Today the theme of the Friday demonstrations in Egypt's Midan al-Tahrir was National Unity and Solidarity with the Palestinians. The former theme derives from the widespread concerns over last weekends deaths in Imbaba, where sectarian tensions exploded into violence. As I and many others noted at the time, the Imbaba killings took place 100 days after the initial day of demonstrations leading to uprising and revolution, January 25.
At least since Franklin Roosevelt's day, it has been fashionable to assess the performance of the "first 100 days" of any movement. But Egypt's revolution is far from complete, and its future remains unsettled. Sectarian violence is only one of many aspects of the uncertainty and insecurity that is currently mixed with cautious optimism.
Trying to read the tea leaves from a distance, it strikes me that there are several elements playing into the uncertainty. Among them:
1. Continued uncertainty about the intentions of, or even who speaks for, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Since February 11 the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has been the real executive body in Egypt. But although Field Marshall Tantawi is regularly shown meeting visiting heads of state and government, he himself remains as silent as the Sphinx, and rather less visible. The SCAF posts its communiques in image form on its Facebook page, rather than on a website; they are signed collectively. A few two- and three-star generals speak to the media from time to time, but there seems to be some confusion about how authoritative #51, released today, appeared on the Facebook page and was taken down for a while before reappearing. In the past week, after previous statements that Egyptians abroad would be allowed to vote in elections, a spokesman indicated they would not be (because their votes could be bought by foreign countries, it was implied). Then it was clarified that no firm decision has been made, and now the word seems to be that they probably will be. Maybe. The Council has denied that it is holding revolutionary demonstrators. It has now said it will release them (the ones it doesn't hold). It promised to try those provoking sectarian violence in military courts, then suggested they'd be tried in civilian courts. Since it doesn't communicate regularly except through Facebook, it's hard to know who is in charge and who's making the decisions. Lingering suspicions that the military or some part thereof might decide to hold on to power rather than hand over to an elected government, or at least may have a Turkish model in mind, adds to the concerns. (The Cabinet is not much clearer: after indicating that the Army and police, who traditionally were not allowed to vote, would be allowed to, the Cabinet fudged and said this was under consideration.
2. Continuing insecurity and the absence of police. As this New Yorker account reminds us, violence has not just been limited to sectarian clashes; there's a general insecurity in part provoked by the continuing under-presence of the police.Withdrawn in the midst of the uprising, they've never been fully restored to pre-revolutionary strength, while the looting of police stations has meant a proliferation of small arms among the populace. The rise of neighborhood committees has helped some, but is no full replacement. Then comes the question of who is to blame. Many are blaming Mubarak supporters and the baltagiyya thugs of the former ruling party, as this article does. Others blame Salafis, the ex-State Security agents, the Saudis, the Muslim Brotherhood. Some suspect the Army is encouraging instability in order to have an excuse to postpone elections. Conspiracy theories are typical in a time like this, but worrisome, since they can lead to explosions like Imbaba.
There are other elements of course, but the uncertainty is a reminder of the stakes.