Two months since Egypt’s popular uprising forced Hosni Mubarak from power, democracy activists there are on the defensive.
Earlier this week, 25-year-old Egyptian blogger, Maikel Nabil, was sentenced to three years in prison by a military tribunal for criticizing the military. Last weekend, army and police used tasers and batons to drive thousands of peaceful protesters from Tahrir Square in a pre-dawn raid, killing two. Hundreds of other activists have been arrested and tortured over the past month by the security forces. Nobel laureate and presidential candidate, Mohamed El-Baradei, faced organized harassment when he tried to vote in the recent constitutional referendum.
Pushback is, in fact, a common trait of democratic transitions. Individuals who have benefited from close ties to the previous regime have a lot to lose with genuine political change – and therefore have incentives to fight back. Yet democratic reforms are vital if Egypt is to break with its past. To achieve genuine democracy, therefore, Egyptian reformers need to organize quickly and for the long-term. Reform is a multi-year effort creating institutions that are representative, transparent, and accountable.