Egypt becoming a nightmare for Muslim Brothers

Analysis: The threat of civil war appears all too real in Egypt amid economic, social and political crisis.

Egypt Port Said ICONIC protestors, police, palace 370 (photo credit: Reuters/Mohamad Mohamed Abd El Ghany)
Egypt Port Said ICONIC protestors, police, palace 370
(photo credit: Reuters/Mohamad Mohamed Abd El Ghany)
For the Muslim Brotherhood, the long awaited dream come true is turning into a nightmare. Having survived 80 years of persecution to achieve power democratically, they suddenly find themselves the focus of widespread popular hatred.
Never have Egyptians been in such dire economic traits.
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, however, is not about to give up and make way for new presidential elections. The Brotherhood will spare no effort to stay in power.
Such is the depth of the economic, social and political crisis that the threat of civil war appears all too real.
Most commentators believe the army won’t let things go that far and will step in; however the road back to recovery and a civilian regime accepted by all will be long and arduous.
Civil disobedience is rampant.
In Port Said the police have disappeared from the streets and the army called in to maintain law and order. Indeed here and there people are petitioning the courts to appoint popular Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to rule Egypt in Morsi’s stead. They know it won’t happen but are trying to make a point. Demonstrations calling for getting rid of Morsi and of the Brotherhood are held on a daily basis in Cairo and in cities all over the country. They are met by militant groups of the Brotherhood. Dozens have died and thousands were wounded in the resulting clashes though both sides are trying not to let the violence escalate.
The economy is in shambles.
In a remarkable and enduring show of unity, non-Islamic opposition parties under the banner of the National Salvation Front are boycotting the regime until their demands – canceling the Islamic constitution and setting up a consensus government until new elections are held – are met.
The Muslim Brotherhood who had won a sweeping victory in the first free parliamentary elections and got their candidate elected president have bitterly disappointed the people who had put their faith in them.
Nothing has been done to improve their lot. Upon taking office Morsi had promised – and failed – to take care of five burning issues within a hundred days: growing insecurity, monster traffic jams in the capital, lack of fuel and cooking gas, lack of subsidized bread, and the mounting piles of refuse in the streets.
The president’s high-handed attempt to take over all legislative powers and grant himself full immunity provoked such an outcry that he had to back down. He sacked the prosecutor-general and appointed a new one – only to have his decision overthrown by the Cairo Court of Cassation last week, throwing the judicial system into disarray.
It seems that such unwise and unpopular moves were taken without prior consultations with his advisers and that in fact it was the Supreme Guidance Bureau of the Brotherhood which had urged Morsi to do so. In other words, the president is acting as a proxy for the movement.
Dissatisfaction is now evident everywhere. Elections held in students’ union throughout the country saw Brotherhood candidates defeated by independent candidates. Worse, elections to the key Journalists’ Syndicate saw the victory of Diaa Rashwan, head of Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic studies and bitter opponent of the Brotherhood.
In other words the movement is losing both the youth and the elites.
Yet the regime plods on as if unaware of the fact that times have changed and that people are no longer afraid to take to the streets to fight for the future of their country.
On the contrary, Morsi is hard at work appointing as many of his men as he can everywhere, from national to regional and local positions supervising everything from public order to food distribution – such as it is – under his direct orders.
Clearly, he is here to stay.
Army no longer refusing Islamic candidatesIn a new and startling development, he is now turning to the army. For the first time since Nasser ruled, the army academy is no longer refusing Islamic candidates.
Then of course there is the legislation. The lower house of parliament has been disbanded by the courts because of widespread electoral fraud, so Morsi gave temporary legislative powers to the upper house “Shura council.”
These powers were supposed to be used for urgent legislation; however taking advantage of the solid Islamic majority – 80 percent Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists – Morsi is pushing through laws organizing the next elections, restraining the right to strike and to demonstrate; in the wings are stringent laws regulating NGOs – including a special provision legalizing the Brotherhood – a movement banned by Nasser. This was needed because the advisory board of the High Administrative Court had declared the movement illegal and recommended that it be disbanded.
Within two days of the ruling a new law had been drafted and is now awaiting the verdict of the High Constitutional Court. The problem is that the Brotherhood has since its inception refused to divulge the list of its members and the origin of its funds – two requirements for registering a movement.
While feminist organizations are demonstrating against repeated violence against women and fatwas encouraging such violence, the Brotherhood posted on its official website a condemnation of the recent UN resolution on the rights of women “because it is in violation of the Shari’a.”
Currency shortage threatens petrol, food imports
Strangely enough, while the level of violence in the streets is steadily rising, the president has nothing to say.
It is as if the Brotherhood had adopted the motto “least said, soonest mended” and had decided to keep a low profile in the hope of seeing the protests die a natural death as protesters get tired or lose hope.
Yet there is no sign of it happening anytime soon. In the wake of the last round of violence around the Brotherhood’s Cairo headquarters, Morsi did warn that if “hooliganism” did not stop, harsh measures would be taken. His warning only added fuel to the fire, resulting in new clashes and more wounded.
In the meantime, currency reserves are bleeding, there may be soon not enough money to pay for imports of petrol and basic food supplies.
Subsidizing these items accounts for 25 percent of the country’s budget. Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Libya did extend substantial help, but it all went to subsidies and imports. None of the long overdue economic reforms have been launched. Without these reforms the International Monetary Fund is withholding the $4.8 billion loan Egypt desperately needs; there is also the small problem of the interest to be paid; Islamic circles are vehemently opposing any form of interest, which they said is prohibited by Shari’a law.
Unless and until a solution is found, Western countries will not lend any money to Egypt.
Power failures are getting more frequent, queues for petrol and cooking gas longer and food is scarce.
Investors have fled, tourists are scared. Hunger riots may not be far off. Yet the Brotherhood surges blindly on, not ready to let go of the golden prize achieved after nearly a century. And so the standoff goes on between the regime and the opposition, while quicksand threatens to engulf them all.
The writer, a fellow of The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden.