The vague fears that have lingered over Egypt’s cities since the dramatic fall of its autocratic ruler, Hosni Mubarak, in February 2011, after 30 years in power, may be materialising into something more substantial. In the first major incident of pre-election violence, 11 people were killed when gunmen opened fire on protesters who had gathered outside the Ministry of Defence. It is widely believed that the attack was staged by supporters of the military set up, which has held power ever since the revolution that brought the end to Mubarak’s regime. The protesters, who had assembled at the ministry were supporters of the disqualified presidential candidate Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, who was struck out of the electoral race, just three weeks before the elections, on the basis that his mother held dual Egyptian and US nationality.
The violence has triggered uproar, with a number of parties, including the powerful Muslim Brotherhood announcing a suspension of its campaign. Several leaders have openly blamed the military for the attack, with rumours raging that the key purpose behind it was the military’s desire to cling on to power. However, army chief General Sami Anan has been quoted in the Egyptian media as saying that the military will step down if the first round of the election on May 23 and 24 produces an outright winner.
The shooting and the severe apprehension that it has produced, has only added to the air of tension that was already prevailing. The first presidential debate, which was to feature front runners of the contest, has already been cancelled. As political groups express anger over the killings, there is also the danger of further protests breaking out. Egypt’s transition to democracy is clearly not going to be easy — and as many have predicted, it does not seem that it will become any smoother in the coming days. We can only hope that there will be no further bloodshed, given that what Egypt needs most is a calm transition to elected rule.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 4th, 2012.