Str / AP
Protesters clash with Egyptian military outside the Defense Ministry in Cairo, Egypt on Wednesday, May 2, 2012.
With three weeks before presidential elections and less than 60 days before a new civilian president is sworn into office, Egypt is once again witnessing a round of violence that critics and activists say has become emblematic of the country's chaotic transition.
The latest flare-up came on Wednesday when armed supporters of Egypt's military rulers – many believed be hired thugs – attacked predominantly Islamist anti-government protesters outside the Defense Ministry in Cairo, setting off clashes that left 11 dead.
But Wednesday's clashes should not be dismissed as merely a conflagration of violence between rival political groupings. It has a deeper meaning – a deep mistrust between citizens and the military that continues to grow and jeopardize the country’s future.
The frustrations many Egyptians have with the military stem from its failure to chart a transparent and civilian-led transition to democracy. Instead, since former President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster in February 2011, the military has tried to play the role of steward, guardian and, at times, driver of the revolution much to the dismay of the country's revolutionary youth.
PHOTO BLOG: Several dead in Cairo as protesters attacked
The military's shortcomings have been coupled with its mismanagement of the country's day-to-day affairs through successive military-appointed civilian cabinets which hold very little power and even less credibility. The result is that few in Egypt can say the quality of their life has improved in the transition period.
Meanwhile, Egypt's parliament has yet to find itself as the people's voice. A committee tasked with writing a new constitution is in disarray. The powerful Presidential Elections Commission has been operating, at best, in a questionable manner with how it manages the upcoming presidential race. And Egypt's judiciary continues to struggle in asserting itself over the legality of the state’s actions and the military's decisions.
However, Wednesday's violence has shifted the attention away from these issues and the candidates and refocused it on the military's mismanagement.
Presidential hopefuls have suspended campaign activities; effectively curbing their time spent selling voters on their ideas and vision for the country's future.
Even Egypt's first presidential debate, which was scheduled to be televised nationwide Thursday, has been delayed, and could potentially be cancelled. The debate would be a first in the Arab world.
‘Two steps forward, one step back’
Such developments bolster the characterization of Egypt's transition as "two steps forward, one step back.” Every time there is a silver lining that gets people hopeful about a new Egypt, they are almost immediately undermined by either a deliberate or unintentional miscalculation by the ruling military council.
And the increasing fear among Egyptians is that the military may ruin what is left of an already deficient process on its way out of power. That’s why the next 60 days are critical in Egypt and must be watched ever so closely.