Recent days have seen a further sharp deterioration in Egypt.
background of economic crisis, Salafi Islamist groups are increasingly
assertive. The Salafis are engaged in the violent harassment of Egyptian Copts
and secular oppositionists, and in ongoing attempts to pressure the Muslim
Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi to accede to their policy demands
through public agitation and disorder.
The government, meanwhile, finds
itself caught in an inescapable dilemma over economic and social
Foreign currency reserves are running dangerously low at $13.4
billion – 60 percent below their December 2010 level. Egypt is currently seeking
a loan of $4.8b. from the International Monetary Fund. But the conditions likely
to accompany the granting of these funds will exacerbate the social discontent
in Egypt, to the benefit of the government’s opponents.
In the latest
escalation of anti-Christian harassment, two people died this week after an
Islamist mob attacked Copts leaving a funeral in Cairo. The funeral itself was
for four Copts shot dead in the town of Khosous near the Egyptian capital last
The unrest following the funeral began when Egyptian Muslims threw
petrol bombs at mourners chanting anti-government slogans. The Copts later
accused the authorities of failing to protect their community. They noted that
police fired tear gas into the compound of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo, where
mourners had sought shelter from the violence.
Coptic Patriarch Tawadros
II later issued a public statement condemning the government’s failure to
protect the Copts and describing Egyptian society as “collapsing.”
increasingly vociferous Salafis, meanwhile, are forcing the government’s hand in
other areas. On Sunday, Tourism Minister Hisham Zazu’a announced the
cancellation of recently renewed tourist flights from Iran.
No reason for
the decision was given.
But the Morsi government’s U-turn came after
Salafi demonstrators attacked the home of a senior Iranian diplomat resident in
Cairo. The demonstrators had chanted anti- Shi’ite slogans and attempted to
place a Syrian rebel flag on the gate of the diplomat’s residence. Riot police
narrowly prevented a storming of the building.
The Egyptian government’s
apparent helplessness in the face of Salafi provocations, and its instinct to
appease them, represents only one side of Morsi’s woes.
The secular and
leftist opposition is also increasingly active, and is similarly turning toward
civil disobedience as its preferred means of protest. The National Salvation
Front, a coalition of secular parties, is demanding the formation of a new
“neutral and credible” government to oversee parliamentary elections set to take
place later this year.
The April 6 Youth Movement, a remnant of the youth
of Tahrir Square who so excited the world’s media in 2011, remain active at
The movement supported Morsi’s election, but has now turned
against him. 44 people were injured in “day of rage” protests organized by the
movement in the Cairo area this week.
Supporters of April 6 contend that
Morsi is not the real leader of the country. Rather, they assert that the real
decisions are in the hands of Muhammad Badie, the “supreme guide” of the Muslim
Against this backdrop of ongoing unrest, an IMF team is in
Egypt, to negotiate the terms of a loan of $4.8b. to Egypt. The
negotiations are deadlocked; The IMF wants the government to enact budget cuts,
including on energy subsidies, in order to secure the loan. The government,
facing growing unrest, rising prices and fuel shortages, fears that to do so
would be to add fuel to the flames already threatening it.
has already given $5b. to Egypt, this week announced a further grant of
$3b. Qatar, as the key regional backer of the Brotherhood, evidently feels a
responsibility toward the beleaguered Morsi government.
But even Qatari
generosity will only go so far, and cannot offer a long-term solution. The
Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt appears caught in an inescapable
Conforming to international financial requirements will require
cuts that will exacerbate already growing unrest. Refusal to do so will preserve
the current situation of economic dysfunction – which will also fuel the growing
Where is all this heading? A recent article in The Atlantic by
Eric Trager quoted activists of April 6 privately admitting that they are hoping
for a return to military rule.
The activists said that a short period of
rule by the army would be preferable to the current growing anarchy.
course, Egypt’s last short period of military rule began in 1952 – and ended in
2011. Another possibility is that the Brotherhood itself may seek in the months
ahead to use the security organs of the state to crack down harder on the
growing resistance to its rule.
They waited, after all, more than 80
years for their moment in power. They will not willingly concede to its early
At the present time, there are no indications that the
military is contemplating a return to power. Presumably, the generals are for
the moment happy to allow the Brotherhood to take responsibility for their own
failures. This may change in the period ahead, if the situation deteriorates
But the fact that it is regarded as a possibility, and even a
desirable one, by elements among the very forces that spearheaded the revolution
against Hosni Mubarak, is perhaps the single most telling indication of the
current state of affairs in Egypt.