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Egypt in Tug of War for Its Future

Author: Isobel Coleman, Senior Fellow and Director of the Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Initiative; Director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program
March 25, 2011
cnn.com

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Editor's note: Isobel Coleman is the author of "Paradise Beneath Her Feet" and a senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

Egyptians are still basking in the glow of their successful revolution. Taxi drivers in Cairo proudly point out revolutionary landmarks as street vendors hawk revolutionary trinkets. Revolutionary banners drape highway overpasses, and new advertising campaigns on billboards and television appeal to a national spirit of rebirth and reconstruction.

While Egyptians have every right to take pride in the "people protests" that brought down the government of Hosni Mubarak, such revolutionary euphoria is premature. Today, the forces pushing for a full political housecleaning seem to be losing ground to those prioritizing stability.

On one side of this divide stand the largely secular, leftist, urban, youthful leaders of the Tahrir Square protests; on the other stand the old political elements of the Muslim Brotherhood and the military-backed remnants of the National Democratic Party (NDP), as well as large swaths of conservative rural voters.

The complex give-and-take among the various factions is playing out on several fronts, as the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces seeks to offer as few concessions as possible to keep the peace and turn over the running of the country as soon as possible to someone who meets with its approval.

The recent constitutional referendum highlights the brewing tensions. In a largely fair and smooth process, voters on Saturday overwhelmingly approved a set of constitutional amendments that address a number of Mubarak-era grievances: Presidents are now limited to two four-year terms, controversial detainment laws have been nullified, judicial oversight of elections has been restored and eligibility requirements for presidential candidates have been eased.

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