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Egypt in Turmoil

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Abolqasem Qasemzadeh
Expert on Middle East Issues

Egypt is being swept by an apparently relentless wave of unrest. Following a few days of street protests, most big cities of the Arab country were engulfed by high social tension and clashes between demonstrators and security forces. The clashes left more than 60 people dead and hundreds injured in addition to widespread destruction of public property. The Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has declared state of emergency in three big cities -- Port Said, Suez, and Ismailia -- for a month which includes nocturnal curfew. Defying the state of emergency, thousands of Egyptian people continued to take to the streets. The situation prompted Egypt’s Defense Minister General Abdel Fattah al-Sissi to warn on January 29 that “The continuing conflict between political forces and their differences concerning the management of the country could lead to a collapse of the state and threaten future generations."

The political parties opposing Morsi and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which cover a wide spectrum from nationalists and secular figures to remnants of the former regime, have turned down the Egyptian president’s call for negotiations to find a political solution to tensions. Mohamed Morsi, however, organized a meeting for negotiations between Islamic and nationalistic parties. Empty chairs which were shown on the Egyptian television clearly showed that the meeting had not been welcomed by a large part of non-religious groups. The Egyptian people, on the other hand, generally hailed the president’s effort at reconciliation and to find a political solution to the crisis while taking opposition parties to task for rejecting the president’s offer for talks and fanning the flames of the unrest. The Egyptian people are fed-up with the unrest in the streets as it disrupts everyday life of ordinary people and the general public. By proposing negotiations to replace unrest in the streets, Morsi has gained a point through the initiative which has been generally accepted by the Egyptian society. On the other side, the insistence of the opposition parties on rejecting talks or setting preconditions for taking part in them has been generally denounced by the Egyptian society. Most analyses published on the current situation in Egypt have focused on several issues which will be enumerated below.

1. What is currently going on in Egypt is not an abnormal political and social phenomenon. Toward the end of his presidency [the former Egyptian dictator] Hosni Mubarak had called the Egyptian society a bipolar society which, he argued, had been divided into opposite poles. He noted that his opposition consisted of more than half of the Egyptian society, and his supporters were less than half. Therefore, it was foreseeable that clashes between these two sections of the Egyptian society will follow the fall of Mubarak’s regime. As a result, the ongoing clashes are not considered abnormal by analysts, but quite inevitable.

Meanwhile, most Egyptians are aware that their country will never go back to where it stood because the political history of Egypt has turned a new page. However, the confrontation between opponents and proponents of the new government has created a new equation of political and social forces which has made any forecast about future outlook of Egypt quite difficult.

On the one hand, there are people and forces affiliated to the former regime as well as political groups with secular and irreligious nationalist tendencies and other forces which count on the support of regional and transregional forces. It has been very difficult for them to achieve consensus. Different methods used by them have but one common denominator which is to distance from the incumbent government headed by President Morsi who they consider to be the actual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. The policy of these groups is based on “rejection.” In line with that policy, they reject the Islamic government or constitution and they also reject management of the country’s affairs on the basis of sharia law. On the other end of the political spectrum, there are Islamic groups and personalities which in addition to having played a substantial role in political struggles believe in the “Islamic society of Egypt” and put the highest emphasis on keeping it intact. This continuum of religious parties and groups is topped by the Muslim Brotherhood compared to which the background of other parties in terms of political struggles as well as their popularity among people looks diminutive. Of course, some political authors believe that the ongoing confrontation between the two extremes is the result of hasty moves taken by the Muslim Brotherhood which is currently swaying power in Egypt. They say the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood are in a hurry to achieve their goals and this has caused them to make certain mistakes, including hasty drafting of the constitution using a small group of experts who adhered to a special political affiliation. Another mistake was the bitter confrontation between the Executive and the Judiciary and efforts made to solve the problems by force. This has prompted the opposition groups to voice their concern about emergence of a new dictatorship and taking advantage of it to achieve their political objectives. The present-day society of Egyptians has become bipolar in its political experience following the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime. However, due care should be exercised when studying those two poles. The continuum of opposition groups which oppose the religious government, in general, and Mohamed Morsi's government, in particular, is not homogeneous and there are great rifts among opposition groups. A factor which has specially caused fears and concerns among the Egyptian people is presence of past regime’s officials in the composition of these groups. They have been incriminated of attempting to restitute the past regime and the people of Egypt are especially sensitive toward such possibility. Although there were rivalries among the Islamic parties and organizations at the beginning, they have now become united in the face of the onslaught from non-religious parties and political personalities who have been either cooperating with the government of Hosni Mubarak in the past, or are secular in nature and infatuated with the West. Therefore, the Islamic groups are now acting in unison to stabilize the incumbent government.

2. The tactic used by opponents of the Egyptian government is to buy time and, in the meantime, continue to maintain the hectic situation in the Egyptian society. Morsi is badly in need of being established in order to get the country through transition from the past regime to the new state. Some analysts believe that certain regional and transregional states are not willing for the Morsi's government to become fully established or for Egypt to reemerge as a hub of new political power in the region. Israel has been accused of seeing tension and unrest in Egypt as beneficial to its own regional policies. Some other Arab or non-Arab states in the region have also taken such an approach to Egypt and are bent on seeing a feeble and vulnerable, rather than a powerful, government in Cairo. Such problems emanate from foreign influences and intervention in the ongoing crisis in Egypt, especially taking into account that some opposition figures have the history of political ties with the foreigners on their track records.

3. The importance of economic factors in stoking the ongoing crisis in Egypt is by no means less than the faceoff among political parties and organizations. The Egyptian society is poor and the government is also plagued with acute financial problems. It was foreign loans which helped the Mubarak regime stand on its feet. Now that those loans have been either cut or suspended, the foreign liabilities of the Egyptian government are so huge that even if it managed to restore the same level of revenues which Mubarak regime had, it would take at least 15 years before the foreign loans are settled. On the other hand, the tourism industry is the most lucrative source of revenue and the main business sector in Egypt which is now at its worst and most tourist resorts have been practically shut down. Unemployment, inflation, runaway prices set for common goods and tens of other problems have pushed the government of Mohamed Morsi into the corner of a dire financial and economic crisis. The serious concern of a large part of the Egyptian society about poverty and unemployment in addition to general “insecurity” has helped political parties and groups which are opposed to the government to take political advantage of these weaknesses and organize protests on political and economic grounds.

This is why looting stores and other public places in various provinces has been rampant in different Egyptian cities. It is a telltale sign of the fact that the bitter realities of the life that the Egyptian nation is currently leading are being exploited for political purposes both within and without the country.

4. While almost all regional and international media have focused their news stories and reports on the ongoing unrest in Egypt, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is bringing about a human calamity in the occupied Palestinian lands. The Israel is actually razing Palestinians’ villages and olive gardens on two western and eastern sides of Al-Quds (Jerusalem) in order to use the land for the construction of new Jewish settler units. Netanyahu has announced that 3,000 settler units will be built in that area for the Israeli citizens. In the meantime, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Arab League, both with permanent headquarters in Cairo, are not waking from their slumber. Rhetorical protests to the construction of new Jewish settlements in the occupied lands from the European Union and the United States have been the most important instances of international reactions to Israel’s plan. In conclusion, the ongoing unrest in Egypt has provided Israel with an unprecedented opportunity to build new settlements on the eastern and western parts of Al-Quds.

All political authors believe that Egypt will not go back in time and will weather the current phase of street unrests. However, one question remains to be answered: which parties both inside and outside Egypt want to see a powerful, or on the contrary, a weakened Egypt.

Key Words: Egypt,Turmoil, Morsi, Political Solution, Transregional Forces, Opposition Groups, Economic Factors, Qasemzadeh

Source: Ettelaat Newspaper
http://www.ettelaat.com
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

More By Abolqasem Qasemzadeh:

*Palestine: From “Observer Entity” to “Observer State”: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Palestine-From-Observer-Entity-to-Observer-State-.htm

*Fanning the Flames of War Instead of Promoting Cease-fire: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Fanning-the-Flames-of-War-Instead-of-Promoting-Cease-fire.htm

*From Baghdad to Moscow: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/From_Baghdad_to_Moscow.htm

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