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September 3, 2014 / 8 Elul, 5774
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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

On top of the sense of failure of the state, there is the poor performance of the Cairo stock market, which fell in recent days by about 10 percent. This decline means that many citizens of the country have lost a significant part of their savings, which only worsens their sense of lack of personal security. In addition, a sharp decline in the market indicates a depreciation in investments, in sources of employment and livelihood, even for those who do not invest in the stock market. The Egyptian economy, which suffers severely from the lack of foreign investment and tourism, depends today almost solely on one source of hard currency – fees of passage in the Suez Canal. This is the reason that those who govern the state do not speak at all about cutting off relations with Israel. Because the atmosphere of a tense security situation – even if it has not actually deteriorated to acts of hostility –will cause an immediate increase in the fees for insurance for ships that pass through the canal, reduce the profitability of using it and cause severe damage to this important source of income.

An important economic detail is the fact that it is now difficult for Egypt to get a loan from the international bank without these loans being guaranteed by other countries. Europe, which is sunk in its own economic problems, cannot be a guarantor for Egypt, and the United States grants guarantees in exchange for a political price like keeping the relations with Israel and strict adherence to the trappings of democracy.

The lack of international funding might force the government of Egypt to reduce the subsidies on food, mainly on bread, ‘arifa, which serves as basic food to the citizens of the state. Any increase to the price of bread, even the slightest, might cause millions of citizens to stream into the streets and threaten the government with the slogans of the “revolution of the hungry.” This has happened several times in the past, and the last thing that Morsi needs is to harm the weakest class of the Egyptian people, those who spend most of their income on buying the most basic food items.

The Muslim Brotherhood movement, which won the lion’s share of the seats of parliament and the office of presidency, lost a great deal of the sympathy that it once had in recent months, because of complaints that all it wants is authority and power so that it can enjoy the pleasures that derive from it – the budgets and fat salaries that its leaders get. Even among the supporters of the Brotherhood there is a concern that the moment they came to power they distanced themselves from the people and have become the ruling elite, interested only in staying in power at all costs, at the expense of the population and other civil bodies. Long Live Tahrir Square

The sense of having lost out politically, together with the sense of hunger drives Egyptians again to Tahrir Square, from where, perhaps, deliverance might come, but the various existing trends within the population turn the demonstrations into violent conflicts, causing many sacrifices on an undefined altar. Is this the freedom that they prayed for? Is this the democracy that they fought for? Is this the state of orderly institutions that they hoped for?

The disappointment is greatest among the young, liberal, secular generation, university graduates, those who with their own bodies overthrew Mubarak. They have the sense that  “they stole my revolution” because what they got instead of Mubarak is the regime of the Muslim Brotherhood,  always suspected of actually being controlled by the “General Guide” of the movement, who controls the elected president – so they feel – like a puppet on a string. The presidential commands that Morsi issues throw Egypt back to the era of darkness and shadows, because also in the days of the military dictatorship since 1952, oppression was totally legal and based on government documents and presidential edicts.

The liberal groups fear that the Brotherhood intends to implement Islamic Shari’a as the law of the land, and they fear that representatives of the government will begin spying on their moral conduct and checking if what they drink and eat is in accordance with the laws of Islam. The Copts, the Christian minority that sees itself as the original Egyptians, feel the noose closing around their necks, as their businesses are broken into, their houses are burned, their churches are attacked, their men are murdered and their women are humiliated. They are fleeing from Egypt in hordes and try to take their assets, like many intellectuals, and also some Muslims, who have understood  in recent months that Egypt is slipping quickly and uncontrollably into a bitter and violent reality, totally different from what they hoped for in the past two years. Every businessman, actor, artist and academician, that leaves Egypt because of the situation, increases the sense of desolation for those who remain and increases their fear that they will be like mice that were unable to leave the sinking ship.

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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