Seven days of upheaval in Cairo’s Tahrir square and other cities across Egypt have left 41 protesters dead and more than 3,000 wounded and jeopardized long-awaited parliamentary elections just days away. In a bid to quell the growing anger on the streets, the country’s ruling military authorities have appointed a new prime minister and offered to hold presidential elections by June 2012, while insisting on moving forward with parliamentary elections scheduled to begin in three days.
The concessions are not insignificant, but as today’s massive protest in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and other Egyptian cities demonstrates, they are not enough to stem the mounting resolve of protesters to see Egypt’s military rulers go following months of SCAF mismanagement and overreach. As hundreds of thousands of Egyptians across the country gather to demand an end to military rule, there is a desperate need to reset the country’s transition, starting with a postponement of elections and an immediate handover to an independent civilian authority.
The country faces a dangerous split between the military and its supporters and an emerging opposition. Some are still persuaded by the concern that delaying elections could lead to a complete unraveling of the country’s democratic prospects. There are real risks associated with postponing the elections, but the dangers of holding them under present conditions outweigh any potential damage that would be caused by a temporary delay.
Practically, of course, it will be impossible to hold elections in the midst of running battles between protesters and security forces, particularly if casualties continue to rise as they have over the past several days. The atmosphere remains extremely tense and volatile on top of a pre-existing absence of law and order. But justifications for putting off elections go well beyond the current crisis.