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An update on Egypt

06/02/2013

“The on-going crisis may lead to the collapse of the state” commented Commander-in-Chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces, General Abd el-Fattah al-Sissi in response to the latest developments in Egypt. This set off alarm bells for a possible coup d’état in the country, with the army intervening to prevent the “collapse” of state institutions.

Since the second anniversary of the January 25th revolution, the situation has further deteriorated in the country as protests have been suppressed by the use of excessive or lethal force, leading to the death of at least nine in Suez, as well as over 25 women being sexually assaulted by organized mobs near Tahrir Square. On January 26th, a court ruling against a bloody football riot over a year ago sentenced 21 defendants to death for inciting violence in the city of Port Said, which led to the deaths of an additional 38 citizens.

After three nights of bloody violence, the Egyptian President announced, in a threatening tone, a strict 9pm curfew and a month-long state of emergency in Suez, Port Said, and Ismailia. More importantly, President Morsi approved a new law granting the army powers of arrest and detention, increasing the existing fear of military intervention in case of state failure.

The last two weeks have been a critical test of the Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) ability to use their long claimed skill of being able to control the masses. As soon as the President announced a “strict curfew”, thousands of protestors took to the streets of the canal cities chanting and dancing in a clear popular statement against the President’s decision.

Morsi’s attempt to contain the situation and to restore order has only served to highlight his inability to steer the masses. The crisis clearly undermined the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence on the ground. Local branches of Muslim Brotherhood offices have been shut down out of fear of protestors attacking them.  Brotherhood members who had previously won landslide victories in parliamentary elections have disappeared out of sight along with their families.

Egyptians have made it clear in the last few weeks that no one single group can claim ownership of the streets, and more importantly that it doesn’t make a difference who the ballot box brings to power, so long as deep-rooted questions of justice and accountability are not at the top of their list of priorities.

An Egyptian activist, Amr Abd al-Rahman, articulated this by saying “Egyptian revolutionaries abhor the ballot box, not because of the lack of popularity, as the Muslim Brotherhood likes to say, but because they are deeply aware of the role the “box” can contribute to the marginalization of the people, in turning them into mere extras who are summoned to be counted and classified every four years, then dismissed”.

It is true that people will not have faith in a democratic process that doesn’t embrace “freedom and social justice”, the main slogans of the Egyptian revolution. Morsi’s government, which has deployed violence against protesters, prosecuted its critics, and leveraged state resources for its own political gain clearly lacks these values.

In my opinion this crisis is not an indicator of the collapse of the Egyptian state, as General al-Sisi stated; rather it is the surfacing of a strong and deeply-rooted corrupt state that represents the interests of rival groups. The MB failure to address or even contain the crisis is unquestionable, however the ability of other groups to offer an alternative vision has, so far, not been very successful either.

The forthcoming parliamentary elections will be a manifestation of the MB and other group’s inability to face such problems, which could lead to the rise of very unusual electoral coalitions that might include Mubarak’s old guard along with Ultra-Orthodox Salafis, or even leftists, competing with the Brotherhood.

The Egyptian uprising has proved thus far that nothing can be predicted when it comes to Egyptian politics, however, the one certainty is that relying on repression and intimidation to maintain a status quo will no longer be effective in a country where people dance in the streets in front of the army’s tanks just to challenge the President’s curfew.

This was originally published on the Conservative Middle East Council.