Whether it’s angry Copts or the ongoing demonstrations against his rule, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi continues to face growing challenges and growing nationwide unrest -- even while he tries to win a trip to outer space.
Morsi’s latest move was to issue a presidential decree amending the dates for the four-stage parliamentary elections in order to placate angry Copts and meet the Christians' demands that the dates not coincide with the Coptic Easter holiday. The first stage of balloting will now be on April 27.
Speaking to The Media Line before the change of dates for the election was announced, former lawmaker Mohamed Abu Hamed said, "These are illegal parliamentary elections. Morsi intentionally chose the days of Coptic Christian holidays to hold the elections so people won't vote. A conspiring regime is doing all it can to control the nation.”
Meanwhile, while demonstrations against Morsi and his party of the Muslim Brotherhood are spreading and intensifying ahead of a planned March trip to Moscow, he still found time to reshuffle his cabinet -- seen as a test of public opinion.
Last week, President Morsi dismissed one of his deputies, Khaled Abdel Malak, who also represents the Salafi Al-Nour party. The president's office released a statement saying, “This dismissal was based on personal conflicts and not political.”
The Salafis have responded by seeking other allies to secure their future under the Muslim Brotherhood government. Several media reports said the party is seeking an alliance with the Salvation Front party led by Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and a Nobel laureate.
Morsi's moves came as calls for civil disobedience that began in Port Said continued into the seventh straight day, with some other cities following suit.
Following Friday prayers, thousands of protesters marched through a number of Egyptian cities, united in what they called "The Friday of Prosecuting the Regime." The demonstrators called for continuous civil disobedience in all private and government sectors and for a boycott of the April elections, which they call, "illegal."
In Cairo, the protesters erected a stage in front of the presidential palace in the Ithadiya neighborhood and gave speeches against the rule of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. "Beware of the Muslim Brotherhood,” admonished on protester who was afraid to give her name. She told The Media Line that, “We have to continue protesting. If we stop now, we will never be able to get rid of them.”
Different groups of demonstrators representing the opposition gathered in Tahrir Square and marched to the presidential palace to show their discontent. While no clashes with police were reported, there were those who saw the protesters as being responsible for the recent violence in the streets. The Islamist group Al-Jamaa-Islamiya recently announced it had created independent militias to combat protesters and “thugs.”
According to the Egyptian newspaper Al Masry Al Youm, the group is calling for the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi groups to join forces. The paper says that police squads are not sufficiently armed to defend themselves, so the militias will help the police restore order.
So far the riots and protests that began in Cairo on February 15 have resulted in at least 125 injuries inflicted by the riot police according to the Egyptian official newspaper Al-Ahram. Protesters are accusing Morsi of being responsible for the deaths of at least 70 people in the Port Said soccer riots on January 30, after which the president declared a 30-day state of emergency there, and in the cities of Ismailia and Suez. They are calling for Morsi to be tried for those deaths.
The unrest is having a crippling effect on Egypt's economy. On February 13, Moody's Investors Service lowered Egypt's bond rating to the B3 category, six levels below investment grade, according to Arabian Business magazine. The downgrade in rating was due to the "on-going unsettled political conditions and recent escalation of civil unrest in the form of violent clashes between protesters and security forces and the ensuing 30-day state of emergency declared by President Morsi in January," Moody's wrote.
Moody’s noted that a further downgrade may be likely if the political uncertainty continues. Meanwhile, talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a $4.8 billion loan continue. The loan is viewed as essential to restoring confidence in the country's economy. Moreover, a concern about rising unemployment estimated to be above 12%; declining tourism revenue; rising inflation; removed subsidies; declining foreign currency reserves (an estimated $15 billion to run out within three months); and expectations of a further devaluation of the Egyptian pound continue to hurt the economy.
Observers say the nation has entered a tough transitional period, with the situation unlikely to improve, at least in the short term.
Amr Moussa, former chairman of the Arab League and head of a major opposition party, said in a statement that the upcoming elections "will coincide with the collapse of the Egyptian foreign currency reserves. This will further intensify the disturbances in the country.”
But it was the opposition group called the April 6 Youth Movement which came up with a truly innovative way to show its discontent with Morsi. On its Facebook page, the group announced that the president recently entered an online contest organized by Axe Cosmetics to win a trip into space.
So far Morsi has received over 21,000 votes, putting him in first place. "Maybe he can rule people on the moon. I don't believe that he is fit to rule our country," a young taxi driver told The Media Line.
During his presidential campaign, Morsi was hailed as being a research scientist at the NASA space center. If the president wins, he will go to Global Space Camp in Orlando, Florida.
Meanwhile, the current status quo is confusing to many Egyptians. Some observers say that the Muslim Brotherhood doesn't appear as if they can be trusted with the fate of the Egyptian nation.
"Whatever the Muslim Brotherhood is doing now is neither going to make an impression now, nor a lasting impact. They will have wasted their last 80 years of struggle for recognition,” Ayman Al-Sayad, a former consultant with a consortium advising Morsi, said in an interview with Tahrir TV.
Although the first freely-elected Egyptian president in 60-years, Morsi is becoming unpopular among mainstream liberal Egyptians, and is being held "guilty by association" with the Muslim Brotherhood, famous for being the mother of all radical Islamist groups and behind many atrocities and assassinations.
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