Egypt Two Years Later

On the second anniversary of the 2011 revolution, Egypt appears to be experiencing a bit of déjà vu. Videos of a protestor stripped and beaten, a state of emergency declared by the president, and protestors chanting, “the people want to bring down the regime” are obviously similar to events that occurred two years ago. While Morsi’s name has replaced Mubarak’s within protestor’s chants to take down the president, it is unclear if the masses have the stamina for another revolution. Many, disillusioned by bickering politicians and the broken promises of the Muslim Brotherhood, have lost their optimism.

When Mubarak resigned on February 11, 2011, hope was high that change would bring better opportunities and a better life for many Egyptians. Unfortunately, most are still waiting for that change. Protestors are still dying on the streets, tourists have yet to come back to Egypt, and partisanship and resentment have both blossomed within the political sphere. The absence of a stable and strong government has left the Egyptian economy gasping for air as it struggles to pay its subsidy bill along with other debts it can no longer afford.

This January, Egypt experienced protests and more violence on the anniversary of the revolution. On top of the normal anniversary celebrations and marches, 21 football fans in Port Said were sentenced to death for their part in deadly football riot that left 72 people dead in February 2012. After the decision was read, people swarmed the prison in Port Said as family members of the convicted soccer fans attempted to break their family members out. The police opened fire and killed more than 30 people. Then, again at the funerals of the dead, police opened fire killing even more. Protestors set fire to buildings, stopped trains, and caused havoc to such an extent that Morsi called for a one-month state of emergency and implemented a curfew in the cities of Port Said, Suez, and Ismailia. Ironically, the emergency laws were one of the most despised tools from the Mubarak-era and many were dejected to see the identical tactic deployed by Morsi less than nine months into his presidency.

Goodbye to the Dictator?
After Mubarak stepped down in February 2011 the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) assumed power on the premise that they would turn over the country as soon as a new parliament and president were elected and a new constitution written.

Less than a week after SCAF had taken power they proposed 9 amendments to the constitution that set a time frame for the new government. The plan called for electing Parliament first, which would then be followed by the formation of the Constituent Assembly, who would be in charge of writing the new constitution. Once the constitution was approved, a president would be elected.

The amendments, put to vote in March 2011, were approved overwhelmingly by 77% of voters. Initially the Muslim Brotherhood announced they would only run for a third of the seats…but soon changed their mind. In the December 2011- January 2012 elections they won 47% of the seats.  In a more surprising twist, the Salfist Parties, who obviously represent a much more conservative platform than the Brotherhood, won nearly one quarter of the seats (356 out of 508 seats). The secular parties, Al Wadf and the Egyptian Bloc, secured a meager 72 seats.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the more conservative Islamist platform did especially well in the governorates outside of Cairo and Alexandria. Many attribute the Muslim Brotherhood’s success to their unmistakable organization and their extensive network of social services providing health, education, and welfare benefits the government has been previously unable to provide.

Unfortunately, the newly elected Parliament quickly began to bicker and spiral into partisan politics. The hope that a new parliament would bring increased stability and rapid change was optimistic at best. On February 1, 2012 the aforementioned riot at a football match in Port Said left 77 people dead in one of the most violent soccer riots the world had ever seen. A week later, in Cairo the government arrested 43 people who worked for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) over disputed funding.  Twenty-seven of these people were foreigners.

SCAF, in an effort to wrestle power away from bickering assembly members announced in November 2011 that they were going to preserve their power even after a new government and constitution were in place. They stated that they would assume the responsibility to maintain the unity of the constitution in addition to their supervision of national security. The people obviously weren’t happy and protestors took to the streets. Trying to still the violence they had caused, SCAF announced that the Presidential elections would take place in June 2012, several months earlier that expected.

False Hope for a Constitution
In March 2011, Parliament took the first step towards a new constitution by forming a 100-member assembly in charge with drafting a new constitution. The group quickly fell apart as many liberal groups accused the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) of trying to stack the assembly in their favor, and not having a fair representation of minorities, including women and Christians.  Thirty members of the assembly resigned from the group effectively ending its chances of forming a draft constitution.  A year later in March of 2012, a new assembly formed with 39 members from 10 different parties and 61 independents.  However, in June 2012 the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that Parliament, which had been elected in Dec 2011- Jan 2012, was formed unconstitutionally. SCAF subsequently disbanded Parliament and ended the new constitutional assembly.  The dissolving of a Muslim Brotherhood dominated parliament likely had a strong impact upon presidential voting patterns to come.

Electing a President
Parliament was disbanded only days before Presidential elections were scheduled to take place in June 2012. Too much surprise the elections went rather smoothly, with the Carter Center announcing that they did not observe any major voter fraud.

The Muslim Brotherhood initially promised not to run a presidential candidate, but as with their parliamentary promises, they did not keep their word. When the elections board disqualified their first choice, Khairat al Shater, Mohamed Mosri became the FJP’s leading man. Morsi went on to win the election by narrowly beating Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister under Mubarak. 

President Morsi and a New Constitution
In President Morsi’s acceptance speech he promised to calm the fears of the minorities, to deliver a new constitution, a new parliament and to bring Egypt back from the brink of economic collapse. In order to gain approval from the secularists, Morsi resigned from the Muslim Brotherhood Party and annulled the constitutional amendments that SCAF passed in March. However, Morsi’s first nine months have been nowhere near easy. Egypt’s democratic transformation has been complicated and often violent. The political scene is a seemingly endless game of tug of war between the Islamists, the military and the liberal activists.

In the last nine months, Morsi consolidated presidential power. In August, following an attack on a border check point in the Sinai that left 16 dead, Morsi shook up the military ranks. Field Marshall Tantawi and the army’s chief of staff Sami Anan were among the senior military leaders who were fired. Many saw this as a back room deal with the military that allowed Morsi to look tough against the military while not actually alienating the majority of the military.

On November 22nd of last year, fresh off his success from brokering a cease-fire between Gaza and Israel, Morsi took the controversial step of issuing a constitutional decree protecting the upper house of parliament and Constituent Assembly from court dissolutions.  He also fired the prosecutor general and unilaterally appointed a new one. This decree was met with outrage and protestors stormed the streets. This time they swarmed to the Presidential Palace in northern Cairo. Morsi tried to calm nerves by backtracking and annulling his decree less than two weeks later. However, he refused to reschedule the referendum on the new constitution, set for December 15th. This decree led to mass resignations and increased violence in the streets.

Amid the chaos, the Constituent Assembly frantically worked to finish the constitution.  Given this, secularists and moderates alike worried that the constitution was rushed and did not protect the rights of the country’s minorities.  In spite of this, a referendum split over two Saturdays (Dec 15th, 22nd) passed the new constitution with 64% of the vote. However, less than a third of all Egyptians voted for the constitution and in Cairo the majority voted no.

Economic Worries
In addition to the above, as unemployment reached 13% last month, Egypt is simultaneously facing an economic crisis. Foreign currency reserves are critically low at $13.6 billion. The pound slipped to 6.71 compared to the dollar and tourists have yet to return to Egypt in big numbers.  Further, the government owes untold billions of dollars to foreign oil companies.

The government and the IMF have also been in negotiations for more than a year over a $4.8 billion loan the country desperately needs. In November, Egypt was granted preliminary approval for the loan but due to the unstable political scene, and recurring violence, the loan has been put on indefinite hold. Loan stipulations dictate Egypt must enact a series of austerity measures that will be decisively unpopular with the masses and perhaps prompt further instability or even deeper economic stagnation.

Mosri attempted to secretly enact some of these measures on December 6th 2012. When the press found out about this on December 9th, it took less than 12 hours before Morsi retracted the plan and put it on hold until further dialogue had taken place.  Of course, austerity measures are seen as very unpopular because many think they disproportionately affect the poor. The last time the government tried to cut food subsidies was in 1977 and it led to countrywide bread riots. Unfortunately, many of the subsidized goods Egypt is importing are basic necessities such as wheat and gasoline.

Earlier this month the government announced that they had finished revising an economic reform plan based on dialogue that had taken place with different interest groups. However, the government has yet to announce when negotiations with the IMF would begin again. If the Egyptian government cannot set up a plan to enact the austerity measures in an organized manner and secure the IMF loan, the Egyptian people will be left hungry and frustrated as their currency further depreciates and yields uncontrolled price increases.

The government obviously needs to set up and follow through with a plan to save the country from economic collapse. When president Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood took power they promised security, a better economy, and a better life for Egyptians. If they don’t make the hard decisions the country needs, they will be sacrificing the future of their citizens for short-term and immediate political gains.  It remains to be seen however, whether or not the Egyptian people are prepared to endure the sacrifices made necessary by such decisions.

There is much potential in the people and the resources of this country.  However in the absence of an effective government to remedy past mistakes, future progress will remain unlikely and Egypt’s déjà vu will get worse.

By Tatianna Duran


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