The now familiar pictures of a crowded Tahrir square are streaming into our living rooms once again.  Today Egyptians celebrate the first anniversary of that remarkable people’s revolution that started one year ago.  Time to reflect about what has been achieved and what is outstanding business.

The transition process in Egypt is unique in many respects and does not follow a particular blueprint.  In earlier writing I preferred qualifying the revolution as a transitional rather than a transition process.  The outcome of the process which succeeded in overthrowing Mubarak last year is yet unsure with the military council (SCAF) still firmly in control over the process.

No comprehensive roadmap has been agreed for dismantling the military regime and preparing a new democratic compact between the Egyptian state and the Egyptian citizens.  No transparent negotiating table yet exists to find a broad consensus about such an agenda.   Every step taken in the unfolding process has been the result of negotiations behind closed doors between the military council, leaders of the major political formations, and in particular the Muslim Brotherhood, and the outside third political force, the revolutionary youth of the April 6th  and Kifaya movements demonstrating at Tahrir square.  The popular revolution of last year, has for now turned into an elite-pact transitional process.

The balance in terms of a transition to democracy is mixed.  Peaceful elections were held and the first democratically elected parliament inaugurated two days ago.   The staggered elections over a period of two months appeared to have unfolded free and fair although international elections observers were not allowed to monitor.

The electoral system used was never transparently discussed and remained contested.  Early elections were given priority over popular discussions about the electoral system through which members of parliament were to be legitimized.   The outcome of the elections is a pluriform but fragmented parliament in which over 22 parties are represented, grouped in 4 alliances + 11 smaller parties + 25 independent MPs + 10 appointees by SCAF.    )ne party, the Freedom and Justice Party, dominates all other parties gaining 43,4% of the seats in parliament or 45,2% for its alliance.

Much of the commentary focuses on the fact that Islam political parties obtained 2/3 of the seats in parliament giving them the decisive vote on a new constitution.  In my opinion, the Muslim – secularist divide, although an important political factor and dynamic in Egypt, is somewhat overplayed.  More important is the diversity of different Muslim parties within the new political arena in Egypt and the diversity of political views within each of these Muslim parties.  They have to position themselves now within this public arena on a range of issues which affect the Egyptians directly.   Reforming the economy, combating corruption, new investments in the economy and creating jobs for the young generation are immediate challenges.  Open debate and the need to find compromise will have a moderating effect on any potential radical tendency.   Fear is no wise council, open engagement should inform attitudes.

The outcome of the parliamentary elections has landed Egypt with a major embarrassment.  Only 12 women (9 elected and 3 appointed by SCAF) have a seat in the 508 member parliament, 2% of the total number of MPs.  Women played such an important and courageous role in Egypt’s modern history and in the Tahrir revolution, now they have been side-lined.   The images of women at the center of the demonstrations being beaten up by security forces are still fresh memories.  The almost complete absence of women in the new political arena creates a serious deficit in the legitimacy of the new parliament.

Next to the new parliament, elections will now be held for the Senate, after which a parliamentary commission will be formed to prepare a new constitution or to amend the current constitution.  There is no time for a participatory process because the constitutional review will have to be finished before June when presidential elections based on the new constitutional provisions (what type of government, presidential, parliamentary or a mix?) are promised.  In addition to the important choice of type of government, the relationship between the government and the military is the big issue to be settled.   , What powers will the military keep?  The outcome of this decision will determine the space for a real transition to democracy.

At the occasion of today’s anniversary and the inauguration of the new parliament, the military council lifted the long overdue state of emergency partially.  While this is a significant step, it is at the same time unsatisfactory.  How can a state of emergency be lifted except for rather vaguely identified situations.  It constitutes a contradiction in terms.  It is essential that the state of emergency is fully lifted against the background of the serious rise in human rights incursions that happened over the past year.

Given the complexity of the political process in Egypt, it is understandable that a transition has to be chartered through a gradual process to ensure that democracy takes peacefully root in the political culture and practice of Egypt.  But for this to happen, the process has to be understood as the beginning of wide ranging reform processes that requires active engagement of the wider Egyptian society.

Therefore, the political formations in the new parliament should not consolidate the newly achieved status quo, but define themselves as a transitional parliament that continues the dialogue with the Egyptian private and civil society sector about a longer-term transition agenda for democracy and social justice.   The temptation for inter-party struggles may be great, but the parties should be encouraged to keep their eyes fixed on the greater national good of ensuring that the transition to democracy and prosperity succeeds.

January 25th, 2012.