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Egypt in Dire Straits

Egypt seems today like a rickety cart that strong, immense horses are pulling in different directions.
Protesters in Tahrir Square

Ever since Mubarak was forced to resign in February 2011, a sense of a new dawn has swept over Egypt. Grand words and phrases such as “democracy,” “civil rights,” “freedom” and “state of institutions” have become the focus of political discourse, because of the sense that all of those fine characteristics of democracy have finally come to Egypt. As citizens of a state that has been treading on the path of independence and sovereignty for more than two hundred years, the Egyptians have been waiting for their turn to board the democracy train and enjoy its advantages, which many other peoples have been doing, among them peoples who have overthrown dictators and won their freedom only a few years ago, like the peoples of Eastern Europe.

For the first time in the history of modern Egypt, true, not rigged, elections were held for parliament and the presidency, and for the first time the people of Egypt saw how their sweet dream to be a state of its citizens is coming true, a state of constitution and law, of law and order, not the state of a dictator and his sons where every decision is an expression of the personal interest of someone who no one knows when – if at all – his autocratic rule will come to an end. The immediate expression of these hopes was supposed to be an upgrade to the Egyptian economy and an increase of per capita income. In a country where tens of millions live in unplanned neighborhoods, without running water, sewage, electricity or telephone, economic welfare is a matter of existential importance, and without it, life is too much like death.

But the greater the hope, the greater the disappointment. Almost two years have passed since the beginning of the “Spring” and Egypt only continues to slide down the slippery, dangerous slope into the swamp of political, civil, constitutional, and administrative problems, with almost no control of how things develop as they bring Egypt closer to the brink. The paralysis that has taken hold of the government is an obstacle to any progress in the wording of the new constitution, which was supposed to give the country a set of consensual and binding rules of the political game, and the rage over the lack of these rules drives many Egyptians out of their minds.

The elected president, Muhammad Morsi, a representative of the long-standing and well-known Muslim Brotherhood movement, at first enjoyed much credit from the public at large, but is now perceived in these troubled times  as the new dictator, after issuing a few “constitutional declarations” which grant him broad powers over other governmental agencies, particularly the legal system.

Morsi dismissed the attorney general, despite the claim that he had no authority to do so. According to Morsi’s “declarations,” his decisions are not subject to legal review, not even by the high court. Many Egyptians – even those who believed in him, supported him and voted for him – now feel that two years ago they managed to overthrow a military dictator and in his place they got a religious dictator.

In the summer, when Morsi dismissed Field Marshall Tantawi and other military commanders, his prestige increased in the eyes of most of the citizens of the country because this step was interpreted as the end of the rule of officers and the beginning of civilian rule.  Even the cruelty of the military in breaking up the demonstrations against him added to Morsi’s popularity, since he was seen as an opposing force to the military. However, he quickly lost a significant portion of the public credit because he failed to reconvene the parliament after it had been dispersed by the high court and because he did not convene the committee for drafting the constitution.

Morsi’s public struggle with the legal guild arouses the anger of opponents and supporters alike: his opponents rage over his attempts to control the legal system, which is supposed to be free, professional and without political bias, and his supporters are angry because he has not controlled this elite, professional class, which is not elected, but imposes its agenda on the state.

With the military, Morsi succeeded in avoiding conflict, but this is because he does not dare touch the economic monopolies from which the military makes a very good livelihood. The reason that Morsi did not take over the assets of the military is because he needs loans from the deep pockets that the military controls without oversight of the office of treasury or the tax authority.

About the Author: Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Ph.D. Bar-Ilan U.) Served for 25 years in IDF Military Intelligence specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. A lecturer in Arabic at Bar-Ilan U., he is also an expert on Israeli Arabs.


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