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The uncertain future of Egypt

Feb 12,2014 - Last updated at Feb 12,2014

The current Egyptian political scene is quite confusing.

Three years ago, there was a sustained popular uprising that managed in record time to topple the three-decade-old stagnant regime of former president Hosni Mubarak.

Not only internally, but all over the Arab world, the massive Egyptian move, led primarily by the youth, was welcomed as a genuine chapter of a global Arab awakening against well-entrenched archaic dictators who for decades had robbed their peoples of their dignity, rights and freedoms.

The hope was that Egypt would embark on a course of confident reform, democratisation, economic progress, prosperity and a bright future, and that led to expectations that the Egyptian experience would spread in the larger Arab region.

There are no such signs yet.

On the basis of what history has been teaching us, it is not unusual that the first attempted democratic experiment, following successive decades of oppression and corrupt government, would stumble.

It did not take long for the Egyptian people to realise that their democratic choice of a Muslim Brotherhood-led administration was not that much of a success.

Disappointment was accelerated by the failure of the Morsi government to make any meaningless change in the people’s standard of living.

Prices continued to grow, services remained as bad if not worse, and one crisis was instantly followed by another.

The security situation retreated as well in a manner that robbed the people of the one thing they did have under the toppled Mubarak regime: stability and public security.

Undoubtedly, there was impatience on the part of the people, but the government was also sluggish and disoriented.

Practical hardships were coupled with administrative confusion about a president more engaged in a process of trial and error than in introducing a confident strategy of reform and reconstruction for a country that needed decades of hard work and appropriate planning to stand on its feet again.

Nothing of that was ever visible. The stumbling performance of elected president Mohamed Morsi quickly dashed any hope that additional time or extended tolerance would stop the erosion of the Muslim Brotherhood’s credibility among larger numbers of citizens.

By no means, though, one should assume that such mood was unanimous.

Naturally, the Muslim Brotherhood mistakes were grossly exaggerated and widely exposed. For the government institutions that were loyal to the old regime, but still in place, Morsi’s errors were the golden opportunity to play on the people’s growing grievances and disappointments.

Not only that, but whenever such departments had the chance, they planned well to impede any attempt by the new administration to introduce any positive change.

They deliberately and quite effectively placed serious obstacles in the face of any reform. They were obstructive saboteurs.

Popular mood, therefore, turned against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.

They were condemned for failure, while their electoral victory was severely undermined as being attributed to an international — specifically American — conspiracy to hijack the revolution, once it became clear that rescuing the Mubarak regime was not that easy.

People went back to the street to call for change.

A coalition of forces that included those who had recently rebelled against Mubarak was formed. They appealed to the armed forces to rescue the country from a new religious dictatorship. The army intervened. Morsi was removed and jailed. The minister of defence, General Abdul Fattah Al Sisi, emerged as the people’s awaited hero.

On the face of it, all was presented as a correction to a deviated revolution.

The response to Morsi’s supporters’ argument that he was democratically elected was that the millions who went down to the streets to call for his ouster were enough to delegitimise him.

All the media organs were mobilised to praise the correction and to demonise the Muslim Brotherhood, accusing it not only of failure, not only of building a religious dictatorship, but also of terrorism and armed struggle to destabilise the country.

The movement was chased in every corner. Its leaders were arrested and jailed. Its demonstrations in support of Morsi were countered with brutality and ruthless force, causing hundreds of deaths and injuries.

The provisional leadership set up by the army and also supported by an Egyptian majority had no tolerance for any claim that what happened was a coup. It was a timely national rescue, they claimed, praising the army for responding responsibly to massive popular calls to rid the country of terrorism and religious dictatorship.

This claim could hardly be vindicated by the sequence of events that followed since last June, when the big change occurred.

The new leaders could hardly any longer convince many that the Morsi’s successors, provisional or not, are actually laying the ground for a true liberal democracy.

Their absolute intolerance for any criticism, however mild, was seen as ample warning that Egypt is heading towards a darker age than that of Mubarak.

Freedom of expression has been severely curtailed and so were peaceful demonstrations.

Indeed, there have been deplorable acts of terror committed in Egypt and in Sinai against the army and the police, as well as against government installations in the Egyptian capital.

But without presenting any convincing evidence, the Muslim Brotherhood was accused by the authorities of every such act until, eventually, the entire movement, with all its following, was labelled as a terrorist organisation.

Gradually it is becoming clear that there is no room for any kind of opposition in Egypt and no place for any kind of criticism of the authorities’ unjustified behaviour.

The price is high for any anti-state expression in any shape or form. The crackdown on journalists even for reporting facts deemed by the authorities as undesirable is quite high. Some journalists have already been arrested and are awaiting trial.

Even some of the very prominent leaders of the movement against Mubarak have been chased and accused of being foreign agents acting as part of an international conspiracy.

But where are the millions who rose against the Mubarak dictatorship in the beginning? If their revolutionary gains are at so much risk, why are they keeping quiet about it?

One possible answer is given by Alaa Al Aswany, a prominent Egyptian writer, author of the famous “Ya’coubian Building”, in an article that appeared (translated from Arabic) in the New York Times on February 6.

Aswany’s analysis specifies that the Egyptian society is generally divided into those who support the current administration, with Sisi as its symbol and likely future leader of the nation, and those who still support Morsi.

But he also speaks of a third group that stands in between: the young leaders of the January 2011 movement. Those, also, says Aswany, try to make their voice heard by organising peaceful demonstrations, but they are often harshly crushed by the Egyptian security.

This third group, which remains loyal to the genuine three-year-old movement, has been intimidated into unusual acquiescence.

Aswany attributes this acquiescence, as well as the sudden extinction of the recent revolutionary zeal for dignity, democracy and freedom, to three factors.

One is the rise of terrorism in the country, since Morsi’s ouster six months ago, with many groups committing such internally destabilising acts.

Bitterly disturbed by such crimes and strongly opposed to such tactics, many Egyptians chose to be on the side of the state against the perpetrators of terror, temporarily placing security ahead of their concerns over the authorities’ excesses.

The second factor is related to the deteriorating standard of living and the rise of poverty to levels that exceed the Mubarak era.

Reimposition of security as a prerequisite for the improvement of the economy has thus become another Egyptian priority.

The third factor is a “systematic media campaign carried out by state television and the private channels owned by businessmen who used to back the Mubarak regime”, Aswany wrote, adding: “[T]his public relations effort aims to convey the notion that the January 2011 revolution was a plot by American intelligence agencies to remove Mr Mubarak. It accuses the young revolutionaries of being traitors and paid agents of the West.”

The political roadmap declared last June by the post-Morsi government was amended to allow presidential elections ahead of the election of a new parliament.

In light of a series of telling recent developments, there is good reason to believe that Sisi will run for president and if so, he will comfortably win.

Undoubtedly, he will be elected democratically and constitutionally, but the events that lead to his rise may leave doubts about the validity of the entire scheme.

That may not be such a serious matter if his election leads to stability, political and economic recovery, and calm across the nation.

One awaits for the answer to this with much anxiety and growing fear.

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