with all its problems, establishing a new political system, and trying to avoid becoming preoccupied with minor issues that draw attention away from this.

The state of political confusion has continued throughout the last eight months amidst the flurry of euphoria following the ouster of the former regime, and the flood of demands that events later proved to be unrealistic, or wrong, which has led to backtracking or amendments. In addition to all this, there has been the endless controversy and political disputes which only hinder the safe navigation of this transitional phase.

One of the Egyptian presidential candidates, Dr. Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, said something very good recently; he called for the [political] disputes to end and for the country to begin elections as soon as possible in any shape or form, in order for power to be handed over [from the military to a civilian government].

There is a problem whose solution is the ballot box. The political map at present is unclear, meaning that talk about political power and influence on the street is mere talk, and anyone can question or overturn this. Currently, no one has irrevocable legitimacy apart from the army, until the ballot boxes determine the true strength of each political force. Only then are you able to say publicly and firmly: I am a legitimate force and I want authority. Therefore all political forces should be eager to move quickly and prepare for the elections. Most importantly, everybody should work diligently to ensure that electorate is well-informed about the election candidates, particularly as a third of whom will one day sit in parliament.

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim is Asharq Al-Awsat's deputy editor-in-chief. He is based in London.

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