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April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
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Elections Bring Egypt to the Edge of Abyss

Clashes in Cairo

Clashes in Cairo
Photo Credit: Missing Peace

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About a year after the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime, the crisis in Egypt has brought the country to the edge of abyss.

The political crisis escalated shortly after the Muslim Brotherhood decided to appoint its own candidate for presidency. This decision came after the Brotherhood, together with the Salafists, obtained an overwhelming majority in the Egyptian parliament.

Shortly after this decision it became clear that the Brotherhood and the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has governed Egypt since Mubarak’s fall, are not on the same page any more. Their differences involve key issues such as the drafting of a new constitution and the power of the Egyptian parliament.

In addition, negotiations regarding a much needed IMF loan ended without a deal because of lack of political support for acceptance of the IMF conditions.

Another complicating factor is the lack of progress in drafting the new constitution.

Tensions further increased after several presidential candidates, including Khairat al-Shater, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, and Salafist leader Abu Ishmail, were disqualified as presidential candidates.

The disqualified candidates appealed against the decision of the supervisory body of Egypt’s election committee, but their appeals were dismissed. The Muslim Brotherhood then simply appointed a new candidate: Mohammed Mursi, the leader of the Freedom and Justice Party.

Last Wednesday unknown assailants shot dead 11 Salafist protesters in Cairo’s Abbaseya neighborhood. The Salafist protesters demonstrated against the disqualification of Abu Ishmail.

On Friday new clashes broke out in the same neighborhood prompting the army to impose a curfew. Most Egyptian media accused the SCAF of being behind the bloodbath in Abbaseya.

Several political parties, among them the Muslim Brotherhood Freedom and Justice Party, announced new demonstrations in Tahrir Square and decided to boycott meetings with the SCAF.

Constitution

As a result of the increasing violence it seems all but sure that the presidential election, which starts May 24-25, will take place as scheduled.

To complicate matters, Islamists and liberals are demanding that there should first be an agreement on the new constitution before the presidential elections can take place.

The Islamists, who have a large majority in parliament, want to use the new constitution to minimize the power of the new president, and to increase of the power of the Egyptian parliament.

The SCAF recently decided to dissolve the parliamentary committee that was in charge of drafting a new constitution. This decision was made after a disagreement over the composition of the council, which consisted mainly of Islamists, whereas liberals, Copts and women were under-represented.

The SCAF in turn had its own reasons for dissolving the Constitutional Council. In this way it is trying to influence the drafting of the new constitution and the scope of presidential power.

Transfer of power

Both liberals and Islamists fear that the Army will not really transfer all its power to the democratically elected parliament and president.

This distrust is also evident from the recent demonstrations that call for the resignation of the SCAF. During these demonstrations the protesters also demanded that Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi resigns and even called for his execution.

On April 13 for example, Islamists held a mass demonstration in Tahrir Square against members of the Mubarak era, meaning SCAF officials and the now disqualified presidential hopeful Omar Suleiman.

The protesters shouted that the people “will force the Field Marshal (Tantawi) to resign” and that “the remnants of the old regime should be removed.”

Suleiman

Omar Suleiman is the former vice president and director of Egypt’s intelligence service (Muchabarat), who recently signed up as a candidate for the presidency.

Suleiman is considered to be a henchman of Mubarak, and was accused of being an ‘Israeli agent’. He and Mubarak were pictured on placards together with a Star of David.

In turn, in an interview with the Egyptian newspaper Al-Youm Al-Saba’a Suleiman accused Israel of trying to look for reasons to reconquer the Sinai desert.

Disqualification

The April 14th decision by the Election Committee of the Supreme Court to disqualify a large number of presidential candidates has significantly aggravated tensions.

Omar Suleiman was disqualified because he did not have enough signatures from supporters (according to Egyptian law, a presidential candidate must have at least 30,000 signatures).

The Salafist Abu Ismail (al-Nour party) was rejected because his mother was a U.S. citizen (according to Egyptian law, the presidential candidate, his parents and his spouse should all hold Egyptian nationality).

The Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Al-Shater, was disqualified because he supposedly had a criminal past.

The disqualifications came at a time when Egypt was already struggling with severe tensions between the various political and religious groups.

The Salafist leader Abu Ishmail even predicted an Islamic revolution if the decision to disqualify him was not reversed.

Economy

Besides the political crisis, there is Egypt’s economic mayhem which has brought the country to the brink of disaster.

For example Egypt’s foreign currency reserves in January 2011 were $ 36 billion. They now amount only to $ 15.2 billion.

In March alone the reserves decreased by $ 600 million, mainly as a result of the absence of tourists.

Saudi Arabia and the Arab Emirates, who financially supported Egypt during the Mubarak regime, are now putting up political conditions in return for their financial aid. As a result tensions between Saudi Arabia and Egypt have increased as well, resulting in a full fledged crisis when Saudi Arabia arrested an Egyptian lawyer on his arrival in Ryad. Following demonstrations at its embassy in Cairo Saudi Arabia closed down its diplomatic missions in Egypt and recalled its ambassador

The recent attempts by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to lend Egypt $ 3.2 billion have failed because the Egyptians were not able to agree among themselves on the IMF’s conditions for providing the loan.

After discussing the conditions of the loan for about two and a half weeks, the IMF delegation returned to Washington empty handed.

A spokesman for the IMF said afterwards that Cairo should first mobilize broad political support before the loan could be approved.

In the absence of sufficient foreign aid, the Egyptian army, which owns a conglomerate of companies and factories, was forced to step in and provide emergency aid to the people as well as the government.

Recent polls show that a majority of the Egyptian people are against the IMF loan, mainly because of misunderstandings about the financial reserves of the state.

It is generally believed that Mubarak and his family have stacked away more than $ 70 billion in foreign banks, and that Egypt therefore doesn’t need any external financial help. However, so far there has been no evidence for this theory.

At present, Egypt has less than $ 9 billion dollars in current reserves, which equals two months of imports of essential necessities for the population.

IMF president Lagarde has already made it clear that the loan of $3.2 billion will no longer be enough to solve the worst problems.

Israel

In Israel, developments in Egypt are being followed with great concern. Israel not only worries about the political developments in Egypt but also about the increasing terror threat from the Sinai desert.

Recently the gas pipeline to Israel was blown up for the fourteenth time since January 2011. Shortly before that terror attack two Grad rockets were fired at Eilat from the Sinai desert (even though the Egyptian government denied this).

This was followed by an Egyptian announcement that the gas supply treaty with Israel had been canceled.

At this moment there is still coordination between the Egyptian army and the IDF on issues that are related to controlling anarchy and terrorism in the Sinai desert.

The fear is, however, that this situation will change after the transfer of power by the SCAF.

At the moment the Muslim Brotherhood seems not to be interested in a direct change of the status quo with Israel. This mainly has to do with the internal crisis in Egypt.

The Brotherhood is aware that Egypt is currently unable to risk a conflict with the international community if Egypt were to cancel the Camp David peace agreement with Israel.

However, Amos Gilad, the director of the political and strategic affairs department of the Israeli Defense Ministry, recently warned against wishful thinking and made clear that the Muslim Brotherhood sees Israel as part of Islamic property (Waqf).

He also pointed out that the Egyptian parliament already wanted to break ties with Israel when Israel responded to rocket attacks on southern Israeli towns from Gaza.

Furthermore, only two months ago the Muslim Brotherhood threatened to cancel the peace agreement with Israel. This happened when the U.S. considered cutting its aid to Egypt when 43 Western activists were not allowed to leave Egypt on grounds that they received illegal foreign funding for their activities in Egypt.

With two leading Islamist presidential candidates that are backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, chances are high that Egypt will vote an Islamist into the office of president. This will undoubtedly be followed by an Islamist constitution.

All this means that Egypt could rapidly replace Iran as the biggest threat to Israel and Middle East peace in general. As Middle East expert professor Barry Rubin recently wrote:  ‘the situation in Egypt is a world-class crisis in the making’.

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About the Author: Missing Peace is an initiative of ex-members from the Israel Facts Monitor group in Israel, a group mainly consisting of Dutch immigrants; members of WAAR (a Dutch monitor organization) and Israeli Middle East- and media experts. Missing Peace aims to improve the supply of reliable information and to influence opinions about the Middle East in Europe.


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